Sunday, September 30, 2012

Voting Is Our Duty As Christians! Or Is It?

Robert Martin writing at his blog, Abnormal Anabaptist, tells us Why I am not voting for a president this year. That a Christian in America would not vote is borderline blasphemy but I think he makes some great points. I especially found his fourth point to be powerful: My energy is better spent elsewhere. An enormous amount of the resources, time and money of Christians are spent on political issues when we really should be spending that time, money and effort on, well you know, the things Jesus said we should be doing. As a political junkie I found Robert's post thought-provoking and more than a little troubling. 

When you think about it, what exactly are we choosing?

On one hand we have a pagan blasphemer who promises to spend even more money building even more warships and investing in a primarily aggressive military, someone who embodies the pursuit of wealth and embraces individualism. None of those are kingdom values and are in fact the very opposite, no matter how popular they are among evangelicals.

On the other hand we have a man who seems enamored with infanticide and collectivism, advocating for the seizing by force of one man's possessions to give to another. Oh yeah, and in spite of his "Nobel Peace Prize" he doesn't seem to blink when it comes to using drones to assassinate people, even if those people are American citizens.

Neither candidate is exhibiting much in the way of Kingdom values and while I have no real reason other than vague platitudes to think that the current President is a Christian, the person looking for replace him is definitely not. Both embrace a number of positions that are antithetical to the Gospel and the Kingdom. One opposes abortion (at least he does currently) but supports preemptive wars of aggression, one claims to care about "social justice" but thinks that doesn't count for unborn children.

So why must we vote? Because it is our "civic duty"? That sounds nice but has no Scriptural support. I can't think of a single valid reason to vote for Obama. The only real Kingdom value that Romney is supposed to represent is being "pro-life". That may be true, given that he is a human weather vane that blows whichever way the political winds send him, but Romney is unlikely to do anything substantive to end abortion. At best he will appoint a Supreme Court Justice that will overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to make their own abortion laws. That would be laudable for a couple of reasons, both because Roe v Wade was such a terrible, unconstitutional ruling and of course because it would allow states to outlaw or severely restrict abortion. It would not end abortion in America and there simply is no political will in this country to do so. If we outlaw abortion in my home state of Indiana women will drive to Illinois where it certainly will remain unrestricted. Abortion clinics will pop up along the borders of restrictive states. That doesn't mean I don't want Roe v Wade overturned, I certainly do, but I am trying to remain realistic. Abortion is ultimately not a legislative issue, it is a sin issue and like "gay marriage" and other hot button sin issues the solution is not the laws of man, it is the cross of Christ. Perhaps we have placed to much of our faith in the political process to solve a problem that is so much deeper than one Supreme Court decision?

The question of voting brings me back to a post from last month, Render But How Much, a look at whether submitting to the ruling authorities and rendering unto Caesar extends to being an active participant in the government. Invariably when the church gets too cozy with the state, it makes the church less representative of Christ and more representative with the state and never the other way around. I will almost certainly be voting this year but it might well be the last election I do so. At least for President I will probably vote for a third party because I frankly cannot vote for Romney with a clear conscience and I wouldn't even consider voting for Obama. Our political choices do have consequences but compared to the monumental task that we are called to as Christians we really need to focus a lot less on the machinations of politicians and a lot more on the lost, the poor, the widow and the orphan right around us.

What I Do When I Am Not Blogging

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Another good tweet

Doesn't really require any additional comment, I just thought it made some good points in a short tweet!

What Made Jesus Angry?

I saw this tweet on someone's facebook page and had to post it.
That is a great point. Jesus didn't have much to say about the tyrannical Caesar who ran the Roman Empire with an iron fist, crucifying those that crossed him and making himself into a deity to be worshiped. You think Obama is bad? Take a look at men like Nero and Caligula. Jesus seemed to get what we don't, that unregenerate sinners are going to behave like unregenerate sinners and we are not called to convince them to act like believers, we are called to go to them and command them to repent and believe.

When we look at the New Testament we see Jesus speaking forcefully against the religious leaders of the, the hypocritical who thought their external piety made them better than others. He drove the moneychangers out of the temple, just guys trying to make a buck and provide a convenient service to make religious obligations just a little bit easier. He had a few things to say about the scribes and Pharisees, things like "hypocrites", "blind fools". "brood of vipers". Those who wield religion like a weapon for their own advantage were the targets of His wrath and anger.

The church in America gets awfully incensed about a lot of stuff that Caesar does but the things that made Jesus angry don't get much attention. Jesus was concerned about empty religious hypocrisy, about loving money, serving two masters, caring for the poor (or lack thereof), about disunity in the church and above all proclaiming the Kingdom. We would all be better of, me especially, if we worried less about what Caesar is doing and instead looked to those things that Jesus spoke out against and for. Electing a blasphemer to be President to replace a man who embraces infanticide is not much of an improvement. Calling the church to repent of our love of money and our religion? That is what we need to be focused on. 

An Important Re-release

Dave Black's book Paul, Apostle of Weakness is being republished by Wipf & Stock Publishers. From the description it sounds pretty meaty:

In this practical book every occurrence of astheneia and its cognates in the Pauline Epistles is examined, both in its immediate context and in its relation to Pauline thought as a whole. The analysis begins, first, by examining both secular and Septuagintal Greek usages of astheneia as well as its usage in the non-Pauline New Testament writings. It then proceeds, secondly, by defining Paul's astheneia termini from letter to letter and context to context. All the passages in the Pauline literature where the words appear undergo a detailed exegetical examination. The Pauline weakness motif is then summarized, with the conclusion that the concept of weakness is foundational to Paul's anthropology, Christology, and ethics.

I am looking forward to reading this one. Paul was someone quite content to exert influence by power, using force to persecute Christians, taking pride in his learning. Then Jesus came into his life and struck him blind, making him as helpless as one could be. Throughout his ministry Paul recognized that when he was weak, he relied on Christ and then and only then was he strengthened. Can't wait to see how Dr. Black addresses this counter-cultural notion of weakness as a virtue!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Musing On Medicare

My latest post for the Energion Politicial Roundtable is up, this time looking at the issue of Medicare: The Arsenal of Liberty: Energion Political Roundtable: Medicare#links. As always I take a very mild, nuanced position.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Save Our Tax Breaks So We Can Do Political Lobbying From The Pulpit!

Somebody once said something about serving two masters, God and money. I can't remember who it was but He sounded like a pretty smart guy. That came to mind when I read a couple of articles yesterday that tied together quite nicely.

On the one hand we have portions of the church involved in lawsuits with unbelievers to retain the lovely tax breaks we get because we are a religious organizations. The lawsuit is detailed in the e-pages of Church Executive magazine (and the simple fact that there is a magazine with the name Church Executive with banner ads like the one pictured to the leftshould bother you) in an article titled: Challenge to clergy tax break clears hurdle. The gist is that a group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation is suing to overturn clerical tax breaks because they are not available to the general populace.

The plaintiffs contend that the law violates the First Amendment ban on establishing religion and the Fifth Amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the law. A press release called it “pure discrimination” for the government to give tax privileges to clergy that are denied to atheist leaders.

That is absolutely true.Our tax code does indeed discriminate in favor of religious employees based solely on religion. Caesar even has a bunch of special information on his website and a handy dandy handbook aimed at religious employees and employers.

I especially liked this part...

The ministerial exemption has faced legal challenge before, notably in 1996 when the IRS ordered Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren to pay taxes on part of the nearly $80,000 he claimed as a housing allowance as pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.

Over $6500 a month in just housing allowance. I know Southern California is pretty expensive but wow. The Son of Man had no place to lay His head but Rick certainly does and he gets a tax benefit to boot. I wonder if the average parishioner at Saddleback knows how much compensation Rick receives or if it is buried in a pool of staff salaries. Anyway, here is the church telling Caesar "we demand our tax breaks!".

On the other hand we have a group of clergy doing a little bit of civil disobedience by promoting their favorite candidate from the pulpit: Pastors pledge to defy IRS, preach politics from pulpit ahead of election. Notice that they are not simply speaking on politically charged issues but are actually endorsing specific candidates.

More than 1,000 pastors are planning to challenge the IRS next month by deliberately preaching politics ahead of the presidential election despite a federal ban on endorsements from the pulpit.

The defiant move, they hope, will prompt the IRS to enforce a 1954 tax code amendment that prohibits tax-exempt organizations, such as churches, from making political endorsements. Alliance Defending Freedom, which is holding the October summit, said it wants the IRS to press the matter so it can be decided in court. The group believes the law violates the First Amendment by “muzzling” preachers.

“The purpose is to make sure that the pastor -- and not the IRS -- decides what is said from the pulpit,” Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the group, told “It is a head-on constitutional challenge.”

Stanley said pastors attending the Oct. 7 “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” will “preach sermons that will talk about the candidates running for office” and then “make a specific recommendation.” The sermons will be recorded and sent to the IRS.  

Well that makes sense, the number one thing people in the church need to receive when they gather as the church is equipping for the work of ministry specific recommendations on who their cleric thinks they should vote for in November. I do recall getting letters near election time, anonymous letters of course, to the church office warning me against talking politics from the pulpit. In general though I think many clergy get away with a lot of politicking from the pulpit. It is especially troubling that they will either be endorsing a man who extols infanticide as a cherished right  and embraces solemnizing sinful relationships or a man who belongs to a pagan group that blasphemes God and perverts the Gospel.

Do you see the problem here? On the one hand we fight tooth and nail to protect the special tax treatment the church receives from Caesar but on the other hand get all outraged when Caesar places conditions on our special tax treatment. Yet we wonder why those outside of the church think that Christianity is all about money.

I am all for people paying as little in taxes as legally allowed and likewise in favor of reducing the total tax burden on the entire country while drastically reducing the amount of spending. That has little to do with this. These tax breaks are nothing less than a partnership between Caesar and the church. Caesar gives us tax breaks and in return we provide some services that benefit society like weddings and funerals. If the church is going to demand special favors from Caesar the church is going to have to play by Caesar's rules. We seem to forget that the government of the United States is not a branch of the church but more akin to Caesar as a secular ruling authority that we are to render to and submit to. I would be in favor of eliminating the tax breaks religious groups get and the tax breaks individuals get for donating to religious groups.

More importantly shouldn't we be spending our time and effort on spreading the Gospel and aiding the poor, not going to court to protect Rick Warren's $80,000 a year housing allowance and the "right" on clergy to tell their flock who they should vote for? I don't begrudge Rick his $80,000 per year in living expenses even if it does seem a bit excessive to me. I do have grave concerns that we expend so much time, effort and money on things that have nothing to with the mission of the church.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lots of thoughts, no time to write

Been something of a blogging drought here. Work has had me traveling to fabulous places like Scranton, Pennsylvania and Baltimore the last six weeks and it has taken a toll on me. Lots to write about when I can catch my breath a bit: notes from the mini-conference with Jon Zens, thoughts about tax breaks for clergy, more Hebrews blogging, some good quotes from Bonhoeffer. I have to say it has been a bit refreshing to not write everyday but I am getting ready to ramp it back up!

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Tweet Too Good Not To Share

Stubborn as a....


The wife traded our last lamb from this Spring and a "lamb to be named later" from next Spring's crop for Lola the mule. Apparently you can ride her. I will not be doing so. She makes an awful noise but she is super friendly and kind of cute in a weird, muley sort of way.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

It is about the mission, not the gathering!

I liked this a lot from Francis Chan..
Francis Chan - How To Have Real Community from Verge Network on Vimeo.

That is good stuff, especially the opening line:

If I just read the Scriptures I wouldn't even think so much about the gathering. 

Wow, is that completely contrary to our culture. The preeminence and centrality of the "local church" so dominate our thinking and functioning that we tend to elevate the gathering over the mission or in some cases we confuse the two and we sublimate the mission of the church into the traditional gathering of the church. Not surprisingly it tends to be those with a vested interest in perpetuating the system that are the most vocal about the "centrality of the local church".

Yeah, yeah this is a two minute video clip. I get that. I am also not discounting the importance of the gathered Body. How else can we practice the 58 "one another" commands in the New Testament if we are not gathering together? But what I think Francis is saying and what I am certainly saying is that if we make the mission the "main thing" then we will find that the church will form naturally, dare I say organically. We will make disciples and those disciples will turn to one another for support and in doing so, by teaching and more importantly by example, they will in turn learn how to and begin making disciples on their own. That is how the church grew in the first century. It was not about the gathering and it certainly was not about the leaders.

A Christian that never "goes to church" but is out making disciples is infinitely more faithful than the Christian that never misses a Sunday but never seeks to make disciples. A disciple making Christian will love to spend time with their brothers and sisters, being equipped and encouraged and exhorted but that gathering is secondary to the mission of the church.

I agree with Francis, when we read the Bible without our stained glass tinted glasses we don't see "go to church", we see "go to the world"!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Book Review: Government Bullies

I received Senator Rand Paul’s new book, Government Bullies, yesterday and read the whole thing today while, ironically enough, travelling all day and being greeted by the friendly neighborhood government agents of the TSA, those stalwart folks making travel not at all safer and immeasurably more unpleasant for all Americans. Senator Paul is on the list for potential candidates for President in 2016 if Romney loses in this election and this book is obviously his opening salvo.

First, the negatives. Senator Paul tends to be pretty repetitive in many places. I felt as though I was reading the same thing over and over in places and in a few I am sure I read the same thing more than once. The editing is not great. Most annoying Senator Paul spends a lot of time referencing the various legislation that he has put forth. After all he is a politician and he clearly has aspirations beyond the Senate seat from Kentucky. All in all this is not a great work of literature but it really isn’t intended to be.

The gist of Government Bullies is a recounting of a litany of simply outrageous abuses of government power by unelected and unaccountable government bureaucrats, many armed to the teeth with guns and all armed with the nearly limitless power to make life miserable for average citizens for any or no reason at all. Each successive event that he records is more egregious than the last. A co-worker travelling with me couldn’t even finish one chapter before he became so upset that he had to put the book down.

From groping airline passengers who have given no indication of being a threat to arresting and imprisoning citizens for moving dirt on their own property to early morning armed raids on Amish famers for selling milk, Government Bullies paints a picture of a government out of control. Certainly the examples he gives are the most extreme but the fact is that I read this book while traveling today and was required to remove my belt, my suit coat and my shoes before the TSA would permit me to fly on the plan that I had purchased a rather expensive ticket to fly on, a transaction between me and a corporation. We have our own cow that produces milk but that milk is viewed as a dangerous substance that can lead to my arrest if I sell it, as if milk is analogous to meth.

Government Bullies is like a repetitive punch in the stomach and a rude awakening for those of us with an overly nostalgic view of America as the land of the free. As Senator Paul is careful to point out, things are better in America than they are elsewhere around the world but we have strayed far indeed from the vision of the Founding Fathers and the principles that this land was supposed to be founded on.

If you can read this sort of stuff and not be outraged, you aren’t really paying attention. In the name of “security” Americans have been trading liberty and freedom for a false promise for decades and the pace of this surrender is accelerating. From economics to “the war on terror” to knee jerk reactions to any event, we have as a people been far too willing and eager to turn over more and more of our lives to our benevolent overlords in Washington D.C. A chip off the old block and following in his father’s distinguished footsteps, Rand Paul is a voice demanding that we stop the madness before it is too late. Of course it might already be too late.

(you can also check out the Government Bullies webpage!)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eleven Years Later

As I am sure we all do, I remember all to well that day eleven years ago. I remember the confusion followed by frustration at not knowing what was happening. The internet was down so I recall being on the phone with my wife when the second plane hit and the cold pit in my stomach. I remember punching a file cabinet in impotent anger. My sister worked in downtown D.C. at that time and we couldn't reach her. As I went home that day and in the days that followed I remember the white hot rage that grew within me. In the days that followed I wanted vengeance without really knowing who that vengeance should be directed toward. Someone needed to pay. I clearly remember this speech by then President Bush...

....and being filled with pride. I still get choked up watching it now. I remember that I watched raptly as we charged toward war and my impatience at our "inaction". I applauded President Bush when he spoke before the country. I was filled with satisfaction when our special forces made their first foray into Afghanistan and left behind a picture of the World Trade Center, grimly knowing that their day was coming. I began the process of entering the Air Force, completing all but the final step before deciding that was not something I could do as a father of five.


Today the grim toll of that day has grown much worse. The trillions spent are a pittance compared to the butcher's bill of Americans, British, Iraqis and Afghans killed and maimed in the last decade, many of them innocent civilians. The dead from 9/11 are still dead but they have been joined by hundreds of thousands of others, most dying outside of Christ. Daily we hear of blue on green attacks, terrorists hidden in the Afghan army and police suddenly turning on their American counterparts. The situation is not improving and the war in Afghanistan is over but no one will admit it nor that someday soon with America gone the Taliban will be back in control. Certainly bin Laden is dead, Iraq is freer and we have had no appreciable terror attacks in this country but the cost in lives, money and liberty has been enormous.

Much has changed indeed. On 9/11/2001 I was a 29 year old man and a new Christian. Today I am 40 years old with a beard full of gray and a hopefully better understanding of the world seen through the lens of the cross. I no longer take any comfort in the invasion of Afghanistan or the liberation of Iraq or even the deaths of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. The eternal fate of Hussein and bin Laden are the same as my neighbor down the road who is not born again. My greatest comfort is knowing that Christ died for my sins in spite of my weakness and failing and my great calling is to tell others about Him.

The call of the Kingdom is an enormous task and the way of the cross is non-negotiable. I have no time to seek vengeance and I have no right. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are not my enemies. My own flesh is a far greater threat to me than any terrorist and the Father of Lies is the enemy of the church, not some lost terrorist who is deceived a world away. Our empty religious rituals, our watered down teaching, our general lack of tangible concern for the lost, the poor, the orphan and the widow are where we should direct our concerns, not in whether or not Iran is building a nuclear warhead. The powers of this world will squabble and fight. Oftentimes, if we are being faithful, Christians will suffer and die for the sake of the Gospel. That comes with the territory and is not something to fear. Loving His enemies is what led to our salvation and He simply calls us to do the same but loving our "enemies" is hard to do when we are cheering their deaths and waving a flag.

We should remember and we can and should mourn those who died (see Robert Martin's excellent essay this morning on that topic:“Blessed are those who mourn…”) but as hard as it might be we must continually seek to look at this from eyes that have beheld the glory of the Lamb of God, those who see the "big picture" and are content to leave vengeance and justice in the hands of the King and to simply do justice, love kindness and  walk humbly with our God.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Latest From The Energion Political Roundtable: Budget Priorities

My latest post from the Energion Political Roundtable is up, this time dealing with economic and budget priorities: Energion Political Roundtable: Budget Priorities.It is a pretty broad topic but one that I hope will generate more conversation than the admittedly arcane topic of capital gains taxation. Check it out!

An oldie but a goodie

I wanted to link back to Alan Knox's series on paying elders/pastors. I have been engaged in a conversation about this topic and I still find this series to be one of the best treatments of the topic, an area of discussion that generates a lot of emotion and heat.

  1. What about work?
  2. What about work for elders/pastors?
  3. What about honor for elders/pastors?
  4. What about the right of elders/pastors?
  5. Summary – Should elders/pastors be paid a salary?
I have been thinking a lot about this again and how hard it is to have conversations about the church when we have such cultural and traditional baggage to work through. This series by Alan is probably one of the very first I read when I started to question our church traditions. If you have read it before, read it again! If you have never read it I would encourage you to, especially if you are convinced that we should be paying men to minister in the church.

Jon Zens coming to Michigan

For anyone in Michigan, Ohio or Indiana who is interested in organic/house church life, Jon Zens is coming to the Detroit area next weekend....

I am hoping to make it up for some or all of this gathering and would be interested in dragging along some Hoosier types who might be blessed by this meeting.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Safety is the opposite of peace

From the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross. - Metaxas, Eric, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Kindle Locations 4827-4831)

Sobering words for these times that we find ourselves in. Many of us trade the way of the cross for the false "security" offered by the world.

I am about 1/3 of the way through the bio and really Bonhoeffer was a fascinating man. A young man who came from a life of privilege and seemed destined for a life of high minded theology and academia had his secure world and comfortable future interrupted by a madman and his pagan ideology of death. We all must be prepared for a day when the comfort of our lives is shattered and the way of the cross is the only way forward.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Blogging Through The Bible: Hebrews 5: 7-14

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:7-14)

The first few verses above are some of the most difficult verses in the Bible. Jesus is God and yet Jesus "learned obedience" through His suffering? He was "being made perfect"? I thought Jesus was always perfect? Theologians far more learned and wise than I am have wrestled with these questions for two millennia so I am not going to try to  make a definitive statement here. Certainly Jesus is eternally God but also Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us, becoming like us. The fancy term for this is the "hypostatic union", the union of 100% God and 100% man. We also know that Jesus "emptied himself"

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7)

Somehow, someway that neither I nor anyone else in this life will understand, Jesus became both God and man at the same time, God in human form, perfect being and Creator that needed to eat and sleep. God as Son who cried out to, submitted to and prayed to God as His Father and yet is co-equal with that very same God in power and holiness and eternality. The key words to getting an understanding of this are at the beginning, "In the days of his flesh", words to speak to the uniqueness of Jesus entering time and space to take on flesh. That is a terribly poor take on this topic but this series is not intended to wrestle with the biggest questions.

As for the rest of the verses? Well that is pretty straightforward and easy to understand. When I read verses 12-14 it is like the author of Hebrews was looking into the future and seeing the church of today. The church, at least as we understand it, is full of people dull of hearing and being spoon fed milk week after week. People who have been "in church" for decades and barely grasp the elemental principles and teachings, much less are prepared to teach. The Western church, lazy and flaccid in our opulence and comfortable with our prominent and protected position in the culture, has trapped countless Christians in a lifetime of perpetual spiritual infancy and worse yet given false hope to so many who have been given a fatally flawed view of the Gospel and the way of the cross.

One of the great scandals of the church is how few Christians even approach a place of maturity where they become teachers. We have an overabundance of over-educated clergy that should be equipping the church (Eph 4: 11-16) but instead are largely bogged down in preparing sermons and carrying the entire burden of ministry for those who hired him.

Wake up church! Get back to the basics and then get rid of the traditions and anything else that keeps people in infancy. Give people the tools they need to do the work of ministry and let them go! A child that never gets out of the high chair will never learn to walk and if he is never given anything but milk he will never learn to chew meat. People, put down the spoons and pick up a fork and a knife and dig in!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Big Business Of Religion

The Gospel Coalition linked to an interesting study of the salaries of "mega-church pastors" in the post How Much Money Do Megachurch Pastors Make? The study is quite interesting, looking only at "churches" with an attendance of 2000 or more and what it shows is that religion is indeed big business.

• Total cash compensation (including allowances for housing) for senior pastors ranged from $85,000 to more than $265,000, though the majority of the salaries cluster around the $100,000 to $140,000 range. 

Of course there are some pretty nice tax advantages built in here as well. To give you an idea of what that means, salaries like that are in the very top wage bands of U.S. salary, the sort of salary demanded by medical professionals, corporate executives and other highly skilled professionals. Now if you see being an elder as a "profession", one that you have to invest a number of years and lot of money to gain the right educational credentials for, this makes sense but aren't we told all the time that being an elder/pastor is a calling, not a job or a profession?

I left this comment on the post to try to stir up some thoughtful conversation:

The greater question is not how much the megachurch guys make. In our corporate model of "church" it only makes sense. The question we should be asking is why are we paying able bodied men in the first place, subcontracting out the work of ministry to a small cadre of professionals? Paul worked for a living, rightly viewing the demand for payment to be a obstacle to the Gospel (1 Cor 9:12), and also to provide an example to others (2 Thess 3:7-10). Paul wasn't even a "pastor" but a traveling itinerant apostle and church planter. Until we are willing to ask these questions, the issue of mega-church salaries is irrelevant. 

The comments should prove interesting, especially since one guy already made the comment before I posted that:

Paul ordered churches to pay their pastors and appointed pastors/elders/bishops.

Wow! Can't wait to see where the support for that comes from!

Studies like this shed some light on a topic that is taboo in the church, the conflict between the Biblical model of a voluntary, local leadership drawn from the within the body versus the Roman based model of a professional clerical class hired from outside of the church that draws financial support from the church. The sad reality is that we are headed toward a place where there will be two types of local churches, huge high production value religious megachurches that can pay multiple men professional level salaries and small local congregations that won't be able to pay men at all. In twenty years from now I am not sure what all of those guys with M.Divs are going to be doing but I am pretty sure it won't be sermon prep and hospital visits.  

My Latest Entry: Responses to the Capital Gains Tax Question

Part of the point of the Energion round table is to encourage dialogue among believer over issues that divide us and in that spirit I have posted a response to some of the other round table participants: Responses to the Capital Gains Tax Question

If you are so inclined, check out my response and the posts from the other participants!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Why I Am Not A Protestant

I have not really thought of myself as a Protestant for some time even though that is the assumption in America is that if you are not Roman Catholic, you must be Protestant.The reasons are myriad but a great summary can be found in Carl Trueman's recent interview with Table Talk, Understanding The Times, a look at what ails evangelicalism.

Carl has a knack for saying something I disagree with but in a delightfully written way. He comes from a school of thought that I understand and recognize but now seems so alien that it is almost bizarre.He does always write well and I found this statement to be fascinating.

TT: What do you mean when you say that evangelicals need good, solid reasons for not being Roman Catholic?

CT: Rome has chronological priority over any Protestant denomination. Thus, Protestantism was and is a movement of protest. We are by definition protesting against something: the claims of the papacy, the burying of the gospel under garbage, the denial of assurance to ordinary Christian believers. We must never forget these things. We should respect our Roman Catholic friends; we should rejoice in the great doctrine we hold in common; but we must not minimize that which divides us from each other.

Carl has the right of it. Because Protestantism is at it's core a rebellion against Rome, the default is that Rome has the preference. Protestants left Rome but Rome is where they came from and by virtue of that fact the roots of Protestantism will always run through Rome. It is the difference between seeing that some doctrines had lost their way, such as justification by faith, and seeing the entire organization as flawed at the core. When we look at the traditions of Protestantism and wonder why they so closely resemble Rome, we need look no farther than the origins of the Reformation as a protest against more than a rejection of Rome. Why do we still have the church structure and clerical class that Rome instituted? Because the Reformers never bothered to "reform" them and so they stayed in place by inertia.

As for me, I reject both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism as institutions while trying my best to love my brothers and sisters in both camps. I do nor recognize the legitimacy of Rome in any way, shape or form and therefore I do not see any reason to protest against her. My foundation is not in Rome nor in Geneva with Calvin or Wittenberg with Luther or even in Zürich with the start of the Radical Reformation. The foundation of the church goes back to the Gospels, Acts and the Espitles and it is there that we must always and continually return. We certainly have much to learn from those who have gone before, the church fathers, the theologians, the reformers and the Anabaptists but that is not where we should focus our attention. I worry that we spend too much time worrying about what Calvin wrote or what this papal encyclical says and not enough on what God has to say.

Protestantism never has and never can leave Rome entirely. If we are seeking to follow Jesus we need to go back to the beginning, back to Him. The more we identify with man-made institutions, the more we get entangled in them and the harder it becomes to see the way of the cross.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

My first foray in the Energion political round table

Energion Publications, one of my favorite publishers, is sponsoring a new political roundtable featuring five Christian bloggers discussing the issues of the day. Unable to find anyone else, I was approached by Henry at Energion and asked to contribute. Of course I said yes!

My first post is up and deals with the issue of capital gains taxes. No surprise to anyone who knows me, I argue for eliminating them entirely: The Arsenal of Liberty: Eliminate The Capital Gains Tax!. Give it a look and keep an eye out for subsequent posts by the other bloggers.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Get your own pastor!

I loved this tweet from Jim Elliff this morning!
Absolutely true and yet we by and large just accept without question a system where congregations poach elders from other congregations to come work for a new congregation of people who don't really know them. I have seen so many people in local churches who are hurt when their pastor is "called" to another church and then turn around and do the same thing to another local church. Let me be blunt for a change. Most of the "calling" that men feel to move from one church to another has everything to do with pay and prestige and nothing to do with calling. There are those rare few that move to a smaller congregation but the progression is normally the opposite. The most "talented" men get moved to bigger and bigger churches where they get higher pay and a bigger support staff. The less talented men get fired or otherwise forced out. It is a model that is so foreign to Scripture and so antithetical to the Biblical model of leadership that it can hardly be classified as Christian at all.

The entire system is as cutthroat as any corporation around and has more in common with a Darwinian notion of survival of the fittest than it does with Matthew 20:25-28. It is a poisonous system that makes a mockery of raising up men in local gatherings to lead people who know and love them, people who recognize them as elders based on observing their lives. If you are a local church in need of leaders, don't go out and woo a stranger away from another church, instead equip and enable the men right where you are to lead in the church. It will take more time and require the men of a local gathering to step up but it is healthier and more Biblical. Shouldn't that be more important than convenience?