Monday, July 29, 2013


The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

- Proverbs 22:7

There is a reason it is called "servicing debt".

We are a nation with an insatiable appetite for borrowing and consumption fueled by that borrowing. Working hard, saving and waiting have been replaced by easy credit, massive debt and instant gratification. When you step back and look at the big economic picture you see a nation teetering on the edge of disaster thanks in large part to debt and the resulting wage and housing inflation it has caused. In terms of actual debt already incurred and liabilities promised with no feasible means of payment (public pensions, Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare, etc.) America is already fiscally dead but the nation keeps shambling along like a zombie.

Here is a little exercise, please bear with me. Just around the corner from our home there is a decent sized plot of farmland coming up for sale, a little over 600 acres. That is a sufficient amount of acreage for a full-time farmer. Thanks to inflated crop prices, government subsidies, a culture of "get big or get out" in farming and readily available credit I am guessing that the whole deal will sell at some $6000 an acre. That actually might be kind of low. $6000 for an acre sounds pretty cheap if you are buying a lot to build a house on but multiply that by 600 and you get $3,600,000. Over 3 1/2 million dollars is nothing to sneeze at. Using some random numbers for a 20 year loan at 5% you get monthly payments of $23,000 and total interest paid of over $2 million. That is over a quarter million a year in just mortgage payments. If you plant corn that yields a very nice 185 bushels to the acre you get 111,000 bushels of corn. Now with great corn prices, say $7 per bushel, you get $777,000 from a corn crop. That is what prices were hovering at around the beginning of last week. As Reuters reports by the end of the week thanks to ample rain in the corn belt prices had plummeted to around $5.50 a bushel which equates to a potential drop of over $150,000 in income in just one week. That is farming, great weather and great crops equals low prices, bad weather and poor crops means great prices but little to sell. Anyway the difference between the mortgage and the crop revenue is a huge number, somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000. So why don't more people get into farming with that kind of revenue? Well you also have to feed and house your family, buy seed and fertilizer and pesticides to get those big yields, buy and maintain enormously expensive farm equipment. Other than a small few who have an enormous amount of land, probably passed on for generations by a business savvy farmer, most farmers live right on the edge and choose to farm for the pride and the lifestyle rather than the money. Someone who wants to get into farming? Good luck going to the bank and getting a multi-million dollar loan based on potential revenue from farming. Thanks to the debt system that has inflated land and machinery prices, few young people can get into farming leaving us with a bunch of old farmers and fewer and fewer giant farms. Many of the very policies allegedly designed to "help" farmers have actually worked to drive aspiring farmers out of the fields and into regular jobs.

Farming is hardly the only area that government tinkering in lending has hurt the very people it was supposed to help. Student loan debt that was supposed to make college affordable and accessible to everyone has instead achieved the opposite, driving tuition prices sky high and saddling new graduates with a crippling debt in return for the promise of a life of working in a cubicle. Meanwhile the value of a college degree has diminished but people are fed the lie that the only way to make a decent living is by getting a four year degree. Meanwhile skilled workers are desperately needed all over the country but we keep churning out grads with the magical Bachelors degree in sociology or art history. Then there is the mortgage business where political pressure to make "the American dream" accessible to everyone created a situation where lenders were given an incentive to make stupid loans and shockingly that whole thing blew up when borrowers who couldn't afford the loans they were given started losing houses that were overpriced thanks to those same loans. Meanwhile people who had saved and built decent credit get to pay the same inflated prices thanks to government housing policies. So creditworthy borrowers were hurt, people who were not creditworthy got loans they couldn't pay making them more un-creditworthy and the whole system has been in distress for years.

The church is not only not immune to this craving for debt but largely a willing and enthusiastic imitator of the culture. Both corporately and individually the church is virtually indistinguishable from the world on this question.

We send young men to seminary to learn how to "minister" and at the same time accumulate a bunch of debt that will hamper their ability to apply all of that leaning later on in life for years or likely decades. Rather than learn under the local elders of the church by observing and imitating they study expensive academic concepts from relative strangers and then are thrust into the world with a degree in hand and no useful job skills to show for it. No matter what he feels called to do, like move to an inner-city or a poor rural area, the new seminary grad really is limited by having to service that debt (as well as the costs of caring for a family which means a mortgage). So that means going to a small church until he builds up a resume to move to a larger, better paying job calling. or getting on staff at a large suburban church so he can pay his student loan (and probably credit card) debt. As a result many young seminary grads end up in the religious professional system and either climb the vocational ministry corporate ladder or burn out after 5 years with a bunch of debt and no job skills. In other words we not only don't equip men biblically for the work of ministry, we cripple their ability to follow callings because of their debt that the church demanded they take on as the part of the price of admission for "ministry".

Corporately our local churches borrow enormous sums of money for buildings and improvements and then spend years asking church attenders to put money in the plate to keep the doors open so they can come back next week to put money in the plate to keep the doors open and on and on. Show up, pay up, come back next week, repeat. Enormous sums of money are tied up in maintaining our religious institutions and by tying up our giving in budgeted expenses to maintain buildings, service debt and pay staff we are left with precious little left over to minister to the poor and needy, not to mention funds to support missionaries.

Debt is a sickness and it is slavery. We are two and a half year into a 15 year mortgage and I can't wait to pay this house off. Having a mortgage, even a very modest one like we do, impacts everything we do and we only have a dozen years left. For those with a 30 year mortgage, it is unlikely to ever get paid off. A 35 year old couple, assuming they don't keep refinancing and extending that 30 year mortgage, will pay their house off the same year they retire having paid an enormous amount of interest. The church needs to address this sickness and I mean more than just sponsoring Financial Peace University classes. The issue is not one of poor budgeting, it is an issue of worldliness, of covetousness, of fear of being different, of sin. We cannot be blind to this log in our collectives eyes while wagging our finger at the speck in the world's eye. When we turn a blind eye to our own sinful attitudes and behavior we lose much of our standing to be salt and light to the world. Our embrace of the American love affair with debt is just one more place where we have compromised and exhibited the exact sort of hypocrisy that we are warned about in Scripture.


I would also recommend this great article by my friend Matt Jabs, Debt Slavery - What it is and ways out

Friday, July 26, 2013

Fighting Over The Same Shrinking Pie

I would find it amusing if it were not so sad to watch the public posturing and positioning of fellow Christians as they seek to enlist God on their side in political squabbles. The so-called "religious right" has been doing this for decades seeking to force conformity to a particular moral code on unregenerate people and doing it in the name of "restoring America", as if America had ever been a specially or particularly moral nation to begin with. That same group has also been one of the most supportive of war and capital punishment but hey I am sure God wanted us to smite those people anyway.

Of course the religious right is not unique in their attempts to co-opt the Gospel. One need simply look at the chest beating triumphalism in a recent article in The Atlantic, The Rise of the Christian Left in America that purports to prove that "progressive" or liberal Christianity is sweeping the land

Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for Sojourners, a progressive Christian organization, says shifts are due to young people choosing to identify with Jesus and his teachings as opposed to a particular political party. Harper believes the GOP is being pulled to the far right by extremists on issues like abortion, thus forgetting and alienating those whom Jesus affirmed and advocated for: poor people, ethnic minorities, and women.

"I think the focus on the person of Jesus is birthing a younger generation inspired by [Jesus' Sermon on the Mount]," she says. "Their political agenda is shaped by Jesus' call to feed the hungry, make sure the thirsty have clean water, make sure all have access to healthcare, transform America into a welcoming place for immigrants, fix our inequitable penal system, and end abject poverty abroad and in the forgotten corners of our urban and rural communities."

Now I have read all of the New Testament on more than one occasion. I have looked at many passages and themes quite closely. I don't recall Jesus saying anything about "access to healthcare" or about government income confiscation and redistribution. Of course I would expect nothing less from Sojourners, a mirror image of all the terrible exegesis and practice of the Religious Right, an organization where every left wing political cause can be dressed up by pseudo-Christian clothes to make it sound pious. As Russell Moore is quoted in the same article it isn't like so-called "progressive" Christianity is thriving based on religious attitudes when you look at actual religious behavior. So called mainline Protestant denominations have been dying a slow death for years and that shows no sign of abating. Predictably there are several rebuttals online to the findings and perceived implications of the Atlatic article including Rod Dreher's piece The Dying (No, Really) Of Liberal Protestantism. The world groans under the weight of sin all around us and the two largest and most powerful factions in the church are engaged in a public war of words amounting to "We're not dying, you are! No we aren't, you are! Liar!"

What is really happening and likewise what is largely being completely misinterpreted by both Left and Right is that Christians and many others are checking out of the whole religious system on a massive but completely predictable scale. While those invested in perpetuating the system try to spin this as people abandoning the faith, what is really happening is two-fold. First many religious but unregenerate people simply see no compelling reason to keep showing up for religious events. I don't blame them. Second many Christians are likewise finding very little to keep them showing up to a weekly performance in support of a system that often seems mostly interested in perpetuating itself.

I am not sure if people are just willfully blind or if they are so caught up in our traditions that they cannot see but what is happening all around us is obvious. The religious world that we have grown fat and comfortable in is dying and quickly fading from the scene. That is nothing to lament. Let those who wish to fight over the corpse of our religious culture do so. Let God's people be about the business of His Son.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hey. What's Up?

Obviously haven't been blogging much. Blogging is a habit and one that you can get out of and then it becomes easy to just not do anything. Lots of stuff crossing my mind, just nothing I have been interested in enough to blog about.

While I have not been blogging, I have been reading a fair amount. Mostly light fiction, nothing terribly meaty. I just recently reread the original Dune book and have the next one in the series from the library. I read the series when I was young and seem to recall not liking the rest of the series after the first book very much, I guess we will find out. I have also been reading a sci fi series called The Lost Fleet that I have really been enjoying. Unlike most sci fi that happens in space, the Lost Fleet series embraces the reality of space battles in the vastness of space rather than head to head instant fights. Getting from point A to point B can take hours or days, going too fast makes it impossible to hit anything, etc. It is pretty well written with an interesting premise and a "realistic" setting, such as sci fi goes!

So right now I am reading a couple of new books I got from the library. The first is a brand new book by Radley Balko, a libertarian author, titled Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. As the title indicates it is a look at the increasing militarization of the police force adopting tactics and weapons from the military and especially focusing on the rise of SWAT teams and over the top raid techniques, raids that often are at the wrong address. More and more we are seeing a morphing of the military and the civilian police force, something that would have deeply alarmed the "founding fathers" and should also alarm regular citizens. One need

Another book I am getting ready to start is Karlstadt's Battle with Luther, a look at the conflict between Martin Luther and Andreas Karlstadt. Karlstadt was best known for a more radical approach to the Reformation in contrast to Luther's more incremental approach to reformation. That might seem a bit jarring given that Luther is often considered the first Reformer but after the Reformation began there were many Christians who were less willing to retain some of the aspects of Roman Catholic doctrine and practice and demanded more immediate, radical change. Karlstadt was one of those early leders, someone who is often portrayed as a wild eyed radical but I think his was an important, if overlooked, voice in the earliest days of the Reformation.

So that is what is up with me, hoping to get back to more regular blogging but I have said that before.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Thoughts on the trial of George Zimmerman

Like many Americans I watched the news and social media closely after the George Zimmerman verdict was announced. The reaction on social media especially was fascinating if somewhat predictable.

Was the verdict the “right” one? I think as far as the judicial system goes it was. As a very casual observer I saw nothing come to light from the prosecution to prove their case and much of what was presented was at least as helpful to the defense as it was to the prosecution. I am glad that the feared violence at the result was muted, perhaps because many people realized the weakness of the case against Mr. Zimmerman. Of course this is 2013 and that means that even when a jury of his peers acquits Mr. Zimmerman there are plenty of voices calling for another trial on the basis of “civil rights violations”, lack of evidence of racial animus and the clear specter of double jeopardy notwithstanding.

We are entering a dangerous era, a time when people accused of certain crimes will face both the traditional justice system and then in certain high profile cases the court of public opinion and political pressure. I think it goes without saying that, right or wrong, this case never would have come to trial had it not been for the national outcry and media coverage. If Mr. Zimmerman had been black no one would have heard of this case outside of Florida. But he is not and his identification as a heretofore rarely heard of “white hispanic” means that the media circus is not anywhere close to being over.

After laying all of that out there I fully recognize that my perspective on this event is far different than that of other Americans. I have never been pulled over without cause. I have always been treated with at least a modicum of respect. I don’t by and large see police as people to be feared unless I am speeding. For many of my fellow Americans that is not the case. Many have been discriminated against and dealt with the omnipresent reality of prejudice all of their lives. No one looks at me with suspicion because of my skin color. Even as a young person who got into more than my share of mischief I always got the benefit of the doubt. Many Americans have a completely different experience. The reality of my upbringing is the lens through which I view these events, just as other people see this entire ugly situation through their own lens. Even in this day and age it is very difficult to look at something like the killing of Trayvon Martin objectively.
So how should the church look to this avoidable tragdy and respond (if at all)?

First each and every human being was born dead in sins and trespass. Not to use a sweeping generalization but tragedies like this are an outworking of the actions of sinners in a creation groaning under the weight of sin. If anything we should be thankful that God uses Caesar to put limits on the acting out of human depravity. Perhaps I am cynical or jaded but I harbor no fairy tale illusions of human nature left unchecked. There is a reason God has instituted earthly secular rulers and that reason is to be a check on otherwise unrestrained human depravity. People are not basically good, they are basically lost and outside of cultural barriers and various upbringings are prone to all sorts of selfish mischief.

Second this event should be a reminder to us of the very real racial and ethnic divisions in America that are part of the very fabric of our country. There is usually very little constructive dialogue between religious leaders who seek to exploit our racial wounds for their own gain and those religious leaders who seem oblivious to it amidst their all white local church interspersed with the occasional adopted child that is Asian, black or Latino. We cannot pretend that this division is not there or that it is OK, not when the church is in many ways more divided by race than almost any other institution of American life. It is something we have to deal with, if the adopted people of God from every tribe, nation and tongue cannot stand to be in the same building as others who are different from them on Sunday morning, what does that say about how valid our faith truly is?

Third we see on full display the results of a confused gender narrative in America, a narrative where young men do not have appropriate same gender role models, whether that be a father or some other adult man. Knowing very little of the case it still can be ascertained that the culture that Trayvon Martin seemed to be consumed in is one where manhood is found in violence and misogyny. It is a well-known culture and easy to denounce but for many young men there is little alternative to this culture other than a childhood spent being the target of others who exhibit their masculinity in caricatured and often violent ways. Like many other young black men this culture is at least partly complicit in his death, a tragic everyday event in our culture that gets little media attention because young black men killing other young black men is not something the news media and various professional George Zimmerman strikes me a man with little understanding of what being a man means (see this excellent essay by Daniel Flynn writing for the American Spectator titled Two Males, No Men). He apparently sought to fill this gap by seeking out “manly” pursuits and on that fateful night two men with no understanding of masculinity came together and one is dead.

As many have said, there are no winners here. This wasn’t a victory for good old fashioned American values. It was a weak man being stupid and a confused young man responding that led to a violent clash and a dead 17 year old. One hopes that as a nation and as the church we can learn from this but sadly history does not give me much hope. How I long for the day when 17 year old young men are no longer shot to death but until that day we must look forward to our hope in Christ and tell others why we have that hope. We can and we must do nothing else.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Is Islam Our Greatest Challenge?

That assertion is the basis for Albert Mohler's recent post, Islam—The Great Challenge to Christian Evangelism of Our Time. In his essay Dr. Mohler makes some very helpful statements, especially his refutation of those who criticizes President Obama for stating that...

One of the great strengths of the United States is . . . we have a very large Christian population—we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation.

That is one of the  few public utterances by President Obama that I agree with wholeheartedly even though many Christians undoubtedly took great umbrage to his statement. What caught my interest was the title and premise of his essay, the notion that Islam is the greatest challenge to our evangelistic mission in this era.

Is that true? Is Islam the greatest challenge to our evangelistic mission and efforts? That certainly is the popular narrative. Islam, a religion that to a great many people is synonymous with the dread "other" and the threat of Islamist terrorism and instability in the Middle East, is the convenient enemy of the day and gives us a tangible opponent. Certainly from a civilization standpoint, Islam is a grave threat although the reason it is a threat has more to do with our self-driven cultural disintegration. But from a Great Commission standpoint is Islam our greatest challenge?

In a word, no.

Not when the vast majority of Christians are neither equipped nor encouraged in a tangible way to make disciples, preferring instead to make going to church as convenient and comfortable as possible.

Not when professing, sincere Christians ally themselves with groups that deny the Gospel with the excuse that they share certain cultural moral positions in common.

Not when churches invest untold millions on buildings and staff to cater to the needs and whims of church attenders.

Not when Christians see our enemies as people to be feared, controlled and even killed to protect a certain economic and socio-political lifestyle.

No, the greatest challenge to Christian evangelism today is not Islam. It is not even a new challenge. The greatest challenge is us. The church. God's people. In the immortal words of that sage and prophet Pogo: We have met the enemy and he is us.

But while it is easy and perhaps perversely satisfying to despair, a trap I fall into over and over, it is also true that God's chosen tool is His church, His people. Flawed, prone to wander, often distracted, a foolish people preaching a foolish message about a foolish cross. God has indeed chosen the weak and foolish things of the world to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). While we are not only not up to the task but often are our own worst enemy, our message is inextricably linked to the sovereign power of our Creator God. If by a mere word He can speak the universe into existence He certainly can use a flawed sinner such as I to accomplish His eternal purpose in calling, regenerating, saving and redeeming a people for His own possession.

We need to worry a lot less about Islam and a lot more about ourselves but we should also not spend all of our time wringing our hands and instead putting those hands to work, each and every one of us, in our foolish and weak service on behalf of our glorious and holy Lord.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Happy violation of Romans 13 Day!

My annual repost of A nation born of rebellion against God ....

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

With these words, the Declaration of Independence begins to list the grievances suffered under the despotic rule of King George over the English colonies in America. After a lengthy list of grievances, the Declaration declares that the colonies are no longer under the rule of England but are instead free and independent.

Powerful words. Solemn words. Words that, at least until recently, were taught to all schoolchildren and words that are part of our American lore. I am in awe of the power and eloquence of the Declaration and the subsequent Constitution that at one time was the law of the land in America. So that is great, we all agree that America is swell. So what is the point? Here is where I am going with this: Are these statements in the Declaration of Independence the founding words of a Christian nation, a country founded on "Judeo-Christian" values?

Simply put: No.

Why in the world would I say that?

Because America was birthed by an ungodly act of rebellion against authority.

Yikes! Stay with me here. This is a long one but I think it is important and thought provoking.

This post is not intended to bash America. I would not choose to live anywhere else in the world unless I was led to do so in God's providence. I love my country, in fact I love my country more than may be healthy as a Christian. I am also not saying that the founding fathers were wrong or that the end result is bad. Clearly America has been a force for more good than ill in the world. This statement is intended as a wake-up call to the church. Evangelicals must remember that being an evangelical Christian must of necessity take priority over being an American. I hear lots of lip-service to that effect but practically speaking our American upbringing impacts our doctrine and practice in some troubling ways. There are no special secular nations, even ones where the founding is full of religious overtones. I think this is important because there is such a blurring of the distinction between the church and America that it sometimes seems as if we are evangelists for American culture more than witnesses of the risen Christ. So if you will, please indulge me for a few minutes to explain why I would make that assertion.

The core issue here is one of submission. Submission gets a bad rap in the church in America because it is either tip-toed around or it is used as a club. Americans don't like to submit to anyone for any reason. The Founding Fathers decided that at some point they no longer wished to submit to King George, to pay his taxes without representation. I think most historians would agree that King George was a poor ruler. So it is little wonder that the colonies eventually revolted. The question we are pondering here is a dramatically different one: Is our submission to authority based on the worthiness of the one in authority? That is an important question because we are called on to submit all over the place in the Bible, a subject we looked at yesterday when the church gathered.

Let's take a look at what the Bible says about submission to authorities and it says a lot.

The first place I want to look is at the third chapter of Paul’s letter to Titus.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:1)

Paul is somewhat vague here. He exhorts Titus to remind Christians to be submissive to authorities. Who these rulers and authorities are doesn’t get much clarification but I certainly think that Paul is at least implying governing officials. The following sections of Scripture reinforce this idea quite powerfully.

Next we have a powerful statement from the lips of Christ Himself. Pay careful attention here.

He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:10-11)

Here is Christ, mere hours away from His death on the cross, telling Pontius Pilate that he has no authority (including the authority to condemn Christ to die) except that which he has received “from above”, i.e. from God. Stop and think about what Christ is saying here. Pontius Pilate received his authority from Caesar. So by proxy Caesar has been granted the authority by God to put Jesus Christ to death. I can’t overemphasize this point that the most unjust and tyrannical government ever faced by Christians was given its authority directly from God and it used that authority to crucify Christ and persecute the church for the next three centuries. Roman Emperors like Nero and Caligula make King George look like Mr. Rogers in comparison. Ponder that as we move forward.

Next, a look at what Peter wrote regarding this issue. I think this is important as well because this is not a “Paul-only” doctrine. It is something found in the words of Christ and Peter as well as Paul. Just once in Scripture should be sufficient but for purposes of staking a position I think it adds even more weight when there are multiple sources.

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Please note a few things here. Be subject to every human institution, emperor and governors. Not to be subject to only the just rulers or those you voted for. Remember again as a frame of reference that when Peter says “emperor” he must be referring to Caesar and when he refers to “governor” that likely refers to men like Pilate. Verse 17 is especially telling; we are to honor everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God and honor the emperor. Honor Caesar? Absolutely.

Next up is Romans 13, the seminal passage on human governing authorities.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13: 1-7)

There is no authority other than those God has instituted. That would obviously include the Roman empire and of course the good ole United States of America. Wouldn’t it similarly include Nazi Germany? The Stalinist Soviet Union? Castro’s Cuba? North Korea? England under the reign of King George? Lichtenstein! All of the above. So Paul is saying that by resisting the authorities placed over us, we resist God and bring judgment upon ourselves. We are to submit and pay taxes, whether we consider them just or not.

Look at what precedes Romans 13, keeping in mind that the chapter breaks are not in the original. What Paul wrote right before this passage is vital to understanding Romans 13: 1-7.

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. (Romans 12: 14-21)

That is important to remember. Christians in Rome would be facing persecution just as Paul himself, a frequent guest in prison cells, was subjected to. In the face of such injustice, the natural response as an American is to overthrow the scoundrels, the whole refresh the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants and patriots thing. Paul is saying just the opposite and we must consider the end of chapter 12 and the beginning of chapter 13 as one continuous thought. Is the government unjust? God will judge that nation. Are the rulers despotic? God is the one who will avenge their injustice, either immediately (see the death of Herod in Acts 12: 20-23) or at the Judgment seat. “Don’t tread on me” is not a concept that would be understood by Paul.

What is the overarching message here? It strikes me that God is sovereign over all nations, not just Western democracies but all nations, and that God will judge those nations. We all understand this and accept this, at least in theory. Submission is an easy topic to talk about but when you apply it as a practical matter, it gets messy and sometimes flies in the face of certain ideals that we hold dear. This issue is one that is easily turned from “Scripture says” to “Well, I think”.

So that brings me back to my original point. Was the founding of America a “Christian” action? I have to say “No”. No matter that the lofty ideals espoused by the Founders sound pleasing to our ears or that we can argue that no secular nation on earth is a better one. The notion that America was once a “Christian nation” and needs to return to that state is demonstrably false because the very founding of America was done as an act of rebellion against the very authorities that God had ordained.

Am I missing something here? Is there anything in the New Testament that would lead a follower of Jesus Christ to think that we are called to overthrow unjust rulers? Should we pray for our leaders? Well certainly we should and that is perfectly Biblical. Should we take up arms to overthrow them? Absolutely not, not even if they force high taxes on us or unjust laws. Not even if they persecute the church and not even if they put Christians to death. God will avenge, not us and we are never called to return evil for evil, even when we are sure that our cause is right. We shouldn’t turn to George Washington and Patrick Henry to form our beliefs regarding human government. Our model for how we should relate to the government is found in Scripture, in Paul and Peter and most especially in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Repost: Home Cookin'

A few years ago I penned this short piece on the importance of home grown elders, in other words the raising up of men within the local body to be trained and serve as elders rather than parachuting them in from the outside (or treating them like Mail Order Bride Pastors), That blog post was inspired by something Dave Black wrote and he has done it again in his entry on June 28th...

It's a wonderful thing to put down roots. We love where we live in Southside Virginia and feel part of the community. One of the things I marvel at, however, is the constant turnover of pastors in our area. Typically a pastor will remain in a church for only a handful of years before moving on. Very few put down any roots in the community.  

Contrast this with the New Testament pattern. In the early church we find local men leading local churches. They came from within the local church and were committed to that church. Thus the link between the church and the ministry was maintained. However, in our modern system, where the "ministry" is considered a profession, men seek for themselves, or are sent by authority, to occupy this or that post without any regard to the link which is thus broken. The result is that pastors often look upon churches simply as places that offer them opportunities to exercise their ministry gifts or else as steps up the ladder of employment. Seminarians often have to leave their local churches for seminary training and then rarely return to their own congregations for ministry.

That is right on the money. I get that people move and that is just a reality of life but it is also true that many pastors/elders who make a profession out of ministry move for reasons of money or perhaps prestige. That sometimes is the right thing to do for your family but it is rarely the right thing to do in ministry. It takes time to get to know people and you can't learn much about someone based on a few sample sermons, a resume and a couple of interviews. I am firmly of the belief that for an elder to be Biblically recognized he must be someone known to the church and that calling (or worse hiring) a man to be an elder based on extra-biblical qualifications and then hoping he turns out to have the qualities to be exhibited by an elder is a recipe for disaster, a recipe that has been demonstrated over and over again. Anyway, without further ado here is a reposting of my thoughts on home cookin' and elders!


I was looking over Dave Black’s page and I read through an interesting post called Returning Biblical Education to the Local Church. He brings up something I have mulled over for some time: the inherent problem with hiring men from outside of the local body to lead that local body. That is not the primary thrust of his post but it really got me thinking afresh and asking the question: Why do we seek men who are strangers to come to our local body and lead us? Would we not be better served with men who led us because they came from us? Is a professional, prepackaged minister a better and more importantly a more Biblical man to be an elder? Dave obviously doesn’t think so and neither do I…

“Clergy” becomes a whole way of living, an ecclesiastical subculture. The church, however, predates the seminary and will outlast it. The book of Acts reminds us that the earliest church leaders were homegrown nobodies. They were not parachuted in from the outside with all of the proper credentials. They were already full participants in their congregations – they had homes, they had jobs, and they had solid reputations. If at all possible, I think we too would do well to train people for leadership in our local churches, equipping them for evangelism and other ministries, thus complementing the work of our seminaries and Bible colleges. The early church knew that leadership is best learned by on-the-job training, not by sending our most promising leaders off to sit behind a desk.

I think this phenomena of professional ministers is a product in large part of two factors. First, we are a country that by and large draws its identity from Europe and with her state sponsored churches, professional clergy is part of the fabric of the society. Second, and more importantly, we are Americans. We live in a prepackaged, processed, microwave age. Sure home cooked meals from scratch taste better and are better for you, but it is such a hassle! I can spend an hour or two cooking up a nice meal for my family (and even that requires pre-cut meat, canned veggies, boxed side dishes) or I can get some pizzas. In my family we get pizzas or something similar pretty often and in families where both spouses work it is even more common. We want it quick, easy and disposable.

The church seems to think the same way. Training and raising a man up within the local body who can grow in knowledge and maturity until he is ready to lead as an elder takes a long time and is hard work. It may not always work out, he may move, he may lack the aptitude for it, he may turn out to not be a very good elder. It is a whole lot easier and faster to find someone who already is “qualified”, i.e. has a seminary degree, who we can interview and “call” to ministry. Of course he will probably have to move and so to entice him we need to pay him. If he were already a part of the congregation, he would have a job and a home and ties to the community. He would know and be known by the local body because he is a part of that body. They would know him and his wife and his kids, and that would make it possible to know if he meets the qualifications for an elder listed in the Bible instead of meeting the resume credentials that are often the entry level for being considered to be a pastor. It makes more sense and it is more faithful to the Bible to raise leaders up internally but that just takes too long. So instead, church after church hires strangers to come in to lead and love people they have likely never met. It only adds to the separation between the clergy and the laity to have a paid professional come on the scene. Hard to believe with that great set-up that so many men leave the ministry, that churches have such high turnover in pastors and the men who stay are often frustrated and burned-out. When you view the pastor as a paid professional, someone hired and brought in from the outside, why not get rid of them? Paid, professional clergy are employees and as such they are disposable. A church can always find someone else to pay to lead them. On the flip side, when ministry is your job you can understand why men leave church A with 100 members for church B with 250 members. If you are from within the congregation and not getting paid, why would you leave? It is not a job, it is truly a calling.

Just because we live in a quick, easy and disposable society doesn’t mean that is how the church should operate. It is certainly harder, more time consuming and more sacrificial to raise up leaders in the church but I believe (and I think the Bible supports) the idea that a primary responsibility of the local body is in the training and support of men from within that body to lead that body. Seminary may be a part of that training, but it is only one part of an integrated development of leaders, not an end in and of itself. Hiring pastors like an old western gunslinger to come in and clean up the town before moving on is an injustice to the local body, to those men and their families. We need to take the time to look around the cupboards, find the ingredients and whip up some home grown elders.