Monday, April 28, 2014

Sarah Doesn't Speak For Me

The web is all a-blaze over the asinine tirade of former governor and Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. She has turned into a useful tool for the neo-con Right, a well dressed cheerleader who can deliver the applause lines with gusto. Among her recent ranting at the NRA convention in my home state was her bluster about things would be if she were in charge: "Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.". Ugh.

Yeah that is the kind of garbage that helps explain why she is not in charge. When the rest of the country and the world (you know those godless heathens who we are supposed to be loving) sees stuff like this they assume that this is what American style "liberty" and American style "Christianity" are all about.

It is not. Or at least it shouldn't be.

To those around the world and across America who see this foolish, anti-Christian ranting and wonder how we can talk about a Jesus who taught us to love our enemies on Sunday and turn around and torture them with simulated drowning on Monday please hear me as it pertains to Ms. Palin.

She does't speak for me as someone who champions limited government and liberty.

She especially doesn't speak for me as a follower of Christ. 

I am not sure what she is peddling but the "love her or leave her" nationalistic civil religion is not in any way, shape or form a faithful representation of Christianity.

Many of  those who support Ms. Palin on the Right would call themselves defenders of the Constitution. I wonder what the men who wrote the Constitution would think about the state using torture to extract information from detained prisoners, prisoners who are kept overseas to prevent them from being afforded any sort of legitimate legal representation. I doubt they would approve and modern day defenders of liberty should be equally leery because the same government that can detain and torture Muslim terrorists can detain and torture American citizens who become inconvenient to the state. I am quite sure that many of those held in Guantanamo and other CIA holding facilities around the world are bad guys,  the worst of the worst. They certainly would kill me and my family without hesitation. If they are not the exact sort of people we are called to reach and love like Jesus then I don't know who is. I am pretty confident that Jesus didn't intend for his disciples to only take the Gospel to any middle class white suburban family that visits their church on Sunday. He calls us to go out to those who hate us, who will persecute and maybe even kill us, confident that if we are Christians we have nothing to fear from those who kill us. In other words those who Ms. Palin would love to torture, or more precisely have tortured by someone else lest she get her own hands dirty.

I am heartened that many conservative voice are calling her out, from Joe Carter at the Gospel Coalition (who unfortunately cannot get by without a nod to defending "our culture, our future, and our lives" with violence) to Rod Dreher at the American Conservative. Unfortunately many more "conservatives", who probably spent yesterday morning in their Sunday best singing about Jesus, are today taking to the internet to call "trolls" those who raise serious, common sense questions about the wisdom of putting someone like Sarah Palin forth as representative of people who love liberty and/or people who love Jesus. It is an ugly, knee jerk, frothing at the mouth brand of a statist mentality that looks more like the fascist rallies of the early twentieth century than a movement that sees government as the problem rather than the solution. That is not hyperbole in any sense of the word. I am deadly earnest in making that comparison, a comparison that gets more apt with each passing day. Between the Right and Left in this country we are left with choosing which style of fascism we prefer.

If the Republican base wants to have as their champions the ugly, lowest common denominator, baser instinct sort of individuals like Sarah Palin or Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck, then the GOP deserves to lose election after election. If the church wants to have these same people. among them rank heretics, as the poster children of "Christianity" we can expect to continue to be ineffectual in our evangelism and unfaithful in our public witness. Just leave me out of it. Sarah Palin doesn't speak for me.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Tale Of Two Baskets

One of the most powerful testimonies in the Gospel accounts is the feeding of the multitude. Everyone knows the story but here it is again:

After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?" Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, "Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, "This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!" (John 6:1-14)

What a sight that must have been for the disciples. Knowing they had only five loaves of bread and two fish and yet watching as thousands of people ate their fill and indeed had enough left over to fill twelve baskets. The basket passed from hand to hand and never ran out. I don't imagine the multitudes knew what was happening but the disciples certainly did. Who but the Son of God could feed so many with so little?

Our dominate religious institution also passes a basket around but what happens next is the opposite. Most Christians are cajoled, extorted and guilted into dropping cash or a check into a basket or plate. You do this publically so the ushers passing the plate and the people sitting around you can see if you make a deposit or not. Did he drop a couple of bucks in? Maybe a "tithe" envelope to make record keeping easier for tax purposes? Or the worst case scenario where you awkwardly pass the basket and put nothing into it, something that is really uncomfortable when you have ten people in your family and it takes a while for the plate to  get past everyone. Even those who give have mastered the art of the "subtle drop", putting something in so it is obvious that you gave but hiding what you gave. The spies of the Cold War era have nothing on religious Americans when it comes to smooth handoffs. This ritual is a weird phenomena, we want everyone to know we put something in the basket but don't want anyone to know how much or what percentage of our income (gross? net?) we give. It is American style "mind your own business" financial anonymity combined with our love of shows of public religious acts of generosity. Sort of like our talk about being a "Christian nation" that loves guns and warfare.

I got to thinking about this today and my conclusion was a pretty grim one.

Jesus passed the basket to feed a multitude. The church passes the basket to feed itself.

That basket on Sunday takes rather than gives. Sure you get some benefits from it, like having a convenient place for religious observation where little is expected from you other than showing up and paying up. On the other hand a lot of it goes to pay staff, maintain and pay for a building and upkeep, perhaps also paying to sustain a religious hierarchy at the denominational level, etc. When this happens at the governmental level, good red blooded conservative Christians are up in arms. When it happens in a religious setting we are fine with it.

It is time to change the system. Heck it is time to eliminate the manmade systems entirely.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Biblical Love Is Neither Mute Nor Blind

One of the most common mischaracterizations of Biblical teaching in the contemporary religious world called "Christianity" has to do with "judging". People throw "judge not lest ye be judged" in various iterations around as if that means that Christians should "just love people", further defined as "never pointing out sin in others". This is most commonly used in reference to sexual sins, especially homosexuality. We are told we cannot "judge" homosexuals, just love them. What if staying silent is actually far more unloving than spoeaking the truth in love, even when that truth is hard to hear.

This mindset of "no judging" is one of the most dangerous, Gospel undermining falsehoods around. If it were even remotely true we would have a much smaller New Testament. While that would make "Bible in a year" reading plans easier to complete, this philosophy is anti-Biblical and anti-Gospel. Peter, Paul and the other apostles didn't go around telling people "God loves you just the way you are. Heck we are just sinners too! Come to church on Sunday." They called out sin and called on people to repent, relying on the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts and create born-again new creations.

Sexual behavior is one of the most powerful impulses in humanity. It is at the same time one of the most wonderful gifts we are giving within marriage, especially when it results in the blessing of children, but it is also, not coincidentally, perhaps the most twisted and abused impulses among humankind. The Bible is full of examples of this, from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah followed by the incest between Lot and his daughtes to the rape of Tamar by her brother Amnon. Humanity bears this out all through history and every day still. It seems that there is no end to the human appetite to pervert God's design for sexuality in His image bearers and there is no counter to that insatiable appetite except the life shattering Gospel.

Where we run into trouble on this "judge ye not" idea is in application. Ought we judge unbelievers and believers alike, or not judge them alike as the case may be? Absolutely not. The only way to come to that conclusion is willfully ignoring the Scriptures in favor of the whims of contemporary culture.. Paul gives us a critical glimpse into how the church must deal with sin, especially sexual sin, in our midst in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 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 Corinthians 5:1-13)

That is a passage that rarely gets attention from the "judge ye not" crowd but it should. Of course we are not to condemn the unregenerate for acting like unregenerate people dead in their sins. We do a lot of this in the church to the detriment of our witness. However we are to be discerning of those among the church who are in sin and likewise we cannot faithfully preach the Gospel without a call to repent and turn away from sin and toward Christ. We cannot tell people "come to Jesus and do as you like, He doesn't care!". That would qualify as "another Gospel" and ought to be condemned in the church. We must be heralds of the King, claiming His rightful ruler-ship over mankind and all of mankind's relationship and nowhere is that more true than in sexual relationships.

Human sexuality is designed only for enjoyment within the boundaries of heterosexual, monogamous marriage. That is incontestable from Scripture. We can look all the way back to the beginning to see the genesis (pun intended) of this vitally important human relationship:

The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:20-24, emphasis mine)

A man shall leave his parents and be joined to his wife, becoming "one flesh". That is the pattern God created man and woman to fulfill. Any other expression of sexual behavior is disordered and contrary to God's design and as such is sinful. Sexual relationships are not left to the whims of mankind to continually define and redefine based on the winds of culture. We have shown our limitless stomach for deviancy in this area of human life for thousands of years. Sexuality is deeply embedded in humanity created in the image of God. His first prescriptive command to humanity is to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth...". His creation of woman as a complementary helper to man is inextricably entwined with the heterosexual, monogamous marriage covenant that serves as the bedrock human relationship, the method of perpetuating humanity through child bearing and a picture that prefigures Christ and His Bride, the church. This relationship cannot be overemphasized and it is not subject to revision.

Many people point an accusing finger back at the church for failing to show the same fervency toward other  sinful behavior like divorce, adultery, greed, gossip, etc. that we exhibit toward sexual sins It is absolutely true that we are far too quiet in many areas of sin in the church. The real question is what do we do about it? One "solution" is to be equally silent about sexual sins, if we aren't going to be consistent we should just shut up. The other is to redouble our discernment toward all sins in the church, not just the ones that are easy to point out like homosexuality. Failing in some areas is not a license to chuck the whole thing and replace it with an "anything goes" religion that guts the Gospel in favor of a happy clappy attitude that not only refuses to call sin what it is but embraces and celebrates it.

Biblical love is not our contemporary sappy notion of "love". Biblical love is not blind and it is not mute. Biblical love sees when one who bears the name of brother is sinning and speaks the truth in love in the hope of renewal and restoration. We do sinners no favors and are not their friends when we turn a blind eye and shut our mouths to allow sinners to be content in their sins. No one will thank us for our blindness and voicelessness when they stand before the Judge.

What Is More Important?

Tim Challies has been running a very helpful series on false teachers throughout church history. He has looked at men like Arius, Joseph Smith and Marcus Borg, mostly uncontroversial posts. Today he takes a look at a far more controversial false teacher, Jorge Bergoglio aka "Pope Francis". The comments are sure to be explosive. Few figures in the religious world get the sort of attention that Jorge garners. The head of the Roman Catholic Church always commands a large audience as the head of a religious organization with over a billion followers. This particular pope gets even more attention due in large part to his very public humble acts of mercy. Many evangelicals hang on his every public act even as they brush aside concerns over his theology. It seems the church is in desperate need of a serious conversation about this man and what he means, not just to Rome, but to the church of Jesus Christ.

As Christians we cannot ignore the very public witness that Jorge presents to the world. In a media driven world where Christians are painted in the worst possible light, Jorge Bergoglio is a notable exception in that his every public act of mercy and humility is broadcast around the world. I believe that this is because a segment of the cultural elite hopes that Jorge will overturn some of the culturally distasteful practices of the Roman Catholic Church, namely a celibate all male priesthood, hard-line positions against birth control, abortion and contraception and maintaining the historical insistence that homosexuality is inherently disordered. Whatever the reason Jorge gets far more, and more favorable, treatment from the media than any of his predecessors or any other contemporary religious leaders. For that reason alone the church needs to engage with this very public persona.

However, as Christians, we cannot separate the deeds from the doctrines. I maintain that one cannot be said to be "Christlike" when propagating a false "gospel". I am somewhat more of a voice crying out in the wilderness on this than usual, cautionary expressions regarding Jorge get the stink-eye among many in my online circles, and I also keep returning to this topic but as I have said many times before, when you have someone that is put forth as a representative of the Christian faith to a world (and more often than not a church) that is theologically illiterate it is irresponsible to not engage the underlying doctrines he champions that are anathema to the Gospel.

Even the most ardent fan of Jorge that has even a smidgen of theological background knows the questionable doctrines I am speaking of. The issue becomes whether those are deal breakers or not. For hundreds of years the answer to that question has been a resounding "yes". In fact even asking that question would be a puzzle for most of church history post-Oct 31, 1517. Many, many Christians were martyred for refusing to compromise on the very issues that contemporary Christians are too open minded and enlightened to be concerned with today. That is many things but progress it ain't.

There is a serious choice to be discussed in the church as it pertains to Jorge Bergoglio. Do we set aside his heretical teachings (Tim Challies does a decent job of presenting some of them in his piece) in favor of embracing him for his public acts of mercy? Or do we stand for the Gospel and give it priority over admittedly humble and humbling acts of mercy towards those outcast by society?

The charge of Christ is clear. He sent out His apostles with the mission of proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples and teaching them to do all He commanded. The order and priority is obvious and critical. Our first calling is the call to repentance. It is a call that needs to be extended even to a public religious rock star like Jorge Bergoglio. Acts of mercy, especially to the poor and the outcast, are a necessary implication of the Gospel but  they are secondary to our primary calling.

It will be unpopular and likely reinforce the stereotypes of the church in public but our stand for the Gospel must take priority. We can certainly applaud Mr. Bergoglio as he washes feet and serves the poor but always without compromising on the damning teachings he represents, teachings embodied even in the public title of "pope" that he embraces. The wolves among the sheep that are obvious aren't much of a danger, we can see them for what they are. The truly dangerous wolves are those that blend in with the sheep, wolves that devour from within wearing a smile and being embraced by their victims. That may sound harsh and jarring to ears attuned to our contemporary enlightened religious sensibilities but we are warned repeatedly to be on watch for those who seek to lead astray the sheep. Church, we have been warned. It is up to us to decide whether we take those warnings seriously.

Friday, April 11, 2014

How Big Is The Tent?

What are the limits of unity?

In my post yesterday I looked briefly at the desire to see some sort of reconciliation between the step-brothers of the Reformation, the so-called Magisterial Reformed embodied in the contemporary Calvinist groups and the Anabaptists represented by two major camps, the traditional Anabaptists and the neo-Anabaptists.

One of the biggest obstacles to this détente is the way each group defines their boundaries. One side defines it far too narrowly and one doesn't seem to define it at all.

Among the neo-Anabaptists that dominate the public conversation (because more traditional Anabaptist groups tend to be extremely insular) there is a dangerous tendency to embrace teachers that espouse radical, unorthodox positions, teachers like Greg Boyd and Rachel Held Evans. I posted this to Facebook the other day...

Like I said, I understand the impulse but I am gravely concerned that replacing rigid dogmatism and traditions with anything goes world pleasing teachers not only opens the door to  the wolves, it provides a host of sheep to devour.

Now the Reformed (outside of efforts like Together For The Gospel and The Gospel Coalition) have the opposite problem, namely that they seem to take great pleasure in ferreting out questionable statements from other Reformed types in order to drum them out of the camp. In this they are closer in behavior to some traditional Anabaptists than they are other evangelicals.

There needs to be balance. We cannot substitute the truth with "anything goes" theology. Likewise we can never claim to hold to the truth while intentionally holding the vast majority of our brethren at arms length.

Not sure where I am going here, but I know we need to both set some reasonable boundaries and tear down others that serve only to isolate. As is often the case the truth is found in the balance.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Reuniting The Step-Brothers Of The Reformation

Last year a writer at the Gospel Coalition wrote a piece on what the Reformed can learn from the Anabaptists, Listening To Our Anabaptist Brethren. I subsequently wrote a follow-up post of my own, What The Anabaptists Can Learn From Their Reformed Brethren, that flips the question around and points out that contemporary Anabaptists have a lot they can learn from their Reformed brethren.

Today David Fitch posted an article on this topic, sort of, “The Gospel Coalition” and Post-Christendom: Will it be a Coalition or an Expedition? 5 Years Later and expresses a desire as I have that the contemporary Reformed and the various contemporary Anabaptist groups be in dialogue with one another. I commented:
“Such statements however encourage me to believe that Neo Reformed and Neo Anabaptist should be in dialogue together to further Christ’s Kingdom”
Absolutely. While I find blind spots and rigid dogmatism in both the neo-Anabaptist and neo-Reformed camps, they both have important things to teach each other. As someone who holds to many distinctives of both groups I truly hope that these estranged step-brothers of the Reformation era are reunited.
That is truly my hope, although one that I am realistic enough to know is a faint one right now. There is still too much territorial ambition among the remnants of Western Christendom on both sides for a true reconciliation. There is still too much suspicion and a lingering distrust that I believe goes all the way back to  the birth of the Reformation and the subsequent rise of Anabaptism.

I am mulling over writing something more formal on this topic (i.e. book length), something with a title like When Westminster Met Schleitheim, Reuniting The Step Brothers Of The Reformation. What I really hope is that these two groups can learn from each other because they tend to complement each other in certain weak areas. As Christendom breaths its last the time may be ripe for a reconciliation.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Book Review: To Date or Not to Date: What the Bible Says about Premarital Relationships

I recently purchased D. Kevin Brown's new short book on dating. As part of the Energion Publications Topical Line Drives series, To Date or Notto Date is a very short work that offers a counter-cultural view of the progression of relationships that all too often involves a lengthy period of dating.

I agree with most of what Kevin has to say. The dating culture infects the church to essentially the same extent it does the world. This is a culture that seeks to delay marriage for as long as possible and serves to create an acceptance of "falling in love" and then breaking up as a normal behavior. We wonder why the "church" has such a problem with divorce and never ask what we are doing to prevent this other than giving kids a pep talk on chastity while thrusting them into a model where intimacy ahead of marriage is almost inevitable and the idea of "breaking up" when things get rough or stale follows them into marriage.

According to Kevin there is a better way. I agree. It is not the job of Christian parents to drive their kids to Youth Group every week and then toss them out into the world to sample as many dating partners as possible before "finding the one" or settling because the biological clock is ticking. Parents should be far more involved in guiding their children through the process of finding a marriage partner than they are in driving kids to sporting events and selecting a college.

There is not really much that is new in To Date or Not to Date. A lot of this ground has been covered by much longer and comprehensive works. To introduce ground-breaking information is not Kevin's intent and not really the purpose of the Topical Line Drives series. This instead serves as a good introduction to a topic that seems incredibly foreign to most religious Americans. It is quite inexpensive as an e-book from Amazon, a mere $.99 and it is a great way to introduce new parents to planning for the inevitable conversations that will happen. 

Adios Firefox

For a number of years now I have used Mozilla Firefox as my exclusive web browser. I despise Internet Explorer for its tendency to freeze and crash and Firefox has consistently been more stable. I have never liked Google Chrome in older iterations because it always seemed to stripped down. In spite of all of that I am done using Firefox. It was announced that Mozilla's new CEO, Brendan Eich, is "stepping down" after a very short tenure. In corporate speak "stepping down" is code for "being forced out". What horrible crime has he committed? Was he an embezzler? A corporate spy? Did he kill someone while driving drunk? None of the above. His crime was a contribution of $1000 made in 2008 to support passage of California's Proposition 8 which affirmed marriage as the exclusive union of one man and one woman, a position that has been the accepted norm for civilization for thousands of years. For this thought crime Brendan Eich is out as CEO of the company he co-founded after a couple of weeks.

What is the message here? According to Mozilla in this painfully ironic passage from their blog....

Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.

Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. We welcome contributions from everyone regardless of age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views. Mozilla supports equality for all.

We have employees with a wide diversity of views. Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public. This is meant to distinguish Mozilla from most organizations and hold us to a higher standard. But this time we failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community.

In our confused world of muddled language that is supposed to be a serious statement regarding a man who co-founded this company and expressed his views in the public square. What it really means is that free speech and expression is limited to a certain set of views. Mr. Eich engaged in expressing a view on a political matter and while I don't know what his motivation was I do absolutely affirm it is protected speech, the sort of free expression enshrined in the very first amendment to the Bill of Rights. Mozilla opted to capitulate to the forces of intolerance that are dangerously close to a form of fascism.

What is going on today is a leftist version of McCarthyism. In another example of delicious irony the bogeyman of the American Left, "Tail-Gunner Joe" McCarthy, is being resurrected by the public tribunals of political correctness. While this is anything but funny you have to chuckle at the reversal. They might as well hold hearings for any potential public figure and ask "Are you now or have you ever been a supporter of traditional marriage?". Even if this came to pass you can be sure that most of the "equality" folks wouldn't even get why it is ironic.

Choosing a web browser is not like choosing other products as they are free. Whether I use Internet Explorer or Firefox or Chrome has no direct impact on my pocketbook. It is entirely a matter of preference and choice and starting now I am making a different choice. This move is driven by the intolerance of an organization that has chosen to run their CEO out of town on a rail in order to appease a small but vocal minority and preserve a perversion of "openness" and "inclusion" while at the same time engaging in the precise opposite behavior.

Let me be clear. I absolutely recognize and affirm the right of Mozilla to hire and fire as they see fit even if many of those calling for Mr. Eich's head do not. I likewise affirm my right as a consumer to use any browser I see fit and to not use a browser for any reason. I am sure that Mozilla doesn't care one way or the other but I do. If engaging in free speech is grounds for being displaced from Mozilla then I have no desire to use their product. So adios Firefox.