Monday, June 29, 2015

Caesar Giveth and Caesar Taketh Away

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 26, 2015

So now what?

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

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

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

So what next?

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

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

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

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

Slow Down A Bit Here

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Headcovering: Now More Than Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Little More About That Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe The Theologically Worst Tweet Ever

I saw this from C.J. Mahaney:

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Threats and Guilt: It Is How We Do Church!

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Duh indeed

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

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

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

Back to the article itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 13, 2015

When Eight Seems Lonely

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

You! Yes, you! I Need Your Help!

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

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

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

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

Modesty: A Taboo Topic

Eric Carpenter has been running a series of "question" posts, and the latest one is a personal favorite: Why Is Modesty a Dirty Word in the Church?. Eric makes some solid points on this topic and believe me it is one that people get incensed over. Often it is the alleged adult population in the church that is the most likely to have a fit about it. I don't think most young women really want to dress like hookers or try to enjoy themselves at the beach while 90% naked but that is what society tells then to do and too many parents are cowards when it comes to bucking the culture. Eric's post gets to the heart of the matter (pun intended) namely having a heart for God rather than a heart that is concerned with worldly acceptance.

Here is my comment in response:
A couple of thoughts.
I have seen the burqa argument as well. It is kind of like the "what about Hitler?" or "What if someone was breaking into your house to hurt your wife and children?" responses I get to non-violence. They aren't legitimate questions but extreme responses designed to shut down conversation as if there is no third option between a young woman dressed in the equivalent of underwear on a beach or wearing a head to toe burqa. It is intellectually lazy and dishonest. 
Second, Christians in America hate the perception that they are being told what to do. This is compounded by a tiny majority in our culture that says that any whim, no matter how destructive, must be indulged by the individual, must be celebrated by everyone and ideally be paid for by the government. 
Third, modesty goes way beyond wearing non-revealing clothing but while that is true and needs to be talked about, modesty is also not less than this. I have been told that you can have a modest heart and wear whatever you want and be OK which is baloney. Certainly someone can wear modest clothing and have an immodest or rebellious heart but one cannot dress immodestly. whether that means scanty clothing or prideful, expensive clothing, and somehow have a pure, modest heart. 
I think ultimately modesty is such a taboo subject because it makes people uncomfortable and uncomfortable people stop donating to the local church or go elsewhere. In a religious setting like ours that is so driven by money and keeping the doors open and the staff paid, many "leaders" are terrified of their own flock.
Those comments seem kind of harsh but sometimes that is what the church needs to here. In fact I think that way too much of what we get in the church is so painfully muzzled in the attempt to not offend anyone that we often are far more willing to put forth a comfy lie rather than risk proclaiming an uncomfortable truth.

Give Eric's post a read and leave a comment. Perhaps you have some other thoughts on why modesty is such a dirty word in the church or perhaps you think we are all wet and that modesty is not a big deal. Either way, it is a topic that needs to be talked about.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Exciting News!

While I am holding some of the details off for now, I am excited to announce that I am going to take the next step in the publishing world and have a proposed solo book title approved for publication. I still have to write it of course and that is where the real work begins! I got a taste for the more disciplined, more mentally strenuous work of writing for publication with Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity and it kind of stuck with me. Writing for my blog is very free flowing, in the moment. Whatever I happen to be thinking about, I write about. This is a very different matter. Selecting a topic ahead of time and then building toward a more comprehensive treatment of that topic is definitely a different discipline and writing for an audience that understandably expects more thought and preparation from a book versus a blog post. So I am probably equal parts excited and nervous!

Anyway, more details to come soon. The topic won't be much of a surprise to anyone who reads this blog but I hope the way I approach it is more helpful than polemic. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 07, 2015

I feel guilty, gimme a job!

This post has so many of my most favoritest stuffs. Professional paid "ministry", women in church leadership and of course the ever-present entitlement mentality. It is like an early Christmas present! I present to you Women, Leadership, and Guilt by Sharon Hodde Miller and posted by Ed Stetzer. Sharon is a "recent doctoral graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School" and in her research she discovered that many women who are pursuing formal theological vocational education feel guilty about it. See below:
What happens when you discern a call to ministry that seems totally impractical? What happens when you enroll in seminary without any assurance of a future job?
Those are the uncertainties facing the women I interviewed for my doctoral research last year. I sat down with female seminary students at three conservative, evangelical seminaries for the primary purpose of understanding “what worked.” What encouraged them to enroll in seminary when so few of their peers do the same?
Throughout the course of my research, I discovered numerous encouraging findings about how church leaders are identifying the gifts of women and equipping them for ministry. However I also uncovered a surprising obstacle. In addition to the expected hurdles of tuition costs and lack of job prospects, I found that over a third of the women wrestled with an abiding sense of guilt.
One woman confessed, “I thought maybe I was being selfish by wanting to attend. Like, I wanted to prepare myself for my career, instead of supporting my husband’s.” Another woman also admitted to feeling selfish for enrolling, that she ought to “give to people instead of giving to [herself].” One student described her own feelings of “guilt and shame,” while another expressed her fear of attending seminary “for the wrong reasons.”
Keep in mind that feeling guilty is about the worst thing that can happen to someone in our culture. If someone feels guilty or ashamed or anything other than warm and fuzzy, that means that someone else has done something bad and must be punished. This nonsense infects the "Christians" part of out society in much the same way it does the broader culture.

She does make an accidental correct point:
No Christian tradition denies the goodness of women equipping themselves to better serve God, so this sentiment is terribly misplaced.
Amen to that, the church absolutely ought to be very concerned with equipping our sisters. The question is not quite that simple because from that statement she makes a number of leaps including the grossly erroneous notion that equipping anyone in the church, male or female, requires or suggests formal theological training leading to a job at a seminary. In contrast we see that when Paul wrote to Titus he set out for us how we should equip women as well as the setting:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3-5)
So what is the proper way for women to be equipped in the church? It is a lot like the way men should be equipped, namely by the emulation of more mature Christians. In contrast to the "send more women to seminary" model being espoused here, what Paul commends is that younger women learn from older women right where they are and that what they are to learn is how to behave respectfully and reverently, to love their husband and their children, to keep the home and submit to their husband as the church submits to Christ. In the pages of Scripture we have no example of women leaving home to get a vocational ministry degree in order to be a leader in the church. Of course there isn't an example of that for men either. What this is symptomatic of is the contemporary secular mindset that demands that women have "a career of their own" to be fulfilled, a mindset that has been immeasurably damaging to our broader culture and even more so in the church. Of course what the Scriptures have to say on this topic isn't all that important in light of our enlightened modern sensibilities. What is really important is that some women feel guilty about this whole thing!

What then is the solution to this guilt? Well if you are unsure if you can get a job and that makes you anxious, then we should create more jobs for ya!
"In addition to providing more paying jobs for women with ministry gifts, church leaders need to be intentional about how they talk about gifts—not only the gifts of women, but men also." 
So....some women feel guilty about getting an expensive degree from seminary so to assuage that guilt the church should make up yet another paid job in "ministry"? A chicken in every pot and a full-time staff job for every seminary grad? This just assumes an endless pot of money to provide paychecks to everyone that wants a church job. Given the decline in attendance, that just doesn't make a whole bunch of sense, setting aside how unscriptural it is on so many levels.

I must have missed the part in Scripture where the church exists to provide full employment for people who feel "called" to ministry. How about we encourage people to minister right where they are rather than insisting that they have to get specialized vocational training and in turn demanding a paycheck to minister? What we need in the church are not more "paying jobs" for men or for women but more engagement from the rank and file who sits mutely by while the professionals are expected to do the work of ministry. That is true for men and for women.

One would be hard pressed to argue that women need less help in caring for their home and family and more help in getting a seminary degree. As I have argued for, well pretty much for as long as I have been blogging, if we really want to help our sisters in the church we ought to be telling them "It is OK to want to be home with your family". I don't know of many women who have the "being a mom and wife" thing all figured out and are bored looking for something else to do, just as I haven't met a single man who has the "being a father and husband" thing figured out.

Snarkiness aside, we have to get out of the professional ministry mindset. The best training ground for the church is right at home where we live, work and raise our families. There is a place in the church for academics and professionals but it isn't the place for most of us, not for men and especially not for our sisters who are already overburdened by the pressures of raising a family and caring for a home in our modern era. The best teachers in the church are not the guys with the fancy degrees and a litany of letters after their name but rather are the men and women who live the lives others ought to emulate. You don't have to go to a seminary to find them, they probably live right by you and best of all watching and imitating them is free!

Saturday, June 06, 2015

What Not To Wear, Part Deux: Revenge Of The Jegging

A few weeks back I posted Repost and Addendum: What Not To Wear, a look at the notion of wearing only the "proper" clothing to gather with the church. In reading that you might get the impression that I don't think your clothing choice ever makes a difference, especially in today's ultra-casual and/or ultra-slovenly cultural.

False. It does.

This is sparked by a spate of stories in the past few years of young people, usually young women at prom or some other event, who decide to wear something that is expressly prohibited by a dress code and then are shocked, shocked I say, when they get in trouble. The story normally is framed as the innocent girl who just wanted to wear something cute only to get stomped on by the forces of patriarchy or the modesty police or just plain old bad people. What is more irritating is that it is usually a parent that is the most incensed over the issue because little Susie got in trouble. Case in point, a National Honor Society student wore a dress that was prohibited to an event and got in trouble for it. The student, one Cameron Boland, wants a reversal and apology of course and had this to say:
The student also said she wasn’t trying to “defy” school officials or protest the dress code with the sundress.
Well, far be it from me to be smarmy but in my humble opinion someone who is a National Honor Society award recipient ought to:

a) Be able to read, comprehend and follow published dress code guidelines for an event.

b) Should also know the definition of the words "defy" and "protest".

Most cultures in the history of the world have ascribed significant meaning to the clothing we wear. In American culture, even now, there are simply some guidelines for proper attire and decorum. Although we are far more casual than before and have managed to stretch out adolescence well into adulthood, at some point most people will need to function as adults in the real world. In that world how you present yourself matters. I have had way too many people come in for a job interview dressed like they were going to work on their car or perhaps just got out of bed. That was true even when I was managing a bank. I am not expecting everyone to wear a suit and tie to an interview but at least some clean, pressed, appropriate clothing would be nice. If you have a $400 smart phone and have clearly spent a bunch of money on tats and jewelry but you can't seem to round up a pair of decent pants, I have to question your judgment.

Generally people understand that when you go to a wedding or a funeral or some sort of event like that, you are expected to wear something decent as a sign of respect and class. When you get explicit directions for what is or is not acceptable, like a dress code for a prom or a NHS event and you still refuse to comply in an overt act of defiance, you get what is coming to you. Had the young lady at the National Honor Society event done something simple like wearing a sweater during the event, there would have been no issue at all. But no, her right to bear arms (and shoulders) trumps what the organizers said.

Stuff like this is a sign of the general cluelessness and immaturity of our society as a whole. What I want, my every whim, is sacred writ that must be obeyed by one and all. This sort of garbage is fed to kids and young adults in the politically correct cocoon of public schooling until they get out in the real world and then we have to deal with people who don't know how to interact in a professional or even polite manner, or how to show up on time or so much as tuck their shirt in. You might not like it or think that it is, to invoke the sacred mantra of our younger generation, "not fair!" but it doesn't change the fact that how you dress impacts how people view you. We do no favors to our younger generation by drilling into their heads that what they wear doesn't matter and whatever whim they choose to follow has no consequences.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

There Is No Pleasing Them So Stop Trying

The governor of my state of Indiana is in the spotlight again, this time for failing to be sufficiently obsequious to the attendees of the upcoming Circle City IN Pride Festival where men ride rainbow festooned floats wearing speedos or dressed like women. Governor Mike Pence apparently published a letter of welcome that was insufficiently welcoming and that has some people up in arms. Those who are complaining sense blood in the water after the cowardly response of Governor Pence to the RFRA kerfuffle and they are after him again. I wouldn't be surprised if the Governor sent out a revised welcome letter.

Short of Governor Pence appearing in leather or drag and begging these sad individuals to come to Indiana on his knees, nothing would placate these people so you might as well not bother trying. On the other hand various cultural conservative groups are upset that he welcomed groups that parade around the streets of Indiana dressed in next to nothing or wearing clothes intended to shock normal people. He really can't win on this issue but again trying to make some people happy, people who oppose everything he is doing and wouldn't vote for him with a gun to their heads, is foolish. Somewhere along the way someone has convinced us that no matter what someone is doing we need to welcome them to our country/state/city because they might bring in a couple of bucks. If NAMBLA or ISIS wanted to have an event in Indiana, should the governor welcome them with open arms? What about the Ku Klux Klan or the Aryan Nation? Indiana is what it is and Hoosier are who we are. If you don't like, don't come.

Seriously, if you took the vast majority of prominent Republican leaders and took all of their vertebrae I doubt you could assemble a single spinal column. At least fringe people like Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders have some actual convictions to stand for.

The church helped create the homosexual marriage problem, now it is time to fix it

Fairly recently there was a failed move in Alabama to stop issuing marriage licenses. It is the first of what is undoubtedly a lot of legislation like this in "red states" where the imposition of homosexual "marriage" by an act of judicial fiat is looming. The end result is obvious to anyone who is paying attention. Sooner or later, and probably sooner, the Supreme Court will whisk up a "right" for homosexuals to marry and that will be that. There is a great deal of wringing of hands among culture warriors but the die is cast and nothing is going to stop it now. All that is left to us now is a strategic retreat to get the marriage house in order.

Marriage is not really about property rights or tax breaks or who gets to make decisions about end of life medical issues. It is about the union of a man and woman and as a result, generally speaking, the creation of a family unit that is fruitful and multiplies and replenishes the earth. The ideas of creation, of marriage and of child-bearing and child-rearing are as inextricably linked to the Genesis account as sin and the Fall. It is through the course of history that man has added in things like dowries, inheritance rights, succession of children all the way up to the modern era where marriage, like church, is seemingly more a vehicle to get tax benefits than a sacred and inviolable covenant. If you doubt that, just wait until the Supreme Court inevitably decided that contributions to churches are not tax deductible and that clerical wages don't get special tax treatment and see what that does to the level of giving at local religious organizations.

Back to my point. The sacred covenant of marriage doesn't benefit from having secular benefits attached to it at all. Certainly individuals may benefit and many do. I am all in favor of anything that reduces the burden that the state seizes from individuals and families although I chafe at the notion of citizens having to come before Caesar, hat in hand, and beg for their own money back. Yet the cost to the covenant relationship of marriage for the church as a whole has been devastating. By simultaneously expanding the scope of marriage to include contractual and financial benefits and minimizing the sacred nature of marriage the church has created this mess where certain people can argue that the inherently exclusionary definition of marriage is discriminatory because it only confers benefits from the state on one specific form of union. Now that is true for a lot of benefits. Only veterans get veteran's benefits, railroad workers get their own retirement plan, etc. but inconvenient facts like that are irrelevant.

As I look back now, it seems like the push for "civil unions" might have been a better tactic and is still the way to go. Allow people to enter into binding contractual obligations that confer the non-sacred benefits of marriage to people and get rid of the entire concept of marriage as something controlled by the state and that brings with it state benefits. I have argued this before many times but actions like those we saw in Alabama are going to be accelerating and the time is now for the church to start talking about this. My position is as follows:

- The church should decline to perform marriage ceremonies for unbelievers or even for people who have a cultural, "I checked the 'Christian' box on a survey" kind of "Christianity".
- The church should not require state marriage licenses to perform ceremonies.
- The church should refuse to sign off on those licenses.

Let the state figure it out and decide how to confer benefits formerly reserved to married couples. Homosexual couples and any number of iterations of men, women, men who used to be women, women that used to be men, etc. are going to get secular marriage benefits so let's just take the concept of marriage out of the equation entirely. We helped make this mess by greedily taking Caesar's offer of financial goodies if we agreed to be his servant but being unequally yoked in this case has been as disastrous as it always is. It is time to fix this mess and only the church can do it, but if we insist on fighting culture war battles that are already lost we are going to be worse off than any of us can imagine.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Church Truancy Officers

Someone linked me an article a couple of days ago by a guy named Nathan Rose, 5 Spiritual Dangers of Skipping Church. Now the title alone is laughable and contains both religious click-bait (This guy went to church and YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!) and culturally based false religious notions but the content was just awful. I especially liked number 4: You can’t minister to anyone. Right, because most Christians spend so much time "ministering" to each other while staring at the back of the heads of other Christians. Of course in our institutional context dropping a check in the plate is the highest form of "ministry" permitted to the laity so I can sort of see what he means. Nathan, my unmet brother, if you think that you can't minister to anyone unless you are in a church building at an appointed time when you are not permitted to so much as speak to each other for most of the time you are there, I am wondering if you know what "ministering" means. The whole thing is a poor man's version of the usual 9 Marks style church attendance guilt machine. Number 5 was kind of depressing ("You skip out on a foretaste of heaven") because if heaven is an endless series of boring religious lectures and old guys thrusting an offering plate in your face, that doesn't sound all that appealing.

Nothing screams New Covenant fellowship quite like professional scolds threatening, cajoling, guilting and sometimes begging Christians to attend a religious event.

That was sarcasm in case I was being too subtle.

So I was fixing to write a thorough response and rebuttal for giggles but saw that someone else beat me too it. Rob Wilkinson posted Answering The Church Truancy Officers, and while I don't know anything about Ron and what else he believers and it does contain a lot of pat house church-type generalizations and buzz phrases, it also pretty neatly eviscerates the argument put forth by Nathan Rose. It isn't hard to do if you put forth any effort but an awful lot of people don't even realize how wrongheaded and anti-biblical arguments like what Nathan Rose is giving really are.

At the most basic level, if church is something you have to guilt or threaten people into attending, it isn't legitimate and it isn't worthwhile to go in the first place. Clumsy attempts like Rose's to scare people into attending church utilizing just awful "exegesis" don't really help the cause. Church shouldn't be something you do out of fear or a misplaced sense of duty, marching stoically off to church to do your part for your country local church. It should be a time to gather with other Christians and encourage one another. I don't usually feel encouraged when I am somewhere that someone else tells me I have to be at. I don't feel encouraged to drive a car when I am sitting in a plastic chair at the DMV holding a number ticket because Caesar says I need a license to drive on his roads.

The Anabaptist had the right of it, the church is a non-compulsory gathering of discipleship. Threatening people into attending church is not what the New Testament has in view. Making people feel guilty is for telethons, not for the family of God.

There Is No Economic Future Without Children

Eric Carpenter linked an interesting, although poorly written, article from the BBC: Germany passes Japan to have world's lowest birth rate - study. The article references a study showing that Germany no has the lowest birth rate in the world. That is not terribly surprising but some of the quotes in the story make me scratch my head a bit:

Germany has dropped below Japan to have not just the lowest birth rate across Europe but also globally, according to the report by Germany-based analysts.

Its authors warned of the effects of a shrinking working-age population.

They said women's participation in the workforce would be key to the country's economic future.
Germany's falling birth rate means the percentage of people of working age in the country - between 20 and 65 - would drop from 61% to 54% by 2030, Henning Voepel, director of the HWWI, said in a statement (in German).

Arno Probst, a BDO board member, said employers in Germany faced higher wage costs as a result.

"Without strong labour markets, Germany cannot maintain its economic edge in the long run," he added.

Experts disagree over the reasons for Germany's low birth rate, as well as the ways to tackle the situation.

Mr Probst said the country would need young immigrant workers to fill the significant skills gap. And more women were needed in the workforce to avoid economic problems.
Germany has one of the highest migration rates in the world, but has also seen growing support for anti-immigration party Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD).

The latest birth rate figures comes despite efforts by Mrs Merkel's government to invest in childcare support.

So the problem is that you don't have enough children to replenish the workforce so your solution is for more women to be involved in the workforce and to import more immigrants. Huh.

I may be one of them unwashed, ignert 'Muricans and perhaps I just don't get the enlightened, progressive mindset of the Continent but it seems to me that if not enough children is the problem, having more children might just fix it.

Snarkiness aside, this is a major economic crisis that is brewing in Europe and to a lesser but still very real extent in America. It is not a viable economic and fiscal strategy to fail to have workers to replace those who are retiring, especially when those who are retiring have been made expensive promises by the government with a shrinking pool of revenue to fund said promises. At least in America a lot of the workers who are retiring are leaving more highly skilled and paid jobs and are being replaced, if at all, by lower skill workers, often immigrants, who make a commensurately lower wage. In large segments of our population child-bearing is put off until the last moment and often too late. As workers choose to not work and leave the workforce, a number that is growing and not captured in the much touted "unemployment" statistics and other workers self-select through poor performance and lack of motivation to be restricted to "dead-end" jobs coupled with a refusal to have children by married couples, we see that the number and relative strength of the worker pool is getting weaker precisely as the need for tax revenue is greater.

The solutions proposed in this article and similarly here in America make little sense. Encourage more women to enter the workforce? That is supposed to increase child-bearing? Or provide more institutionalized daycare so women can have a baby and then dump it off with strangers so they can go to work to pay for that daycare are supposed to find that experience so wonderful that they want to have more kids? Come on. This obsession with women having "careers" to make a political point is the greatest disincentive to having children so having more of that is not going to magically make women want to bear children for day care workers and the state to raise while they slave away to pay for it.

A society that decides to commit suicide by refusing to replenish itself is doomed to a slow, painful death. Having more women working has done little to help America as a society and now we are following Europe in the slow cultural suicide of childlessness. Maybe it is time for us to stop listening to the social engineering experts and let couples make their own choices about how many children to have and how (and who) to raise them.