Monday, December 28, 2015

Armed Self-Defense: The 11th Commandment of the church in America

I have remarked before that of the controversial subjects I post on nothing else gets the kind of angry response as the questioning of Christians using violence, whether on behalf of the state or in self-defense. It is not even close and when I say angry I mean really, really angry. So when John Piper wrote a post, Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?, that pretty neatly laid out the rationale for Christians not packing heat solidly grounded in the Bible and in recognition of the prioritization of the New Covenant, it got the sound and fury you would expect. I hope that the backlash doesn't drown out the message. John Piper has written something terribly important on this topic. It is important for what it says, for how carefully he says it and because it comes from someone with such a broad audience in the church. Piper and by association Desiring God Ministries have the greatest audience for the question of violence and the Christian.

I am not someone who takes what Piper says as gospel truth simply because it comes from his mouth or his pen.  I find that I agree with Piper to varying degrees on almost every topic but on places we differ like most of what he writes on ecclesiology I don't hesitate to call out when he or anyone else blurs the distinction between Western religious traditions and Scriptural command and precedent.

Needless to say, many have taken to the interwebs to contradict Piper. Speaking in generalities those who most vehemently advocate for Christians arming themselves, and doing so via careful exegesis, tend to lean heavily on the Old Testament and likewise tend toward theocratic thinking. Others, like Tom Chantry, assert that John Piper "has no discernment at all". Apparently Piper makes the mistake of not dividing "churchy stuff" from "non-churchy stuff". Check out the statements I put in bold:
The latest upheaval is over Piper’s silly article about Christians owning guns, a topic he first addressed some years ago. Now I’ll say this up front, of all the works of Piper which might raise outrage in the church, anti-second-amendment rhetoric is the very least. That said, the problem with both these articles is that Piper wants to funnel every discussion of gun-ownership and self-defense through the filter of evangelistic encounter. That’s nice and gospel-centered (TGC is kicking themselves for not publishing this first!) but fails to recognize the rather obvious facts that not every Christian is a missionary, not every circumstance is evangelistic, not every moral priority is gospel oriented, and not all violence is murder. Do you see how many categories get blurred when Piper speaks? That’s a discernment problem: he can’t tell one thing from another.
Yikes. First assuming that only "missionaries" need to worry about evangelistic encounters is false. Just because a Christian doesn't carry the title of "missionary" it doesn't follow that they are not called to reach the lost. Nowhere do we see a caveat on the Great Commission or elsewhere that only "missionaries" need to worry about evangelistic encounters. Apparently Chantry prefers that the unlicensed among us keep our mouths shut and pay attention to the sermon. The second is like unto the first. Why would every encounter with an unbeliever not be an opportunity to share the Gospel? Maybe in the workplace you could make that argument but that is partly why I choose to work for myself. If encounters with unbelievers is not the proper setting for evangelism, what is? The third is just perplexing because it is so sweeping and Chantry does nothing to explain it. What "moral priorities" do we have that are not "gospel oriented"? Are we to box up the Gospel so that it only applies when at church or when you are a missionary? In loving our enemies are we only asked to do that from the pew? One of the great weaknesses in the church is that we teach moralism instead of the Gospel, something I assume Chantry agrees with but here we have a learned fellow telling us that when inconvenient we can making moral decisions apart from the Gospel. Read it again: " not every moral priority is gospel oriented ". That is a major admission. While I agree with the fourth point from a legal standpoint the reality is that no matter how you nuance the taking of another human's life, it is still killing. When the abortionists say they are "terminating a pregnancy" what they are doing is still killing a child. Killing is killing no matter the rationale or circumstances. It is not a stretch to say that killing is naturally the opposite of loving. We are called to love others, even and especially our enemies. We are never called to kill anyone. Chantry doesn't miss the chance to take a shot at Piper for his relationship with Mark Driscoll and other bad people like Tim Keller and D.A. Carson. 

On the other hand there are plenty of more generic evangelicals who take umbrage at what Piper wrote because no red blooded 'Murican would say such a thing. Sounds like Piper's Christian hedonism is nothing but old fashioned communism. The arguments coming from those folks, boiled down to "Piper is wrong. USA! USA! USA!" can be ignored.

There is very little that I find more obnoxious and frankly disgusting than internet tough guys thumping their chests and talking about what a ruthless killer they are. I assume the vast majority of them have never so much as pulled a gun on someone much less pulled the trigger and extinguished the life of another human being. Yeah pal, we are all impressed by what a tough guy you are and how eager you are to tell others how willing you are to kill someone else. I would bet quite a bit that faced with an actual dangerous criminal that their real response would be to soil themselves.

The taking of the life of another human being, even if you are "in the right", is nothing to be taken lightly. I can respect brothers who have a reasoned approach to disagreeing with Piper and my own position but I cannot abide those who think that killing others is a joke or something to cause them to puff up their chest and strut about like a bantam rooster. In a surprisingly level disagreement with Piper, Doug Wilson expressed his disdain for this pseudo-masculinity:
But what we do know from John’s article is that he wouldn’t have a gun on him as he made the decision what to do. Now here comes the glib accusation. It is easy to say — as some have said — that leaving this open to question is not very “manly,” and that a true husband from ‘Merica would place a tight grouping of at least three holes above the assailant’s right ear.
That is it in a nutshell. I like what Doug says next:
John is actually doing something very different, and he is doing it in a very masculine way. He is a biblical absolutist, and he is pursuing a tight, systematic, rational argument from the text of Scripture. Differing with his argument, as I do, is not the same thing as answering him. In the meantime, I don’t have a doubt in my mind that John will go wherever the argument requires him to go, and he will submit to the text, whatever it says. We need more of that, not less.
Yes. Biblical manliness is exhibited, in part, in taking care with God's Word. Being a student of Scripture is far better than being a deadly shot with a gun. Wilson is right, we need more men to emulate Piper's handling of the Word of God. We have plenty of guys who can shoot a gun but not nearly enough who can rightly divide the Word of God. When it comes to eternity, being able to put shots in the 10 ring is as meaningless as being able to stand on one foot. What will matter is what we made of the Son of God who made peace between God and man and who called on His sheep to be at peace with all.

I would encourage you to read Piper's essay but also to step back and observe the response he is getting. I am not so much interested in his argument although it is quite good. I am more concerned with the reaction. Why would something like going around armed to kill an assailant, something not even on the radar of most Christians outside of America, get people so riled up? Do we really understand our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven rather than prioritizing our American citizenship or are we instead compartmentalizing our faith and giving priority to our worldly affiliation where it suits us? I find the responses to be troubling and raising more questions than they answer. We need a little soul searching here people. Something is off kilter in the church in America.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Star Wars Stockholm Syndrome (Contains Spoilers)

I went to see the new Star Wars on Thursday with my wife and posted the following on Facebook:
Just got back from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (and then rolls over and goes back to sleep). Good in places but not great. Holes in the plot you could ride a Bantha through. Harrison Ford largely carried the movie although the guy playing Finn was pretty good. Was completely unimpressed with Daisy Ridley. Pretty regular nostalgia moments that were as subtle as a Rancor. It's the Millennium Falcon, we get it! The whole thing sorta smacked of Disney pragmatism, taking no risks and assembling a script like it was a top twenty list from Star Wars fans. Not saying don't go see it but given the nearly universal positive reviews I really expected more.
I think that the largely effusive reviews have more to do with the nostalgia factor combined with a desperate attempt to wipe the memory of the prequels away rather than a reflection of the quality of the film. Many people are so deeply invested in Star Wars that the mere (completely inexplicable) appearance of Han Solo and Chewbacca brought people to frantic tears like teenie-boppers responding to the Beatles. It just wasn't a great movie because, even though some of the acting was decent and the effects were sort of OK, the plot was so sloppy that it ruined the film for me. The single most popular movie franchise ever and they couldn't come up with a semi-coherent plot? I understand the need for suspension of disbelief, it is science fiction after all, but it wasn't even a good story. In fact it was, as has been pointed out repeatedly by people who have not been gulping the Kool-Aid, largely a recycled series of previous plot devices from previous movies.

I was going to do a post of plot holes but the Huffington Post beat me to it with 40 Unforgivable Plot Holes in 'Star Wars: The ForceAwakens'. If you have seen the movie, go read it. There were even a couple I had not caught the first time around. Some were especially on the mark, like the 3rd and 4th point that ask how in the world two people who have never held a light saber before fight a trained user of the force to a standstill and point 12 which brings up what appeared to be a really awesome uber-stormtrooper in a silver suit from the previews ends up being a non-entity in the plot. Who was she? Why was she special? Why did she seem so incompetent? 

I could accept a few plot holes but the entire movie made me say "Wait a second, what/why/how did that happen?". The only reason I can see for the enormous box office it is bringing in is that having been abused by the 3 prequels, Star Wars fans see anything that sucks less than them as something wondrous. I went in fully expecting to enjoy myself but as the minutes ticked by and the plot became more tangled (wait, they built a third giant space station and this time they left the vulnerable point on the surface so it was even easier to blow up?! How does a giant planetoid station move to new systems to draw the energy of suns?! Wouldn't it take more energy to drain a sun than to just shot a beam? It wasn't like the weapon on  the first Death Star was faulty, it worked perfectly. It was the design of the station itself that was faulty.), I was desperately hoping for something epic. Instead the movie ends with 30 seconds of Mark Hamill not saying anything from his island refuge (what does he eat?). The best moment in the movie was wasted because the scene where Han and Chewie board the Falcon was in the preview. Of course a lot of people swore by the three Hobbit movies even though they were some of the worst cinema I have ever seen so there is no accounting for people's taste in movies.

I really hope that they do something special in the next couple of films because The Force Awakens was frustrating and even worse it was a yawner.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Without The Cross There Is No Need For The Manger

We tend to view the Incarnation as a holiday event, what we call Christmas as a stand alone event. We like to hear choirs singing about Isaiah 9:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
It is good and proper that we rejoice in the coming Messiah who would lay down His life as a substitute for so many. We need to remember what else Isaiah write about Christ, namely that He would be reviled by men and crushed by the will of the Father but all for the sake of Jesus bearing our sins in His body and making peace between God and man.
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:1-12)
The sweet babe in the manger would be the battered and bloody Son of Man hanging on a cross. Don't miss the connection that runs from Genesis to the manger to the cross. It is all connected as part of God's sovereign will for Hus creation, If Jesus had not been born of a virgin and had He not died and rose again, the Christmas story would be meaningless.

One of the things that bugs me about kids Bible story books is that they tend to reinforce the error that sees the Bible as a bunch of disconnected morality stories rather than seeing the entire Bible as a seamless whole culminating in God making a new covenant with man that is ratified in the blood of His Son and mediated by His Son who sits at the Father's right hand. It is also why I reject any sort of liturgical calendar that says we talk about the Incarnation here and the Resurrection there and the Ascension over that way. These aren't short stories collected in an anthology. They are chapters in a single story with God as the ultimate author, collected and preserved for our salvation.

Celebrate the Incarnation if you like but make sure that you do so in light of the cross because the cross and the empty tomb are the real reason for the season.

Friday, December 18, 2015

You Cannot Have One Without The Other

The religious news world is all abuzz over the suspension of a professor at Wheaton College, a professed Christian college that features the words "For Christ and His Kingdom" at the top of their webpage, due to some comments she has recently made. A lot of people say the professor, Larycia Alaine Hawkins, was suspended for announcing that she would wear a hijab to show "solidarity" with Muslims. Many reports had something like "Wheaton Professor Suspended For Wearing A Hijab" even though that wasn't true. Wheaton published a statement denying that and giving the real reason she was suspended:
Contrary to some media reports, social media activity and subsequent public perception, Dr. Hawkins’ administrative leave resulted from theological statements that seemed inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions, and is in no way related to her race, gender or commitment to wear a hijab during Advent.
What was the statement that got her in trouble? This is it as reported by Christianity Today...
“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she wrote in a Facebook post on December 10. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
Set aside the idea of a professor at an evangelical college turning the pope as back-up for her position.That entire statement sounds just lovely but it is categorically false. The dividing line between Christianity and all other religions is Jesus Christ and our confession that He is the Son of God, the only Begotten of the Father and is one of the members of the Triune God, making Jesus Himself God incarnate. There are plenty of statements in the Bible that someone who is a professor at a Christian college should be familiar with that confirm this but one stands out in particular for its simplicity and forcefulness:
No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:23
It is pretty hard to worm your way around that statement. If you have Jesus as the Son, you have the Father. If you don't confess Jesus as the Son, you cannot have the Father. In other words you can't have part of God, just the Father part minus the Jesus part. God the Father and God the Son are indivisible. No one can claim to be a Christian that denies Christ and no one who is a Christian can recognize as legitimate a view of God that doesn't include Christ.

Muslims deny that Jesus is God, relegating Him to a prophetic role. Jews deny that He is God. Mormons deny Him via polytheism. Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, on and on. Every other religious system in the world denies Jesus, denies His godhood, denies His cross and resurrection. This is basic theology 101.

Of course many people who claim to be Christians are charging to her defense, the better to show how committed they are to pluralism and tolerance and religious liberty. I am all in favor of religious liberty. Ms. Hawkins is free to believe what she wants, say what she wants about her beliefs, wear a hijab or even a burkha if that makes her feel better. The problem is that she is an employee of Wheaton College and what she said is heretical or ignorant or both. Regardless it is not the sort of teaching one would expect from an authority on campus at a school dedicated to Christ and by someone who is required by her employment agreement to conform to Wheaton's statement of faith. I presume most parents who send their kid to Wheaton and shell out the approximately $32,950 in tuition a year are not looking to have a teacher tell their children that the God of the Bible is Allah and that you can deny the Son and still worship the Father.

Unfortunately a lot of people don't seem to understand the problem. One well known writer who is put forth as a Christian authority is Rod Dreher who writes at The American Conservative among other places. Rod is known most recently for his proposal, the "Benedict Option", calling for a somewhat vague idea of Christians concerning themselves mostly with preserving knowledge and culture for some future time. Rod writes concerning this controversy in an article titled: Muslim God, Christian God. In it he says he has never even considered whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God:
To be honest, I’ve never thought at all about whether Muslims pray to the same God as Christians. The Catholic Church teaches that they do, and that was my belief when I was a Catholic, though I never gave it a minute’s thought. I don’t know what I believe now, to be honest.
That still floors me every time I read it. I can understand a new Christian not really getting down in the weeds about this issue but for someone who is a public thinker and is considered to be something of an authority and intellectual I can't believe he has never even thought about this. Of course by way of explanation he points out that the Catholic church says we worship the same god as Muslims so that is good enuff for him. That statements tells us a lot more about Catholicism than it does about Rod Dreher. Thankfully Albert Mohler has written a response that makes a remarkable contrast to Dreher's confused commentary.
Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. Christians worship the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and no other god. We know the Father through the Son, and it is solely through Christ’s atonement for sin that salvation has come. Salvation comes to those who confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God has raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). The New Testament leaves no margin for misunderstanding. To deny the Son is to deny the Father.
To deny the Son is to deny the Father. If you deny Jesus Christ you automatically deny God the Father. You cannot have the one without the other. Mohler continues with a broader statement that is critical to hear in this day and age:
Hard times come with hard questions, and our cultural context exerts enormous pressure on Christians to affirm common ground at the expense of theological differences. But the cost of getting this question wrong is the loss of the Gospel. Christians affirm the image of God in every single human being and we must obey Christ as we love all people everywhere as our neighbor. Love of neighbor also demands that we tell our neighbor the truth concerning Christ as the only way to truly know the Father.
Amen to that. An awful lot of people can't even deal with the easy questions, much less the hard ones. Be clear about who Jesus Christ is and speak clearly about Him to others. Don't give in to the temptation to file down the sharp edges of the faith for the sake of getting along.

Parents of current and prospective future Wheaton students need to watch very carefully to see what the school does. Will they stand fast on the historic faith or will they try to sneak this one through for the sake of academic respectability? This is a question that the church needs to know the answer to. Who do you say that I am is still the question that distinguishes us from the rest of the world.

The Infantilizing Of America's Adults

In an era when we desperately need more adults in the room (a phrase I hate) we seem to find ourselves with the adult population mainly MIA.

You can buy footie pajamas sized for adults so you can snuggle on your beanbag chair and watch Tom & Jerry re-runs. Adult coloring books are all the rage which seems weird to me because I have no interest in coloring pictures of trees and elephants. The huge hit computer game Minecraft seems to attract as many adults as it does kids, an electronic version of building with Lego blocks. Then there is the granddaddy of them all, the opening of the Star Wars sequel that picks up the story that was put on pause for decades with Return of the Jedi and hopefully will erase the memories of the prequels.

Of course for many adults of my age and older the sight of Han Solo with his sidekick Chewie takes us back to a simpler era when we were kids. If you are under 30 you can't really imagine what it was like to sit in a dark theater and then seeing the Star Destroyer slowly roar onto the screen like it was coming in over your head. Nothing else was quite like it and it set a standard for sci fi movies for decades to come. I was six when Star Wars came out and it still holds a precious place in my upbringing. With the return of the original cast this promises to be a journey back in time for many adults. I understand the desire to go back because I often feel the same way. It is about more than just a movie, I think it strikes a nerve with a large percentage of the population.

At no time in our nation's history have we as a people yearned so deeply to go back. In prior generations "progress" meant a bright future. Today most of our "progress" makes us more tired, more busy and less happy. Many people mechanically buy the newest iPhone or other gadget knowing full well that the euphoria is going to be short lived. The future looks a lot like a place we don't want to live and our general fear of the future has contributed to the popularity of dystopian movies like The Hunger Games where a future America sacrifices children in a game where they are forced to kill each other. Boy the future doesn't sound so bright that we have to wear shades anymore.

Just take us back to a place where things were simpler, a time without wall to wall coverage of news 24/7, a time without constant clamoring for our attention from multiple sources. Depending on who wins next November we might be closer to a shooting war with the Russkies than at any time in the Cold War. Some Americans see what they believe is open season on people who look like them. Many others are in a state of constant fear from terrorists or criminals or the food they eat or, increasingly, from their own government. We are divided along political and class and race and religion like never before. Little wonder we want to slip on some footie PJs and hide in a dark theater where we can go to a galaxy that is far, far away.

Theaters can be an escape but sooner or later you have to come out of darkness and into  the light of day, into a world that is uncertain, unpleasant and unsettling. It is in this world that the church has been sent. These are the people that are frightened and backed into a corner. They have lost all faith in the social institutions that used to be comforting. We have something better to offer them and it isn't a place to sit on Sunday mornings to sing a couple of songs and listen to a sermon. It is life eternal in Jesus Christ. It is confidence that death holds no fear over us.

Go ahead and see The Force Awakens. I am going next week at some point. Just remember that while the world around us seems scary and we often wish we could go back, the future in Christ Jesus is infinitely better. Let that be our focus and our message.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Never More Dark Than When Surrounded With Light

So this is me sharing what someone else shared but this was too good not to. Tim Challies posted a letter from a guy named Tim Keesee  called Liberation Letter. I don't know much about the second Tim mentioned but his letter written about Christmas time at Temple Square in Salt Lake City was excellent. This is the key passage (emphasis mine):
Nowhere is the chameleon-like character of Mormonism on display more than at Christmastime. After a richly-orchestrated, pitch-perfect “O Holy Night,” one of the Mormon “apostles” is now preaching. He started out by awarding Luke a brief honorable mention for providing us an account of the Christmas story, but after dispensing with this lip service, he went on to “another record” in The Book of Mormon. It was some of Joseph Smith’s make-believe about Samuel the Lamanite and the Nephites in America at the time of Jesus’ birth, etc., etc. The blind leading the blind, and the ditch here that they’ve fallen into is lined with Christmas lights, yet it is horribly dark.
Image from
I am not a huge Christmas person but I am also not an anti-Christmas crusader. It is a cultural event and that is about it but Tim Keesee does raise a valid point that has broader application. We call Christmas the most wonderful time of the year but it is also the time of the year when empty and false religions are best able to hide their error by the glow of Christmas lights and drown out their false teaching with the singing of Christmas carols. At no other time of the year is the line between truth and error blurrier. One can go into any number of religious edifices where the Gospel has long been abandoned or was never there in the first place and sing "Silent Night" alongside people who don't really believe the words that they are singing. Believe this, Mormonism doesn't have a monopoly on this error hidden by poinsettias and garland, not by a long stretch.

If there is ever a time where theological precision is critical, it is this time of year. This is the time of year when the church needs to be very clear about who Jesus is, why He came, how He came and what He did after He arrived. The church tends to bring a weak and watered down message because many churches welcome the dreaded "Chreasters", people who only show up to church on Christmas and Easter, For many people this is the one and only potential exposure to Christianity they are going to get in a given year and it is no time to push a flaccid message of how cute baby Jesus was. Now is the time to refine our message in the fire of the Gospel, getting rid of the cultural dross and leaving behind the Gospel and nothing else. A nice culturally acceptable Christmas story may make people feel warm and fuzzy but it does nothing to save the lost sinner.

There is more, infinitely more, to being a Christian than singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem". Let this be a time when our words are dripping with doctrine and thundering with theology. There is no Christmas without the incarnation and absent the cross. Woe to us if we let this be forgotten in the darkness that hides under the lights.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

John Piper: Jesus ≠ Organized Religion

Anyone who knows me knows I like John Piper. Quite a lot. I appreciate his scholarship, his passion and his earnestness. When he is talking about the sovereignty of God or about missions or any number of other topics he is usually right on the money. However he seems to suffer from the same malady that afflicts so many other leaders of institutional churches, namely he can't seem to envision the visible church as anything other than some form of organized religion that is based in Western culture rather than Scripture. My latest rant stems from an "Ask Pastor John" segment: "I will not leave Jesus - But I'm done with the church". Here is the question:
Pastor John, what would you say to this: “I’m not walking away from Jesus, but I am done with the church. I can’t trust the leadership. I held a certain leader in high esteem. So I am not going to walk away from Jesus, but I am done with the organized aspect of church life.”
Piper answers with this single sentence initially:

If you do that, you are walking away from Jesus.

Let me stop right there before going on to the rest of his answer. His response is that Jesus and organized religion are one and the same so if you walk away from organized religion you no longer have Jesus. You can't have Jesus without organized religion. His answer betrays a very superficial sort of response. Of course you can't have Jesus without organized religion because that is how we have always done it! Organized religion provides a means of controlling people, if you don't get in line with organized religion, you don't get Jesus. Let me put it another way: What Piper is suggesting is a Protestant version of the Mass where the clergy were the gatekeepers of access for the average person to Jesus. Piper and so many other like Kevin DeYoung and company have simply replaced the Roman priesthood with the religious structure we call the local church. In place of the priest and the Eucharist you have the pastor and the organization. In other words according to Piper you as a Christian are not permitted to come confidently before the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) unless you do so in the form of organized religion.

I am not saying one cannot encounter the living Christ in an organized religious setting. I did and often do as do countless other Christians. I recognize that Christ is bigger than modes of gathering. What John Piper seems to be saying is "No, you cannot have Jesus outside of organized religion." and that my friends is not correct. Piper goes on:
Here is the reason: To say, “I love Jesus, but I don’t submit to his word” is a lie. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23). Jesus founded the church. I didn’t. Paul didn’t. Jesus founded the church. He established apostles to be — according to Ephesians 2:20 — the foundation of the church. And then he built it with prophets and teachers and pastors and ordained that there be a structure of local churches in the body of Christ called the church.
Piper here undermines his own argument. What did Jesus found? He founded THE CHURCH. What did Jesus not found? Organized religion. In a few months Together for the Gospel will convene with the theme of Protest, protest against Rome and yet ironically we have John Piper and others who will be speaking on that topic affirming the sort of clerical barrier to Christ that Rome used to fleece the poor for centuries.

Notice the last sentence. He sort of slips in there that Jesus "ordained that there be a structure of local churches". Except that He didn't. The church under the apostles as described in Scripture is very much not given specifics and it certainly doesn't demonstrate any of the common attributes we see in organized religion. There was no professional clerical class that lived off the offerings of the church. There wasn't an infrequent, ritualistic rite of "communion", instead the church gathered to share meals. The gathering wasn't focused around a monologue sermon. The church didn't take up an offering that was primarily used to ensure a comfortable place for Christians to sit passively and largely mutely week after week. What we know of the local church gathering under the authority of the apostles was that it was participatory (1 Cor 14:26), often centered around a meal and was focused on equipping the church for the work of ministry, which included taking up offerings to aid the poor (1 Cor 16:2-3), not pay the staff. Pastors weren't there to be permanent employees of the church, they were there to equip newer Christians (Eph 4:11-14). In fact I would say quite firmly that cultural, linguistic and technological differences aside, the apostles would have no idea what was going on in most organized religious "worship services". Let's continue:
This is not man’s idea. There are a lot of young evangelicals who are cool, hip, and leftward-leaning who think they can substitute something for organized church. Well, I would have to look at what they are substituting and say: Are you really just creating church, trying to create church? If you are trying to create church, just create it biblically. Start a biblical church. And that means listening to your Master and his word and his apostles.
Actually most of what we do in organized religious settings is precisely what he says it is not, namely man's idea. Then we get to perhaps the clumsiest of his arguments, the old "if you disagree you must be one of dem lib'rals!". Would anyone read what I post here and have posted here for years and mistake me for some who aspires to be " cool, hip, and leftward-leaning "? I am many things but cool, hip, and leftward-leaning are three things I am not and it says a lot about the weakness of an argument that the liberal hipster strawman is summoned forth. Sadly after that ham-fisted statement he gets to what is the first real concern, namely is what is replacing organized religion based in the Bible? That is what we should be concerned with, not with defending our pet model of church. He has an important point here, one that needs to be explored because believe me it is a serious concern that I have expressed many times but by this point he has likely lost anyone who is looking for a real answer other than "No organized religion, no Jesus". His final paragraph: 
So the choice of Jesus over church implies a choice of your opinion over the Bible, because the Bible is where we meet Jesus. You can’t make Jesus up. You can’t make him up. He is the Jesus of the Bible or he is the Jesus of your imagination. If he is the Jesus of the Bible, you take the whole Jesus. You can’t carve him up in pieces. And the whole Jesus is the Jesus who loves the church. He died for the church.
Again, JESUS DIED FOR THE CHURCH. He DID NOT die for organized religion. He did not leave marching orders for the church to form self-contained, competing local gatherings where people get a religious fix for an hour or two a week in relative anonymity while watching a performance by a paid professional. Jesus didn't die so you can get out of hell and in return all you need to do is subsidize a weekly sermon or as I describe it "Show up, shut up and pay up". 

No one I know of that is honestly questioning organized religion is choosing Jesus over the church or vice versa or any such nonsense. They are simply asking if organized religion is what Jesus wanted and what best manifests the family of God. They ask because most of them love the church. Jesus loves the church. Jesus died for the church. I love the church and want to see her healthy and prepared for an uncertain future. Clinging to organized religion as the gatekeeper of my access to Jesus is unbiblical and unhealthy. Arguments like this one from Piper do a disservice not only to genuine seekers who are asking legitimate questions but to those who are rightly fed up with organized religion and see in Piper's statements reinforcement for being fed up.

The church is called to love one another, love our neighbor, love our enemy and above all love our God. It is not called to trudge along in organized religion because we lack the vision and indeed the courage to question the structures others have left in place for us. John Piper has done himself and the church a disservice by his flippant response to a serious question. I thought better and expected more of him.

The State Of The Church

It is December 2015 and the year is coming to a close. It is hard to believe here in Indiana where last weekend the high was in the mid 60s (thanks Al Gore!) but the year is almost over. It hasn't been a banner year for the church in many ways.

One of my primary areas of focus is the church, more so than matters of soteriology or eschatology or any of the other sub-categories of theology. This is kind of a tragic irony because we have had such a difficult time finding meaningful fellowship that approximates what we see in the Bible, often leaving us for long stretches not in community at all. I often feel like a constant nag who is on the sidelines but telling the church what it is doing wrong. Nevertheless I care very deeply about the church because it is made up of my family in Christ.

Viewed from a high vantage point, things don't look that swell for the church in America. By most measures church attendance is plummeting. While that is not in and of itself much of a measure of the health of the church it does reduce the number of people who are exposed to at least some Bible teaching that otherwise they might not get. Hey even someone in a Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Mennonite USA, etc. church might accidentally get exposed to the Gospel. America is by any measure a much less religious country. In a lot of ways that is not a bad thing as religion is not any sort of substitute for the Kingdom but at the same time the gross deviancy and immorality we see on display daily is disheartening. If people are going to be primarily religious at least they are less likely to bless two guys getting "married" or a woman aborting her child or a gang member killing someone else because they were "disrespected".

The national face people see of the church is a trainwreck, thanks in large part to Christians who should know better, like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham, making irresponsible and counter-Kingdom statements that no doubt become bulletin board material for ISIS recruiters and serve as an additional barrier for those seeking to share the Gospel with the single largest mission field outside of institutionalized pseudo-Christian religion. To compound matters, political figures who have an inexplicable appeal to "evangelical voters" like Donald Trump make the same sort of statements in an even more clumsy and inflammatory manner. I half suspect that the statement from Jerry Falwell Jr. was designed more as a recruiting tool ("Send your kids to Liberty, we will help them get a concealed carry permit!" That is even better to a lot of religious conservative than a winning sports program.).

From within the church the picture is less obvious but even more dangerous. The list of false teachers is long and growing longer. From popular bloggerettes like Rachel Held Evans to the various "progressive" voices who seem to be in a race with one another to see how many central doctrines of the faith they can deny, the church is riddled with wolves. The silent Goliath of biblical illiteracy is damaging enough but an even more pernicious cancer is growing daily of biblical indifference. People no longer seem to care at all what the Bible teaches. The preserved revelation of God's Son just doesn't matter, not when compared to the cultural idol of "God". If I had a nickel for every person that denigrated the importance of the Bible while talking about how important Jesus is, I would be a wealthy man. Or at least would have enough money to but a couple cups of fancy Starbucks "coffee". There is no greater threat to the future of the church than a church that is willfully ignorant of the Scriptures.

With sexual deviancy without any boundaries on the rise and honest questions forbidden, abortion showing no signs of ever being eradicated from the land, religious institutions seeing the first shots across their collective bows, it can seem pretty hopeless. It is understandable that a lot of religious people are already engaged in a sort of cultural retreat, hoping to ride out this mania with the Gospel intact in our cloistered communities hoping to rise from the ashes after the inevitable collapse of civilization.

All is not lost or even discouraging. It is easy to get caught up in the "big events" and miss the simple stuff going on all around us. Millions of Christians are helping with food pantries, crisis pregnancy centers, ministries to the homeless, fighting the national disgrace of abortion. Tens of thousands of missionaries are taking the Gospel to lands around the world and many evangelists are sharing the Gospel here in America. People are still getting saved every hour of every day and that is good news.

The reason things seem so bleak for the church is that we generally don't understand what the church really is. We are still confusing the institution and liturgy and religious calendar and "sacraments" for the actual church which is none of those things. 2016 has all the signs of being even crazier in terms of cultural collapse. The church as an institution is going to be under assault like never before, whether that applies to dying local churches or Christian charities or religious colleges. The voices of schism and heresy will be louder than ever and more and more people will fall under their sway and abandon the Biblical Gospel. But if we focus on the church doing what the church is called to be doing, then the power of the Kingdom will shine forth in he darkness. The Word of God will take hold in the hearts of the regenerate. People will see the church loving our neighbors and yes loving our enemies. 

The more we look at the church as a religious institution, an event, a ritual, the more under assault and dying it will seem. The more we look at the church as the Bible describes it, the less grim things will appear. It should be obvious where our effort, time and treasure should be focused. Will 2016 be the year that we finally shed the trappings of religion? Here at the end of 2015 I am optimistic. The promise of the Gospel will never be denied, we just need to learn to live as though we believe that.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Climate Change: Generational Armed Robbery Writ Large

I haven't paid much attention to the "climate talks" in Paris because it is generally a bunch of schleps with their hands out looking for some money. Better they be sitting around listening to doomsday preachers droning on and on than being somewhere they could do some actual damage. Besides there is essentially zero chance that anything resembling the agreement will get passed through the Congress unless something drastic happens. On the other hand one part of the nonsense that was agreed on needs to be heard. Someone was talking about it on NPR today and sure enough a critical piece of this deal is a massive wealth transfer from "developed nations" to "developing nations". The target is $100,000,000,000 a year by 2020.

One hundred billion dollars each year.

Now we live in an era of huge numbers that become meaningless when the government is involved. Who can really comprehend a $17,000,000,000,000 debt? It is too massive to understand. Still what is being proposed is a massive robbery of future generations. With around 330 million Americans that means each man, woman and child is on the hook for $300. My family of ten would be on the hook for over $3000 a year in perpetuity because once this flow of money starts it will never end.

How in the world are we supposed to add one hundred billion in spending that is as good as lighting piles of money on fire? Look at the graft and corruption that accompanied "green energy" in America (Solyndra anyone?). Look at what happens to charitable giving to third world countries after disasters. Lots of it just disappears. Look at Haiti for example. This whole scheme has theft written all over it. The NGOs are going to line up for free money from "developed nations" and there is of course going to be no oversight. After all we are "saving the planet". This is nothing less than generational theft, money stolen from the citizens of developed nations to be given to...well someone but you can bet that the average family in a developing country won't see a nickel of that money or an ounce of improvement. These NGOs and "green energy" companies that will be the beneficiaries of this "generosity" might as well pull up to the U.S. Treasury wearing masks and carrying guns.

America is already buried in debt and unfunded mandates. Europe is the same. The notion of dumping a hundred billion each on something this stupid is pretty insane even by government standards. Instead of enriching the selected beneficiaries of this scam how about not spending that money in the first place and paying down the debt/paying for promises made to retirees?

Probably not. That would make sense.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Speaking Of Papal Bull

Just a quick note. I ran across a story earlier today on the newswires that basically boils down to this NPR headline: Catholics Should Not Try To Convert Jews, Vatican Commission Says. Now I generally agree with that as someone who stands in fellowship with the Protestant Reformers and the Anabaptists alike who recognized that Roman Catholicism is an illegitimate form of Christianity that is at odds with the Bible on most critical issues so I don't want anyone to convert to Roman Catholcism. However the reasoning behind this declaration (you can read it here) is so out of whack and I am concerned that Christians who don't know better will read the pronouncement out of the Vatican and assume that we likewise have no need to share the Gospel and call on Jew and Gentile alike to repent and place their faith in Jesus Christ alone. The idea that Jews don't need to turn from Judaism and turn toward Jesus Christ would be completely rejected by the apostles who spent a lot of time doing precisely what the new Vatican document explicitly says they should not do. For example look at this lengthy speech from Paul:
Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it." So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: "Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, 'I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.' Of this man's offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.' "Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, "'You are my Son, today I have begotten you.' And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, "'I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.' Therefore he says also in another psalm, "'You will not let your Holy One see corruption.' For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: "'Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.'" As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath. And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. (Acts 13:13-43)
I won't take the space to comment at length through this passage but the gist is this. Paul went to a synagogue of the Jews on a Sabbath and told them that only through Jesus could their sins be forgiven. He is preaching that the Jews must convert or perish like anyone else who does not believe in Christ. Keep in mind that Paul was a most zealous Jew before his Damascus road conversion (acts 22:3). This is not unusual or an aberration. Much of the New Testament consists of apostles preaching the need to convert to the Jews. Clearly this document proves without a shadow of doubt that Rome is either clueless or willfully deceptive on the matter of salvation. Not just that but also on the difference between the Old and New Covenant. For example, emphasis mine:
The fourth section focuses on the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and between Old and New Testament. "For the fact that the Old Testament is an integral part of the one Christian Bible, there is a deeply rooted sense of belonging and an intrinsic link between Judaism and Christianity" (n. 28). Certainly, Christians interpret the Old Testament Scriptures differently than the Jews, since the event of Christ is for them a new interpretation key to understanding them. Augustine summarized it this way: "The Old Testament is shown in the New and the New is hidden in." And Pope Gregory the Great defines the Old Testament "prophecy of the New" (cfr. N. 29). Christians basically start from the premise that the arrival of Jesus Christ as the Messiah was already contained in the Old Testament prophecies. In light of this "concord testamentorum" or dell'imprescindibile concord between the two Testaments, it also includes the very special relationship between the Old and New Testament: "The Covenant offered by God to Israel is irrevocable ... The New Covenant does not revocation previous alliances, but brings to completion ... For Christians, the New Covenant in Christ is the culmination of the promises of salvation of the Old Covenant and, to that extent, it is never independent of it. The New Covenant has the basis and foundation for the Old, since he is the God of Israel that tightens the Old Covenant with the people of Israel and makes possible the new covenant in Jesus Christ "(n. 27). It must therefore be borne in mind that there can only be one story of the covenant between God and his people, and God has always renewed his covenant with his people Israel. This framework also enrolled the New Covenant, although it is put in a special relationship with the former: "The New Covenant, for Christians, is neither cancellation nor a replacement, but the fulfillment of the promises of the Alliance "(n. 32).
The error here is obvious to anyone familiar with the New Covenant and especially the writings of the book of Hebrews. The Old Covenant was conditional, if the Jews obeyed it God would bless them. If they did not, He would of course not bless them. We know how that worked out and why the failure to keep their end of the covenant is why there is a new covenant in the first place. Hebrews stands in direct opposition to this notion, particularly in chapter 8:
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, "See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain." But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:1-13)
The Old Covenant is obsolete. It is ready to vanish away. It is no longer a valid covenant and indeed has been replaced by an infinitely better covenant. This is basic theology 101 but I am afraid that very few Christians understand this or even realize that it is important. I doubt many would read these words from Rome and realize anything was wrong with it. It is important and in fact is one of the foundation stones that the entire Gospel and Kingdom is built upon. Without a New Covenant there is no once for all forgiveness of sins and we are back to the system of temple worship, the killing of animals and the segregated priesthood (and I am certain there is a connection between this rejection of the New Covenant and the entire Roman priesthood and especially the Papacy). 

Do not be fooled by the flowery words of this declaration out of Rome. The Jew is as in need of Jesus Christ as is the Muslim or the Mormon or the Hindu. We need to grab hold of the New Covenant. We need to be teaching about it all the time and holding fast to the perfect promises it provides. We must call out those who provide a way into the Kingdom that doesn't include being born again. The declaration out of Rome today is blatant, damnable heresy. That may be un-PC to say but the souls of millions are at stake. 

All You Need To Know About The Financial Doom Of America

America is doomed.

It is doomed in a lot of ways. Morally. Demographically. Pretty much by any measure but especially fiscally because that is going to implode sooner rather than later.The problem is really insurmountable. There are tens of millions of people who get "free"stuff from the government and will demand that they continue to get free stuff with the threat of civil unrest if they don't. The government has incurred such a staggering amount of debt that the only way to deal with it is to either just pretend it never existed or devalue the currency so that it can be paid back with super inflated money. There is no political will and therefore there is no path back to solvency.

I don't really need convincing on this issue but every now and again something is said or written that reaffirms what I already know to be true. Today was one of those occasions brought to us by National Public Radio. Now NPR is already very close to a parody of itself by shoehorning "climate change" into virtually every news story. Today the topic was an interview with Peter Beinart from the Atlantic, 'Atlantic' Article Explores How Obama Thinks About Terrorism. The interview itself is mildly interesting, as if we need another look to understand that Obama and Republicans have completely different understandings of terrorism. I would suggest that they aren't as different as they may seem because both propose solutions that increase the power of the state. Two sets of collectivist politicians haggling over which fascist solution is best is not a real debate. Anyway, Beinart said something that really captures the mindset that is leading to the fiscal destruction of America in this exchange (emphasis mine):
But the bad news for Obama is the fact that the United States has more money because the budget deficit has declined and the fact that we are now further away from the trauma of Iraq means that we are moving into a more hawkish cycle - a cycle that I think he suspects could lead to dangerous overreaction which could strengthen our enemies.
Did you catch that? America has "more money" because our budget deficit is lower. In the rarefied air of New York and Washington D.C. that makes perfect sense. Not only that but it is a "fact" that this is true. As anyone with an ounce of common sense knows, and to borrow the vulgar vernacular of fly-over country, that is utter hogwash. The money that makes up the deficit is called "the deficit" because by definition it is money we don't have so we are spending money that has been borrowed against the earning potential of future generations and pie-in-the-sky Keynesian projections that if we just spend a few trillion more in deficit we will magically "stimulate"  the economy, jobs will flourish and tax revenues will skyrocket (assuming of course that our political overlords are not going to keep spending everything the government brings in and then some no matter how much tax revenue they collect). When D.C. treats the deficit as some sort of given, a legitimate source of income to be spent in perpetuity, we end up with a crippling debt that absolutely no one outside of a tiny cadre of libertarian leaning Republican rebels is even willing to speak about.

Maybe I am overreacting but I just can't get over the foolishness of borrowing less money as an indication of having more money to spend. Writers for places like The Atlantic are supposed to be the bright stars of media in contrast to people who write blogs and rags like the New York Daily News but apparently not. With people like this driving the intellectual conversation in America we had better prepare for widespread chaos just down the road.

The Burning Of The Bull

Hat tip to Tim Challies for his reminder today of a generally overlooked event in the Reformation. On December 10th, 1520 Martin Luther responded to the "papal bull" Exsurge Domine by setting that bad boy on fire. This papal bull was the "official" response to Luther's 95 theses and denounced him for asking the wrong sorts of questions. The bull from Pope Leo X seemed to be unexpected and certainly unimaginably harsh to Luther and it also seems that this event marked a change in Luther from a monk asking some questions to open rebellion against Rome. It is an arguable position that the burning of Exsurge Domine is the true start of the Protestant Reformation rather than the nailing of the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. With this response from Rome and Luther's refusal to stand down, he put his life on the line because he recognized how critical these doctrinal questions were.

We suffer as the church from our ignorance of the past, for upon the foundations of the past is built the church of today. Where the church is in error, and there are many examples, one can invariably look to church history to discover that these problems are not new or unique. There is indeed nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and we would all benefit from learning from the past rather than repeating the same errors over and over.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

End Those Muslims

OK. I am in favor of U.S. citizens having the right to carry firearms and not just where the government says they can. It is something that is enshrined in the Constitution and from a secular, pragmatic standpoint makes sense. I don't expect the unbelieving populace, which makes up an overwhelming percentage of Americans, to follow the teaching of Jesus. I agree with Preston Sprinkle that non-resistance apart from the enemy loving Christian faith makes little sense. On the other hand there are just some things that might make sense for unbelievers but run counter to Christianity even when they are put forth by presumed Christians. Case in point: Jerry Falwell Jr.: If more good people had concealed guns, ‘we could end those Muslims’. As one would expect from the Washington Post, the title is not terribly accurate but Junior does say something very similar to that.
“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” he says, the rest of his sentence drowned out by loud applause while he said, “and killed them.”
Turns out that Jerry was packing a pistol in his back pocket and Liberty offers a free concealed carry course. How very American of them and him. He later clarified that he didn't mean "gun down Muslims before they can enter a crowded building" which is kind of what his statement sounded like. "End those Muslims before they walked in" is not terribly nuanced. Rather he meant Islamic terrorists specifically. Good to know. I am not a fan of using a misstep in a speech as a "gotcha" but this isn't exactly an off the cuff remark. Convocation at Liberty is a planned event and one would think the President of the world's largest Christian university would have taken a few minutes to make sure his statement to a student body he was urging to arm themselves didn't sound like a blank check to "end" Muslims. In speaking of the concealed carry permit Falwell went on to say: “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.” Them presumably being Islamic terrorists. I would hope that if a group of hell bound unbelievers showed up at a Christian university that the lesson they would receive is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not a hail of bullets.

When Christians get so concerned about defending themselves from would-be attackers, the Gospel takes a back seat. It would seem to me that someone who believes in Christ would have no fear of death, since that is precisely what Jesus and Paul taught. There should be no greater opportunity than the chance to share the Gospel with someone who is lost. Historically that happened a lot in circumstances other than having tea in your living room with your neighbor. The apostle Paul spoke of what his life was like as a minister of the Gospel:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Cor 11:24-27)
Sorta sounds to me like being willing to share the Gospel means willing to put your life on the line to do it. I wish that willingness to share the Gospel with Islamic terrorists and others who seek to harm you was what President Falwell had focused on rather than arming Christians to kill unbelievers. I am secure in my faith in Christ Jesus. Should I die today at the hands of a terrorist or a carjacker or anyone else my eternity with Christ is already assured. What do I fear from death? In many, many ways I would welcome death in the service of Christ, putting off this slowly dying body of flesh and being united with my Lord and His Bride.

It would be bad enough if the article ended there. It did not. Falwell got roped into a broader discussion about violence and non-resistance and made an utter mess of it.
Some theologians believe that Jesus would call on Christians to put down their weapons in the face of violence. In response, Falwell referenced the story from the gospels of Jesus chasing money changers out of the temple with a whip. “Jesus said ‘Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,’ and part of that was to go to war, protecting whatever nation was under control of the king,” Falwell said. “I wouldn’t agree with any interpretation of Scripture that was used to say that a man or a woman shouldn’t protect their families.”
Agh! The horrible exegesis, it burns us!

First, Jesus cleansing the temple had major prophetic implications. Jerry and his students aren't Jesus and trying to create some sort of linkage between the King chasing from His House those who profited from the temple business (good capitalists perhaps?) and 19 year old students carrying guns and preparing to pop a cap in the people were are being sent to minister to. Making an argument based on "Jesus did this so I can too" is ridiculous.

Second, Jerry says that "render unto Caesar" means we go to war to protect the kingdom of whomever happens to be king. So if the king says go to war, Christians should heed the call. I suppose that would apply to going to war if the king was Adolf Hitler? Or Joseph Stalin? Or Benito Mussolini? Or does it only apply if the king is a "good king"? Who decides what makes a "good king"? What happens when Christians heed the call of Caesar on opposite sides of a war? Would a German soldier who professed to be a Christian be properly "rendering unto Caesar" in World War I if he gunned down another professing believer from England because his king said so?

Third, while it may be a reasonable response to use violence to protect your family, there is no mention of that being an exception to what Jesus and Paul taught. In America we all too often confuse American values with Biblical command and precedent and it always makes a mess when we do.

One of the great weaknesses of Americans in 2015 is the utter inability to think more than one step through a question. We are conditioned to respond in a tweet sized response to any issue, no matter how complex and this means that generally our response to an issue is juvenile and easily debunked. This is especially pronounced in the church where it seems that a lot of "Christians" have barely cracked open the preserved written revelation of Jesus Christ. Jerry Falwell Jr. has a wide platform and in front of thousands of students he had the chance to talk about sharing the Gospel, loving your enemy and being willing to lay down your life for the sake of the Kingdom, all very clear Biblical teachings. Instead he went for the cheap applause lines and sends out thousands of young Christians with the call to arm themselves and the willingness to "end Muslims". One can hardly think of a more counter-Christian teaching. 

The 1.6 billion Muslims in this world are our mission field, not people we are ready and willing to end at a moments notice.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

When Guns Are Outlawed Only Outlaws Will Have Guns

The talking heads at the New York Times penned an editorial in response to the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and it was about what one would expect from that august body: End The Gun Epidemic In America. It is an eminently forgettable screed that only serves as a self-righteous echo chamber for leftists. However some of what they wrote demands a response because it exposes not just a hatred for private gun ownership but a distressing naivete and an all too common disdain for common sense and the Constitution. Exhibit A where we treat every crime where a gun is involved as a "gun crime" even if the actual crime being committed is terrorism or gang violence.
But motives do not matter to the dead in California, nor did they in Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut and far too many other places. The attention and anger of Americans should also be directed at the elected leaders whose job is to keep us safe but who place a higher premium on the money and political power of an industry dedicated to profiting from the unfettered spread of ever more powerful firearms.
So according to the sages at the New York Time, the purpose of our government is to "keep us safe". That sounds great! But is it true? The framers of the document that created our Federal government explained why they were making the Constitution in the preamble. Is there a mention of safety being the "job" of our elected officials?
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Notice please that something is missing. There is no mention of our elected officials keeping us "safe". The Federal government was given very limited powers to adjudicate disputes between the states, provide for a common military for the defense of the nation and generally to do collectively only what the states could not easily do separately. In fact the Founders were highly suspicious of an armed government, having fought a war against the British and their standing army. They didn't write the Constitution creating the Federal government to keep us safe from criminals, they wrote the Constitution and intentionally limited the Federal government to keep Americans safe from that same government. This is Civics 101. The New York Times (All the news liberal opinion that's fit to print!) editors apparently skipped the day in class when the formation of the Constitiution was discussed. The Times continues with an unusual display of honesty:
It is not necessary to debate the peculiar wording of the Second Amendment. No right is unlimited and immune from reasonable regulation.
I wonder if they hold the same opinion of the right to an unfettered press? What if Donald J. Trump becomes President and decides that some news stories and opinion pieces like this one are dangerous and need to be controlled via "reasonable regulation"? One can imagine the outcry of "Freedom of the press!" from the New York Times. If you can count on anything besides death and taxes, it is that the news media have a schizophrenic relationship with the Constitution, defending with their dying breath certain parts of the First Amendment but ignoring or discounting entirely the very next Amendment. To the media the only truly important part of the Bill of Rights is the freedom for them to print drivel without regulation. The rest doesn't matter much. The Times goes on:
Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership. It is possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way and, yes, it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens.
Riiiiigggghhhhtttt. If you have half a brain and even the most rudimentary powers of reasoning you will see the problem right away. Expecting to eliminate gun violence by, at first, outlawing certain types of guns and then relying on the goodness of law abiding citizens to turn them in means that the only people who are giving up "assault weapons" or other firearms decreed "bad" by the Times are people who obey the law. As it turns out, those sorts of people are not the criminals who use these weapons in the commission of a crime by definition. In the Fascist fantasyland where the Times editorial board lives, would-be terrorists and criminals will glumly line up to turn in their weapons. "Shucks, I wuz gunna shoot up an office party but I have to turn in my assault weapon." In real life that is not going to happen. One of the truths about the New York Times that makes it useless for national discourse is that it thinks that only people in New York, and to a much lesser extent Boston, Chicago and L.A., have opinions that matter. If the editors of the New York Times ever lowered themselves to listen to people in "fly over" country they would realize that calls to turn in guns is a joke. I am not turning in my firearms and no one else I know would either. In fact the response would be kind of like this (the Persians in this case being the Federal government)

What is truly insidious about this is that the Times and other liberal anti-2nd Amendment types is that they are not in favor of eliminating guns, just eliminating guns in the hands of private citizens. Federal agents in possession of firearms are great because they need those guns to make citizens obey every whim of the government, no matter how asinine or counter-productive. Don't want to buy health insurance? Armed agents are on their way. Want to buy actual milk in a transaction between two consenting, informed adults? Good chance your door is getting kicked in by agents with guns drawn. Not joking, that has happened. Memes are poor excuses for discourse but now and again they serve a purpose:

Yep. Gun control is really people control. 

I know I am something of a seeming contradiction. a non-resistant Christian in the tradition of the Anabaptists who is also a frothing at the mouth supporter of the Second Amendment but if life has taught me anything it is that liberty is more valuable than "security" and that people in the government and writing for the editorial board of the NY Times are not interested in your safety, liberty or prosperity, they are mostly interested in controlling you to benefit themselves. That is an inconvenient truth but a truth nonetheless. 

Friday, December 04, 2015

Has America Gone Completely Insane?

So in the last few days we see the GOP front runner calling for open season on women and children related to people we identify as terrorists. We see America so eager to spill more blood that we are arming women to go off and fight in place of men. Now we get the ugly spectacle of Franklin Graham calling for a full ban on anyone who is Muslim coming to America. Not just those who want to become citizens. No one who is Muslim should be allowed to cross our border. We are only a few steps away from calls to rounding up American Muslim citizens and putting them into camps. That is not hyperbole, not in the slightest.

I am no one's idea of an apologist for Islamist terrorism but seriously people in this country are losing their minds. As I said, according to Franklin Graham in a Facebook posting the United States should not permit a single Muslim into this country (emphasis mine):
Mr. President, we don’t need more gun control—we need border patrol. No Muslims should be allowed into this country until there’s a process in place to fully vet them. We’ve got to turn away those who could potentially pose a threat until this war with radical Islam is over.
So here are some huge problems here.

First there is no way to "fully vet" anyone. The border system is one that is inherently going to be imperfect. What Graham is suggesting is that we essentially never allow anyone into this country, no matter their background, who identifies as Muslim. How are we to be sure they are "fully vetted"? What about people who convert to Islam after they get here? Deport them?

Second, anyone can "potentially pose a threat". I could "potentially" pose a threat to become a jihadi or domestic terrorist or whatever. There are plenty of people who would look at me as a right-wing fundamentalist and see a potential domestic terrorist. That standard is so broad and ill-defined that it becomes a blanket refusal to admit anyone with an Arab sounding name.

Third, there is no such thing as an end to the war on "radical Islam", especially not when America keeps going to the Middle East and poking a hornets nest with a stick and then acting outraged when we get stung. America stumbles around the Middle East like a drunk trying to hit a piƱata with baseball bat and collectively we haven't a clue what we are doing, and that includes Franklin Graham and apparently the past 4 administrations. We are in an never-ending war and people like Franklin Graham are doing exactly what ISIS wants, namely turning this into a war between Christians and Muslims. Nothing could please ISIS more. These are people who take a long view of this struggle and they want a clash of religions. What is worse is that this more and more seems to be intended on both sides to be an eternal war and that should anger and frighten Americans.

Keep in mind that "Reverend" Franklin Graham is supposed to be a Christian minister. He seems less an evangelist for the Gospel than he is an anti-evangelist for Islam and a fear monger with more than a hint of bald faced hatred of an entire class of people. When someone with that large a platform chooses to ignore the enemy loving Gospel of Jesus Christ in favor of a flag waving taking of sides in a war of cultures, he has squandered the talent given to him. 

Perhaps I am holding back my feelings a bit, as I commonly do. Let me be more blunt. 
I am embarrassed to admit that I share the same faith as Franklin Graham.
I also begin to wonder if I actually do share his faith because Graham and many others often seem more concerned with who we are against than proclaiming the One we are for.

A few more observations. There seems to be far more chance of radicalization of Muslims that are already here through social media, in prisons or otherwise. We live in a globalized world. A mom in Topeka can connect with a jihadi in Syria as easily as a white supremacist in Idaho can communicate with a man in Montana.

Approximately 1% of the American population identifies as Muslim, meaning somewhere on the order of 3,000,000 people. That is an awful lot of people and it is an insanely broad brush Graham is painting with. In a previous job I managed a bank just south of Dearborn, Michigan which is home to Ford Motor and the largest proportion of Arab Americans in America. Many, many of my customers were of Arabic descent and many were Muslim. They tended to be polite, frugal and friendly customers. They worked their hind ends off to create a better life for their children and have as little to do with Islamist radicals as I do with the crusaders who massacred Jews in Jerusalem during the first Crusade. We would be better off bringing in more Muslims who want to work hard and deporting a lot of our couch sitting citizens to a foreign land,

America allegedly has tens or hundreds of millions of Christians. Yet we are being told to turn away the lost who are coming to us and at the same time we can barely scrape enough money for a tiny number of missionaries to go to them. Again, people who are lost without Christ are to be turned away from the "most Christian" of nations? What if instead of taking sides in a 1000 year old struggle in a region where we clearly haven't the first clue, we rather focus on sharing the love and the Gospel of Jesus Christ? 

I freely admit that most terrorists around the world are radical Islamists but I also point out that very, very few of the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world and even fewer of the 3 million Muslims in America are terrorists. Making decisions as a nation based on fear and misinformation is bad enough, taking a stand as the church based on the same faulty assumptions is even worse.

Before we start making Muslims wear a crescent sewn on their clothing to identify them, perhaps we can take a step back and take a deep breath and not listen to over the top, unhelpful and anti-Gospel rantings from "Christian leaders" who should know better. 

Congratulations Men Of America!

According to "Defense" Secretary Ash Carter the United States will soon be sending women off to serve in combat roles for 'Murica. Women will be killing and being killed, maiming and being maimed, all so that more men can stay comfortably at home in America instead of being put in harms way in our endless military adventures around the globe. So sleep well tonight fellas, your "security" is being purchased with the blood of moms and sisters and nieces sent off to kill and die for you.

In a nation with plenty of shameful moments in our history, this is near the top.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Are These Our Only Choices?

It is December 2015. In about 13 months Barack Obama will leave office and a new President will take his place. That individual will inherit a nation in a state of division and crisis that we haven't seen since Vietnam. They will step into a position of being the leader of the sole true superpower. Sure China and Russia each have a solid military but compared to the U.S. they aren't even on the same page. The world is awash in violence and much of it is in part a result of American action.The U.S. is $17 trillion in debt and many times more than that when you take into account all of the promises made to retirees and others that we simply have no feasible way of paying. Even worse than the fiscal crisis we have a moral calamity that has gone past the point of no return. Illegitimate births, a swelling population that is welfare dependent, mass shootings, abortion on demand, celebrations of deviancy. All are tied to the same moral rot that has eaten away at the heart of the American experiment. When people feel that they have not received a proper level of "respect", they feel justified in shooting someone. Animals like the guy in Chicago who executed a 9 year old in retaliation are far too common. Women are increasingly having and raising children with the government in the place of a husband.

What makes this worse is the state of the electoral cycle 11 months from election day 2016. Thanks to "super delegates" Mrs. William Jefferson Clinton, aka Hillary Clinton, is essentially a lock for the Democratic nomination. Her primary qualification apparently is having a uterus. Many people seem to support her, even given her well documented lack of honesty, because "it is time" to have a woman president. I disagree. What we really need is a competent President of either gender (oops, showing my genderism there by assuming there are only two genders). Her only legitimate opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, is an avowed socialist and is supported mostly by ex-hippies and young voters who want free stuff paid for by someone not themselves. As with virtually every contemporary Democrat she is completely sold out to the abortion industry. Hidden on her campaign page (and going there makes me feel like I need to take a shower. Ugh.) under the category of "Women's rights and opportunities", down near bottom after a laundry list of bribes of additional government spending she is offering in return for votes is her oath of fealty to Planned Parenthood in a video and this blurb:
Protect women’s health and reproductive rights. Women’s personal health decisions should be made by a woman, her family, and her faith, with the counsel of her doctor. Hillary will stand up to Republican attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, which would restrict access to critical health care services, like cancer screenings, contraception, and safe, legal abortion. She will fight to protect the Affordable Care Act, which bans insurance companies from discriminating against women and guarantees 47 million women and counting access to preventive care.
Having made her blood oath to the murderers who support Democrats, Hillary has made clear that if her path to the Presidency requires wading through the blood of babies, so be it.

In years past you could count on the Republican nominee to at least make a passing mention of being pro-life, or at least anti-abortion. This year the guy leading the rest of the pack by about 10% as of this morning, Mr. Donald Trump, doesn't even mention abortion on his "Positions" page. Oddly neither does the guy in second place, Marco Rubio. on his positions page. Third place candidate Ben Carson does have life issues front and center on his issues page as does Ted Cruz. But as for the guy sucking all the oxygen out of the room, Trump, life issues are not even on the radar and yet he gets massive support from "evangelical" voters. Even more troubling are his recent comments on battling ISIS. Trump said:
But in addition to targeting the terrorists in ISIL, their families should also be killed, he said, adding that one of the reasons why they are so effective is that they are using civilians as "shields," calling it one of the reasons the United States has been "so ineffective." 
"It's a horrible thing. They're using them as shields. But we're fighting a very politically correct war. And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families," he explained. "They, they care about their lives. Don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.”
You have to take out their families. Pretty sure that we have a name for that, and that name is terrorism. I got that quote from Politico and since Politico has proven itself unreliable and partisan, I went ahead and listened to the interview.and you can too at the webpage of "Fox and Friends".

So a man who is supported by the "pro-life" party and is a favorite of "Christians" is advocating that we track down the family members of terrorists, family members which would presumably include women and children and who may not be even vaguely connected with terrorism, and assassinate them with the U.S. military. War has always led to collateral damage and in days gone by the U.S. has used mass bombing to cow civilians populations (Japan, Germany, Vietnam, etc.) but this goes way beyond that and apparently involves the tracking down and targeting of women and children as if that is going to dissuade someone willing to blow himself up. This targeting of families sounds like something out of a documentary about drug gangs, not the rhetoric of the leader of the free world.

Is this what we have come to as a nation? Two leading candidates a year out from the election who each in their own way are more than willing to kill innocents? Set aside issues of the national debt and gun control and regulations and the Keystone pipeline. The most central value of humanity, the sanctity of innocent life, apparently has no voice at this point in the election cycle. If you need proof that we are heading for a very dark and dangerous place as a people, this is it.