Monday, February 27, 2017

Tax Refund Season Should Also Be Giving Season

Many Americans, especially those who get the "Earned" Income Tax Credit which was delayed this year, are getting their tax "refunds" right now. I put refunds in quotes because a lot of people, like me, don't pay anything into the tax system because of our income level or in my case because I have so many dependents but we still get money "back" from the government. It is sort of like going to Wal-Mart and getting a refund on an item you never bought. America, what a country! Am I right?!

Anyway, for lots of people whatever their tax situation might be, the refunds are rolling in. That means a lot of extra cash in your checking account. Also like many other people we used a chunk of ours to pay off some small debts, and that should be a top priority because debt is mostly bad, but we still have a nice chunk left over. The initial impulse is to buy stuff that maybe you have been holding off on. If you are a Christian, might I suggest that you make a priority of giving to worthwhile ministries with a sizeable portion of your tax refund. For a lot of us, right now is when we have more unallocated money than we will have all year. There is really no better time to give than right now.

I made a small donation this morning to my preferred ministry, the Hope Community Project. Formerly known as the Haiti Orphan Project, the HCP modified their mission to focus on strengthening Haitian communities rather than forming orphanages. Instead of providing housing for orphans, the goal is to prevent orphans in the first place. They recently posted on their Facebook page (emphasis mine):
"An estimated 32,000 children live in orphanages in Haiti. More than 80% are not orphans. 80 years of research demonstrates the harm caused by raising children in institutions. As a result, most countries in the developed world moved away from this form of care decades ago." From "Orphanage Entrepreneurs: The Trafficking of Haiti’s Invisible Children," by Lumos.
That is why the Hope Community Project took the rather courageous step of changing their mission. Talking about orphanages is easy, people understand that. Talking about preventing "orphans" in the first place is much harder to explain but far more helpful. Their mission statement explains it better than I can:
We exist to facilitate the development of healthy communities through partnerships with Haitian churches and organizations to encourage sustainable physical, spiritual and economic health; we desire to communicate Christ-centered compassion as well as respect for the dignity and resources of the Haitian people.
HOPE’s overarching goal is orphan prevention. We seek to help vulnerable families stay together, as well as to encourage extended families and communities to care for the orphans among them. We desire to walk alongside them helping through school sponsorships, medical care, and economic development. We are committed to providing at-risk families and children in our target area a viable alternative to traditional orphan care in Haiti.
HOPE Medical Project serves the medical needs of the deeply impoverished, at-risk and orphans in the local community. We are committed to creating a permanent presence in our target community and ongoing mobile clinics in support of a variety of ministry partners who represent communities with an established need.

I think that is a worthwhile cause. There are lots of ways to give. I made a lump sum donation this morning and then set up a recurring donation. It seems pretty insignificant but a little is better than nothing. Another way to donate is to use Amazon Smile. I have it bookmarked so whenever I buy something from Amazon for myself or someone else a small chunk is donated. It is not much but since I am buying from Amazon anyway I might as well see some of that go to a good cause. It is easy to sign up, you can pick whatever group you want from the Keane Charitable Group that is the umbrella organization behind the Hope Community Project or lots of other Christians charities or even places like the ASPCA if animals are more important to you than people. As long as you see the Smile support message, some of your purchase proceeds go to your chosen organization. See below:

It can be tempting to use all of the "extra" money you have right now on something nice for yourself, and that is your prerogative, but please consider whether you can direct some of that cash to a good cause. There are plenty out there to choose from but do your homework. I actually know the people at the Hope Community Project and I also know that the funds I give go right to the work of ministry instead of overhead so I give with confidence. Wherever you give, make sure that your giving is going to ministering and not to pay for a bunch of staff people in offices. Make sure there is an accountability mechanism in place. Find out what the funds are used for. My preference is smaller ministries that I know instead of the massive groups but wherever you give, if you do so prayerfully and responsibly it will be a blessing. 

We have so much in this country and even when we think times are tough, and for a lot of us they are, there is almost always room to give to help advance the work of the Kingdom. Give prayerfully, give strategically, give generously. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

In Defense Of Creeds And Confessions (Sort Of)

I made this meme a while back for lulz but I think the message is still one that deserves some support.

There is a popular saying among groovy Christians and others that "doctrine divides". I agree and that is why I encourage the church to be more engaged in doctrinal study. One of the pressing needs of the day is to divide the church to winnow out the false teachers, those who are engaged in pernicious and unrepentant sin (1 Cor 5:9-13) and those who approve of that which God condemns (Rom 1:32). Thanks in part to our religious culture, our lack of persecution and the religious-industrial complex that has made pseudo-Christianity a money making machine with few peers, the religious landscape of America is awash in wolves feeding on the sheep, false prophets cashing big checks and flying in private jets and untold millions of Christians and others who are functionally theologically illiterate. We have tried a lowest common denominator "Christianity". It gave us Joel Osteen and Paula White, it gave us The Shack and Rachel Held Evans. It gave us a divorced, openly and wantonly homosexual Episcopal "bishop". Even beyond the obvious, popular level false teachers there are just so many Christians who have Bibles, go to church, attend Sunday school and listen to sermons and are still drinking milk instead of eating meat. That has got to change. Milk drinking Christians are fine when they are new but milk drinking 20 years after being born-again Christians do not have the grounding to stand firm in the faith in the days to come.

So what does that have to do with creeds and confessions? I have been kind of down on them in the past and I still think there is a danger in creating confessions that are intended to create an "us versus them" mentality where confessions are more like marketing material (come for the youth program, stay for the sacraments!) than sober reflections on theology. On the other hand I think that there is more to Christian discipleship than the plucky Christian with a Bible in hand taking on the world single-handedly. If anything we need more teaching aids, not fewer, and where confessions and creeds aid our study of the Bible and our understanding of the faith, I am all for them.

As Tom Ascol of Founders Ministries pointed out in a recent article, the solid creeds state right up front that the Bible is our sole authoritative source for faith and practice. The Second London Baptist Confession, which I am largely in agreement with, states right at the beginning:

1. The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.

People who understand the creeds understand that. The Bible is the standard, not the creeds or confessions. The creeds and confessions are teaching aids, useful for helping us to understand what is in the Bible and how it ties together, and are the accumulated witness of the men of the past and we today stand upon their shoulders. We should never take anything at face value without studying it for ourselves but we also don't have to recreate the wheel over and over. The Bible covers thousands of years of redemptive history with thousands of people making an appearance and hundreds of crucial themes woven together. I don't know about you but I certainly need help sometimes in bringing that all together.

The vast majority of the New Testament, especially the post-Gospel epistles and letters, is doctrinal teaching. Paul especially takes great pains to flesh out the Gospel for his readers. Paul didn't simply chuck a collection of the Gospels at the local churches he planted and tell them "Go for it and y'all have a good day!". No, he took the time to help them to understand what happened, why it happened, what it means for them and what they should do in response. This is the teaching ministry of the church, helping Christians move beyond the milk stage and into the meat stage, aiding the brethren in becoming approved workmen, equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). When the early church was said to be devoting itself to the apostles' teaching (Acts 2:42), do you think they just read the Bible (that they didn't have yet) over and over? Or did the apostles themselves help people to understand the Scriptures and to explain the Gospel and the ramifications of the resurrection?

Most local fellowship feature some sort of time of "preaching" via sermon, more properly called teaching, and Sunday school. What are those times of teaching but more learned, mature men helping the less mature and even the equally mature, to dig deeper into the Scriptures, see how they fit together and aid us in applying them? That is precisely what the confessions properly used should do. When I read the confessions on a certain topic or refer to a commentary or read a book by a trusted author, I do so with my Bible open but the reason I refer to them is to help me see things that I might have missed. I am not so arrogant as to think that I can read a verse and understand all there is to know about it just based on my own comprehension. I don't speak or read the original languages so I need help there understanding the nuances that might get missed in the translation process. I am not an expert on the ancient world so having some cultural context helps. I always appreciate it when teachers who are wiser than I help me to connect the dots in the grand revealing of the history of salvation.

It sometimes seems as if there is some sort of aversion to anything written on paper other than a Bible. That is mostly an overreaction against perceived and often real abuses of the creeds and confessions but the misuse or abuse of something by a few is not grounds to dismiss that thing entirely. Yes, some Christians and even some entire denominations, are hyper-creedal. When faced with a question they run to the Westminster Confession or the Book of Concord to see what it says rather than going to Scripture and using the confessions to help aid in their understanding. That is unhealthy but it is not an excuse to jettison the accumulated wisdom of hundreds of years from men who were towering intellects. Some people drive their cars irresponsibly and cause accidents but that doesn't mean we should stop using cars. The abuse by some of something good doesn't negate it's value to the rest of us. An overly intellectual faith is unhealthy but the proper response is not an anti-intellectualism but rather a robust, practical, Spirit-driven, Scripture-first intellectualism. I commented the other evening when we were talking about this passage in Acts...

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

...that there is a difference between not being educated and being ignorant. I obviously reject the idea that elders/pastors need a seminary education to qualify for that calling in the church but I don't reject the value of formal education. Without scholars we wouldn't have the Bible in English and would remain captive to the whims of human "priests". I appreciate the work and teaching of men like Albert Mohler and John Piper, Don Carson and Stanley Hauerwas. I don't discount what they have to say because they are well educated men and hopefully I don't give them more credence than they deserve. I am just someone who is hungry to understand and apply the teachings of Jesus and His apostles and I want as many tools at my disposal as I can get. That is all creeds and confessions are, tools in our tool chest, that help us to pull together the redemptive history of the Bible. Maybe you can build a house with nothing but a single hammer but for the rest of us we need all the tools we can get.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Criminal Theological Malpractice Of The American Church

No matter how you slice it, the church called to minister in the United States is flush with resources. I don't think you can argue that there is another time and place in the history of Christianity when the church has enjoyed such legal protection, even though there are ominous signs that is quickly coming to an end. The church is more or less completely independent of overt state control and yet our offerings to the church are tax-deductible and many of our expenditures such as compensation for clergy are also given tax-favorable treatment. We have Bibles out the wazoo (a theological term), ranging from cheap paperback versions for a couple of bucks to versions featuring calfskin covers and other amenities that will set you back hundreds of dollars. If you are even modestly tech savvy you have a dizzying array of Bibles at your fingertip for free and centuries of accumulated wisdom and study tools that would have been inaccessible to anyone without a massive personal library or access to a seminary library less than two decades ago. We run untold billions through church checking accounts every year, heck probably on a weekly basis, and the vast majority of that money is allegedly used to disciple existing Christians in the form of church buildings, clergy, programs and materials, all supposedly designed to equip the church.

What exactly have we gotten in return for this embarrassment of riches? What are the fruits of billions upon billions spent so Christians can worship and be taught in Sunday school and hear a professionally prepared and delivered sermon in comfort every week?

Based on my observations as a Christian of some 15 years who has been around the church quite a bit, the answer is not a heck of a lot.

In fact, the only other entity that I can think of that spends on this scale and gets such poor results in return would be the government.

The reasons are many but the results are pretty clear. The church, such as it is, in America is riddled with false teachers, bad doctrine and even worse, general theological apathy. Our churches are full of very nice people who have been in church all of their lives and are barely acquainted with even basic concepts. I certainly don't expect new Christians to be able to explain the hypostatic union or give me a brief summary of the three major schools of eschatology but I would expect people who have been in church all of their lives to understand the difference between the Old and New Covenant, to see the progression of revelation throughout the Scriptures, to give more than a two word definition of grace.

Like our society in general, the church has saddled entire generations of Christians with the curse of low expectations. We don't expect much from each other and of course that is what we get. I haven't met too many people in the church that are incapable of learning the deeper things of the Kingdom, they just have barely been exposed to them and have never been expected to learn them. As I have written so often, it seems as if we spend all of this money and expend all of this effort in order to intentionally keep the majority of the church as passive observers. Come sing a couple of songs, listen to a sermon, put your check in the plate, maybe go to potluck once in a while, and go about your business the other 167 hours a week with the assurance that you have done your part. I call this the "Show up, shup up and pay up" model.

We need to expect more and ask more of the church. Not simply because it is a matter of a poor return on investment but mainly because it is poor stewardship and harmful to the work of the Kingdom. I am 100% confident that the church can and will rise to the challenge if the challenge is offered to do more, learn more, act more. I am equally confident that if we do not expect more of the church, we will continue to get more of the same, more theological shallowness, more apathy, more disengaged Christians. The future we are facing has little room for casual observer Christians but unless the leaders of the church start to make room for the rest of the church and start to ask of them what the Bible asks of them, increased maturity, service, moving from milk to meat, then we can expect the influence of the church to continue to wane.

25 Years And Counting

Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:18-24

Today my wife and I celebrate 25 years of marriage, two and a half decades, one quarter of a century. I was 20 when we were married and 16 when we started dating seriously so in my 45 years of life something like 2/3 has been with my wife. I don't really know what life would look like without her and hopefully I won't find out for a very long time, if ever.

I didn't know what it meant to be married when we took our vows. Sure I knew that I loved her and wanted to be with her for the rest of my life but I didn't know we would move so often and how hard that would be for her or that we would have eight kids or the rough times and all of the really good times, the times of hurt and the times of laughter. I didn't really know how different we would both be when we were middle-aged and that how different we are now from where we were is because we grew up in adulthood together. It has rarely been easy but it has always been a blessing and has usually been a lot of fun.

No truer words came from the mouth of God than it is not good for man to be alone. I am so grateful for the helper he placed in my life, my best friend, the one who listens to me raving and ranting sometimes, the one who console me and encourages me and sometimes rebukes me when necessary. She is exactly what I need and I am confident that her being in my life is no accident or mere chance. Second only to the gift of faith and the forgiveness of my sins, I am grateful to nothing more than the wife God gave me and who He continues to sustain. Thank you Lord. I love you Eva!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Curse Of The Cross

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" -Matthew 27:45-46

Is there a more heart-wrenching passage in Scripture than the Son of God crying out to His Father: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The cry of the Son to His Father, Father why have you forsaken me? If you know Christ and realize your own sin and the perfection of Christ, the words of Christ are like a punch in the stomach. I can't read them or hear them aloud without getting torn up. I also know that the Father forsaken the Son at that moment means that I will never be forsaken in turn.

This passage came up today and I remembered a talk that R.C. Sproul gave at Together for The Gospel in 2008 on the curse motif of Scripture, specifically the cross. Here is a good summary of the talk:

I was privileged to be in attendance when Sproul gave this talk. It is dead silent in the room, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. You can listen to the whole talk, it is about an hour long, here. This is the sort of deep, rich thinking that we need more of in the church. Give it a listen, it will enrich your understanding of what Christ did for His sheep on the cross.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Benedict Option And The Future Of The Church: We Should Look Back But Where And When Is The Real Question

As I have said over and over, we are entering a new period of life for the church. I won't say it is ahistorical or unprecedented because it bears many similarities to the past but it also has many differences.

What is being called "The Benedict Option" is getting more and more airtime of late as the release of Rod Dreher's book of the same name comes closer. I went to a non-related article at Christianity Today and saw that the cover story for the March issue was on the Benedict Option (you need to be a subscriber to read the whole thing apparently). Albert Mohler interviewed Dreher for his Thinking In Public series. If you are interested in these sorts of things, as I am, it is a worthwhile listen. So what is the Benedict Option? As someone who has read a lot of Dreher's writings I confess it is a little confusing. The concept is one thing, the execution is another entirely. The FAQ section on the Benedict Option kind of lays it out but the essence, as I understand it, is that Christians would form intentional communities, far beyond local church life, and become preservers of Christian tradition and thought, acting as an "ark" to preserve Christian culture until such a time as civilization is ready to accept it again. I am sure I am not doing the concept justice but then again given the frequent attempts by Dreher to clarify and to counter what he sees as false assumptions, I am not sure how many people really understand it in the first place.

What Protestants, evangelicals and other Christians need to keep in mind is that it is apparent to me that Dreher's model of "The Benedict Option" is really only compatible with a Roman/Orthodox structure and of late it seems that a lot of what Dreher writes is a) reinforcing what Dreher himself admits, namely that he doesn't know much about evangelicalism in any form and b) in spite of that he frequently cherry picks kind of obscure evangelicals and asserts from their writings that what evangelicals really want is high church, authoritarian, liturgical religion. I don't know many people, evangelical or Reformed or whatever, who are deeply concerned about and engaged in church reformation that are calling for some sort of return to Rome, hat in hand, asking if we can come home (other than perhaps Peter Leithart). Dreher frequently links the Benedict Option with practices and principles that are really only applicable in a Roman/Orthodox church setting so it has pretty limited applicability for Protestants and evangelicals, even though it gets a lot of attention from those groups.

It also is worth stating, yet again, that the traditions and doctrines that Dreher is calling for the preservation of are not Christian. I reject as not only not faithfully Christian but in many ways as anti-Christian some of the central doctrines of both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. From the blasphemy of the Mass and the anti-Gospel understanding of justification we find in Rome to the use of idols called icons and a similarly errant understanding of justification in Eastern Orthodoxy, I do not and cannot see a connection with Rome or Constantinople and small "o" orthodox Christianity, except to see them as wolves and usurpers. That for me is where I think we need to be cautious with the Benedict Option because it moves the line of "us" and "them" to include in the "us" category religious movements that oppose the Gospel and historically were the leading persecutors of the church when those movements still had the power of the state at their disposal. I think in Mohler's conversation with Dreher, he skirts that line just as he did in appearing multiple times at Brigham Young University, a university named after a blasphemer, staffed and led by heretics and populated by what I can only presume is an entirely lost student body (see my concerns here: Even Daniel only went into the lion's den once ). As Christians we need to be very careful that when we read someone like Dreher, and I intend to once the book is available at our library, that we do so understanding that he is a fellow American, a conservative, a thinker and a devoutly religious individual deserving of no small amount of respect but he is not our brother. Western civilization is incredibly valuable but it is not the Kingdom. Religious liberty is important but it is not a Kingdom virtue. I trust that Mohler understands and is able to distinguish between "learning from" and "affirming" differing groups, as he says here:
I appreciated every part of this conversation with Rod Dreher, but particularly the closing section of this conversation and that’s because we do need without apology to talk openly about what it means to learn from one another without affirming one another theologically. This is an issue of our evangelical responsibility, of our credibility in faithfulness; that is to say, that the issues that have separated historic Protestantism from Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are not ephemeral, they are not minimal, and they have not gone away.
But I am not as sure that other evangelical and Protestant Christians possess the background and education to make that distinction. I do agree with Mohler in his critique of generic evangelicalism in that it doesn't have the "thickness" to survive the coming era. Mohler here responds to his own question to Dreher about the viability of evangelicalism in the future:
MOHLER: But that’s going to make the point where I would have to answer my own question. I do not believe evangelicalism has sufficient resources for a thick enough Christianity to survive either this epoch or much beyond.
DREHER: So what we you do then? What do you do?
MOHLER: Well it’s because I think evangelical-ism as an-ism, is a particular moment in history. The identity has to be, as I see it, in the best way to describe the conversation between us, as historic Protestant. In other words, it takes historic Protestantism, in other words, I am deeply, unashamedly rooted in that which we mark in terms of a 500th anniversary right now. I do believe in the necessary reformation of the church and what the Reformers taught. But modern evangelicalism lacks the theological substance either of the Reformation or the Reformers because the Reformers themselves, Luther and Calvin amongst them, were not at all hesitant, even as they affirmed sola scriptura and did so with full heart and soul, to go back and cite Augustine. They knew they were standing on the shoulders of those who had come before, and they sought to make that very clear. They stood on the creedal consensus of historic Christianity and thus confessional Protestantism, I would argue, is and must be—can be—sufficiently thick. But evangelicalism? Well, not so much.
I agree with that. Most of what we call evangelicalism is immature, vacuous, inwardly focused and obsessed with the trappings of success and the incessant desire for self-perpetuation. More on that in a moment.

A serious problem I see for the various iterations of the Benedict Option is that it fails to take into account that just retreating into communities, or "arks" as Dreher describes them, to preserve the faith and religious tradition doesn't really work when the broader culture is not going to be willing to leave us alone to practice our faith. As an example, we see the lie of the homosexual movement in stark display. They are not seeking to be left alone or allowed to "love" who they want. They demand that everyone who is not homosexual either become a vocal cheerleader for homosexuality or keep their mouths shut. We are already seeing moves to make the simple stating of accepted basic, historic Christian understandings of topic like human sexuality being labelled as "hate speech" and that is not going to diminish with victories by the secular forces. To the contrary it seems that every victory emboldens them. If you think you can retreat to a commune in some barren corner of America and preach the Gospel without molestation you are either naive or dumb. Perhaps Dreher has addressed this or will in his book but I don't recall seeing it.

So if not the "Benedict Option" of a renewed laity-based monasticism of sorts, what should the future look like? My vision for the church for the coming era would be a much smaller but far more engaged and dedicated community of faith. Instead of breaking down barriers and seeking commonality with former foes, I would propose an even starker line in the sand. What we stand for and why we stand for it must be front and center. I know this will turn off a lot of people on the fringes of the church but I don't see that as avoidable and I don't even think it is regrettable. I don't see the years and decades to come as a welcoming place for people with only a tenuous connection to the faith. If your connection to the faith is occasionally showing up at church, I don't see how that will leave you grounded enough to deal with real persecution. We owe it to people to present nothing less than the most robust, full-throated and unapologetic Kingdom manifestation we can manage. As part of that I would return to a couple of critical issues that will make or break the church in the years to come, a renewed local church based intellectualism and a vigorous life of discipleship. As I have so often in the past I would draw from two wells primarily for these twin keys to the church in the future, the Reformers and the Anabaptists. This is what I mean:

A robust intellectualism practiced by elders and non-elders alike (as all men in the church should be striving toward the qualities that make one an elder), the sort of robust intellectualism that is also practical and pastoral as we saw from many of the Protestant Reformers (although not necessarily just Reformed theology even though I would hold to that), as well as a deeper discipleship of the sort we see in historic Anabaptist groups manifested in genuine community and brotherhood.

I wrote previously that I think the historic model of the Anabaptists is a better guide, at least for evangelical/Reformational Christians than the Benedict Option (see: The Anabaptist Option > The Benedict Option ). My critique of both groups tend to offset one another. While the Anabaptists live out discipleship far better, in my opinion, than the Reformed, their theology is often pretty flimsy. That doesn't mean that conservative, historic Anabaptists don't have firmly held beliefs, it just means that, again this is just my opinion based on personal observation, they are not very well-formed. On the flip-side, the Reformed have the theology, deep diving on doctrine, the connectedness to church history, mostly on the mark but all too often seem like they would rather sit at home alone reading Owen's The Death of Death In The Death Of Christ than spend time with the Body outside of scheduled, mandatory church meetings. That is an obvious bit of hyperbole but I hope my point is made that in my experience discipleship seems lacking, especially outside of church events.

There is also of course the issue of ecclesiology and here I think both groups could use a healthy reevaluation. How the church functions is integral to how the individual Christian functions. Both traditions could use a refresher on ecclesiastical practices but as I have learned to my chagrin you cannot just focus on church models at the expense of broader questions of orthodoxy. There are lesson to be learned from the house church movement in spite of some pretty sketchy "leaders" and from the Restorationist churches but again never to the detriment of solid orthodoxy.

To me the Benedict Option is a schtick, something that sounds good and can be used to sell books and drive web traffic but it misses the mark on a lot of levels. There is some good to be learned from the propositions Dreher lays out and from groups like the Hutterites and Bruderhof and other intentional Christian or religious communities (check out this article from the Wall Street Journal: Wary of Modern Society, Some Christians Choose a Life Apart). I think we can learn a lot more from the Protestant Reformers and especially the Anabaptists. Ultimately though the real question of our survival and thriving in the years to come will not be based on modeling ourselves after some obscure monk or John Calvin or Menno Simons or Jacob Hutter. The real gauge of our faithfulness and the only measuring stick that matters will be how faithfully we live out the Kingdom in our lives. If we are not faithful first and foremost to the Scriptures, none of the rest of this stuff will matter.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Gospel Is Declaration, Not Deeds

Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

- Attributed to Francis of Assisi (incorrectly as it turns out)

There are few hokey quotes that I despise more than that one. Maybe the only one I dislike more is the Gandhi quote about liking Jesus but not Christians that I see all the time, mostly from progressives virtue signaling how terrible their fellow Christians are (I addressed that nonsense here). The reason I don't like that quote, besides it being pompous and demeaning to the work of evangelism, is that it is anti-Biblical. Notice that I say anti-Biblical. It is not just something that is not directly found in Scripture, it is directly contrary to what the Bible teaches by way of command and example. The implication of that false quote is a direction contradiction of the Bible.

The Gospel is Good News, not Good Deeds. Our good works are a critical demonstration of our changed lives and evidence of such and often our good works are a way of opening hearts to hear the Gospel but unless we actually tell people the Good News, it isn't Gospel proclamation at all. For example, in Acts 3:1-10 we read the account of Peter and John and the healing of a man lame from birth. How wonderful! But what happens next is the true miracle. Having performed this wonderful work of healing and mercy which attracts a lot of attention, Peter then takes the opportunity to preach the Gospel, just as he did after the miraculous manifestation of the speaking of foreign tongues a chapter earlier at the day of Pentecost. From Acts 3:12-26 we see Peter preaching the unadulterated Gospel and even though they were arrested for it, we see the fruit of his preaching:
But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. (Acts 4:4)
Healing a man lame from birth is pretty incredible. Seeing 5000 men, absolutely dead in their sins, being brought to new life by the power of the Gospel working with the Holy Spirit? That is the true miracle. Here is the kicker. If Peter had simply healed the lame man and then he and John had left, they would not have been arrested and not a single person would have been saved that day, apart perhaps from the lame man who was told to walk in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:6).

You can do all sorts of wonderful works and that is great and we should be doing more works of mercy but if you never get to the point of telling people the Good News of Jesus Christ, you really are only making their life more comfortable until they land in hell. Soup kitchens, food pantries, medical clinics, crisis pregnancy centers, orphanages. Those are all marvelous but if they are not accompanied by the Gospel they are empty, dead works. Check out this short video from John Piper where he addresses this topic and got me fired up this morning, also includes a bonus "The Holy Spirit As An Airplane" impersonation. Vintage Piper.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Repost: What is the right number of elders?

I have been thinking a bit about elders for the last week or so. It is a topic I used to write about more, usually to decry single elder model churches and professionalized ministry, but it also is a topic that I have long thought gets little more than a perfunctory examination from the broader church. Often elders are simply either staff to be hired (or fired) or just a handful of older guys who have been around a while. In Biblical reality the elders of the church are some of the most important men, even if the elders don't "preach" or more accurately to be said, teach, from the pulpit because they are supposed to embody the qualities and characteristics that every Christian man should be striving toward. The qualities that mark a man as an appropriate candidate to be an elder are qualities that every single Christian man should be striving toward. None will ever reflect perfectly what God has decreed are the praiseworthy attributes of a man of God but each and every one of us should see the lists in 1 Timothy and Titus as our own marching orders even if we never hold the title of elder.

Thus my repost briefly touching on the topic of elders in the church and how many a local church should have. The usual notion is "not very many" and I get why that is, primarily because so few men have the qualities that would make them eligible to be an elder, but I don't think that a small handful of men is always the right ratio. What do you think?


Many in the church, across a wide spectrum of folks from simple church advocates to reformed believers recognize that the church should have a “plurality of elders”, i.e. more than one elder (pastor) and a bunch of deacons. In Baptist circles this is still looked at with the stink eye (that ain’t how Bab-Dis do things!) but the Scriptures seems pretty clear that in local churches there should be multiple servant-leaders. But how many should the church have? I am sure someone has already thought this through but I wanted to give it a stab.

Is there a magic number, like five elders in every church? Is there a magic ration of 20:1 believers to laity? The Bible is silent and you know what happens when the Bible is silent about something? We fill in the blanks! So why should I get left out of the fun?!

Here is an assertion that I am going to throw out there, regardless of the denomination (or lack thereof) or the size of your church….

Every mature man in the church should eventually be an elder.

Here is another.

There is nothing in Scripture that indicates that there needs to be a small group of elders overseeing a much larger group of non-elders.

What?! That is heresy! If you have all of those elders, who is going to be in charge? It will be like that old (very politically incorrect) saying: all chiefs and no indians!

Hang with me for a bit here.

First off, there is a real problem with the view of elders as being “in charge” of the church. Men who are elders are recognized as such because of the way they live their lives, for their leading by serving rather than leading by dictating. I won’t list out the Scripture references but it is pretty clear that elders are men who lead through example and service, not through control.

Second, can the church have too many elders? Well let me ask a different question. Can the church ever have too many mature brothers who are living examples to the church?

Now if a local church is functioning like it should be, there should always be a couple of things happening. First, existing Christian men are being discipled, mentored and equipped for the work of ministry by more mature believers and are coming to place of maturity in the faith (Eph 4:11-16 ). If a man is a mature believer in Christ and is living a praiseworthy life worthy of emulation, why wouldn’t he be recognized as an elder?

Second, new Christians should be coming to faith in Christ and becoming part of the church all the time. The men especially need someone to emulate and to learn from and I am convinced that an eight week “New Believer” class and weekly sermons is not going to bring men to a maturity in Christ. The state of the church bears that out. The more elders the church has, the more men to mentor and disciple new believers.

What do you think? Is that kooky, the idea that every man who comes to Christ should be expected to mature to a point where he is considered an elder?

Another Interesting Video From Paglia

You wouldn't think I would post videos from an atheist lesbian talking to a Jewish culture warrior but here it is anyway. My wife and I have been listening to a lot of videos from Camille Paglia because even though I would disagree with her on a lot of stuff, most especially on her lifestyle choice, she just makes a lot of non-PC sense on a lot of topics. From homosexuality as a fluid behavior rather than an inherent trait to the illiberalism of so many "liberals" to the need for extended stable families for kids, she has a pretty keen mind and a no-nonsense way of talking about stuff. Prager kind of pins her down on the question of needing a father in the home and I think she knows that not having a father is unhealthy but had a hard time admitting it. It is almost half an hour long but well worth your time.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Are Elderly Elders A Bad Thing?

According to Barna, the occupants of pulpits in America are getting a lot older:
As clergy live longer and stay in ministry longer, the average age of Protestant senior pastors has risen to 54—a decade older than 25 years before, when the average age was 44....The pulpit has been graying for decades. In the ’60s, a majority of pastors were under 45. In 2017, most are over 60.
That is supposed to start the alarm bells ringing but I noticed something else in this report:
Today’s pastors are less likely to go from congregation to congregation during their careers. Back in 1992, Barna found the average church tenure was four years, compared to more than 10 years in 2017...Older clergy may actually have a harder time finding new jobs as they age, forcing them to stay longer. As CT Pastors has reported, when a senior pastor spot opens up, some churches seek out younger candidates who are expected to serve long-term or draw in younger congregants.
Well, I sort of think that elders staying put is a good thing. The new-church-every-four-years model is a sickness in the church, reflective of the general discontentment in our culture and "ministry as just another career" model. Younger men often seem to see their current church as a stepping stone to the next church, a church that they will feel "called to", a calling that invariably seems to be accompanied by a higher salary. Conversely older pastors are more content and satisfied with where they are:
Older pastors also enjoy their ministry work more. Leaders age 50 and older, as well as those who have been in ministry for more than 30 years, report being “highly satisfied” with their vocation as a pastor and with their current church more often than younger and less-experienced leaders.
While we as a society place a premium on youth, the church would probably benefit from more experienced and seasoned leadership. A young pastor with a stereotypical pastor's wife and 2.5 kids might look good on your webpage but if your young pastor is spending half of his sermon prep time in his office looking for a new "calling", he is probably not serving his church very well.

Of course there should be a deep bench in any fellowship of men who are in training to become elders but that is unfortunately not a popular part of the functioning of pastors:
Overall, two-thirds of pastors rank preaching and teaching as their favorite aspect of their job. The least favorite aspect? Only 2 percent picked organizing church meetings and events as their No. 1 task.
In the middle of those two, 1 in 10 called “developing other leaders” their most enjoyable task—a crucial role as pastors prepare to pass leadership on to a new generation of preachers.
“The bare facts of the matter are that even the wisest of older pastors is not here indefinitely, and his wisdom will be lost to the community of faith unless it is invested with the next generation,” the report stated. “Even more urgent, however, is the prospect of a massive leadership shortage in the coming decades.”

I can understand why that is. Training men up to be elders is time-consuming and probably often frustrating but it is so critical to the long-term health of a church fellowship. It is obviously easier to just hire a guy from another church but that is not in the best interest of that man, of your fellowship or the fellowship that is abandoned to come to your church.

The reports from Barna are always interesting to me even as they kind of make me sad. There is not much in the church that is more critical to the health of that fellowship than having mature, well-trained men to lead the church by example and teaching and yet it is one of the least healthy aspects of our church culture. There are few challenges in the church that demand more from the current leadership than training up the next generation of elders but we tend to demand current elders do everything but invest the time and effort it requires. If you want a healthy and vibrant church, you have to start with healthy, qualified elders. If we get that right, everything else will fall far more easily into place.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Feminism: A Corrupt Seed That Yields A Rotten Crop

Picture from

In my prior post, It Is Not About Getting Rid Of Gender, It Is About Getting Rid Of Men, I argued that the "transgender" and "gender fluidity" movements are mostly about ridding our culture of any actual masculine expression. I also made the statement that I think women are, by and large, not terribly happy today in spite of "feminist progress" and by implication that they would be more happy if the men in their lives acted more like men. In fact it often seems to me that things that are supposed to make women happier, like having more women with careers outside of the home and going to college, are actually conspiring to make women less happy and satisfied. As an example of this I quoted the disproportionate female-male ratio at most colleges in an article, Unequal Gender Ratios at Colleges Are Driving Hookup Culture, but the broader issue of that post was that the shrinking male population at university is actually benefitting the men enormously, at least from a standpoint of sexual promiscuity.
Women at disproportionately female schools talk openly about their frustrations. “Everyone’s self-esteem takes a hit,” a young woman at 75%-female Sarah Lawrence College told me. One reason: Sarah Lawrence men have little interest in exclusive relationships. “Why would they? It’s like they have their own free harem,” she grumbled. “One of my friends was dumped by a guy after they’d been hooking up for less than a week. When he broke up with her, the guy actually used the word ‘market’—like the ‘market’ for him was just too good.” 
A male Sarah Lawrence student offered a similar assessment of life there—though he wasn’t bemoaning the school’s hookup culture but celebrating it. The young man told me he had had sex with more than 20 of his female classmates. “There isn’t really a culture of monogamy or even dating here,” he offered. “Sometimes it feels like you can have anyone you want.”
It turns out that men and women still like to be with each other and when men are scarce, women end up having to or at least feeling like they have to, compromise what they want (monogamous, steady relationships) for what men seem to want (casual sex) in order to have any relationship with men at all. Certainly plenty of academic "experts" will tell you that casual sex with no commitment is healthier than old fuddy-duddy notions of monogamy and relationship but I don't believe that to be true for a second. Having once been an unregenerate college guy, albeit one with a steady girlfriend that I got engaged to halfway through my first year of school, I can say with some confidence that being in a culture where you are having sex with so many different girls that you number your partners in the dozens would be fantastic. Marriage traditionally acted as a civilizing influence on young men, especially young men who are outside of the faith, but now most men can get sex on demand with no corresponding commitment. If you want to see an unclothed woman, you don't have to buy a girlie magazine with a brown paper cover over it from the drug store, you can just click a few buttons and see whatever kind of woman you want doing anything you can imagine and quite a few things you can't even begin to imagine.

I have been working over a post literally for years now that I need to finish one of these days that argues we are living in the Golden Era of Male Irresponsibility. Ironically it is feminism that has made this happen. Very powerful and educated men are doing more than fine in our culture. Lazy, ne'er-do-well young men who want to live at home, play video games and watch porn are doing just fine in their pursuit. The vast majority of men who just want to be a good father and husband and productive member of society are the ones who are struggling.

The struggles of most men is mirrored by the struggles of far too many women. Women from affluent homes are also doing great it would seem. But the majority of women in America seem far from doing just fine. They are pulled in a million directions, told that they don't need a man to be happy but at the same time constantly bombarded with marketing tell them that they need this or that to appeal to men. Women have been told that they shouldn't allow men to objectify them but the culture has led to a situation where teen girls are sending nude photos of themselves to boys that often aren't even steady boyfriends. My experience of decades in the professional work environment was that of a lot of women, I would say the majority of them, were equal parts resigned to "having to work" and longing to spend more time with their kids. Having a picture of your six month old daughter on your desk and texting the daycare is no substitute for being there for her. That may sound judgmental and cruel, and maybe it is, but it is also true. Each successive generation of Western women seems less equipped for caring for their own children but in spite of efforts by some feminists to shame the maternal instinct out of women, it is still there but women today are ill-equipped to respond to that instinct.

A perfect example of this came up this week with the cinematic release of the Fifty Shades of Grey bondage-porn sequel Fifty Shades Darker. In the spirit of full disclosure I have not read any of the books or watched the film but I have run across enough in terms of plot summaries to get the gist of the movie. The series is wildly popular. The first book, Fifty Shades of Grey, apparently sold more than 125 million copies. According to Barnes & Noble (I didn't check at Amazon where I almost exclusively shop for books because I don't want to see what else looking at Fifty Shades would cause Amazon to recommend for me), the hard copy retails for $12.95 and the e-book for $7.99 so taking the average price of the two and multiplying that times 125,000,000 copies means roughly $1.3 billion in sales. That is a pretty big number for a book. The first film adaptation made over $166,000,000 at the box office in America and more than half a billion worldwide according to IMDB. It sounds like estimates are that the sequel will earn almost $50 million during the opening weekend alone.

As you would expect just from the general hype, the book buyers are 80% women. What I found interesting when I looked at the buying profile from Bowker was what kind of women were buying it. The cultural narrative is that it is bought by bored and sexually frustrated soccer moms but that is not what Bowker found in 2012:
Compared to the typical adult fiction consumer, buyers of the Fifty Shades books are more likely to be women, live in the Northeast, and have a significantly higher household income.
Interesting indeed! I think a lot of midwestern soccer mom types tend to consume the "Amish romance novel" genre but why would substantially more affluent, presumably more educated and more "enlightened" women in the Northeast (i.e. Boston to New York to Washington, D.C., our power corridor and where you are most likely to find powerful, "successful" career women) buy a book about a disordered and male dominated sexual relationship?

Why in the world would women in our supposedly enlightened world with decades of feminist indoctrination in the schools and our pop culture, want to spend upwards of a billion and a half dollars to read/watch about what ought to be the nightmare of feminists, a wealthy older White man who apparently uses his wealth and power and *GASP* dare I say privilege to seduce a virginal, younger woman and dominate her? Everything about this storyline seems to run precisely counter to what women are supposed to truly crave. Wouldn't a better story line that would appeal to women like this be something like a professional woman, like a high power lawyer, who has a mutually respectful but open relationship with a guy who is an artist of some sort and works at Whole Foods to make ends meet but who mostly depends on his much smarter, more worldly and far more successful female life partner to pay the bills while he keeps their condo clean, feeds the cats and cleans the litter box and makes cruelty free, fair trade vegan meals and rubs her feet when she gets home?

Curiouser and curiouser.

My theory is probably not surprising. Men and women are men and women and you can market and indoctrinate the crap out of them but that doesn't change their basic nature. The Bible is again proven to be accurate in describing the human condition when it comes to gender (ex. Genesis 3:16 ). When these modern, feminism-saturated, independent, strong women get a few minutes to themselves, one hundred million or so of them read about or watched a movie about a man who sexually dominates a woman. Tens of millions more read various romance novels, including the wildly popular Amish romance genre and the Amish idea of gender is about as counter-cultural as you can get. It is almost like women really are actually craving a strong man who will lead in their relationship instead of some flaccid, milquetoast Nancy-boy that has to ask his life partner to open the pickle jar for him.

Feminism is an agenda driven ideology that really has morphed into a matriarchal religion, a religious worldview that has been mostly destructive to women, to men and to children and families. The ideas that it claims to put forth, like equality of opportunity, have long since come to fruition and what we see now are mostly policies and positions that can only be properly described as anti-male, anti-children and anti-family. The future is not female but to ensure a better future for females we must collectively reject the lies of feminism for the sake of our wives, sisters, mothers and daughters.

It Is Not About Getting Rid Of Gender, It Is About Getting Rid Of Men

Among mostly like-minded people, in other words people that sensibly agree with me, it is common to see one of the most pressing issues of the day as the attempt to completely erase the concept of gender. Gender fluidity is one of those buzzwords that is in common use today that would have been rightly considered to be complete nonsense even ten or five years ago. The elevation of transgenderism to the highest expression of human freedom and evolution is just the latest in the inevitable progression towards what would be an "ideal" society where gender no longer exists in a meaningful way.

I am beginning to modify my belief that the goal is the elimination of gender. It is instead a movement with the goal of eliminating one of the genders. What certain people with an outsized influence on our culture via the government, the "education" establishment and the entertainment world are really working against is masculinity in any recognizable form. The term "toxic masculinity" is tossed around a lot and was trending a bit on Twitter. From what I can tell, "toxic masculinity" is any behavior by a man that is distinguishable from what is traditionally considered feminine behavior. The mantra we hear ad nauseum is that men dominate our society, specifically White men and even worse heterosexual White men and worst of all heterosexual Christian White men. The story goes that these terrible men have made a general mess of things and need to be put in their place, their place apparently being in a studio apartment sitting on the couch playing video games while the mother or mothers of their children take care of them and work to support them.

Check out this pretty brilliant video by Camille Paglia, who clearly needs to switch to decaf, where she talks about "transgenderism" and the assault on masculinity:

"Everything is all about expanding women's rights but also terminating men, OK, defining men out of existence. Masculinity by definition is toxic"


There it is. The real driving force behind decrying "toxic masculinity" is not about a backlash against guys who are chauvinistic jerks, it is about defining all expressions of masculinity by universally describing masculine thought and behavior as toxic. To be male is to be toxic and the solution is to eliminate masculinity by depicting masculinity as inherently harmful and extolling the virtues of effeminate men, advocating for "transgenderism" which is really about redefining the male of the human species out of existence and pitting men and women against one another in a one-sided battle where men are expected to shut up and listen attentively to the Very Serious Woman wearing a hat shaped like her genitals. For modern "feminists", the relationship between the genders is a zero sum game. For women to "progress", men must regress. Women can have no improvement in their lives without a corresponding diminishment of men's lives. Of course it is also worth noting that what feminists and gender warriors consider progress has been an absolute disaster for men, for families and children and especially for women. For all of the feminist "progress" over the last 50 years, does anyone seriously think women are happier? In my decades working in the professional workplace, the women I worked with in general didn't seem empowered or happy, they usually seemed to be torn in a dozen different directions and over-extended.

Also of note is Paglia pointing out that the move toward androgyny occurs at the end-stage of a civilization, what she calls "the late phase of culture" but that as that happens in "civilized" societies, on the outskirts are the Huns, the Vandals, and now ISIS where masculinity is often actually toxic. Today we have the advent of make-up companies like Covergirl putting for a 17 year old male make-up artist and Maybelline following suit with a male make-up model. When the next existential crisis faces our culture, who is going to defeat the Huns or ISIS? MannyMua swishing to the front line to win over ISIS with tips on how to apply mascara?

It doesn't empower women to demean, denigrate and diminish men.

The simple truth is that men are in trouble in this country. A huge percentage of prime working age men are out of the workforce. Not unemployed, because that term implies they are out of work but looking. I am talking about men simply not working and not looking to work. The future looks even more bleak as you look at trends.

In a Time Magazine story that looks at the possible connection between the increasingly disproportionate percentage of female college students to male students and the "hook-up culture", a stark reminder of the perilous future of men in this country
In 2013, the gender ratio among that year’s college graduates was 57:43, women to men. That’s four women for every three men. With girls continuing to outpace boys in school and young women continuing to attend college in ever-greater numbers, the U.S. Department of Education now expects the ratio to approach three women for every two men by 2023.
I don't see a college degree as the only or even the best way to prepare men for meaningful lives of work and supporting a family but it certainly is one way and when you look at how few young people are prepared to take on the skilled trades jobs that are unfilled and rapidly entering a crisis mode for lack of qualified replacement workers to take over for retirees coupled with the growing disproportionate make-up of colleges, what exactly are men going to do in the future to earn a living? How are they going to support a family or even contribute meaningfully to supporting a wife and kids? It is easy to point to our unbroken string of male Presidents and the dominance of men in executive positions at corporations and claim that men are still dominate in our society but when you get away from the tiny fraction of elite men, the vast majority of younger men are in serious trouble and that spells trouble for our social order, especially families but we still get nonsense like the disproved "gender wage gap" and the guilt trip Audi Super Bowl commercial that makes it sound like women are being left behind.

This trend is echoed in the church as more and more women take over leadership roles in the church and men become increasingly absent from the church entirely. Christianity has always been a solidly masculine faith. God is described in male terms, His Son was obviously male, the twelve apostles were all male. Today in a lot of places you would think that Christianity was an almost exclusively female religion. Looking the best-selling "Christian" books and you get a combination of a lot of women writing flowery nonsense and men writing a lot of the same touchy-feely nonsense. We don't need more men in the church to get in touch with their feelings and their feminine side. We need more men in the church to act like actual men.

In our age of information and entertainment overload it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture and to connect the dots but the signs are all there. Two-time failed Presidential candidate and wife of serial philanderer Hillary Clinton said recently that "the future is female". Her message was clear. If the future is female, then it obviously also means that the future is not male. The future she pines for might be great for the elite women in this country but for the average American a future that is female means even more overloading of women with family responsibilities and even more diminishment of men and the elimination of masculinity. Our society, in fact no society, can survive in the world without both genuine masculinity and femininity. Women make poor substitutes for men and men aren't being helpful partners for women when they are staying at home instead of working. It would be great if Clinton said that the future was families but that is not expedient. If we are to have a future, we need strong, masculine men and strong, feminine women and a woman is not strong because she tries to act like a man and men certainly are not strong when they act like women. God made two genders to complement one another and to bring joy to each other. Anyone who cares about the future of Western civilization and especially anyone who cares about the church needs to speak out against and actively oppose the attempts by a few unhinged radicals to eliminate masculinity. We need more men being more masculine if we are to survive as a civilization,