Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sometimes Being Succinct Makes Sense

Like this...


Sunday, January 08, 2017

Home Grown Elders

We were talking this morning about the practice of raising up elders in the church and how our normal process of hiring a "pastor" from outside of the church by luring him with a larger compensation package (we didn't exactly use those terms) contrasted with the practice of the New Testament where elders were appointed from within the local body instead of hired from outside of the local body. Anyway, a couple of days ago Eric Carpenter wrote on this topic in a post titled: "Come Be Our Pastor Even Though We Don't Know You and You Don't Know Us!". Eric made a similar point.

Local churches in the New Testament didn't put together search committees to look through a stack of resumes. Rather, they simply watched the lives of the men in the church. They then recognized men of high character for being what they already were: elders. After they were recognized, they didn't change what they were already doing.

Today's churches have this whole process upside down. It's no wonder that pastors come and go about as frequently as college football coaches do. The hired pastor doesn't know the people and they don't know him. It may work out, but it probably won't. He'll likely stay for 3-4 years, but then move on to "greener pastures."

This mess of a model doesn't work. Churches would be wise to look within. They should be mentoring young men through the years so that when they get older they can take over some of the eldering functions. More important, churches should foster high character from within. Looking outside only leads to the current sad situation we have in our country.


Elders must come from within.

Exactly. This reminds me of the same post I keep re-linking to over and over, not because it is especially good but because I think it touches, however clumsily, on an important point. Raising up elders is hard work, it is time consuming and often frustrating but just because our society values quick, easy and disposable it doesn't follow that the church should. Convenient and disposable is usually unhealthy when it comes to food and it is equally unhealthy when it comes to elders. Commit yourself to the hard work of raising up elders from within, the church will benefit far more than instead spending a lot of time and money in hiring a stranger who will break your heart in a few years when he gets "called" to a better job ministry.

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This is an oldie but (I think) a goodie. I first posted this in April of 2009 when we were just starting to rethink the institutional church machine. I recalled it this morning because of a picture someone posted on Facebook, reproduced below:


My response to the picture was: 
This is pretty accurate although if the church is functioning as it should be there is no need for a "pastor search committee" because the church would be raising up men as elders from within the body.
That got me thinking back to this post. One of the most important and unfortunately often neglected purposes of elders is to equip the church for the work of ministry, and high on that list is the identifying and training of men to be future elders. The reality of churches looking for men to be their pastor/elder from outside of the church, a very common and almost ubiquitous practice, is a sign of a total failure on the part of the church to function as the church should. Let me state that another way. One of the most common and least questioned practices of the institutional church is at the same time one of the most searing indictments of that same model. Anyway read below why home cooking always is better than prepackaged foods.

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I was looking over Dave Black’s page and I read through an interesting post called Returning Biblical Education to the Local Church. He brings up something I have mulled over for some time: the inherent problem with hiring men from outside of the local body to lead that local body. That is not the primary thrust of his post but it really got me thinking afresh and asking the question: Why do we seek men who are strangers to come to our local body and lead us? Would we not be better served with men who led us because they came from us? Is a professional, prepackaged minister a better and more importantly a more Biblical man to be an elder? Dave obviously doesn’t think so and neither do I…

“Clergy” becomes a whole way of living, an ecclesiastical subculture. The church, however, predates the seminary and will outlast it. The book of Acts reminds us that the earliest church leaders were homegrown nobodies. They were not parachuted in from the outside with all of the proper credentials. They were already full participants in their congregations – they had homes, they had jobs, and they had solid reputations. If at all possible, I think we too would do well to train people for leadership in our local churches, equipping them for evangelism and other ministries, thus complementing the work of our seminaries and Bible colleges. The early church knew that leadership is best learned by on-the-job training, not by sending our most promising leaders off to sit behind a desk.

I think this phenomena of professional ministers is a product in large part of two factors. First, we are a country that by and large draws its identity from Europe and with her state sponsored churches, professional clergy is part of the fabric of the society. Second, and more importantly, we are Americans. We live in a prepackaged, processed, microwave age. Sure home cooked meals from scratch taste better and are better for you, but it is such a hassle! I can spend an hour or two cooking up a nice meal for my family (and even that requires pre-cut meat, canned veggies, boxed side dishes) or I can get some pizzas. In my family we get pizzas or something similar pretty often and in families where both spouses work it is even more common. We want it quick, easy and disposable.

The church seems to think the same way. Training and raising a man up within the local body who can grow in knowledge and maturity until he is ready to lead as an elder takes a long time and is hard work. It may not always work out, he may move, he may lack the aptitude for it, he may turn out to not be a very good elder. It is a whole lot easier and faster to find someone who already is “qualified”, i.e. has a seminary degree, who we can interview and “call” to ministry. Of course he will probably have to move and so to entice him we need to pay him. If he were already a part of the congregation, he would have a job and a home and ties to the community. He would know and be known by the local body because he is a part of that body. They would know him and his wife and his kids, and that would make it possible to know if he meets the qualifications for an elder listed in the Bible instead of meeting the resume credentials that are often the entry level for being considered to be a pastor. It makes more sense and it is more faithful to the Bible to raise leaders up internally but that just takes too long. So instead, church after church hires strangers to come in to lead and love people they have likely never met. It only adds to the separation between the clergy and the laity to have a paid professional come on the scene. Hard to believe with that great set-up that so many men leave the ministry, that churches have such high turnover in pastors and the men who stay are often frustrated and burned-out. When you view the pastor as a paid professional, someone hired and brought in from the outside, why not get rid of them? Paid, professional clergy are employees and as such they are disposable. A church can always find someone else to pay to lead them. On the flip side, when ministry is your job you can understand why men leave church A with 100 members for church B with 250 members. If you are from within the congregation and not getting paid, why would you leave? It is not a job, it is truly a calling.

Just because we live in a quick, easy and disposable society doesn’t mean that is how the church should operate. It is certainly harder, more time consuming and more sacrificial to raise up leaders in the church but I believe (and I think the Bible supports) the idea that a primary responsibility of the local body is in the training and support of men from within that body to lead that body. Seminary may be a part of that training, but it is only one part of an integrated development of leaders, not an end in and of itself. Hiring pastors like an old western gunslinger to come in and clean up the town before moving on is an injustice to the local body, to those men and their families. We need to take the time to look around the cupboards, find the ingredients and whip up some home grown elders.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Breaking News! Sun Rises In The East, Water At Room Temperature Is Wet And Liberalism Kills Churches!


In the "easiest news story to write ever" category we have David Haskell writing for the Washington Post and breaking out some seriously stunning news:


Someone break out the smelling salts because I done just fainted right away from shock. For real.

According to Mr. Haskell, liberal churches tried following the John Shelby Spong method to save the church, i.e. denying everything about Christianity, and it shockingly didn't work....

But the liberal turn in mainline churches doesn’t appear to have solved their problem of decline. 

Over the last five years, my colleagues and I conducted a study of 22 mainline congregations in the province of Ontario. We compared those in the sample that were growing mainline congregations to those that were declining. After statistically analyzing the survey responses of over 2,200 congregants and the clergy members who serve them, we came to a counterintuitive discovery: Conservative Protestant theology, with its more literal view of the Bible, is a significant predictor of church growth while liberal theology leads to decline. The results were published this month in the peer-reviewed journal, Review of Religious Research.

"We came to a counter-intuitive discovery." What they seem to have found is that people who are staking their entire worldview and their eternal destiny want to actually believe in something. Weird, huh? Next thing you know he will tell us that people who vote in the primaries are usually more politically engaged than people who don't. That is some hard charging journalism.

In fairness to David, this probably does come as a surprise to a lot of people in academia, like he is, and in larger city journalism in general. As he points out specifics you start to see why this is the case and why "mainline" denominations are dying and yet are inexplicably constantly doubling-down on the exact reasons they are dying in the first place. Case in point:

For example, we found 93 percent of clergy members and 83 percent of worshipers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb.” This compared with 67 percent of worshipers and 56 percent of clergy members from declining churches.

So half of mainline clergy believe Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, the central claim of Christianity and a large percentage of their congregants are more likely to believe this than they are. If you don't think Jesus rose from the dead, it kind of defeats the purpose of Christianity. Paul said that if Jesus is not risen, we are wasting our time and in fact we should be pitied:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. ( 1 Cor 15:12-19)

It is hard to tell people that Paul wrote these words and yet have almost half of your clergy believing that Jesus did not in fact rise from the dead and still expect them to show up on Sunday to worship a Jewish guy who is still dead in a tomb somewhere. Then there is this:

For example, because of their conservative outlook, the growing church clergy members in our study took Jesus’ command to “Go make disciples” literally. Thus, they all held the conviction it’s “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians,” and thus likely put effort into converting non-Christians. Conversely, because of their liberal leanings, half the clergy members at the declining churches held the opposite conviction, believing it is not desirable to convert non-Christians. Some of them felt, for instance, that peddling their religion outside of their immediate faith community is culturally insensitive.

So when you combine a general disbelief in fundamentals of the faith leading to driving away your most committed members, a low birth rate, an aging congregant base and a reluctance and even a disdain toward evangelism, it is pretty obvious that you are going to be dying out and the United Methodists, the Episcopalians, the ELCA style Lutherans, MC-USA Mennonites, on and on are proof of this happening.

This sort of information is so widely available that it boggles the mind that people still think that the way to stem the decline of mainline Protestant churches is to keep embracing sexual perversion, keep peddling liberal social justice nonsense dressed up in religious language and generally denying everything that makes Christianity Christian.

What the church needs if it wants to thrive and grow with actual growth is not liberalism but it also is not fuzzy feel-good nonsense like Osteen teaches or the heresy "prosperity gospel" snake oil salesmen spew. It is an unapologetic embrace of the foundations of the faith, a deep and abiding faith in the authority of the Scriptures for faith and practice and the joyful spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In general you won't get that in liberal mainline congregations and that in turn explains why  they are dying while conservative congregations are not, or at least not at the same breakneck pace. I will close with Haskell's closing paragraph which is super snarky, whether he intended it that way or not.

While our research helps explains the dwindling ranks of liberal mainline congregations, it isn’t likely to bring much “joy to the world” of mainliners, especially those on the theological left. But, if it’s any consolation, when it comes to growth in mainline churches, Spong and other liberals are right to claim that Christianity must change or die. They just get the direction of the change wrong.

Zing!

"Faith Leaders" Dear President Trump, You Are A Terrible Person And We Demand You Meet With Us So We Can Tell You That In Person

So a group of "interfaith" religious leaders and "moral activists" who seem to be notable mostly for their insistence on the pompous religious title of "Reverend Doctor" and wearing religious sashes penned an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump. Apparently these folks think they are some sort of prophets and authorities on morality. Here is a sample:

Since your election, our communities have been fractured by harassment and intimidation. People of color and religious minorities are afraid. Poor working people who you appealed to in your campaign are disappointed that you have attacked their union leaders while appointing Wall Street elites who use them to your Cabinet.

We are deeply concerned by the policy vision that your Cabinet selections suggest. After inviting Steve Bannon’s white nationalism into the Oval Office, you nominated Jeff Sessions to head the Justice Department—a man who did not receive Senate approval for a federal judgeship in 1986 because of his long history of racial discrimination in Alabama. If he maintains his past positions on civil rights and voting rights, he could overturn and undermine years of victories and protections secured and signed in the blood of the martyrs. Equally insulting to African-Americans is your nomination of Ben Carson, a black man with no experience in government or housing, to head HUD.

Except that this is not happening and the fake hate crimes proven to be hoaxes seem a whole lot more common than actual harassment and intimidation. Steve Bannon is not a white nationalist. Make no mistake, the perceived insult of nominating Ben Carson's is that he is the wrong kind of black man. I am guessing they had no problem supporting Barack Obama, a man who was a "community organizer" and in his very brief legislative career was known mostly for voting present as perfectly qualified to hold the highest office in the land. I think we can that, to use their phrase: "Our sacred text honored by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike" also speaks out against bearing false witness which is on display in their letter.

So what is prophetic, moral issues that they are concerned with?

Both this nation and the rest of the world desperately need your heart to grow into a source of courage, so you might work with all people of goodwill to uphold the most sacred moral principles of our faith and constitutional values, which are:

1. Protecting and expanding voting rights and ending voter suppression and unconstitutional  gerrymandering. We must also pursue women’s rights, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, labor rights, religious freedom rights, all with a commitment to the fundamental principle of equal protection under the law.

Since when did asking for ID before people vote to ensure they are actually eligible to vote and supporting the special treatment of homosexuals become a "sacred moral principle" of our faith and constitutional values? The rest of their demands is a predictable laundry list of liberal agenda items like the mythical "living wage", free college, unfettered "immigration", stealing from wage earners to benefit people who don't work "direct cash transfers and other support for all families struggling to get by", universal socialized health care, "protecting women's health" which is code for abortion on demand, without restriction and preferably paid for by the tax-payers.

Good stuff without a shred of support from the Scriptures, which makes sense since so many of the "pastors" are women which also has no support from Scripture. But wait, there is more! From the Christian Post:

A representative of Repairers of the Breach directed The Christian Post to a press release from Wednesday regarding the open letter, wherein Repairers of the Breach President The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II called the letter a response to the "the theological malpractice of the so-called white evangelicals and others who placed themselves as the moral support of Mr. Trump."

Can you imagine if Hillary had won and a group of conservative and mostly white evangelicals had demanded a meeting with her to harangue her about her slavish devotion to abortion "rights" and with the stated goal of counteracting the pernicious influence of black religious leaders? The media would go nuts and rightly so.

I am pretty sure Trump won't ever hear of this and won't go. Nor should he. This is an apparent empty gesture that probably in reality serves to make a public show to drive traffic to their website where you of course can donate to help them "fight Trump". It is always a good idea to follow the money.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Celebrating As Spectacle What Would Get You Arrested On The Street

I don't often read The Gospel Coalition for a lot of reasons, not least because they saw fit to delete comments I made that were pointed but not rude and blocked me from commenting on their webpage or Facebook. I am hardly along in having this experience, it seems to be their standard operating procedure to keep dissenting thought out of sight and therefore out of mind. However a recent article is getting a lot of attention because it dares to criticize women's involvement in so-called Mixed Martial Arts. Published under Justin Taylor's blog space, the piece titled How Should We Think About Watching Women Fight Women is written by Alastair Roberts and takes a decidedly counter-cultural approach to the question posed in the title.

Roberts does a pretty good job of explaining why women in MMA is unhealthy for Christians to support but as some others have pointed out I think he doesn't go quite far enough in condemning the general love for stylized violence in bloodsports that is so common in America and especially so in the church.

There is something disturbing that reflects the darker impulses of human nature that we enjoy the spectacle of bloodsports. As a culture we love football and we especially love football when it is at the highest level of raw violence. If a running back makes a nice cut and gains 7 yards on a carry instead of 2, no one is going to replay that over and over. But if a safety crushes a wide receiver making a catch in mid-field you can bet someone is going to turn that into a GIF in no time. Boxing and wrestling and other violent sports have as part of their essence physically overpowering your opponent and if that means hurting them (while perhaps not injuring them), all the better. Boxing can be a very artistic sport, deeply skilled and demanding physical and mental toughness but at the end of the day it is still two guys (or sadly two women) trying to hurt one another and bonus points if you hurt someone badly enough that they are unable to even stand up.

More generally speaking we as Christians in America love sports more than we love just about anything else and that often includes our families and our church. Women's sports are vastly less popular in general than men's sports but there are ways to draw in a male audience anyway. You probably would have a tough time getting men to pay to watch women's softball unless you had a school tie or family affinity for one of the players but get a couple of young women to pummel each other and the men can't get enough. Women's biathlon probably requires at least the same level of coordination, athleticism and  stamina that MMA requires but how many people watch that outside of Nordic countries? Not very many is my guess. Why is that? Could it be that a woman decked out in cold weather gear, wearing a hat and goggles and gloves is just not all that erotic and therefore not that interesting to a male audience? Nah, that can't possibly be it.

The violence of MMA in general and especially when featuring women is bad enough but when you note that the women involved are wearing sports bras and skin tight shorts, it sexualizes the event and makes it a little higher class version of strippers engaged in wrestling in mud or Jell-O at a strip club. This is not confined to women's MMA, in fact it infects a ton of women's sports and sex appeal of women athletes is a major marketing tool. Does anyone think that girls at the high school and college level have to wear skin tight shorts to play volleyball or that female Olympic beach volleyball players and runners need to dress in what is often less clothing than they would have on if they were in the underwear to compete? Or is it that audiences are more likely to tune in when a women's sporting event includes women dressed provocatively to appeal to lust of another kind? In the martial arts men and women alike wear full length pants and long sleeve jackets and somehow still manage to perform.

Some dismiss this sort of talk as a ghastly return to Puritanism or one step removed from demanding that women wear a burqa but issues of modesty are both incredibly important and simultaneously often dismissed out of hand because talking about modesty and immodesty sounds so old-fashioned and we desperately desire to not seem less than hip to our unbelieving friends. When we allow the unbelieving culture to dictate to the church which topics are off-limits we can never draw the line. If modesty if off-limits then you might as well add in every other moral admonition made to the church because the unbelieving world has no use for any of it.

Women in MMA is not just yet another tactic of the same sort of cultural revolution we see all  around us to diminish, deny and eventually destroy the very concept of the binary gender model that God created. It is also a crass appeal to two of our most base impulses as men, first violence as entertainment and second the sexual exploitation of women.

Would you as a Christian father want to see your daughter fighting, barely clothed, another woman, also barely clothed, seeking to hurt one another badly enough to knock them out or make them submit from pain, while men in the audience scream and cheer the spectacle of women fighting for their entertainment? What about your wife? I expect most Christian men would be appalled to see anyone hitting their wife or their daughter but when it is somebody else's wife or daughter, we feel OK paying to watch them get hurt because it is a "sport". Come on.


I don't expect pagan unbelieving men, especially in our culture, to have an issue with women in MMA/ Quite the opposite. It appeals to them sexually, it appeals to their love of violence and it has a deeper appeal to men who have suffered through decades of being degraded and blamed for every societal ill to see women hurting other women, giving them a vicarious thrill to see something done for spectacle that would get them arrested if they carried it out themselves. I am certainly not ascribing to every or even most men a deeply embedded desire to see women get hurt to soothe their male ego but you would have to be foolish and completely ignorant of the human condition to think that doesn't play a part. My point is that I don't expect anything different from unregenerate men than to act like unregenerate men.

But my brothers in the church? That is a different question entirely. We are supposed to have different passions, to desire different things than we did before. The Bible gives us a lot of attributes that the Christian is supposed to find praiseworthy in a woman, things like reverence, being loving, self-control, purity, kindness, submissiveness to husbands (Titus 2:3-5), they are to be modest and quiet and not drawing attention to themselves but rather adorning themselves with good works (1 Timothy 2:9-11). Physical prowess at sports, six pack abs, a killer right hook, an unbreakable headlock, a willingness to prance around immodestly dressed for the amusement of men? You will search in vain for those attributes to be seen as praiseworthy for a woman of God. Why are we entertained by something that runs contrary to what we are told is worthy of our praise?

I have never watched an MMA match before, male or female. I don't watch boxing and rarely did even years ago. I avoid sports today as much as possible, especially because I used to love them so much. I do understand why it can be thrilling to watch people fight one another, especially for men who get to watch scantily clad women beating each other up. Even still we are not called in the church to seek out that which is entertaining or that which is thrilling but rather to seek out what is honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). It is a tough case to make to suggest that women engaged in acts of violence against other women for the primal entertainment of men qualifies in even the most generous definition of any of those things.

Choosing The Good Portion

The church needs to get deep in the Word and that happens when individuals get alone with the Word of God.

The church should be a bunch of people who spent time on that mountaintop alone with God and then we gather together to talk about it...

- Francis Chan

What is more crucial than sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning from Him and learning of Him? Check out this video from Francis Chan where he references Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42...


I love what he says around the four minute mark about the entire church getting into the Word so they could talk about it when they get together instead of being starved all week and needing to hear a word from just one guy.

I can see it being easy for some people to hear this and think Chan is talking about a bunch of Christians reading the Bible in isolation but I think that is the complete opposite of what he is talking about. What he is talking about is the entire local body being engaged in the study of the Word and then taking that shared engagement and reflecting on it as the Body of Christ. That is what I am talking about when I talk about a community hermeneutic. Instead of one or a few "experts" telling a largely disengaged group of observers what to think about a passage, the people of God open the Word of God together and work through it together. That is hard for people like me who have a tough time listening to others because we are really waiting for our turn to talk but it is so important. You can tell people what to think over and over and they usually won't ever get it deep into their being but if you teach them to think the power can be overwhelming. I don't think heresy is enabled when the Body works through Scripture together, I think it is far more likely when the Body doesn't know how to think, how to interpret and apply, how to discern and are easily led astray by one guy with screwy ideas because no one knows the difference between truth and error.

This is also where elders come into play, not by telling people what to think, but rather by being proven as reliable and mature brothers who can act as guides for others, helping to keep them on the path without telling them what to think. It is a lot easier to just tell people what to think but elders should be in the equipping business, not the lecturing business. Certainly if someone is teaching contrary to Scripture and refuses correction, the elders should step in but generally they should be helping people to study and learn rather than being subcontracted to do the studying and learning for the rest of the church.

Good stuff from Chan. 

Happy Reformation Year And Why It Still Matters (And Matters Just As Much)

Happy Reformation Year!

2017 is the year which includes the date of the 500th anniversary of the "official" start of the Protestant Reformation on October 31st, 1517 with Martin Luther's nailing of the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. With that one seemingly innocous act, Martin Luther forever changed the course of Western and world civilization, in some ways for the worse but for the most part for the better. Those of us who cherish our salvation by faith through grace recognize the debt we owe to those God lifted up at great personal danger to shine the light of the truth through the oppressive spiritual darkness of the day.

While many Protestants and others celebrate or at least recognize October 31st as Reformation Day, this being the 500th anniversary year means a lot of additional attention will get paid throughout the year to Luther and what he started. It is of course worth noting that there were many other individual and group reformers who preceded Luther but they mostly ended up dead at the hands of the Roman leadership and their willing executioners and torturers in the state. Luther was notable in large measure because he managed to survive long enough to see the embers of reform burst into the flames, sometimes literally, of Reformation.

While I expect to talk a lot about the Reformation throughout the year, it seems fitting that my first post of the year focuses on the on-going need for Reformation. It is the erroneous belief in many parts of the evangelical/Protestant world that the need for Reformation is long past. We have moved beyond silly squabbles and instead have moved closer together, propelled by our common foe of secularism and our common defense of religious liberty against godless liberalism. When engaged in an existential fight like we are the enemy of my enemy is my friend. All well and good except the mission of the church is not to fight for religious liberty but to preach the Gospel, in season and out, when it is welcome and especially where it is not, making disciples and teaching them the commandments of Christ. We cannot do that with one hand while with the other we hold hands with those who deny that very Gospel.

I have friends and family who are Roman Catholic and this post, and all subsequent posts in 2017, are not intended to be an insult, simply a statement of what should be clear. I don't attend the Roman Mass not because it just isn't my cup of tea but because I believe what happens in the Mass and elsewhere in the Roman religious system runs counter to and is affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ we see in Scripture. The vast chasm between Rome and the Protestant world was always very apparent until recently and it is neither loving nor honest to anyone to pretend that those differences have faded with time or are no longer important.

Case in point, Jorge Bergoglio, aka "Pope Francis" tweeted out this message to ring in the new year:


Rather than putting together a response I am instead going to just reprint James White's response from a public Facebook post because he pretty much nails it (get it? nails it? 95 Theses?):

Why is the Reformation still important? Why is it proper for us to focus upon it this year in celebration of 500 years? Why do I pray that by the end of 2017 more and more of God's people will embrace the Reformation, and Reformed theology as a whole? Well, here is a tweet from the current Pope. He encourages Roman Catholics to "entrust the new year to Mary." Doing this, evidently, will result in "peace and mercy" growing throughout the world. And here I thought that could only happen as men and women bow the knee not to Mary, but to the Lord Jesus, in repentance and faith, trusting in His once-for-all work upon the cross as the perfect Savior. Rome's departure from the Gospel remains complete, and defiant. She continues to blaspheme the cross every time a man-made "priest" pretends to "re-present" the once-for-all sacrifice of Calvary upon a Roman altar. And she continues to enslave men with her endless gospel of sacraments and penances, which can never bring them peace. And in this tweet the Pope demonstrates once again the grossly idolatrous nature of modern Roman teaching concerning Mary.

How many non-Roman Catholics today understand why they do not bow the knee to Rome? In what is loosely called Evangelicalism, very few. One either has the wild-eyed bigotry of the Jack Chick variety anti-Catholicism, or the luke-warm "it's just a matter of taste" variety of synergistic Tiber-paddling that is so common today. May the number of those who knowingly, and out of a true commitment to sound biblical doctrine, reject Rome's pretensions, grow in this the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The fawning, fan-boy fascination many "progressive" evangelicals have for Jorge Bergoglio is not surprising while it is still troubling but many who would consider themselves "conservative" have no clue what the differences are between Roman teaching and Scripture. When so many in the church have no idea why they don't attend Mass instead of going to what are most often silly and vacuous "worship services", there is clearly a lot of work to be done. Likewise tens of millions of people are still caught up in the Roman system and have never even heard the Gospel presented clearly and these people are in the same need for hearing the Gospel as poor peasants in 1517 who had been taught that buying an indulgence with the money they could scrape together instead of buying food for their children would somehow purchase favor with God.

Do not for a second think the Reformation is unimportant in 2017 or that we have outgrown the need for what are considered petty theological squabbles or that winning political and cultural victories is critical enough that we ought to make common cause with enemies of the Gospel. As Jorge Bergoglio's tweet proves, Rome is still selling a false gospel that cannot save and only serves to obscure the true Gospel and preserve a corrupt religious system. I think that if Luther could see the church today he would marvel at many things but I also think he would desperately want someone to walk up to our own equivalent of the church door in Wittenberg, take out a hammer and a nail and declare boldly that the Gospel is the one place that we will not, that we cannot, compromise for the sake of any other issue. In the end, only the Gospel of Jesus Christ really matters.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The State Of The Church 2016

What a very odd year. It was odd in general and it was particularly odd for the church. It was a year that seemed to be the dawn of a new Dark Ages for the church, an era of spiritual darkness. Conservative Orthodox writer Rod Dreher wrote hundreds of essays about what he calls "The Benedict Option", a plan for religious conservatives to preserve the best of Western religious culture for a day in the future when things didn't suck so much, to the point of absurdity because he managed to insert the topic into every post he wrote. Other stories focused on the rise of the religiously unaffiliated, with collective hand-wringing over the rapid diminishing of religious affiliation and public practice in America. As it became apparent that Donald Trump, a man who sucked all of the oxygen out of the room/nation like a single person never has in my lifetime, was going to clinch the Republican nomination for President, it seemed also likely that the reprehensible Hillary Clinton would become the 45th President. For many "leaders" in the church that was an impending apocalypse that warranted what at the time seemed an awfully far-fetched Hail Mary pass by leaders of the Religious Right to throw their support behind Trump in the hope that he would somehow pull out a victory. Well as it turns out he did manage to win and suddenly the Religious Right and rank-and-file Christians alike were collectively like a man who had received a last second pardon from the Governor with the hangman's noose already around his neck. Visions of replacing Antonin Scalia not with a far left judge but instead with a reliable conservative danced in their imaginations and it wasn't long before people started to look at the ages of the remaining liberal justices and start to ponder, if not openly hope, what might happen if one or more of them were to retire or die. It does take a math genius or a Constitutional scholar to add two vacancies plus a Republican controlled Senate and come up with Roe v Wade being overturned along with Obergefell and other cultural shifting decisions. Given the emotional state of the church six months ago, we have seen a pretty serious about-face in optimism levels. For a lot of people, and I admit I have been far too active in this even as someone who didn't vote for Trump, what put the icing on the cake was the absolute meltdown by "progressives" especially among the coastal elites and special snowflake college students. Much of it was risible and deserving of scorn but a lot of it is also pretty ugly and has led to the end of friendships, rifts within families and a general sense that the acrimonious election never really ended and in fact promises to continue into 2017 and beyond. I need to constantly remind myself of the need to be a peacemaker while also being a voice calling attention to places attention needs to be paid.

What is missed in the post-election exuberance is that the same ills we bemoaned prior to Trump winning the election are still there. As far as American culture, many American cities are extremely violent, with Chicago on pace for 800 murders this year. Homosexual marriage is the law of the land and other sexually deviant behaviors are clamoring for their own acceptance. The participation of men in the workforce, especially men in prime working years, continues to plummet at the same time that more and more children are born out of wedlock and in many cases are the latest in a multigenerational pattern of children born out of wedlock and often the corresponding life of poverty. We have an unimaginable number of children and young adults who have no idea what a stable family looks like, and especially no clue what a home with both a mother and a father looks like. A record number of Americans are out of the workforce entirely, a statistic missed in the rosy announcements of a low "unemployment rate". In almost every possible way, American life is coarser than it has been in years past and this is especially unhealthy for children.

For the church in America, the malaise continues in spite of (partly because of?) the victory of Donald Trump. I think virtually every ill in the church in America can be attributed to one major and one related factors. The biggest issue is and continues to be the obscene level of general Biblical illiteracy in the church. It seems to me, just from personal observation, that many Christians in America grow up in the church, live their entire lives in the church as "good" church members and go to the grave with only the most rudimentary understanding of critical issues of the faith like justification and the new covenant. The related factor that goes along with this is that very few people in America, and not just in the secular media, really seem to understand what Christianity is, what the church is and who is or is not part of it. Like most nations with essentially no cost to public identification with Christianity, it is common for people to assume they are part of the church by virtue of occasional church attendance, baptism as a child or simply many years previously, coming from a family that identifies as Christian or just being a generally moral person who lives in America.  This is compounded by a lot of "pastors" who refuse to disabuse people of the false notion of their personal salvation as long as they keep showing up and "tithing". If there is one serious flaw in our discipleship that I want to see and to help overcome it is our tendency to focus on symptoms of Biblical illiteracy instead of the actual problem of Scriptural illiteracy itself.

From a more personal standpoint, since I have written about the church quite extensively for years, if I can sum up my feelings about the church right now it is this.

How the church should operate is rarely how the church does operate because how Christians really behave is rarely how they should behave because the way humans should be is rarely the way they actually are, even for those of us who are new creations in Christ.

I don't see what is commanded and modeled in Scripture as an unattainable Utopian ideal but I do see it is something we should strive for, as the church, together. My mistake has been seeking the ideal first. Others err in making the church form primary which, as I have said over and over, has led to a number of pretty sketchy teachers or even outright heretics getting favorable treatment because they do church "the right way" or at least talk as if they do. Church form is not the ultimate

That doesn't mean that church form is unimportant because it absolutely is and it also doesn't mean that many church forms that are most common are largely not only unhelpful to the mission of the church but actually harmful to the spiritual growth of Christians because they are. What I am saying is that when it comes to reforming and renewing a spiritually vibrant church, the form of the church and specifically the gathering is one of many factors of health. A highly institutional church where the people love one another and are equipped and the teaching is orthodox is superior in every way to a non-institutional church where the teaching is heterodox and the people are only equipped to preach a false gospel.

The church in 2016 here in America had all sorts of problems that are going to carry over into the new year: widespread biblical illiteracy, an unhealthy obsession with money and political power, denominational divisions that never cease, professional clergy that are more concerned with building their own little kingdoms and preserving their jobs than they are with shepherding the flock. We face many headwinds like an increasingly militant atheism and an correspondingly hostile culture.

On the other hand, the church is still the Bride of Christ. We still have the promises of God that we can rely on absolutely. The church in America is full of kind, loving, humble servants who don't seek personal acclaim but are content to serve in relative anonymity. We have more access in more ways to the Bible and a seemingly infinite number of resources, many that are free, to aid our Bible study. Compared to the church in the rest of the world and throughout all of history, we have more access to an embarrassment of riches when it comes to God's revealed and preserved written Word than our forefathers could even dream about.

So we have reason to be optimistic heading into 2017 even amid the concern. We know that God is faithful and that He is victorious even though the actual timing is shrouded from our sight. I am hopeful that 2017 can be a year when our witness is more clear and our discernment is even sharper but that it is in all ways more tempered by love and patience with those who are sincerely seeking the truth. If the church will let Scripture be our guide we can accomplish much for the Kingdom of God, indeed we have no excuse for anything else given the advantages we enjoy. So happy new year to you and yours. Keep your eyes open, your mind sharp and your heart open to the Spirit and let everything we do be done to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Masculaphobia: Fear Of Men

Remember when MTV was a legitimate news source? Me neither.
2016 will go down as a year when a lot of stuff happened, pretty much like every year in history. I have a more comprehensive post upcoming but I want to look at one issue specifically. Along with being a year when a seemingly unusual number of celebrities died, mostly either directly from drug abuse or as a result of drug/alcohol abuse (see 2016 Is Not Killing People) and there might have been an important election that got people riled up or something, it is also the year that should be remembered as the launch of the war on gender. Not the gender wars but the war on gender itself. It is a war that has been festering for a long time with the lead up in decades of feminism and the gradual embrace of homosexual behavior but in 2016 the simmering guerrilla war broke into all out war. National Geographic devoted a cover to a young boy who is being abused by his parents by being encouraged to act out on a confusion about gender. The University of Kansas is jumping on the pin wearing bandwagon and "will now offer students, staff and visitors the choice of wearing “gender inclusive” buttons identifying their preferred gender pronouns, in order to help promote a “welcoming environment” on campus". This is the reasoning....

The buttons, which read, “He/Him/His,” “She/Her/Hers” or “They/Them/Theirs” are part of a year-long effort on behalf of the KU library’s “You Belong Here” marketing campaign touting the school as warm, welcoming, and tolerant.

“Because gender is, itself, fluid and up to the individual, each person has the right to identify their own pronouns, and we encourage you to ask before assuming someone’s gender,” a sign in the library above the available buttons reads, according to local media.

The library signs go on to explain that “misgendering” someone “can be hurtful” and lead to emotional distress as that person contemplates their ultimate exclusion from modern society, or struggle with “invalidation” of their life choices.

Ah. Let me reassure the ladies at the University of Kansas that if I am on campus you will not a need a pin to identify which gender I "identify with". This sort of empty-headed nonsensical rhetoric is what passes for deep and nuanced intellectualism on America's campuses, which is a big reason why you should stay as far away from them as possible unless you have no other choice.

Gender, which is the most critical and fundamental biological fact that distinguished human beings and the most basic building block of human society, is now seen as a means of oppressing people. Let that sink in for a moment. Gender is not "fluid", in fact it is the least fluid thing there is outside of the basic reality of our shared humanity. My gender is not "up to me" anymore than being a human being or being white or who my parents are is up to me.

In his post Feathering the Frosting On With A Canoe Paddle, Doug Wilson makes an interesting observation amid a general discussion of the grotesque sin of encouraging children to change their genders. The whole thing is great but what I really liked was this comparison between the common Islamic fear of female sexuality and the Western fear of male sexuality, emphasis added:

But the secularist wants to protest right at the outset that what they are celebrating has to be distinguished from the genital mutilation that other cultures practice—you know, the backward kinds of culture. For example, in such backwater Muslim societies, girls are often forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). This has been done to upwards of 200 million people. The World Health Organization defines it as “the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

The emphasis there is mine, for the simple reason that “non-medical reasons” include the West’s fear of masculine sexuality, just as Islam fears feminine sexuality. Non-medical reasons would include our culture’s  current lunatic warp spasm.

That is actually pretty accurate. Islam is terrified of women. Theirs is not a simple recognition of the differences in role and biology of men and women but an actual fear and loathing of femininity combined with an all too often primitive and violent posture toward women. 

Our culture is terrified of men, at least men who look and act in ways that are traditionally understood to be masculine. While not as overt as the violence of "female circumcision", the attempt to emasculate and mutilate men to transform them into something less threatening is just as real. Whether it is the cultural effort to paint men, and especially dads, as imbeciles barely tolerated by their wives and children or the subtle but powerful ways men are pushed out of the workforce or the endless assault on men acting like men and preferring that women act like women, somehow men, at least white men, have been ironically painted as the enemy of civilization and a far greater danger to civil society than Islamic terrorists. All men are potential rapists and all notions of masculine sexuality contribute to the "rape culture".

Even in the church this is true. In many circles of the church the idea of masculine sexuality is seen as something to be avoided and there is nothing much more horrifying than the outdated notion that God intended men to be the leaders of home and church. Church pews are often dominated by women, increasingly without a man present, and the same is true in a lot of pulpits.

It is certainly true that in Western civilization a lot of bad stuff can be attributed to white males but it is just as true that all of the great stuff is also attributed to white males. For every Hitler there is a Beethoven, a DaVinci, a Michelangelo, a Shakespeare. Western civilization has been dominated by white men, for good and for ill, but I would argue that for all of the many faults and weaknesses of Western civilization it is still preferable by a wide margin to any other civilization that does or has existed on a large scale.

You don't need to be afraid of men. Most of us are just trying to get by, to care for our families and to maybe make our communities and country a little better place. We make mistakes but we also built the greatest civilization the world has known. So please stop trying to make us into something we are not. If you ask us nicely we might even pick up that heavy box for you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Three Mile Island Disaster Was The Result Of America Not Supporting Israel And Other Nonsense

I wrote a piece the other day about the Israeli-UN resolution-U.S. vote abstention kerfuffle, Keeping The Issues Clear When Talking About Contemporary Israel. and it contained a total of zero prophecy charts or references to Genesis 12:3.

Anyway I continue to see people commenting on social media about how outrageous it was for "Christian America" to "stab Israel in the back" and some of the links I have seen are just outrageous. For example: 10 Previous Times America Faced Major Disaster After Attempting To Divide Israel. This is their reasoning:

I am sure that there will be a tremendous amount of debate about to what extent the U.S. was involved in creating and drafting this resolution, but there is one thing that is exceedingly clear.

The ultimate decision as to whether or not this resolution would be adopted was in the hands of one man. Barack Obama knew very well that he had this power, and in the end he ultimately decided to betray Israel.

And now that our government has cursed Israel at the UN, our entire nation will be cursed as a result.

In the Scriptures we are repeatedly told that God will bless those that bless Israel and will curse those that curse Israel.

When Barack Obama blocked a similar resolution that France wanted to submit for a vote in September 2015, it resulted in America being blessed, and we definitely have been blessed over the past 16 months.

But now that Barack Obama has reversed course and has betrayed Israel, we will most assuredly be cursed. In the days ahead we will see how this plays out, and perhaps we can get some hints about what may happen by reviewing recent history.
....
The UN Security Council resolution that was passed on Friday is the biggest betrayal of Israel in modern history. As I explained in my last article, I believe that America's reprieve is now over and all hell is about to break loose in this country.

When Barack Obama blocked the UN Security Council from dividing the land of Israel in September 2015, according to the Word of God we should have been blessed as a nation as a result, and we were blessed.

But now Barack Obama has cursed Israel by stabbing them in the back at the United Nations, and according to the Word of God we should be cursed as a nation as a result.

And as surely as I am writing this article, we will be cursed.

So in essence, God's mood as it relates to one nation populated mostly by unbelievers outside of any national covenant relationship with God is determined almost exclusively that nation's diplomatic actions at an international body toward another nation populated mostly by unbelievers outside of any national covenant relationship with God. That makes perfect sense, provided you read the Bible without the slightest awareness of the context of the Bible as a whole, the record of redemptive history or even the most rudimentary exegetical ability or effort. Here is one of the 10 iron clad examples:

#1 The last time the U.S. government refused to veto an anti-Israel resolution at the UN Security Council was in 1979. On March 22nd, 1979 the Carter administration chose not to veto UN Resolution 446.

Four days after that on March 26th, the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty was signed in Washington. As a result of that treaty, Israel gave up a tremendous amount of territory. Two days later, on March 28th, the worst nuclear power plant disaster in U.S. history made headlines all over the globe.

Ah, that explains the Three Mile Island accident. It wasn't mechanical failures as we were led to believe, no it was the hand of God subtly causing a relief valve to stick open. God is known for His subtlety when He judges a nation, like that whole Sodom and Gomorrah thing.  Lest you brush this off as some crackpot website (although it clearly is), their Facebook page has over a quarter million likes including 7 people I am friends with on Facebook. The Facebook link to the story itself generated more than 11,000 responses, almost 1000 comments and was shares over 8,800 times!

In contrast. Grace To You has about 50,000 fewer likes (but a lot more of my friends) and MacArthur is a dispensationalist! Crazy "prophetic" interpretation and hysterics over current events seems to be a lot more popular in some circles than sober Biblical exegesis. Honestly you get better Biblical scholarship at the Babylon Bee than at "Prophecy News Watch" but people for some reason just love to try to find sense in current events by clumsily cramming them into the Bible. 

Of course not all of the responses are this outrageously unscriptural but there is a general sense among a lot of the church that a) America is somehow a unique nation in the eyes of God with an unwritten covenant that other nations are not either bound by or blessed by and b) Christians, especially in America, are likewise obligated to support without question any action by the modern nation called Israel at the risk of incurring God's wrath if we don't. Neither of these is correct and neither has a shred of Biblical support if you move past single verse "exegesis".

Christians have got to get this right and quickly. We look foolish for all the wrong reasons and we risk, and often more than simply risk, making the wrong decision or at least making decisions while only looking at one side of an issue, one that is fraught with diplomatic, religious and military perils.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Some Thoughts On Russell Moore And The ERLC.

Russell Moore, courtesy of ERLC
I wanted to take a moment to talk about a popular topic among more conservative minded Christians, especially of the evangelical stripe, and that topic is Russell Moore and some of the growing chorus from within the Southern Baptist Convention to get rid of Dr. Moore from the ERLC (the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention), to withhold funds from the ERLC or just get rid of it all together.

The problem some people have with Moore is his very vocal opposition to the support of Donald Trump by evangelicals which contrasts very sharply with the unadulterated endorsement of Trump by evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr. Mike Huckabee and James Dobson. What is also happening is an "old guard" versus "new vanguard" thing. Moore gave a speech at the Erasmus Lecture put on by the good folk at First Things. The title of his talk was Can the Religious Right Be Saved? and it was not highlighted by many punches being pulled. Needless to say this didn't sit well with many of the Old Guard Religious Right types, especially since it seems that their gamble (pun intended) paid off and the Trump win heralded a new era of influence for them. I have watched much of his lecture and to be completely blunt, as someone who has been disgusted by the fawning behavior of Falwell and others, I thought Moore seemed a little unpleasant and if I identified with the Religious Right I would have been understandably upset and felt like he was taking shots at the provincial hicks back home while being fêted in Gomorrah, aka New York City. It might make me question why I keep sending checks from our local church budget to someone who seems to dislike me so much.

Shortly after the election, some noise started from prominent leaders in the SBC. By prominent I mean some of the old time power brokers, people I have largely not heard of even though I spent a long time in the SBC. People like William Harrell and Will Hall, guys I had never heard of have vocally expressed concern that Moore doesn't represent the beliefs of Southern Baptists. The thing about the SBC is that it is a grassroots group. Individual churches decide how much to contribute and where. One doesn't get to demand a cut from a massive central budget to be decided by a few executive directors. I am not sure where this fight is going to go but it looks bad all around. People from all over the spectrum from Doug Wilson, a Presbyterian, and Rod Dreher, an Orthodox have weighed in. Mike Huckabee was quoted at NPR as saying: "I am utterly stunned that Russell Moore is being paid by Southern Baptists to insult them,". It certainly doesn't help Moore that he used to work for a Democratic Congressman, which forever leaves him in a place of suspicion for a lot of Southern Baptists.

Dr. Moore has attempted to address these concerns in a post titled Election Year Thoughts at Christmastime. In the most salient part he wrote:

First, try to see where there are misunderstandings. I remember one situation where I witnessed a handful of Christian political operatives excusing immorality and confusing the definition of the gospel. I was pointed in my criticisms, and felt like I ought to have been. But there were also pastors and friends who told me when they read my comments they thought I was criticizing anyone who voted for Donald Trump. I told them then, and I would tell anyone now: if that’s what you heard me say, that was not at all my intention, and I apologize. There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality and someone who felt conflicted, weighed the options based on biblical convictions, and voted their conscience. In a heated campaign season focused on sound bites, this distinction can get lost in the headlines, so it bears repeating.

As for me, I think that is where the rubber hits the road. I did not support Donald Trump, although I considered voting for him and might have if I lived in less of a slam-dunk state than Indiana, and I certainly did not support Hillary Clinton who was as thoroughly corrupt as any politician in my lifetime and was an enthusiastic evangelist for the death cult of abortion. I was pretty critical of evangelical leaders who supported Trump while excusing his behavior or explaining it away or appealing to a sudden conversion he allegedly had. But it seemed at times that Moore, whether intentionally or not, was condemning anyone who voted for Trump. Everyone who was paying attention during this election knows that many people faced some pretty agonizing decisions when it came to who to cast their vote for. If Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio had been the nominee, it would have been an easy decision for most of us but faced with the prospect of a dystopian future under Hillary Clinton, a lot of Christians made the decision to vote for a man they had little personal respect for. I don't think Moore fully realized that or at least he wasn't very open about it.

In the part of his Erasmus Lecture speech I watched Moore seemed a little too aware of his surroundings and seemed to be a little too aware of being under the bright lights of big city New York. I found his tone a little off-putting, which is partly why I didn't watch the whole thing. It seems to be part of a subtle shift on Moore's part since moving to the ERLC. I don't agree with a lot of what Tim Bayly says here but I do think there is some truth to this: On a number of levels, Russ's writing and speaking have demonstrated a yearning of the heart to be taken more seriously by the chattering classes of the eastern seaboard. That is a pretty common phenomenon in academia where "Christian" colleges and especially "Christian" academics want to be treated like grown-ups by the real academics and so they slowly but surely jettison orthodoxy hoping beyond hope that if they get rid of just one more doctrine the cool kids at Harvard and Stanford will accept them as one of their own and invite them over to share a microbrew and make fun of people in Oklahoma. I write this as someone who used to listen to Dr. Moore when he was "just" filling in for Albert Mohler's radio program, before his books started coming out and he got moved to the ERLC and I have always liked him, read his books and his blog, etc. I just am concerned about where he is going.

We definitely need voices like Russell Moore to help keep us honest in the days and years to come. His voice is a contrast to the Dobson's and Franklin Graham's and others who embraced Trump so enthusiastically. I would just caution him, if he cared what I thought, to remember that the people he is being critical of are on the same side as him, even when we disagree with them, but the people at the New York Times and the Washington Post and NPR are not on our side, don't want to be and never will be apart from a movement of the Holy Spirit. In our family squabbles which will inevitably happen it helps to remember that after all, we are family.

Keeping The Issues Clear When Talking About Contemporary Israel

In his ongoing effort to be as juvenile as possible before leaving office, the Obama administration abstained from a vote at the United Nations that essentially condemned Israel in a bunch of ways, allowing it to pass without the courage of an actual vote from the U.S. one way or the other. This has led to the expected angry backlash online from conservative media sources with articles like this from pro-Zionism Frontpage Mag: President Obama Throws Israel To The Wolves.

Of course a UN resolution is as impotent as everything else the UN does. It has no real impact other than serving as a diplomatic black eye and with what appears to be an overwhelmingly pro-Israel administration about to take over in a few weeks, there is little doubt that this resolution will be yet another empty gesture of the sort that has generally marked the utterly useless body of yammering, self-important bureaucrats that bears the risible and inaccurate name "United Nations". In fact it might backfire spectacularly as many Republicans are using this as an excuse to push for defunding the UN, a move I would be all in favor of. For example former Trump Presidential rival Senator Ted Cruz said that he will push to withhold U.S. funding of the UN until the resolution if reversed. As I posted on Facebook, the U.S. pays billions of dollars in UN funding and foots the bill for 22% of the entire budget, a percentage more than double that of Japan with the next highest percentage at 9.68%. The total sum of over $3,000,000,000 is more than 185 other countries pay combined. When you add in the huge amounts we spend on our military the bill gets a lot higher. So much for "United Nations". A more appropriate name would be more like "Bags of Cash From American Tax-Payers To Be Spent By Other Nations In Foolish Ways" but the acronym BOCFATTBSBONIFW doesn't have quiet the same ring to it.

The response is understandable in many ways. Coming as it does at the very end of the Obama reign it smacks of the same sort of petulance that has marked his entire administration and doubly so the month since it was apparent that the American electorate rejected his legacy and replaced him with someone who, at least on the surface, couldn't be more different. But it also raises the same concern that I usually have when the topic of the contemporary nation of Israel is at the forefront of the news, namely the response of American evangelicals.

I want to be crystal clear on this. Whether or not you support the secular nation-state of Israel as a matter of geopolitical preference, a democratic ally of sorts of the United States in an otherwise largely hostile region and whether or not you think the resolution that was passed and the U.S. decision to abstain (itself a cowardly act of inaction, if we supported the resolution we should have voted for it and if we didn't we should have voted against it. Abstention was the cowardly response.) was wise or foolish is a matter of geopolitics and U.S. national security. It is not a theological question, at least insofar as it is not a theological question about specific loyalty from one secular nation toward another.

There are not many issues in American evangelicalism which are more confused and more potentially costly to our witness than the mass misunderstanding of the theological nature of ancient and now extinct Israel as opposed to the contemporary secular nation-state of Israel. When you combine the "America as God's chosen nation" misplaced patriotic fervor with the dispensational confusion over the nature of Israel, you end up with a toxic mix that is dangerous and misguided. The ancient Old Covenant nation of Israel was a covenant-breaking unfaithful people (Jeremiah 31:32). God replaced that Old Covenant, making it obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), with a New Covenant that is in every way better (Hebrews 8:6). People of ethnic Jewish ancestry who are born-again are part of the New Covenant. Those that are not born-again are cut off (Romans 11:13-24 esp. verse 20) and their fate is no different from any other unbelieving people. As such there is no special place for the contemporary nation of Israel as it exists in redemptive history and there is no obligation for Christians to show deference to the secular covenant breaking leaders of Israel over any other nation. We are often reluctant to make that case, even from non-dispensational church leaders, for fears of raising the specter of "anti-semitism" but it is dishonest to pretend that there is a sharp distinction between the historic Old Covenant nation of Israel and the secular reconstituted contemporary nation that bears the same name.

When we associate the church and the Gospel with a secular nation and favor that nation and that ethnicity over others we make a mockery of the Great Commission and tell other people groups that they are second-class citizens of the world even though the overwhelmingly unbelieving citizens of Israel have no special standing with God compared to the people of any other contemporary nation and indeed believers in places like Syria and China have a relationship with God unlike that which any Israelite ever had under the Old Covenant. We do the people of Israel no favors when we extend to them the promise of covenant blessings that they do not possess instead of preaching the Gospel of the New Covenant in Christ to them no differently than we do any other nation or ethnicity.

I think that the behavior of the President via his surrogates was cowardly and petulant toward Israel and pandering toward other nations that are no friend of the United States. I also believe that there are many troubling questions in general about the relationship between the U.S. and Israel that need sober reflection. The entire relationship between the United States, Israel, the rest of the Middle East, the "Palestinian" people and so many other variables is excruciatingly complex. That complexity and the peril of missteps is far too great for Christians to interject a clumsy hermeneutic into it that further muddies water already roiled by decades of antagonism. We should encourage our leaders in America to be even-handed toward all other nations, showing deference where warranted by friendship and mutual benefit but not based on erroneous theological assumptions. It is fine, proper and necessary to have our theological convictions inform our understanding and involvement in contemporary secular issues but let's make sure we have the proper theological framework to make those decisions.

For more on this topic see a couple of prior posts,  Israel, Gaza and the Gospel and One of the best summaries of the relationship between Christians and the modern state of Israel I have ever read.