Saturday, January 30, 2010

Thought to ponder for the day

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)

Our shared witness to a lost world is our love for one another. How do we demonstrate that love for one another in our day to day lives? Not privately but in public, as a witness. I am not sure we typically do.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Road Trip

We are heading down to Ohio tomorrow to visit some families who are experimenting with an intentional community. I am looking forward to getting to know some fellow believers and talking to them about their ideas for community. We are still very much in the infancy stages here but it will be good to meet with other like-minded believers to see what they have experienced. I am sure that the idyllic view that I have created in my mind has more than a few bumps to go along with it. Whether this is what God has in store for us, or if we should to start a community focused gathering of believers here locally or something completely different is still up in the air for us but I expect this to be a great time of fellowship. We are looking forward to it!

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How should Christians view Muslims?

Contend Earnestly: My Personal Challenge to You: It Could Change Your Life

Seth McBee asks this question in a series of posts. I found the most recent one especially interesting. Even if we view Islam as the enemy, aren't we to love our enemies? Aren't we to respond to evil with good? Shouldn't we bless those who persecute us? Isn't that precisley what God has done for us on the cross?

Seth also asks a question I have been pondering as well:

Have we not heard in this country over and over to love our neighbors (friends) and hate those who are our enemies? Haven't we been sold on this idea that we should take people to court, defend ourselves, kill or be killed, etc.?

I think this questions gets to the heart of what I have been saying regarding the sword. We seem to be a people who believe in Jesus but not what He said.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

A needed rebuke

You need to read Dave Black's blog posting today. Several important and troubling posts including this one:

But I need to add a careful rider here. Television is not the only time-stealer. How much do I read on the Internet that is really worthwhile and beneficial? Personally speaking, I have stopped reading so-called Christian bloggers whose main purpose in life seems to be to expose the moral failures of others. I call these blogs narcissism factories. They bloat their writers' egos and smother their insecurities under a hubristic penumbra. Their message is as obvious as a Texas two-step: Either you're moral (like me), or you're not. They fail to realize how profoundly unbecoming it is to disclose the dark imperfections of their fellow human beings. "That blogger whose richest pleasure depends on exposing the sins of others -- what secret sin is he or she guilty of?" -- I often wonder. There is something terribly wrong when our blogs shine more brightly than our Savior and when our passion for holiness is replaced by a passion for haughtiness. By working to weaken bad passions we only succeed in increasing them. I struggle enough to maintain perspective without having to read Christian tabloids. I mention this personal disclosure because my experience, I think, is not uncommon.

I read that on my blackberry and immediately went and deleted a very snarky post I had set to post tonight. I guess I realized after reading what Dave had to say that the world doesn't need another blog post about how wrong someone else is about something. There are plenty of places in my own life where I stumble and have fallen. If I spent half as much time working out my own flaws as I do in pointing those in others I would be a far more effective servant, husband, father. There is a lot that I am pondering and praying about but allow myself to be distracted by the foibles of others. Focus! I used to live for the fights, for proving others wrong. I am trying to rid myself of that but I often need reminders and that was exactly what I got today on a tiny digital screen.

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How should we use the Old Testament?

Yikes, that is a big question! I think it is an important one but one that is pretty complicated. Obviously.

This is what is troubling me. Without any sort of consensus, we end up agreeing on sola scriptura and the sufficiency of the Scriptures, but people reference the Old Testament as authoritative in wildly different ways. We feel perfectly justified in quoting Old Testament verses to support our view and just as cavalierly rejecting others as no longer applicable that don’t support our view. I am horribly guilty of doing this. In the local gathering of the church I think it is a common occurrence. I would hazard that we have all heard someone reference something out of the Old Testament in a sermon and apply it under the New Covenant where it probably doesn’t fit and likely we have done the same thing ourselves.

The principles enumerated in the book of Proverbs are not any less valid under the New Covenant. What is wise or what is foolish is pretty straightforward. The accounts of the Exodus, of the flood, of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, of God establishing His covenant with Abram, these are all historical events and all impact the New Testament. On the other hand, there are lots of civil laws and ceremonial laws that don’t seem to be still in effect. The covenant with Abram is fulfilled/being fulfilled in Christ but the sign of the covenant (circumcision) is not binding on the church, either in form or application. The covenant with Moses was broken by the Jews but the new and better covenant has come that supersedes that Old Covenant. How we relate to the world, how we worship God, the grafting in of Gentiles to the people of God, lots and lots of stuff is different now than in the Old Testament.

So how should we use the Old Testament? As still fully binding? As not binding at all? Case by case?

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The sword and church discipline

I was reading something today in Deuteronomy and noticed an interesting comparison/contrast regarding the use of the sword among God’s people and how that has changed dramatically under the New Covenant. In the Old Testament, false teachers received a pretty harsh (in our eyes anyway) response from God’s people:

But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 13:5)

Not only was this not to be accepted or tolerated, but the one who was a false prophet was to be slain. None of this shunning or getting called before the pastor! In the New Testament however, the wording is similar but the methods are different:

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor 5: 11-13)

The wording is very similar and the principle is the same: the immoral/idolaters etc. cannot be welcome among God’s people. While we are still to purge the evil doer from our midst, it is a rejection of fellowship. No longer are we called to take up the sword (or stone) and drive the evil one out from among us by killing them but instead we are called to withhold from them the fellowship of the saints. It is common to reference the Old Testament laws regarding self-defense and defense of others as a defense of believers using the sword, but it seems that in this contrast we see that yet again wielding the sword even in the defense of the faith is not permitted among the people of God.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

God desired to save Pharaoh?

I was listening to a talk purporting to refute Calvinism the other day. It was all in all a poor presentation of Calvinism and I wanted to look at a commonly misunderstood passage. This is the spin put on the story of the Exodus in this talk on Calvinism, specifically regarding Pharaoh and why that story refutes total depravity and Calvinism in general: God was "sincere with Pharaoh" and desired to save him but Pharaoh hardened his heart in spite of the evidence and refused God even though God tried ten different ways to convince him.

Is that even remotely accurate? Let’s take a look. This is important because if it turns out that, as I will argue, this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how God relates to humans and human ability to respond to God, it brings into question the entire scope of this man’s teaching. There are few things more fundamental to the understanding of the Gospel than understanding the state of mankind, the nature of the Gospel, how men are saved and how God relates to His creatures.

Does Scripture teach that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart or that Pharaoh hardened his own heart? There are some verses that seem to support both sides, but it can’t be both so we need to figure out which is which. Exchanging proof-texts is not exegesis, it is lazy, so let’s look at the bigger picture here, from when God commands Moses to return to Egypt and let His people go all the way to the New Testament (emphasis added):

And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” (Exodus 4: 21-23)

Note that God here is telling Moses, before he even steps foot back in Egypt what His purpose is in sending him and that He will harden Pharaoh's heart.

And the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” (Exodus 7: 1-5)

But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. (Exodus 9: 16)

Is God hardening Pharaoh’s heart because Pharaoh first hardened it or is God hardening Pharaoh’s heart for His own purposes? The story of Exodus is not that God really wanted to be friends with Pharaoh but he just wouldn’t listen. It is the story of God hardening the heart of a wicked man such that even in the face of incredible miracles and judgment he refused to release the Israelites until God smote his son. The message here is that the human heart is sinful and hardened against God and it remains that way unless God softens it. Here is where we come to the crux of the issue:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 10: 1-2)

If Pharaoh, in his own “free will” had elected to just let the people go when Moses asked, would the Exodus have had the same lasting impact? The miracles were not just for Pharaoh but also for the Israelites. When Moses and the other Israelites speak to their children and their children’s children, they will remember how God struck down Pharaoh. That message kind of loses something if Pharaoh had agreed before God smote him and the Egyptians.

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9: 14-18, emph. added)

Paul is saying that God raised Pharaoh up so that He could show His power as a testimony by striking him down. God never intended Pharaoh to turn and come to Him, in fact He did just the opposite and hardened his heart so that he would not! Moses was not an evangelist trying to convert Pharaoh, he was commanding Pharaoh to let the Israelites go to worship their God. That is a world of difference from God hoping that Pharaoh would let the Israelites go, giving him a bunch of chances and finally striking down the first born when all else fails. God knew, God always knew that Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go because He was going to harden Pharaoh’s heart. There is no injustice here on God’s part and there is no warrant here for us to reinterpret what God has said to fit our sinful notion of what is fair.

This is the problem of dueling proof-texts. One person says: Well this verse say God hardened Pharaoh’s heart but another person says: But that verse says Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Dueling prooftexts is not literal interpretation, it is poor exegesis. Step back from the verse at hand, look at the context and the supporting Scriptures. Literal interpretation doesn’t mean blindly reading the Bible one verse in a vacuum at a time.

When someone says stuff like: It is possible to be elect and go to hell, that shows a dangerous line of reasoning in Scripture.

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Three cheers for Greek geeks!

There is always lots of talk about the role of academia in the church. Much the conversation is overwrought, including many of my comments, on both sides. Blanket assertions, baseless recriminations, gross exaggerations abound. I have touched on this topic before but I want to keep thinking about it. I also want to put in a good word for academic study in the church, in its proper role and for the proper purpose.

I think we can agree that Christianity at its heart is a simple religion, a religion that confounds the wise and learned and appeals to the simple and unwise. Christ chose His disciples from fisherman and social outcasts. His herald, John the Baptist, was a kind of eccentric loner who lived in the wilderness and ate bugs. We often see in the New Testament the stark contrast between the learned religious elite who are unbelievers, persecuting the church, and the simple men who stood for Christ in spite of their lack of education.

On the other hand, it is pretty hard to read the Bible in English unless someone translates the original languages into the vernacular. The same goes for the hundreds of other languages out there that allow missionaries to give people the Word of God in their own language. The academics in the church have done a wonderful service for the people of God in translations old and new. In America with Bibles in every hotel room and overflowing the shelves of bookstores, we take the English translations of the Bible for granted but we often forget the painstaking and probably grueling task of translating ancient documents into English while being faithful to the text. I am grateful that so many scholars spent so much time making the Bible as available in English as possible, whether in print or online. What could be more precious than the Word of God in a readable format, not the province of the intellectual elite who can read the original tongue but readable by the simplest of people in the language they speak?

There is a place for deeper studies of theology and doctrine, people willing to dig really deep, to get after source material. There are many controversial and false teachings that crop up and thank God for men who have put in the time to refute these errors where they crop up. There are some incredibly gifted theologians in the church and again I thank God for them. When crackpot theories come out, we need sound scholarship to refute them. Whether it is counter-cult apologetics or silly stuff like ‘King James Only-ism’, the academy is a useful place to hash issues out. Of course plenty of really dangerous and kookie teaching comes from academic institutions too, so having a PhD is not a safeguard against heresy.

Where the possible problem rises up is two-fold. First, the academics in the church in many cases have stopped serving the church and started serving the academic community. Christian academics for the sake of academics, with a goal of getting published and recognized instead of serving the Body of Christ, is self-serving and sinful. If you use your own gifts for your own glorification, even hidden under a veneer of false humility, it is sinful and prideful and incredibly dangerous.

Second, there is the notion that those who lead in the local gathering of the church must be those who meet the proper academic credentials, credentials that are absent from Scripture but present on virtually every pastoral job posting. I think seminaries have a vital function as bastions of learning but I don’t think they should be vocational education schools for ministry and I also don’t think (as I have stated often before) that they should be enclaves of learning for those willing to pay tuition but rather they should instead be places of sending where the academics among us go out from their ivy covered halls of higher learning to serve the church. Writing journal articles that are so complex and confusing that only other academics can understand them may get you published in a theology journal but don’t do much to edify the Body of Christ.

In spite of these issues, there certainly is a place for scholarship and academia in the Body of Christ. There is nothing especially noble in being as ignorant as possible nor is there anything noble in puffing one’s self up with pride in the academy. As long as everyone uses their gifts to support and edify the Body and bring glory to Christ, we will be alright.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why is the truth of the divinity of Christ so important?

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Mat 10:32-33)

Anyone who denies Christ, in all of His revealed divinity, is denying Him before men. No matter how many good works you do in His name or how pious your life is, if you do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as God in the flesh before men, He will not acknowledge at the judgment. When we brush over this truth in the quest to win political victories we do a great injustice to the eternal souls of the lost. "Who do you say that I am" is not a question that allows for multiple correct answers. Acknowledge Him before men and He will acknowledge you before the Father. What a wonderful promise that is! Better that your one witness before the throne be Jesus Christ than a thousand men!

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Movie Review: Food Inc.

This is sort of a different kind of movie for us, really more of a documentary. We watched on instant play on Netflix, so it didn't cost anything other than time. As I expected, it was littered with lots of liberal potshots, corporations are evil, George W. Bush is evil, Clarence Thomas is evil. It wasn’t as bad as some hatchet job documentaries but it had it’s moments. They kept flashing on the screen that Monsanto or Tyson declined an interview for this film. Well duh, a corporation is not going to knowingly go on camera for a hostile interview that is almost certainly going to be spun as negatively as possible.

Here is the thing. Most of what the movie said is true. The causes, conclusion and solutions maybe not, but the facts are pretty accurate. Most people would be a little disturbed to see how the food on the table got into the box they opened for dinner. Companies like Monsanto are not evil, but they are “for-profit” companies. That means that their primary concerns is…wait for it…profit. If Monsanto sinks untold millions into developing Round-Up resistant soybean seeds, you can rest assured that they are going to jealously protect that technology. If they didn’t, the board would boot management out and rightly so. Chickens, hogs and cattle are raised in highly efficient and confined systems to cram as much meat on them as quickly, uniformly and cheaply as possible. Most of the food in your grocery store that is affordable is also horrible for you, featuring loads and loads of sugars and starches which quickly turn into fat in our sedentary lifestyle. Likewise, it is probably cheaper to get a couple of items off the dollar menu at Burger King than it is to buy decent food and make a meal (plus it is a whole lot more convenient and quicker) in large part because our genius public servants in Congress constantly tinker around with the food production process and we end up paying farmers to not farm, importing apple juice from China and producing too much of some types of food and not enough of others.

So clearly there are some troubling issues in our food production system, issues most people have no idea about and frankly don’t care. All they know is that they want cheap food in convenient packages, they want fresh fruit and vegetables way out of the normal growing season, they want milk that is homogenized and less than $3/gallon and eggs for less than a buck a dozen. There are profit driven decisions, bad public policies at the federal level, razor thin margins that all but force production farms into bigger and bigger conglomerates that wipe out smaller family farms that cannot compete with these massive farms head to head.

The solution is somewhat more problematic. Merely saying “buy organic” isn’t going to solve the problem. Most of the organic food brands you see on the shelf at grocery stores are owned by one of the huge food conglomerates and they will find a way to cut costs. More of an issue is our lifestyle. There are two big stumbling blocks here.

The first is that as Americans cluster near urban areas, the ability to raise your own food is negligible. Most Americans have virtually no idea how the food they eat gets to their plate and frankly barely cares. In the event of a catastrophic interruption to our food system, lots of people would be completely lost and likely starve to death when they ran out of Kraft Dinner and Doritos.

The second is the bigger issue and it was completely glossed over in the movie. Our very way of life in 2010 precludes most people from even thinking about eating better. We have built an economy that is driven by both parents working. Along with our insanely busy lifestyles and constant entertainment, most people at least perceive that they don't have time to prepare food. What they want is cheap and easy and that is what businesses provide (because again, they are in this for profit and profit means giving consumers what they want). American society revolves around earning and consuming. We work, typically both parents working, to earn and we earn almost exclusively to consume. How in the world is a family supposed to have healthy meals when no one is home during the day? It takes me about 20 minutes to make a meal if it consists of prepared foods that I essentially heat up. If I am going to actually make a meal that requires real cooking, it takes an hour or more. I am fortunate that even though I am feeding ten people at each meal, my wife is home when I get home and I rarely get home later than 5:05. Even still we eat lots of convenience foods.

So what do we do about it? I guess we can keep eating mass-produced food. I don't have a moral qualm about that, at least from an "animal rights" standpoint. I do have concerns about it from a health standpoint. Eating lots of sugars and starches is just not good for us. We consume a ton of sugar as a family. Perhaps literally a ton. Add in all of the sweeteners in foods and the family history of diabetes on my wife's side and we are walking down the road to family gatherings revolving around shots of insulin. I am sure we would all be healthier in the long run and feel better in the short run if we got some of the junk foods and sugars out of our diet.

I would like to see us raise more of our own food as a family, because it is healthier and the process of raising food is a good character builder for the kids (and the adults!). I am not sure how to do that in the affluent suburbs we live in but that is a different issue. The moral of the story is that corporations are not evil and hogs long to dance in the fields like a scene from The Sound of Music. The moral of the story is that food, one of the basic necessities in life, doesn't magically appear in the store. Cattle ranchers don't raise meat in Styrofoam and shrink wrap. they raise cattle. We all need to pay attention to what we eat and what we feed to our families. If you think the government is a) supposed to and b) capable of guarding the food system, you are fooling yourself. They only person who can do that is you and doing so may require that you reevaluate your lifestyle. I would encourage you to watch Food Inc. if you have Netflix or can get it from the library, keeping in mind the political motivations behind it but also paying attention to the reality of how your feed your family. If nothing else, it got us thinking and that is always a good result.

(By the way, I don't really see this as a Biblical issue. There is nothing particularly righteous about eating one kind of food over another or in living an agrarian lifestyle. I do think that there are lots of benefits that come along with healthier living and an agrarian lifestyle, but that doesn't mean that someone who lives in the country is more faithful than someone who lives in the city)

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

This might be a first

I read three of the books on Christianity Today's Top Books of 2009 list (Deep Church, Why We Love the Church and The New Shape of World Christianity). Liked Deep Church, didn't like Why We Love the Church and found The New Shape interesting. Normally the books that CT finds to be "the best" are books I don't read. Speaks a bit about the books I have been reading. Not sure if it speaks well or ill.

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How will they hear without a preacher? Who are "they"?

Albert Mohler posted an essay Thursday lamenting the lack of priority placed on preaching. The title is How will they hear without a preacher? and here is a key excerpt:

Indeed, preaching is the central act of Christian worship, but its great aim reaches far above merely changing the world. The preaching of the Word of God is the chief means by which God conforms Christians to the image of Christ. Rightly understood, true Christian preaching is not aimed only at this earthly life, but is the means whereby God prepares his people for eternity.

Man, that sounds great! A year or two ago, I would have posted this and said “Amen!”. Today I post it and wonder if it is terribly accurate at all.

My first question comes right from the title of the essay: How will they hear without a preacher? . This is a quote from Romans 10:14 and is often quoted to support the need for preaching in the church. I am not sure that the connection is correct. Here is Romans passage in its fullness:

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10: 8-17)

Boy, is there a more often quoted section of Scripture that this one (other than John 3:16)? I don’t think it is saying what we traditionally assume it does. What we are seeing here is not a call for a weekly expository sermon preached in the church. Paul’s point doesn’t seem to be “How will Christians get edified unless someone preaches at them?” This is dealing with the way people are saved, unregenerate people hear the Gospel preached by a Christian and in concert with the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit they come to faith and confess Jesus Christ as Lord. This is a passage about preaching the Gospel to the lost, not the method God uses to prepare His people for eternity or conforming them to Christ. The idea that “preaching is the central act of Christian worship” is similarly nice sounding rhetoric but lacking in Scriptural foundation.

I certainly understand where Dr. Mohler is coming from. He comes from a denomination (the Southern Baptist Convention) that values the monologue sermon. He is the President of an institution (Southern Seminary) that is in the business of training vocational preachers. Dr. Mohler is personally committed to and one of the leading proponents of expository preaching in evangelicalism today. Listen to the talks at Together for the Gospel and you will hear preaching put forth as the weakest link in the church on a regular basis.

What I will say is that while I am in favor of seeing less monologue preaching in the church, I am concerned that what is replacing the sermon in most cases is actually worse. It is easy to cast stones at preaching but when you look at the alternative it is rarely a more inclusive ministry of the entire Body. What is replacing the sermon is entertainment, pure and simple, a mere religious exercise that does even less to engage the Body than mutely listening to a sermon.

The answer is not more preaching. The answer is also not less preaching if that means an even less faithful gathering of the church. The answer is for the church to be the church instead of going to church. The answer is for all of us to minister to one another. Until that happens, all the preaching in the world isn’t going to change the state of spiritual infancy that plagues the church.

(Alan Knox clearly is reading my blog drafts and posted on this very topic on Friday)

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Have a baby and then worry about finding ‘Mr. Right’?

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article this morning on the trend toward singleness among professional women, The Right Man Is Getting Harder to Find. This quote is startling for how blunt it is and how reflective it is of the prevailing mood of the nation (emphasis added)…

All this leaves single women such as Rachel Downtain facing unwelcome choices. "Going the sperm-bank method is definitely not my first choice, but I am not willing to give up my dream of having a child just because I can't find Mr. Right. I am having to realize that my fairy tale dream may just be inverted a bit . . . I may have the child before finding Mr. Right."

Yikes that is a narcissistic attitude. Notice that this is all about her. What is best for the child is a distant second-place. She desires a child and in America you deserve to get whatever you want, no matter the cost. “I want a baby!” trumps “We want to have a family”. These women, increasingly desperate for children, are reaping the harvest sown by their parents. Buying into the mentality that says that women should strive for economic success first and then worry about family after they are “successful”, more and more women put off family for education and career. That is fine and dandy but biology and reality play key roles here. There are only so many years that a woman is of natural child-bearing age and it gets harder to get pregnant the older you get. I think the reality is that women are probably at their most fertile when they are in college and starting out in the workforce when they have been told they should be focused on having fun and getting a “good start” on life.

Parents need to be realistic when raising their daughters. Having your cake and eating it too sounds great but if place your focus on the importance of career and education to your daughters, you need to warn them that a pursuit of those things will impact their later desire to have a family. This is true for parents who are not Christians but it is infinitely truer for Christian families. My desire for our daughters is first and foremost for them to marry Christian men who understand and embrace being a husband and a father, someone who will lead in the home and will provide for his family. That comes before anything else including education and career. That might mean that instead of taking an annual cruise, they vacation close to home. Disneyland may have to wait, replaced by a trip to the zoo.

Our model as a family doesn’t make sense for everyone. We got married when I was in college and my wife was working. We had a couple of kids while I was still in school but one of our mom’s watched them in one of the homes we grew up in while we were at work or school. As soon as I graduated my wife quit her job and we have lived on my salary alone for almost 15 years. It has been a struggle at times but I also know that my kids are at home with my wife every day. We don’t have to worry about daycare or babysitters. Is that right for everyone? Probably not but I can say that it was right for us and that I don’t long for the material goods we missed out on or the trips we could have taken. Our family comes first and that is far more valuable than career aspirations, nicer cars or better vacations.

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37 years of legalized infanticide

37 years ago today in 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States legalized abortion. In doing so it created out of thin air a right that doesn’t exist anywhere in the Constitution to murder a child in the womb. The picture in this post is of a child at 17 weeks. According to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, this child that is clearly a human being, sucking it’s thumb, is nothing more than a legal abstract. It can be allowed to grow and develop until delivered or dismembered and discarded for a couple hundred dollars. All on a whim in the name of hat most sacred word: “choice”. In a sweeping and incredibly misguided legal decision, millions of Americans have had their most fundamental right taken away by a court and in turn were murdered by their own mothers. By their mothers, the one person in all the world you should be able to count on and rely on to protect and nurture a child.

If the Supreme Court of the United States can take away the right to life for the most defenseless among us, what good are any of our rights? For all of the virtues of America, Roe v. Wade stands as a monument to injustice in a land that takes pride in freedom and equality.

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Meaning in the mundane

Why do we see “going to church” as being a holy, pious act but spending time with others as just “being neighborly”?

I have really enjoyed Alan Knox’s series on edification. It goes way beyond what we normally think of when we talk about edification in the church, which normally is a one-way exercise where one person edifies the rest. It is also a lot more than merely knowledge transference. What I really appreciated was that Alan recognizes the importance of edification in everyday life, finding meaning in the mundane.

Where does God work? Sometimes God worked in miraculous, massive (unscripted I might add) events like Pentecost. More often in Scripture we see encounters along the road, in homes over meals, in ordinary, everyday situations. We have so overemphasized the once a week meeting of the church that we expect too much from it and fail to see the value of the more mundane times we gather. Unless we have the accompaniment of people in their Sunday best and a couple of hymns being sung, we have a hard time seeing God at work in the midst of His people.

As I look back, many of the most profound things about God I have learned have not come in a formal setting. They came in conversations with my wife or my friends. They came in homes and over coffee. This is where time spent together is invaluable. Living lives together as the family of God is not only one of the ways we are edified, it might just be the main way we are edified.

I will admit we (my family) are not great at this right now. We rarely get together with other believers outside of scheduled times. It is easy for us to chalk that up to the reality of having eight kids at home but the truth is that we could and should do more to spend time with other Christians. We did when we lived in northern Michigan because we knew more people and took the time to get to know them. Having moved twice in the last two years has made it harder to get to know other people but we need to make that a priority in our lives this year. My wife needs the company of other sisters in Christ and I certainly need the company and counsel of other godly brothers. So if I have a resolution for this new year, it is to spend more time with the family of God. Not by spending more time “at church” but by inviting others into our lives so that we can edify them and be edified by them. As long as we depend on the formal gathering of the church for our edification, we will continue to be incomplete Christians.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

There is no substitute for time

I had a very interesting conversation with a brother from Ohio over the weekend. His name is Paul and he and a few others are exploring the idea of an intentional community in the Buckeye state. What I found appealing is that a) they are starting a new group so some of the extra-biblical baggage other groups have is not present and b) Paul and others in this group have a real heart for evangelism, something that seems to oftentimes get lost with intentional communities (although in fairness, it also is by and large forgotten in traditional church settings as well).

I am not sure where this is all going. I am deeply troubled and discontented, I feel like something is missing. I think what is lacking is that we are missing the immense blessing of community among the followers of Christ, a blessing that simply requires time to enjoy. How much time do we spend with other believers each week? Two hours? Six hours? We cannot really be edified, encouraged, exhorted, admonished, uplifted as we should be in a few hours a week. It doesn’t matter if you meet in a building or a home, such limited time together is necessarily going to limit the blessing you get. Just like being a family is impossible to do in short bursts, being the church requires that we spend time together. Sometimes that leads to drudgery or frustration with one another. That is OK! If you want to see the sort of close fellowship that leads believers to set aside the worries of the world because they are confident in the community around them, you have to spend time together. The church is pretty good at coming together for one another when there is a big, public crisis. What about the little stuff that happens every day? How many people that you ”go to church with” do you know well enough to tell when they are hurting or struggling?

Does that mean spending every waking moment together? Not necessarily. Think about this though: how would your life be different if you spent a sizable portion of each and every day with other believers instead of a few scheduled times a week? Some of us have that blessing. Most of us don’t outside of our other family members. It is my contention that we actually are more reflective of the church when we are not “at church” than we do when we are “at church”, surrounded by other people who are probably doctrinally and demographically similar to ourselves. Part of the reason people get traditions so deeply entrenched in their belief system is that they hear the same thing over and over again because we seek out those who agree with us in carefully controlled and choreographed settings. Almost anyone can pretend to be pious for a couple of hours. If you want to get to know someone, you have to know them informally and over time. You need to see them lose their temper, or cry or get into a funk. That is when we really get to know one another, when we have an intimacy with one another that transcends the ritual.

We have to get away from this model that compartmentalizes “church life” as if that is a separate part of who we are, something we roll out on Sunday and Wednesday evening. I don’t know for sure what the answer is, although I am getting a clearer picture by the day. I do know that we are all by and large missing out on something critically important. We are not designed to be lone wolf Christians, taking on the world on our own. Nor are we called to be “shufflers”, shuffling into church on cue and then shuffling back out again exactly two hours later to get back to our busy lives. We are called into community. The Christian life is not an interruption to our otherwise secular lives, it is our lives. The time we spend in the world should be the interruption to the norm, not the time we spend with one another.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Can Christians take up the sword? - Conclusion

It is all about trust

This is the concluding post on the topic "Can Christians take up the sword?". For the first three posts, click below:

Can Christians take up the sword? - Intro

Can Christians take up the sword? - The pro-sword view

Can Christians take up the sword? - The anti-sword view

As I said, it is all about trust. Who do we trust?

We are not called to overcome the world by means of violence. If we believe in the One we say we do and if we believe what that One has said, then there is nothing that we truly own. Not our stuff, not our house, not our family and certainly not our lives. We are called to be His witnesses in the world, to live in the world but not as the world. We are not called to defend our country, to defend our stuff, not even to defend our own lives. Our very lives are to be witnesses to the world and sometimes that means making great sacrifices, perhaps even our lives.

The world looks at this idea of non-resistance and says “that is crazy!”. Unfortunately as Christians in America we often reflect that same attitude. Sure Christ went meekly to the cross. Sure the early martyrs went to their deaths praising God. Sure missionaries today still go to take the Gospel to the world knowing that they are putting their lives on the line. Even in spite of the witness of Scripture and of martyrs who have gone before us, the idea of non-resistance is met with our old friend "Yeah, but..."

You can make all sorts of very practical, reasonable, pragmatic reasons why using the sword makes sense. You can roll out all sorts of progressively more extreme examples where it seems logical to use the sword to prevent something bad from happening. All of them at their heart exhibit a troubling worldview that views the Bible as malleable. We believe what it says except when we don't. We will defend our pet doctrines to the end of the earth but when we come across something troubling in Scripture, it is easier to pretend it says something different or even pretend it isn't there at all. Where do we stand, on our own decisions based on a hypothetical situation or on what Christ has said and there and there alone we stand?

"Yeah, but..." nothing.

Do you trust Christ? Do you believe what He said? Jesus says: "Do not resist the evil person". "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God". "For all who take the sword will perish by the sword". "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.". Don't we see the truth of this all around us? Are we His people or not?

I am coming to the conclusion that taking up the sword, in defense of self or others, is evidence of a distrust in God. Christian non-resistance is not a political movement. It is not found in protest marches or “sit-ins” or in nuns chaining themselves to nuclear missile silos. It is found in simplicity and meekness. It is based in a trust of God, that He in control. If God is sovereign, then we should trust Him to protect us.

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." -
Jim Elliot

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Great quote from Spurgeon

God meant to have a speaking church: not a church that would fight with the sword—with that weapon we have nought to do—but a church that should have a sword proceeding out of its mouth, whose one weapon should be the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

(HT: Pyromaniacs)

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Can Christians take up the sword? - The anti-sword view

I am going to turn now to the Scriptural evidence against using the sword.

I am not interested in the well established philosophy behind “just warfare”. I am trying to sidestep that and ask “What does Scripture say”? When we set aside our cultural bias as much as we can and read the Scripture, what is the conclusion we come to? Certainly the state can and does use the sword but what about God's people, redeemed new creatures in Christ?

The argument toward non-resistance comes primarily, and very strongly, from the Sermon on the Mount. It is my opinion that the Sermon on the Mount, a very lengthy and very powerful discourse from Christ, is often either misinterpreted into a call for a political liberal social agenda advanced by a secular government by means of confiscatory taxation or it is essentially ignored as being a nice thought that doesn’t apply to our life.

I am not going to reproduce the entire sermon because much of it is not as directly applicable to the question at hand, although I do think that the entire SotM paints a comprehensive picture of how Christians should live. Instead I want to look at a couple of sections in detail. The first comes in the very beginning of the SotM. In these verses we see the virtue of peacemaking, mercy, being persecuted with rejoicing because we trust that our reward is in heaven.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mat 5:7-12)

The world is not going to promote these virtues. I just got my annual review at work and I was not hoping for "very meek" on my review and if it was there it probably would not have been a compliment. There is again a contrast in these verses between what the world sees as weakness and something to be avoided but Christ promotes as virtuous and leading to great rewards in heaven. It cannot be more starkly stated. If you want rewards in this world, being meek is not going to get it done. You cannot please both the world and Christ, you cannot live for the world and for Christ. You need to pick one or the other.

Later we see a section more directly applicable as it applies to non-resistance.

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mat 5:38-48)

We see something important here. "You have heard it said, but I say". If anyone else said that, it would be seen as borderline blasphemy but when the Son of God says this, we need to take note.

What of the Old Testament laws that permit defense of property and retributive justice? In Exodus 21-23 God lists out all manner of civil laws, many of which are foundational to modern Western law. In these chapters we see passages like this: If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, (Exo 22:2). That would seem to imply that if someone breaks into your house and you shoot him, you are OK. This whole section is kind of the “eye for an eye” section, if someone does this to you, you have this right. Is Jesus affirming this? Again, look at what He said...

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. (Mat 5:38-40)

Is Jesus here only speaking of Exodus 21: 23-25? Or is He speaking more generally of not seeking restitution against those who wrong you? The overarching theme is that we are not to resist one who is evil. There doesn't seem to be an out for really evil people or if you have some really nice stuff or someone really makes you mad. Do not resist the one who is evil. This is where the rubber hits the road. When faced with evil, our natural inclination is to fight back. Jesus is saying that instead we should not resist.

This concept is hardly restricted to “merely” the Sermon on the Mount, although even if it were that should be adequate for His followers. A telling event happens in the garden of Gethsemane and is recorded in all four Gospels. In the garden, after Jesus prays, He is betrayed when Judas brings the soldiers in the dead of night to arrest Him. What happens next is very interesting…

Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) (John 18: 10)

Good for Peter, standing up for Jesus! No wonder Jesus made sure that they had swords! How does Jesus react? Keep in mind that this is Peter defending the Messiah against a mob of men armed and seeking in the dead of night to seize Christ. The Scripture does not record Jesus praising Peter, although in 2010 his reaction to leap to the defense of Christ (even by means of violence) seems pretty reasonable. Instead we see Jesus saying something entirely different…

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matt 26: 51-52)

I guess you could argue that Jesus is chastising Peter here because He is not seeking to avoid the cross. On the other hand, notice what else Jesus says. All who take the sword will perish by the sword. It is not not right now but not ever. Is the message here “violence begets violence”? It certainly sounds that way. Not only does Christ rebuke Peter for taking up the sword, He speaks more generally in remarking that those who live by the sword shall die the same way. Also, and this is really where the point comes together, Luke records that Christ heals the ear of the servant.

But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:51)

That has nothing to do with the avoiding the cross. He was still going but He made a point of healing one who came to seize Him first, showing good to those who meant Him evil. That message should resonate with His followers today. Not only does Jesus not seek retribution against the ones who were coming to arrest Him, He returned good for evil. In a world of suing for our rights, Christian legal defense funds, etc. the One we follow does something completely different.

That would be sufficient in and of itself but Paul reiterates what Christ says. I think that this is important. Let's look at what Paul writes in this matter.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:14-21)

You really cannot overemphasize this. This is Paul, post-cross, restating and reinforcing what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. I don't think it is coincidence that this comes right before Romans 13 where Paul affirms that the state can use the sword. The contrast is pretty stark between Christians and the state. Live in harmony with one another (i.e. other believers), be lowly, be humble, do not think yourself wise (hard to do when you insist on adorning your name with titles and honorifics to tell people how educated you are). Live peaceably with all people to the best of your ability. Granted some people will not be peaceable toward you, but that is on their heads. We are called to not avenge ourselves but instead to trust the justice of God to set things right. If you want to fight evil, don't take up the sword, instead overcome evil with good. The best way of fighting evil is to do good to your enemies:

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you. (Pro 25:21-22)

What of the argument that war is sometimes necessary to ensure justice? That we as lovers of what is good and of justice have an obligation to see justice done?

First and foremost, this is a question of what Christians are to do and to be in the world. We are not called to be arbiters and dispensers of justice in the Bible. Quite the opposite. If we truly believe that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do, then we leave it to Him to dispense justice. I trust God far more than I trust myself or politicians (even Republicans!) to create a just society.

As a whole, the Scriptures paint for us a picture of Christians as a meek and lowly people, humble and placing their trust in God rather than men. We are followers of Christ, who was humbled to the point of death, going meekly to His death carrying His own cross, mocked and beaten, scourged and spat upon. Paul writes to Timothy

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1Ti 2:1-2)

The Christian life is one that seeks peace and quiet, humble and dignified lives. We pray for our leaders, not so that they will advance our agenda over a different agenda, but so that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives.

My final post will wrap up this series and serve as a place for discussions about this idea of non-resistance.

"The regenerated do not go to war, nor engage in strife. They are the children of peace who have beaten their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruninghooks, and know of no war.... Since we are to be conformed to the image of Christ, how can we then fight our enemies with the sword? . . . Spears and swords of iron we leave to those who, alas, consider human blood and swine's blood of well-nigh equal value." - Menno Simons

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Worship in the midst of tragedy

This kind of makes our fights over music styles and carpet color seem even more petty.

Haitians praise God after apocalyptic quake

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Drumbeats called the faithful to a Sunday Mass praising God amid a scene resembling the Apocalypse — a collapsed cathedral in a city cloaked with the smell of death, where aid is slow to reach survivors and rescue crews battle to pry an ever-smaller number of the living from the ruins.

Sunlight streamed through what little was left of blown-out stained-glass windows as the Rev. Eric Toussaint preached to a small crowd of survivors. A rotting body lay in its main entrance.

"Why give thanks to God? Because we are here," Toussaint said. "We say 'Thank you God.' What happened is the will of God. We are in the hands of God now."

With the city shattered and the building in ruins, the church still gathers.

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An interesting archaeological find

I am not an archaeologist so I don't know how significant this is but this seems like an interesting discovery....

Bible Possibly Written Centuries Earlier, Text Suggests

Scientists have discovered the earliest known Hebrew writing - an inscription dating from the 10th century B.C., during the period of King David's reign.

The breakthrough could mean that portions of the Bible were written centuries earlier than previously thought. (The Bible's Old Testament is thought to have been first written down in an ancient form of Hebrew.)

Until now, many scholars have held that the Hebrew Bible originated in the 6th century B.C., because Hebrew writing was thought to stretch back no further. But the newly deciphered Hebrew text is about four centuries older, scientists announced this month.

"It indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research," said Gershon Galil, a professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa in Israel, who deciphered the ancient text.

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Hang on

I am going to refrain from responding to all of the questions just yet on the sword issue. I need to lay out the "anti" sword view and post a final summary, then we can try to deal with issues one at a time. Also keep in mind that this is something I am just recently starting to hash over, so this argument is not fully formed. Look for the final two posts maybe tonight or tomorrow.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

A couple of interesting posts to check out

One is from Josh Gelatt and is a reprinting of a a statement of faith from John Newton. Here is what Josh said about it:

I just began re-reading Letters of John Newton, and came across a brief confession of faith he drafted in a letter to Rev. Francis Okeley. In this confession Newton was attempting a hasty draft of those things "necessary to believe" (e.g. those doctrinal truths essential to Christian faith).

I like what Newton said. We are not impressing anyone with our many words and flowery language in statements of faith.

Also there is this post from Tom Ascol regarding how little funding from local Southern Baptist churches makes it out of their state conventions to the mission organizations.

In 2008 Southern Baptist churches gave $548,205,099 to finance gospel efforts through the Cooperative Program (CP). Of that amount, only $204,385,593 (37%) made it to offices in Nashville to be distributed to causes in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Annual Budget. This means that state conventions of the SBC retained, on average, 63% (nearly $344,000,000) of all offerings that were designate from the churches for the Cooperative Program.

I would say that there needs to be a whole lot less bureaucracy eating up mission funding in the Southern Baptist Convention and that holds just as true in local SBC churches.

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We will be held to account for every sermon we hear?

Tim Challies posted three quotes from Puritans regarding the "responsibility" of those who hear a sermon. The three men quoted, Richard Baxter, Thomas Watson and David Clarkson all make the statement that we will be held to account for every sermon we hear preached so we better be paying attention. It sounds very pious but I don't know that it is supportable from Scripture. Check it out and let me know what you think.

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Can Christians take up the sword? - The pro-sword view

Admittedly, and I think anyone who is honestly approaching this issue has to recognize this, there is scant Biblical grounds for a Christian to take up the sword. There are lots of philosophical and pragmatic arguments. But the New Testament is unequivocal about it's condemnation of the use of violence either in aggression or self-defense. I am going to try to lay out the arguments in favor in this post so that there can be a balanced discussion.

Again, the issue here is not about the state. Was the United States justified in going to war in World War II? I certainly think that you can make that case pretty easily. I am talking about followers of Jesus Christ doing the same.

One place you might look is into the Old Testament. Certainly there is no lack of examples of God’s people going to war against the pagan nations. God commanded His people specifically to war against other nations to drive them out of the land and in doing so often called for a scorched earth style conquest where no one was spared. Is that a applicable for Christians under the New Covenant though?

There is the centurion with the ill servant in Matthew 8: 5-13. As a leader of men he humbly comes in faith to Christ and asks Him to heal his servant. Jesus commends his faith and heals his servant, but doesn’t condemn the centurion for his line of work. Of course Jesus also heals and forgives all sorts of sinners without advocating that people commit sins.

How about the "buy a sword" passage? Jesus says to His disciples in Luke 22:36-38:

He said to them, "But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors.' For what is written about me has its fulfillment." And they said, "Look, Lord, here are two swords." And he said to them, "It is enough." (Luke 22:36-38)

So there is a place in one of the Gospels where Jesus tells His disciples to buy a sword. That seems a bit puzzling since a few verses later Jesus chastises Peter for striking someone with a sword. I am not sure why he seemed to be telling Peter to make sure he has a sword and then chastising him for using it.

Romans 13 details the legitimate use of the sword by the government. We are to be in subjection to those rulers and pay what taxes we owe (as I pointed out this would include taxes legally owed that might go to pay for war). So I have seen the argument that serving in the military, where mandated by law (like in a draft situation), is covered under by this chapter. But what about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? They disobeyed the law of man because they refused to disobey the law of God. Also in Acts 4: 19-20 we see the disciples claiming that following the law of God was more important than the law of man, even though in doing so they faced the possibility of imprisonment and execution.

In searching for common sense Christian writers speaking in Albert Mohler, someone I greatly respect as a thinker and theologian, wrote about the idea of "just war" in April of 2004: Is War Ever Justified? A Reality Check. Dr. Mohler puts forth an interesting, well-thought out but strangely Bible-less argument.

War is a demonstration of the utter sinfulness of sin. In the name of the Prince of Peace, Christians must seek to establish and maintain our faltering and transient efforts at peacemaking until our Lord comes to establish the only peace that endures. In this fallen world, we must honestly acknowledge that peacemaking will sometimes lead to war. In the final analysis, war is the worst option imaginable, until it is the only option left.

I think that is lacking. For an essay, which granted makes lots of sense to this sinner, written by one of the preeminent contemporary theologians in America there is a deafening silence where Christ has spoken. Jesus doesn't say "blessed are the peacemakers except when they run out of options". The cross stands as a stark reminder that sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, we are called to be persecuted, to be offended, to be attacked and even killed.

That is a pretty scant list. Am I missing something? Can you think of other verses that would support taking up the sword, whether in warfare or in self-defense?

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Can Christians take up the sword? - Intro

This is one that makes me cringe a bit. I am a big military supporter. I recognize the heroism of our men and women in uniform. I still remember Pearl Harbor. On several occasions I got deep into the process of going to officer candidate school in the Armed Forces. I like military history. I love guns. My all time favorite movie is Patton with George C. Scott. Like most Americans of my era, growing up in the aftermath of Vietnam and in the midst of the Cold War, I was inculcated with the understanding that I should be prepared to defend my country and our way of life, by dying for my country or better yet (in the immortal words of George C. Scott) by making some other guy die for his country. “God, guns and guts made America great” was the slogan and we have no qualms about using all three to defend the American way of life.

I am disquieted by this stance.

I am not asking if the state can use the sword. Clearly it can and just as clearly the state is distinct and different from the church, so it will naturally act in its own perceived self-interest. The state rarely wages war where the self-interest of the state is not at least perceived to be served. I can make a rock solid argument in favor of the United States having a powerful standing military, including a modern and credible nuclear deterrent. None of that has anything to do with the question at hand: can a Christian take up the sword?

Let me take a stab at defining that a bit, since most of us don’t own actual swords. When I ask this question, I am asking if Christians can serve in a capacity where either directly or indirectly they are engaged in actions or have the potential to be engaged in actions that will lead to the intentional death of one human at the hands of another.

This has broad implications. It would apply to Christians serving in the military and to Christians defending themselves or their property or another person by force. I don’t think it has direct application to capital punishment (see Romans 13) or to paying taxes that are legally required even if they support the military (this would be a render unto Caesar question). This is a serious question and one that get short shrift among the body of Christ. Plenty of people have no problem defending Christians wielding the sword but I am not at all certain that most Christians (including myself) have thought this question through. It is a question that has been hijacked on one side by the “Religious Right” that not only has no qualms about the sword but in many ways is awfully enthusiastic about wielding it. On the other side is the broader secular peace movement which leads to all forms of pacifism being lumped under the same big tent.

The idea of pacifism or non-resistance (not necessarily the same thing. I think based on the definitions, non-resistance is a more Biblical term.) is not an invention of the 1960’s peace movement. It runs through streams of Christian movements and sects from present day groups like the Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites through the radical Reformation all the way to the earliest days of the church and the New Testament itself.

In fact, I would argue that outside of the pacifistic aspect, Christian non-resistance and the farcical “peace movement” of the Vietnam era are philosophically and foundationally worlds apart. As the Global Menonnite Encylcopedia states in its article on non-resistance: Certain forms of pacifism or nonviolence, however, being based more upon humanitarian, philosophical, or political considerations than upon New Testament ethics, are not to be confused with nonresistance as here defined. It is my belief that the Vietnam era peace movement (and the resulting modern spawn of that same political movement) was a combination of a narcissistic cult of self gratification and the frightened reaction of a pampered and overindulged generation being faced with the notion of real sacrifice. It is the greatest of ironies that the Vietnam era peace movement has degenerated into an angry political movement that most often manifests itself in violent anarchist protests. At its root, and where it makes it gravest error, it assumes that people are basically good and rational and that they will react to peaceful overtures with peace. If we just give love a chance, bad people will become good people and everyone will live happily ever after.

Biblical non-resistance makes no such claim, not viewing humanity through rose colored glasses but the stark reality of man’s sinful state. Christians ought not make the error of assuming that reacting to violence with peace will lead to peace. In fact, just the opposite is true. Reacting to violence with peace may encourage the problem but in spite of that non-resistance is foundational to the Christian life. When we refuse to resist evil people, we don’t do so in the expectation that they will leave us alone. When the Apostles were brought before the council, falsely accused and even beaten, they did not plot their revenge. Instead…

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. (Acts 5: 41)

We are not called to not resist evil in the hope that this will lead to world peace. We are called to not resist evil and indeed to return evil with good with no expectation of receiving good in return.

There is a real danger here when so-called “peace churches” lose focus on the meek, non-resistant nature of Christian life and start to focus instead on political activism. Many of the liberal “mainstream” churches have lumped concern for the poor and non-resistance in with a laundry list of liberal "social justice" causes like “climate change”, normalization of immorality within the church, anti-capitalist/globalization stances, various and sundry environmental and animal rights movements and eventually an abandonment of the Biblical Gospel to be replaced with a “social gospel” that preaches politics instead of repentance. In other words focusing on the here and now instead of the hereafter, making the world a better place to go to hell from. In this liberal “social gospel” Christians are every bit as in error as the flag waving, red, white and blue cross bearing religious Right that seeks to legislate conservative social agenda items under the guise of “making America a Christian nation again”.

Christian non-resistance is not based on advancing the workers revolution or fighting economic globalization. It is based on the Biblical teaching of not resisting the evil doer, of returning good in the face of evil. In the next two posts on this topic, I want to look at Scriptural evidence to support a, um, non-non-resistance stance and then look at some evidence in favor of non-resistance. In both cases I am talking about non-resistance in practice, not just in theory. It is easy to talk about community, fellowship, peacemaking, loving your brothers, etc. as a theological position but it is far more difficult to deal with it as a practical matter. So I will try to confine myself to what Scripture says and what it doesn’t say.

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More on deacons

Words Not Found in Scripture – Deacon

Lew Ayotte posted an excellent study on the word "deacon". Given what a fixture the office of deacon is in much of the church, this is an excellent study of what it does (and does not) say it Scripture. I will leave it to the Greek scholars to decide if the interpretation is correct but it certainly exhibits a great deal of study. You should check it out, especially if you are versed in Greek.

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The state, the sword and Christians

I have been working something over for a while regarding Christians and the sword. As kind of an intro, see the below article from the Schleitheim Confessions, the 1527 doctrinal statement of Swiss Anabaptists led by Michael Sattler:

VI. We are agreed as follows concerning the sword: The sword is ordained of God outside the perfection of Christ. It punishes and puts to death the wicked, and guards and protects the good. In the Law the sword was ordained for the punishment of the wicked and for their death, and the same (sword) is (now) ordained to be used by the worldly magistrates.

In the perfection of Christ, however, only the ban is used for a warning and for the excommunication of the one who has sinned, without putting the flesh to death - simply the warning and the command to sin no more.

Now it will be asked by many who do not recognize (this as) the will of Christ for us, whether a Christian may or should employ the sword against the wicked for the defense and protection of the good, or for the sake of love.

Our reply is unanimously as follows: Christ teaches and commands us to learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly in heart and so shall we find rest to our souls. Also Christ says to the heathenish woman who was taken in adultery, not that one should stone her according to the Law of His Father (and yet He says, As the Father has commanded me, thus I do), but in mercy and forgiveness and warning, to sin no more. Such (an attitude) we also ought to take completely according to the rule of the ban.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Al Mohler on Haiti

Simply an outstanding essay from Dr. Mohler. He doesn't mention Pat Robertson by name but you know that is where he is going. A great and correct view of the sovereignty of God in all things. Here is an excerpt:

Does God hate Haiti? That is the conclusion reached by many, who point to the earthquake as a sign of God's direct and observable judgment.

God does judge the nations -- all of them -- and God will judge the nations. His judgment is perfect and his justice is sure. He rules over all the nations and his sovereign will is demonstrated in the rising and falling of nations and empires and peoples. Every molecule of matter obeys his command, and the earthquakes reveal his reign -- as do the tides of relief and assistance flowing into Haiti right now.

A faithful Christian cannot accept the claim that God is a bystander in world events. The Bible clearly claims the sovereign rule of God over all his creation, all of the time. We have no right to claim that God was surprised by the earthquake in Haiti, or to allow that God could not have prevented it from happening.

God's rule over creation involves both direct and indirect acts, but his rule is constant. The universe, even after the consequences of the Fall, still demonstrates the character of God in all its dimensions, objects, and occurrences. And yet, we have no right to claim that we know why a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti happened at just that place and at just that moment.

The arrogance of human presumption is a real and present danger. We can trace the effects of a drunk driver to a car accident, but we cannot trace the effects of voodoo to an earthquake -- at least not so directly. Will God judge Haiti for its spiritual darkness? Of course. Is the judgment of God something we can claim to understand in this sense -- in the present? No, we are not given that knowledge. Jesus himself warned his disciples against this kind of presumption.

Why did no earthquake shake Nazi Germany? Why did no tsunami swallow up the killing fields of Cambodia? Why did Hurricane Katrina destroy far more evangelical churches than casinos? Why do so many murderous dictators live to old age while many missionaries die young?

Does God hate Haiti? God hates sin, and will punish both individual sinners and nations. But that means that every individual and every nation will be found guilty when measured by the standard of God's perfect righteousness. God does hate sin, but if God merely hated Haiti, there would be no missionaries there; there would be no aid streaming to the nation; there would be no rescue efforts -- there would be no hope.

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