Monday, April 29, 2013

What Exactly Is An Anabaptist In 21st Century America?

That is a tough question. When you look at Anabaptism in America what you see is a pretty diverse group split into two main streams, one very liberal and one very conservative. Trying to say "this is an Anabaptist" when the two groups look, think and live nothing alike is pretty difficult. That doesn't stop us from trying!  Scot McKnight attempts to answer this question today in hos post, So What's An Anabaptist and does so by looking back to Harold Bender's The Anabaptist Vision as the best summary that transcends the liberal-conservative divide. Mcknight summarizes Bender in this paragraph:

For Bender, the Anabaptists are the full implementation of the Reformation. Neither Luther nor Calvin went far enough. Bender’s focus is Luther, not Calvin, and he cites evidence that Luther late in his life realized his “mass church,” which was basically everyone born into the community/State would be baptized and be Lutheran, was ineffective in transforming the life of the person. The early Anabaptists, like Conrad Grebel, observed the lack of discipleship among the Lutherans of the Reformation. So the Anabaptists carried through the Lutheran reforms and broke with 1500 years of the church.

That is a pretty good summary. More and more I see the Anabaptists, for all of their faults ancient and modern, as the most faithful followers of what the Magisterial Reformers started but were unable or unwilling to finish. I left this comment on Scot's post:

Very good summary and I applaud the reference to Bender. There are two pretty distinct lines of modern Anabaptism. For many people Anabaptism is a term that primarily references “progressive” Christianity, not merely non-resistance but other more leftward causes that have been folded into the umbrella of “Anabaptism”. Where I live the Anabaptist line is far more conservative with a sizeable population of Amish and very conservative Mennonites, Beachy Amish, zealous former Amish and others marked by conservative dress, headcoverings, conservative theology and simplicity in the distinctive way they live. The Mennonite gathering we attend is considered fairly liberal by local Anabpatist standards even though virtually every woman in attendance has a headcovering and wear dresses or long skirts.

In many ways the two different lines of Anabaptism are about as far apart as you can imagine making it very difficult to define modern Anabaptist thought. The things that marked the early Anabaptists have been somewhat lost in the mists of time and the centuries of persecution but those very lessons are going to be critical to the church in the days to come as we emerge from the suffocating cocoon of Christendom and into a world that is gradually more hostile to Christianity.

As something of a Johnny-come-lately to Anabaptism I often see a jarring disconnect between what I read of the early Anabaptists and what I see today. In some ways I see the term Anabaptism being hijacked by "progressive" theologians who want to take the radical discipleship of Anabaptists and turn it into a license for "anything goes" theology, which is kind of the opposite of the original Anabaptist who simply read and believed what the Bible, esp. the New Testament, had to teach us. On the other hand I see some of that as an understandable backlash against the conservative Anabaptist model that is more and more entrenched with each passing year, terrified of not being "conservative" enough and letting the proverbial liberal camel nose under the tent.

So who were and who are the Anabaptists? My study of them reveals a people who were committed, radically so, to the teachings of Scripture especially when it comes to the teachings of Jesus. They were hardly liberal. The use of the Ban, known more commonly as shunning, as a tool of church discipline in response to sin and wayward behavior seems jarring to some on the leftward leaning spectrum. They had little interest in trying to use the machinery of the state to make unregenerate people behave. The saw the church as primarily a fellowship, a brotherhood. They expected and received persecution from the world. All of the rest of this stuff that has come to be associated with "Anabaptism" is often just fluff and frequently harmful. If you want to know who the Anabaptist are, read what they wrote, study how they lived and learn how their example can benefit the church today.

Oh The Delicious Irony

We were driving through northern Indiana this weekend and saw this scene in LaGrange. We had to stop, turn around and take a picture.

I have to wonder if anyone else saw the irony in a giant, dare I say idol, of a cow (perhaps a calf?) being parked behind the Ten Commandments? Not to mention the fact that a) this is the parking lot of a U.S. post office, where are the lawyers?! andf b) why would you have a giant cow on wheels in the first place and furthermore why is it parked here?

Just felt compelled to share that.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lamb Update

Our remaining ewe lambs are doing well, unfortunately the ram lamb didn't make it after his mom rejected him and in spite of living in our living room for a week. Still waiting on the last ewe to have her lambs, this is her first year so we are only expecting one. Kind of disappointed that the second ewe only had a single but at least it was a ewe.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Limits On Unity

Alan Knox has a new chain blog, this time on the topic of relational unity. The word "relational" is critical here. A lot of Christians will acknowledge the concept of unity while by their actions practically deny that very same unity. Saying "we are one in Christ but I don't associate with you Sunday morning or cooperate with you in any meaningful sense" is a farce and sinful.

I talk a lot about unity and there are some great posts already in the chain blog. I want to add a different viewpoint having to do with the limits of unity. Can we have unity without exception? Does unity trump everything else? If not, what are the limits?

When we look to Scripture we see clearly that unity is very important, not just in theory but in reality. We see the church around the ancient world collecting funds for famine relief for churches in other regions, we see the church freely sharing with one another materially, we see Jesus praying for unity in His high priestly prayer. However we also see that from the very earliest days there were people who for a variety of reason that we are warned about and often those warnings required us to separate from people, to be dis-unified for the sake of the church. Where we run into trouble is the "when" of this issue. The sad truth is that most of what we divide over in word or deed has essentially no Scriptural basis and sometimes it seems we fail to divide when Scripture says we ought to.

I want to start by looking at some places where separation is required and the first place in Scripture that springs to mind is the opening of Paul's letter to the church of Galatia.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Gal 1:6-9)

That is some pretty strong language. Not "we should form an ecumenical council to discuss common ground". If someone, an individual or group of individuals, denies central tenets of the Gospel, replacing them with teachings that subvert the very essence of that Gospel, we cannot have unity with them. We can love them, and must. We can pray for them and ought to. Be visibly unified in the faith with them? No. This warning and the next are especially pertinent in our world today. No as far as what those central tenets are, that is a conversation for another day. Mormonism and the Jehovah's Witnesses obviously fall outside of Gospel orthodoxy. Historically that has been true to a lesser extent with Roman Catholicism. What about Seventh-day Adventism? Again, important topics for a different day.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty." (2 Cor 6:14-18)

This might as well have been written to the political activists on both sides of the church. I see this mostly applied in the church to marriage as a warning against "inter-faith marriage" but it clearly is a much broader command. I understand the impulse to make public signs of unity with like minded unbelievers to achieve common goals but there is a real danger of unity with those whom we are nto united in the faith with. So there ought to be clear distinguishing lines between the church and the world.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you."  (1 Cor 5:9-13)

Sexuality immorality and other gross sins that fester unrepentant in the church are destructive. Paul is not saying here that they have "lost their salvation" or that people who are sinning are not believers but that they should be treated as unbelievers, denying them the fellowship of the saints and "purging" them from the church. It damages the witness of the church and causes confusion when we look past these sins. So when people are refusing to repent of their sins we must of necessity separate from them.

So obviously the Bible places limits on unity. Here is another one, a tricky one to ponder....

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.  (Titus 3:9-11)

That is a hard one. The response to someone who is divisive is to...divide from them? In this case yes, being divisive is harmful to the church and for the sake of unity we must stay clear of people like that. Now they are plenty of people who are excessively quarrelsome in the church, not the same thing as people asking legitimate if difficult questions, and the church has an obligation to discipline and potentially eventually, to borrow an Anabaptist term, shun those who refuse to repent.

We face a major stumbling block in this whole issue of unity and limits in that we have an awful lot of trouble identifying and agreeing on what those limits mean. Most of what divides the church does not have much, or any, Scriptural support. Divisions over eschatology, music style or church governance, specifics of soteriology, traditions, denominations, etc. are common in the church but are completely absent from Scripture. I guess when you are being persecuted for the faith you don't have time to worry about secondary issues. Because we divide over secondary issues and other issues that are so silly they don't qualify as secondary we fail to clearly define what issues we should see as legitimate limits to unity.
We ought to seek unity, real and relational unity, as a top priority for the church. We should find barriers to unity and tear them down. Yet we must not mistake prioritizing relational unity with false unity, unity at all costs. Unity that compromises the Gospel is not unity we should pursue. Unity that overlooks what Scripture declares to be inviolable principles is false unity and worse than disunity. What is truly ironic is that because of our disunity we have utterly failed to have the conversations in the church that would clarify what rises to the level of an issue to divide over. Our disunity makes unity nearly impossible.

So what do you think? What are the reasonable limits of unity in the church? Where do we draw the line?


Chain blog rules:

1) If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.

2) Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain.” Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog (both on this post and the other link posts in the chain).

3) When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of the previous post to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.


“Links” in the “Real Relational Unity” chain blog:

1. “Chain Blog: Real Relational Unity” by Alan

2. “The Treasure of Unity ‘in’ our Relationships” by Jim

3. “So The World May Know – Observations on the Road to Unity” by Christopher

4. “Christian Unity – What it is and What it’s not” by Nathan

5. “Steps to Relational Unity” by Randi

6. “Learn to Live or Live to Learn” by Greg

7. “The Limits on Unity” by Arthur

8. Who will write the 8th link post in the chain?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

New baby!

Another of our ewes had a baby this afternoon, so far just one but we are expecting another twin. We just have to wait at this point.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The worlds fattest sheep?

Quite possible. This is not our ewe, one of our Amish friends bought her and brought her to our place to become...acquainted with our ram but she used to be a pet and clearly had more than enough hay to eat. Our friend and I together had a tough time picking up the crate she was in.

The Day After

I know the last thing the world needs is yet another introspective look at the bombing in Boston yesterday but this is what I do.

Today is....odd. The news is filed with pictures and stories about the bombing, reminiscent of September 12, 2011. Yet it is also rather quiet. I don't sense the same urgency for vengeance. I certainly don't feel it. I am ashamed to admit that in the hours and days following 9/11 as a young Christian all I wanted was a target, someone to pay. I still get choked up when I recall President Bush at Ground Zero promising that those who brought down the towers had a day of reckoning coming. Little did I know at the time just how destructive our quest for vengeance would be. Today seems more like the days following the first attack on the World Trade Center, a terrorist attack but one that could have been much worse.

Maybe the scope is too small to gain the same attention. Maybe not knowing who is responsible is holding back the rage. Maybe we are afraid that what we find out about who and why will not be what we are expecting. Perhaps we are just getting numb after a decade of war, of casualty numbers on the news, after school shooting after school shooting and with the Sandy Hook shooting still fresh in our minds. An 8 year old boy was killed but social media has been abuzz with the unbelievable human calamity of the Gosnell abattoir for the last few weeks.

The human mind can only take so much. Only so much sadness, so much horror. Maybe we are at a saturation point and can only wait for a few days to get back to our petty entertainments and funny pictures of cats on the internet. The death of an 8 year old, blown up by a bomb on the streets of Boston at the end of a marathon? What can possibly be the point, the goal?

America is a different place today. Gone are the pre-9/11 days where I think we had a false sense of security and optimism. Today America is a land where the only news is bad news, a land with a foreboding sense that things are not just bad, they are bound to get much, much worse. You can already see the news starting to drift away. In two weeks, will we even be talking about Boston?

I think we are seeing just how inadequate our cultural religion truly is. It is fine for keeping people in line as long as everyone buys into it. It works for whipping people up in religious fervor to smite the enemies of America. When it comes to the stark reality of the depraved nature of man? In those events it is proven inadequate and even harmful. Our society is not, and never has been, founded in the Kingdom values of the Gospel of Christ. Worse, the church by and large is not either. We are founded in the cultural religious values of our society and often we have no answer to events like this.

Feeling melancholy and morose today but mostly I am thankful for One who knows all things and has things under control. In a way, in the midst of this atrocity I am hopeful that the Gospel that saves is rising up, cutting through the empty morality of our cultural religion to call people to another Way. The true hope for America is not going to be found in discovering the responsible parties in the bombing. The true hope for America is found in Christ, in rejecting retribution and revenge and placing hope in He who forgave and died to redeem His enemies. I pray that is the message that comes from the church this Sunday and more importantly in our words and deeds in the days to come.

Monday, April 15, 2013

New Book On Weakness From Packer

J.I. Packer has a new book coming out on the topic of weakness, Weakness Is The Way: Life with Christ our Strength
Weakness is the Way by J. I. Packer from Crossway on Vimeo.

An interesting book to see the announcement for today, a day when once more I find myself as do so many others caught in the throes of weakness and impotence in the face of evil. Looking forward to this one.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Sunday, April 14, 2013


OK, what can be cuter than this?

A Means To An End Or An End In Itself?

I read a post some time ago by Alan, The Unsolved Problem of Protestantism, where he quotes from a book by Emil Brunner, The Misunderstanding of the Church. Ever since I have been hoping to find a copy of Brunner's book to read for myself. The problem is that Brunner's book was written in the 50's, is fairly small and new copies from Amazon are almost $40 (used hardcopies are over $300!). Lo and behold, I saw a link to the original post recently and on a lark decided to check our library and sure enough they had it stashed away in the archives! Like many older books, it is far meatier than the standard fluffy fare that gets published today.

Anyway, something that grabbed my attention early on was his idea of  the church as an end in itself rather than the more common practical understanding of Roman Catholics and many Protestants alike that see the church as a means to an end, the dispensing of the sacraments in Catholicism and as the location where we receive the "means of grace" in Protestantism, two concepts that are different in doctrine but awfully similar in practice. Here is what he wrote:

The New Testament Ecclesia realizes that it is the Body of Jesus Christ, that it is divine revelation and salvation in action, therefore never to be thought of as a means to an end, but as an end in itself, even if as yet only an adumbration of a yearning for the consummation which shall be in God's good time.

Brunner, The Misunderstanding of the Church, pg. 10, see note below on "adumbration"

Interesting. Do you agree with Brunner?

I largely find myself in agreement, not surprisingly. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants alike see the formal gathering of the church at least in part as a means to an end, somewhere we go to "worship" and receive communion/baptism. I see the church as a reality, a picture of an already/not-yet life to come. The church as it appears in the world is a witness, not an invitation to come to church but a living demonstration of living examples of the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit and the redeeming power of His blood. We don't "go to church" to have something dispensed to us via the church gathering as a conduit of grace, we go to because we have already experienced His grace and are gathering to be equipped and edified to declare and demonstrate that grace to the lost world around us. A subtle distinction perhaps but a very real and very necessary one that when misapplied leads to mischief, heresy and religious apathy.

I have never cared for the notion of the gathered church as a "means of grace", primarily because the term and even the concept is absent from Scripture and also largely because I see this idea as a means not of grace but of control by making the rituals we have labelled "baptism" and "The Lord's Supper" into ordinances or sacraments that are only properly available when done under the auspices of a local religious organization and performed by a religious professional. I understand the underlying idea behind it and don't really object but I find the application to be fatally and dangerously flawed.

I think this idea merits more thought. In spite of our talk about the priesthood of all believers and our nod to the notion of coming boldly before the throne of grace, in practical terms we see the "visible church" as a necessary intermediary between the people of God and God Himself, something that we need in order to properly experience God. Certainly when the church comes together it is one of the best means of edification and encouragement but that is not restricted to Sunday gatherings. I am often far more encouraged and edified by casual conversations with other Christians than by a dozen prepared sermons. I learn more by observing the way other Christians live than by months of Sunday school lessons.

When we see "the church" as a means to an end, it adds an unnecessary and unhealthy extra step in our path. When we see "the church" as an end in itself, a living embodiment of the Gospel in action, it changes Christianity from an event driven, institution and clergy centric religion to a people called out and set apart as a witness. The latter is what Christ instituted and the apostles lived, the former is what man perverted into something completely contrary to everything we read in Scripture. The world doesn't need to see more "churches", it needs to see the church.

FYI, if you don't know what "adumbration" means, it is defined as:

1. to produce a faint image or resemblance of; to outline or sketch.
2. to foreshadow; prefigure.
3. to darken or conceal partially; overshadow.
I had to look it up, I have a pretty decent vocabulary but that was a new one for me.

Friday, April 12, 2013


One of the approximately 76 books I am reading presently is Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America, first written in 1977. I got it from the library and it has been dynamite so far. It is one of those books that I want to highlight every other passage (which I can't since it is a library book!). Few people write quite this well today in our age of sound bytes and emoticons.

Even worse, a system of specialization requires abdication to the specialists of various competencies and responsibilities that were once personal and universal. Thus, the average-one is tempted to say, the ideal-American citizen now consigns the problem of food production to agriculturists and "agribusinessmen," the problem of health to doctors and sanitation experts, the problems of education to school teachers and educators, the problems of conservation to conservationists, and so on. This supposedly fortunate citizen is therefore left with only two concerns: making money and entertaining himself. He earns money, typically, as a specialist, working an eight-hour day at a job for the quality or consequence of which somebody else-or, perhaps more typically, nobody else-will be responsible. And not surprisingly, since he can do so little else for himself, he is even unable to entertain himself, for there exists an enormous industry of exorbitantly expensive specialists whose purpose is to entertain him.

The Unsettling of America, pp. 19-20

Wow. Two concerns, making money and entertaining himself. A lot of the money we make is funneled right into that entertainment so in some ways we are simply working to entertain ourselves.

It is amazing how many Americans are employed in occupations that are completely unnecessary or even frivolous. That is not to denigrate those employed in those occupations (mine probably falls into that category), people work where the jobs are. It just speaks to our society as a whole which is by and large a pretty self-absorbed and frivolous enterprise. We don't make much anymore because American labor is priced way out of competitiveness. More and more of us work in cubicle farms or some sort of public facing service jobs. We spend billions on smart phones, tablets, cable/satellite TV, movies, vacations, cruises, etc. etc. Because our lives are so compartmentalized and segmented and our existence so tied to convenience and comfort we have little time or inclination to do much.

Men and women, in different ways, used to be pretty versatile. My dad is a great example of this. He went to a vocational school in high school but then went off to college and eventually medical school. As a doctor he could do doctor stuff. He also was incredibly skilled at woodworking, both beautiful finely crafted work and more utilitarian items. When I was a kid he would work all day at his office and then spend time in the evening building a deck or making furniture or carving various animals. He was a passable painter. He could hunt and especially fish. He sort of played the piano and the guitar and occasionally the bagpipes. There were some things he couldn't or wouldn't do, he didn't like working with metal or engines, preferring the cleanness of woodworking. Regardless he is a versatile guy with a wide variety of interests and skills.

There are fewer and fewer men like that and a corresponding decrease in the number of women who are skilled in practical ways. The traditional arts of men, skills that I have virtually none of, like fixing stuff and making stuff are being lost just as the traditional arts of women in the home, sewing and mending and cooking. What is the point of learning to cook if you plan on being employed and getting home so late each night after work and kids activities that you order a pizza? Why learn to sew when you can just throw away a garment and buy a cheap replacement made by some kid in a foreign country? No one has time to work on their car, you just take it to a mechanic. Why bother learning how to fix stuff around the house when you can call a specialist? Everything is disposable and able to be subcontracted to specialists. When everything is cheap and convenient, nothing has value and why bother learning how to do something that has no value?

Last summer we had a really bad windstorm that tore up a lot of stuff. Months went by and many houses in suburbs still had tarps on them, waiting for an insurance adjustor and a professional to fix it. Meanwhile damage to Amish homes was fixed within days, even barns that collapsed were back up in a matter of days or weeks. Sure they have specialists but they all know how to do something. It used to be that everyone was like that. Today we think we are so advanced because we have such a limited scope of responsibility and we are "freed" from the drudgery of raising food and mending socks and fixing our roof. Perhaps that is true. What exactly are we freed to do? Week after week of both parts of the couple working at jobs with very little meaning getting home late after rushing around to take kids to a million activities so those kids can get into the right school and get the right job so that they can repeat the cycle, terrified that if they don't follow the path they will get left behind in our "global economy". If the cost of admission to the global economy is endless, empty business broken up occasionally by mindless "entertainment", count me out. We exist in a society of practically endless information where no one really knows anything of value.

As always I want to tie this back to the church. Do we suffer from the same issues of specialization? I think so and without question. We subcontract so much of what the church is called to do to a variety of specialists who specialize in "ministry" and in turn often have limited skills to do much else. Ask a former clergyman how easy it was to find a private sector job? Ask the average "layperson" what their function is in the church and beyond praying, paying and staying I doubt many have any idea what they can or should be doing. This specialization syndrome is one more way that the church is modeled after and emulates the world and it is every bit as unhealthy for the Kingdom as it is for our society.

Being good at something is not a sin. Being so specialized that you can do little else, while not a sin, is certainly a dangerous situation for our society.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Repost: On The Wearing of Wedding Rings

Back in 2010 I wrote a post about the wearing of wedding rings. It was a topic that had come up so it was on my mind at the time. It still gets a lot of hits. In the two and a half years since I wrote that post my wife and I have thought about the topic now and again. About a month or so ago we stopped wearing our rings. I would like to sell them, along with our class rings which are also gold, and give away the proceeds. I figure wearing a ring don't make more married than I already am and an orphan in Haiti could use the money. My wife isn't quite to that stage yet but it has been a while since we stopped wearing them and no one has tried hitting on me (maybe because my finger has a permanent line where my ring used to be or maybe because my grey beard makes me look like I am 60). So we are still working though it but I thought I would put the post back up.

So this is an interesting conversation that has come up among some friends and one that generates a visceral reaction when broached.

Wedding rings are firmly entrenched in our culture. The exchanging of rings and wearing of them to signify that the wearer is married is part of our cultural heritage even to the point of being the focal point in a whole bunch of country music songs (“I put that little golden band on the right left hand this time….”). Removing a wedding ring can be an indicator of a marriage that is broken. Cultural nostalgia is a big deal when it comes to these small symbols of marriage. Getting an engagement ring is a huge deal for women (if you have ever worked with a young woman who gets engaged the next day at work is filled with her friends and co-workers ooohin and aaaahing over the diamond)

Here is the question. Should Christians wear wedding rings or for that matter should Christians wear any sort of jewelry at all? My wife wears a modest wedding ring and has a couple of other pieces of frankly fairly inexpensive jewelry that she rarely wears. Should she? Why not you ask? Because it certtainly seems that Scripture doesn't permit this tradition.

Scripture seems pretty clear on this, generally in the idea of meekness and humility which seems ill served by a ring made out of a precious metal and often adorned with a pricey diamond as well as more specifically in two passages. I copied the whole section, not just the verse in question to give us a more full view and highlighted the particular verses:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3: 1-6)

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1 Timothy 2: 8-10)

The principle invoked here is of not being adorned with attire (which would include jewelry) that is prideful and designed to draw attention to the external but rather women in particular should be adorned with good conduct, good works, a gentle spirit and submission to their husbands.

This of course raises some questions. If we are not supposed to wear wedding bands because they are costly adornments, what about a plain band? What if the band was plain and also not gold? Should we eschew any sort of accoutrement that sets us at all apart from someone else? I also note that these two passages apply to women, so is it OK for men to wear wedding bands but not women? Is the wearing of adornments something of particular prideful temptation for women but not for men?

What about name brand clothing with logos ? Clothing companies put their logos on the outside both as an ad for their product as well as to let the wearer signify that they are wearing something more costly than you are. The horse and rider on Polo brand shirts is a great example. I used to sell The North Face jackets to rich kids because the logo tells people that this is not mere fleece or rainjacket, it is a $300 North Face jacket! I think the principle might hold true here as well.

I wonder if we should wear anything that is not plain and handmade. I need to wear suits and appropriate business attire for my job but outside of work, what about that?

There is a real issue and an important principle here that we don’t seem to address in a straightforward manner in the church. I think it might be for the same reason headcovering is glossed over, because it flies in the face of our cultural expectations. On the other hand, this can turn into a point of pride. It is easy to see your own plainness as a point of pride, that I am more holy than that person because of the manner of my dress. Those sorts of heart issues are far more troubling than external obedience and that is true not just about adornment or modest dress or headcovering but also wearing suits to church or lengthy prayers or being contentious or giving our of obligation. It is not difficult at all to be externally pious but have hearts in rebellion.

Peter and Paul are both unanimous and unambiguous about this issue. This strikes me as a topic where the text is clear, so rather than trying to prove from Scriptures that we cannot wear wedding rings, we should see this as explaining why from Scriptures that we can.

There is also a stewardship issue, is the buying of $1000 golden ring topped by a diamond foolhardy in light of the very real temporal needs of our brothers and sisters, of orphans and widows, of missionaries? That is an ancillary topic but a real one.

Is it a coincidence that the One Ring, a golden band that looks suspiciously like a wedding ring, is the embodiment of evil in The Lord of the Rings? Hmmmm…..

Seriously though. Should we give up the wearing of wedding rings or am I making too big of a deal about it? Is this an issue of hyper-literalism and legalism or are we resistant to the idea of eschewing rings because we have been so heavily marketed to by jewelry companies that we have bought into the idea that we simply must wear rings if we are married? Maybe someone more familiar with the Greek text (Alan?) can help us out here, is there something in the context that I am missing.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

My least popular blog series! Back by absolutely no demand whatsoever!

Had an interesting discussion today on Facebook on the issue of gender and realized I didn't have my series on patriarchy in one place anywhere so I thought I would put all of the links together. Almost nothing I have written has gotten quite the same negative response as this series (other than perhaps non-resistance) but far from being dissuaded I think this is a topic where I have come to an even more firm position. It is unpopular especially among the house church/organic church crowd but I gthink it is the most consistent. Anyway here are all of the links in order for your perusal and almost certain torch-and-pitchfork comments.

Biblical Patriarchy: Introduction

Biblical Patriarchy: Defining the Issue

Biblical Patriarchy: Old Testament

Biblical Patriarchy: New Testament

Biblical Patriarchy: Common Objections

Biblical Patriarchy: A Conclusion 

plus a special bonus entry on "mutual submission"!

Mutual Submission?





Twins Again!

We had our first set of baby lambs this morning, a little ram and a little ewe. That is our first ram lamb so I expect we will look to sell him. Our other two ewes are due fairly soon so we should be awash in lambs very soon!

Sunday, April 07, 2013

...and we're off!

The weather finally cooperated and with a couple of warm, dry days behind us I was able to get the garden tilled up.

As you can see the chickens are happy to have fresh tilled dirt to scratch around in.

We are expecting rain the next few days so I was glad to get the first pass done. Not much longer and we can start getting the rest of our plants in the ground. Hard to believe that it is finally (almost) Spring!

Friday, April 05, 2013

Winter is coming

On Wednesday I linked to Dan Edelen's post Radical For Jesus: What Does That Look Like In America?. The comments have been interesting as always and one of Dan's replies got my attention. He compared the church in America to the grasshopper in Aesop's fables. If you are unfamiliar with the story, here it is below...

The Ants and the Grasshopper 

THE ANTS were spending a fine winter’s day drying grain collected in the summertime. A Grasshopper, perishing with famine, passed by and earnestly begged for a little food. The Ants inquired of him, “Why did you not treasure up food during the summer?” He replied, “I had not leisure enough. I passed the days in singing.” They then said in derision: “If you were foolish enough to sing all the summer, you must dance supperless to bed in the winter.”

Translated by George Fyler Townsend. Aesop's Fables (p. 17). Amazon Digital Services, Inc..

Life has been pretty cushy for us in America for a long time, even today in spite of the hand-wringing over the "assault on religious liberty". In this time of ease and plenty we have mostly been preparing to minister, if you can call it that, in a perpetually friendly environment. It  has been religious "summer" in America for a very long time. We enjoy virtually absolute freedom along with a pretty unprecedented legal protection from Caesar. We are awash in cash, professionals, property, prestige. Our biggest concerns seem to focus around having enough people showing up to replenish the bank account so we can build bigger and better facilities to draw people in. We seem to live each Sunday as if things will continue on more or less as we have been used to indefinitely. The truth is that those days are ending. Soon.

My great concern is that the church is doing essentially nothing to prepare for the actual future, a future which is much closer than many of us want to admit. This future is not about savings accounts and endowments and vision casting and building projects, it is about trying to minister in a world that is going to be starkly different in terms of the religious climate, a world where commonly held beliefs of the faith will be under assault from within and without. We are investing so much of our time and energy in preparing for perpetuating the church of the recent past, i.e the last few hundred years, when in truth we need to be preparing for a very different world. We seem to forget that the cozy religious culture we live in is a historical anomaly, the norm is persecution and suffering not tax breaks and deference, weakness instead of strength, derision from the world rather than acceptance.

I think our European brethren have a lot to teach us here if we will only listen. They have lived through the sudden cascade of secularism (which if truth be told is no worse than empty cultural religiosity).  We look to Europe with her empty cathedrals and shake our heads in sadness, seemingly oblivious to the reality that the same situation is heading our way at breakneck speed.

We are very much like the grasshopper, enjoying our summer-time freedom and affluence and cultural deference but as Ned Stark would say, winter is coming. The church better wake up and start to prepare the next generation for something very different if we are to be found faithfully serving in the years to come. I have no doubt that the work of the Kingdom will carry on whether or not we are prepared but it certainly should make our witness more effective if we prepare for the future instead of clinging to the recent past.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Some Good Stuff

Nothing from me today but there were a few good links I wanted to point you to today.

The first is from Dan Edelen who is continuing his look at "radicalism" and today looks in a pretty piercing way at what it means (or is it even possible) to be "radical" in America: Radical For Jesus: What Does That Look Like In America? Pretty sobering and thought provoking, Dan raises a lot of issues that have bugged me for a while.

Also worth reading is a short interview by Ed Stetzer interviewing Andrew Jones of tallskinnykiwi fame. Ed's interview focuses on Andrew's life in itinerant ministry, the ministry model we see Paul living (in sharp contrast to the picture the church often paints of Paul). The interview is here: Itinerant Ministry: A Closer Look and while it is not something for everyone it certainly is a fascinating read.

Finally a new post from Alan Knox that is really a post about a series of posts from someone else but I liked it because it is always a joy to read someone else coming to the same conclusions regarding the church that many of us have come to as well. His post Defining and Describing Organic Church Life should generate some decent conversation so check it out!

Monday, April 01, 2013

Want to go into ministry? Borrow a bunch of money from Caesar!

I read something in our local paper on, of all mornings, Easter Sunday. The article, Debt risks ministry careers, looks at the student loan debt burden taken on by aspiring minister to achieve the professional educational requirements the church has decreed are required to "minister" in the church (a requirement that none of the original apostles would have met, BTW). The article looks at our local Lutheran semimary, Concordia, but it speaks to a bigger issue in the church. The economics of ministry is on a dangerous path as higher education gets more and more expensive, saddling would be ministers with ever greater amounts of debt, while fewer local congregations are able to financially support full time clergy. Unlike other professions where there is a more or less direct payoff for that additional debt, in ministry you take on more debt to make less money than you could in the private sector.

What is interesting to me is that most of this unnecessary debt being taken on by sincere brothers and sisters is where that debt comes from. From the article...

About 90 percent of Concordia students end up borrowing through federal student loans, he estimates.

Do you get why that seems so wrong, so contrary to what we see in Scripture?

Can you picture this in the first few centuries of the church? A young man goes to his local church elders and says he wants to serve Jesus. They tell him he needs to attain a particular educational level in order to really minister. In order to do so he will need to go to a special school and it will be very expensive. The young Christian is crestfallen. How will I pay for this schooling he asks? Easy, exclaim the elders, you can just go into debt by borrowing money from Caesar so you can serve Jesus! The young man is understandably confused but the elders know best so he fills our his Free Application for Imperial Financial Aid, or FAIFA for short and starts visiting seminaries.

Silly, right? Well yes and intentionally so but why is it so silly given the reality in the church where we demand as local congregations that the relative strangers we will hire to be our "elders" must have a degree from a seminary, a degree that will cost them dearly in terms of time and money (and probably debt)? Once again we see the church is, perhaps unintentionally, relying on Caesar to finance the church. Whether it is tax breaks or student loans for ministry students, the church is awfully reliant on the state to operate and that is not a healthy situation. We bemoan the "loss of religious liberty" in America but when we turn the operation of the church over to Caesar what do we expect?