Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Institutional Mindset and Gender Roles

There are some conversations that keep coming around and around so I blog about them again and again. Reformed theology used to be one of those but I haven't bothered in a while because it has been hashed over so many times that it just wore me out and the Arminian answers are just so awful. So now I write about things like non-violence which also gets a visceral reaction and of course gender. Today was one of those gender days and as usual the discussion has gone around in circles, circles based on whether we should examine what Scripture says to inform our decisions on application or whether we should look to see what Scripture doesn't say to override what it does. I know that is a loaded and smarmy statement. 

One of the common arguments against the historical and I would say glaringly clear teaching on gender in the Bible is the notion that Paul is addressing an issue in the culture of the day, making concessions or teaching for pragmatic reasons or dealing with some specific problem. The accuracy of this is pretty easy to ascertain by simply reading what Paul wrote. What is Paul's reasoning for his teaching on gender (emphasis mine)?

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Tim 2:12-14)

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
(Eph 5:22-24)

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor 11:3)

For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. (1 Cor 11:7-9)

So we have the creation order. We have the relationship between Christ and the church. We have man as the glory of God but women as the glory of man. An image of male headship that is not incidental or cultural but intentional. God could have created Adam and Eve simultaneously but He did not. He made Adam, declared him incomplete and in need of a helper and created Eve out of Adam. There is a very explicit pattern here that is repeated in 1 Corinthians 11:7-9 and it deals with the order and method of creation.

So what we have to work with is sufficient to inform our interpretation and application but what we don't have is almost as important. No hint of the culture of that day. No suggestion of pragmatic reasoning. Nothing that implies that this is something only for this time and place, having no universal application. I have said this all before but many who find the Biblical teaching on gender odious and embarrassing in our enlightened era simply refuse to accept it.

Here is what is so troubling about this to me. Because we can't get past our institutional religious setting we think that "If you ain't a pastor, you ain't nothing". The only service and leadership in the church that matters is "preaching". Ironically "preaching" as we understand it doesn't even appear in Scripture so we have elevated an extra-biblical practice to a position of overwhelming prominence and in doing so have diminished every other calling in the church and especially diminished the calling of wives and mothers. This is true even among those who, on the surface, reject institutional religion but still can't let go of that need for ecclesiastical recognition.

Being a mother and raising children. Caring for the home. Submitting to a husband who is often an idiot but needs your support anyway. Those are infinitely more important and difficult than preparing and delivering a 45 minute sermon once a week that no one will remember next month anyway. The church should be doing everything in our power to support and encourage our sisters in this noble endeavor. Instead we subtly look down on them and say they are not good enough. You need a career! You must be allowed to "preach"! You must be granted a religious title! Being a mother and wife is hard enough without piling on extra expectations. The simple fact of human beings is that we cannot do it all. We are not made to do it all. There are 24 hours in a day and about a third of them we need to sleep. There are only a limited number of years to bear children. We exist in time and space so if you are in location A doing activity Y you cannot also be in location B doing activity Z. We should encourage wives in what they already have on their plates instead of piling on more. 

Being a mom and wife is stressful enough without making our sisters feel like they are not doing enough. If you care about women, care enough to affirm and support their calling as women and quit trying to make them into something that God never intended regardless of what the culture around us might say.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Just Joe being Joe

I saw this tweet from the Vice-President of the United States yesterday and am reminded yet again why politicians should not be allowed to have Twitter accounts (see: Weiner, Anthony)

Um Mr. Vice-President that sounds lovely and all but what rights do your granddaughters not have that your sons and grandsons have? Voting? Nope got that. Free expression? Got that too. Keeping and bearing arms? Just kidding I know you don't believe in that but they have that right too. Owning property, driving, going to school? Check, check and checkity-check-check. Turns out that women have every actual right in this country that men do so Mr. Vice-President, your noble quest is complete and you can rest easy. Sleep well sir.

Joe Biden. Dick Cheney. Al Gore. Dan Quayle. We have had quite a string of...interesting....Vice-Presidents, all one heartbeat away from the Oval Office. If you think about it for very long you might break out in a cold sweat. I have said it before and I am sayin' it again, I am eternally grateful for a God who is sovereign because humanity is just a mess.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

You don't need a psychological profile to call an elder but you do need to know them

I read this article by Joel Hathaway at the Gospel Coalition this morning and my jaw just dropped: How Pastors Get Hired Today. If I didn't know better I would think it was a joke but it is deadly serious. Just read this paragraph:

Large Churches Tend to Know Better

Large churches are increasingly hiring staff with consideration not merely to a resume or theological statement, but also various technological and human-metric resources. These churches hire consulting firms and make use of the MBTIRightPath, or the DiSC. They check social media, including LinkedIn. They use Behavioral Interviewing questions in both the written and verbal interview steps. They search for candidates via networks, depending largely on recommendations by people they trust.
I have found that these searches produce better results. They largely focus on candidates serving faithfully elsewhere. And their jobs almost never get posted where you can say, “I applied.”
Wow. How did those poor saps in the first century manage to find elders without LinkedIn and psychological profiling? Not to mention the enormous investment of time and money required to find a stranger to hire, knowing that you are likely to lose them in a few years when they move to a bigger church and better compensation package. Well it turns out that if you know the men you are calling and observe their lives, rather than basing your decision on "metrics" and a resume, you tend to actually....well know them. Of course for the early church the calling of elders was not framed in terms of an employer-employee relationship. They were volunteers and self-supporting. That makes an enormous difference because there is an inherent conflict in any relationship when it becomes an employment relationship. There is a reason many companies have pretty strict rules about co-workers dating or the employment of family members. It goes both ways and if the church is anything it is supposed to be a family. When family members start employing other family members they understandably and inevitably start seeing them more as employees and less as brothers.

This essay by Joel makes a common human error. When something is not going right (and judging by the reports of pastoral burnout, turnover and unemployment among clergy, it is going horribly wrong) we tend to try to make what we are doing better rather than asking if we are going about it in the wrong way entirely. The problems with clerical burnout and turnover are not going to be solved by the latest, greatest personnel screening fads from the business world. It might be solved by trying to get away from the professional ministry model and back to a relational peer model we see in Scripture. No matter how sophisticated your methodology or how fancy your technology or how expensive your consultants, you just cannot replace simply knowing one another and calling men based on the character qualities we see in Scripture, qualities you cannot ascertain by looking at a LinkedIn profile.

Check out my post Home Grown Elders for more on why the church should raise up men from within the Body to serve rather than going after hired guns to come in a minister to people they don't know.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Inside or Outside? It makes a difference.

Jesus is love and He loved the unlovable. That is abundantly clear from Scripture, especially the Gospels. The examples of Jesus getting the stink eye because of the company He kept from the defenders of the religious status quo in His day are many. It is hard to imagine the famous celebrity "pastors" of our contemporary religious world hanging out with the equivalent sort of people today.

On the other hand we have a New Testament full of admonitions against sin and error in the church. Some of the language is quite harsh, even jarring to our modern, "enlightened" sensibilities.

So which is it? Is it radical forgiveness and acceptance or careful and unyielding defense against sin and error?


That seems contradictory. How do we reconcile Christ's message of radical forgiveness for even the most heinous sinner with a need to maintain lives of personal holiness inside of the church?

The answer in part depends of where the sin occurs. Rather than just sweeping blanket statements ("Jesus hung out with sinners"), we need to look at the text to see what it actually says and what it doesn't say. In an era when it seems cool and hip to downplay the importance of the Bible in favor of personal experience or the "prompting of the Holy Spirit" which often looks suspiciously like capitulation to the winds of the culture, it is even more critical to turn to the preserved revelation of God because a little Bible knowledge is a dangerous thing. 

First let's look at a well-known example of the radical inclusiveness of Christ.

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mat 9:10-13)

Notice the distinction in the first verse. There are two distinct groups here, "his disciples" and "tax collectors and sinners". Are the sinners who are eating with Him Christians? Are they born-again and part of the infant church? There is nothing to indicate that they are. Many people followed Jesus when it was convenient and left later. Regardless Jesus was welcoming and loving to the unlovely and the sinner.

Now let's look at Paul speaking in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

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 Cor 5:9-13)

You see the immediate and obvious difference in tone and emphasis based on the identification of those in sin as part of the church. The expectations are polar opposites. There is very little wiggle room. We don't expect unregenerate sinners to act like regenerate believers but we also shouldn't expect or "tolerate" people who claim the name of Christ that engage in wanton and unrepentant sin, or those who encourage others to do so, nor those who teach error in the church.

A lot of contemporary Christians recoil at the notion that certain behaviors are out of bounds. It is so contrary to our cultural attitude that the only thing that cannot be tolerated is intolerance. Amid this contemporary attitude there are many Christians who are legitimately wrestling with issues like homosexuality and how affirming or not the church should be about it. Others are gleefully using this issue to knock the foundations out of any sort of behavioral expectations that might put the brakes on acting on any human impulse, no matter how base. Into the fray we have the question of how we should deal with the sin all around us, a question that is doomed to fail unless we rightly recognize the difference between sin in the world and sin in the church.

We can overreach in two directions on this question. One is to be so concerned with holiness and separation from the world that we withdraw from the world like the Amish (which brings its own set of sin and problems, an issue for a different day). We end up standing on the outskirts, wagging our fingers at the unregenerate people acting like unregenerate people that we are supposed to be reaching. This has been the error of many "fundamentalist" groups through the ages. The opposite error is to apply the radical teachings of Jesus and His loving attitude toward unregenerate sinners within the church, excusing and even celebrating sinful behavior out of a misplaced application of "love". While 20 years ago I would have said the greater danger was being exclusionary, today the opposite is true.

To those outside of the church we should be models of loving, preaching the good news, the best news, of Jesus Christ who can redeem us from our sins. We should be the most loving people around to those who are as we once were. Inside of the church that same love demands that we have no tolerance for wanton sin and that we refuse to turn a blind eye to it, both for the sake of our brothers and sisters involved as well as for those who watch the church and wonder why we seem so confused about sin. This really is not a difficult concept when we learn to read the Bible rather than reading a collection of verses in a vacuum but it is a critically important one.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Thoughts on Ferguson

Things are way out of hand in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting death by police of an unarmed young black man, Michael Brown. Last night the governor called out the National Guard because thus far escalating the presence of armed troops has done wonders for keeping the peace. Everyone else is posting
Scenes from a militarized America
their thoughts about it so why not me? Warning, this is not going to be a politically correct post which I am sure will be shocking.    

Trying to unravel this situation and look beyond the limited facts we have about this case is difficult because this is a scenario that has more than a century of history impacting it. I am going to be wandering far and wide but I hope the whole thing makes sense.

What is muddling the issue is the usual political posturing by the polar twins of politics in America. A lot of "conservatives" are pointing to the apparent robbery of a convenience store by Michael Brown and the reported presence of marijuana in his system as if that justifies the police allegedly shooting an unarmed man. It does not. Petty theft is not a crime that is punishable by summary execution as far as I know. The protests and rioting that follow are not about one young man getting shot by the police. They are, in part, speaking to a larger set of issues. More on that later. Of course there are many who are simply opportunistic thugs, just like people who used the Rodney King verdict to steal or hurt others for their own amusement. That is not the point. The point is much larger than some bad apples who are taking advantage of the situation. It is disturbing that many "conservatives" are grasping at any straw to excuse the shooting of an admittedly unarmed young man.

Many on the left are using this to complain about income inequality as if taking even more money away from some people and giving it to other people will somehow magically start to heal racial division and distrust even though a half century of trying that has just made things worse. Newsflash, the "war on poverty" is much like the "war on terror" in that it has made the problem it purported to be fixing in reality immeasurably worse. Decades of mismanaging our largest cities and wrecking them in the process has disqualified the American Left from having a legitimate seat at the table of governance, relegating them to the political version of the kiddie table.

Some thoughts on poverty

There is no question that there is a close relationship between poverty and crime in our country. If one were to map out where the highest crime rates exist and then overlay a map of where the deepest poverty resides it is certain that they two would be nearly identical. Given the rate of poverty and unemployment among blacks, and especially young black men, crime is an ever-present reality in their communities which corresponds to unbelievable rates of incarceration and an often antagonistic relationship between blacks and the police, an antagonism that goes both ways. Some see this relationship and see causation, posing the naive "solution" that says get rid of poverty and you get rid of crime. To channel Lee Corso, not so fast my friend.

Poverty is not a driver of crime in isolation. Lots of people grew up poor. My dad grew up in a tiny house with a bunch of brothers and sisters and they were poor. He became a doctor, another uncle an engineer, another a very successful welder. They were not given government college grants or Federally subsidized student loans. They worked, they served in the military, they made their own way in a world that was far less of a hand-holding society than the one we live in, a society where opportunity is irrelevant, effort is downgraded and outcome is all that matters.  So what has changed in the intervening decades that poverty is seemingly inextricably linked to crime? Simply put the entitlement mentality.

Poverty + entitlement = crime

Lest anyone accuse me of racism here let me put this in bold and all caps:


I am sure that will not placate some people. Turns out that I don't care. Far too many people firmly believe that they are entitled to a lot of stuff that they really aren't. Recall the reaction last November when the food stamp cards had a major glitch that allowed people to spend unlimited amounts and people knowing full well that they were spending more than they were allotted decided to clean out stores including one recipient that had already spent her monthly allotment, leaving her with a balance of $.59 who tried to buy $700 worth of groceries. Riots like the ones we are seeing are crimes, no matter the motivation or "justification". They are crimes driven by entitlement, driven by covetousness, driven by a popular culture that glorifies crime. I see something someone else has, I want it and I am entitled to take it. When I am told I deserve anything and everything and that anyone who has more than me is somehow fair game for my greed, it is little wonder criminal acts follow. One political party in America has been cultivating this attitude by engaging in legalized theft from some Americans used to bribe other Americans for their votes for decades. It is the only way they win elections other than pandering to those who cherish the murder of the unborn. It should come as no surprise to see this spill over into everyday life even when engaging in criminal acts like rioting and the senseless slaughter of young black men by other young black men does nothing but deepen the poverty they are already in.

Some thoughts on race

I am not black. I have no idea what it is like to be black. That is self-evident to anyone who has met me but it bears repeating because of the raw wound of racial division in America and make no mistake that the issue of racial division impacts people of all races. It is not, as it is often portrayed, a one way street. Regardless I never think about a cop shooting my adult or teen sons or arresting them. It isn't even a thought. Cops just don't harass and certainly don't shoot middle-class white kids. However that is a very real concern, and a legitimate one, for the parents of black children, especially teen and young adult men.

I grew up in a overwhelmingly white environment. Black people lived somewhere else. It was a terribly, tragically, racially insensitive environment. The word "nigger" was used freely (and I refuse to use the ludicrous "n-word" to replace the word "nigger", we all know what we are talking about and pretending we don't is ridiculous.) and unapologetically. Most of the kids I grew up with didn't know anyone that was black other than a handful of kids in our school. I still struggle to this day with the pervasive racism of my childhood peers, a racism that I was a party to and a participant in. That admission might cost me a nationally televised cooking show later in life but there it is.

There is a subtle inculcation of fear among the races. A lifetime of news reports where it seems like every violent crime story includes a picture of young black men takes its toll. A pop culture that glorified but also warned against the culture of gang violence also contributed to this. I grew up when movies like Colors and Boyz in the Hood were hugely popular among white youth, as was popularized rap music from NWA and others. The cultural message: young black men, especially in groups, are dangerous. I admit freely that in public a group of 4-5 young white men is nothing I take note of unless they are wearing something stupid, which they inevitably are. A group of 4-5 young black men? Something to avoid. I would imagine that is true for an awful lot of people who look like me whether they would admit it or not. It is not healthy and it certainly is not a Kingdom focused outlook but a lifetime of having a particular message pounded into your head is hard to shake.

Race is a real, visceral issue for America, one compounded by the division between races in terms of income and crime. Most white Americans that I know think of crime as something that happens in the city. Most white Americans I know are firmly in the middle-class. At least when I was growing up America was still the land of opportunity. For black Americans I think that the experience is radically different. It is not an exaggeration to say that the two races in question live in essentially different countries. The Trayvon Martin verdict was a prime example. Most white Americans I know, myself included, saw the shooting as a tragic and unfortunate example of self-defense by George Zimmerman. I am not at all optimistic that we are anywhere closer to racial healing and reconciliation today than we have ever been and that presents enormous challenges for our society and especially for the church. Just going to our own church with "our people" on Sunday is not getting it done.

Some thoughts on militarization and fear

"Police Militarization" is a hot-button term. Thanks to the tireless work of mostly libertarian writers like Radley Balko and more left-wing groups like the ACLU, coupled with a growing unease about the level of government intrusion into our private affairs, an increasing percentage of the population is rightly concerned with the discovery that our local cops, including police departments in relatively small municipalities have come into possession of military grade gear like mine resistant armored vehicles (to protect against roadside bombs in rural Michigan apparently) and grenade launchers.

This fear is not irrational. Quite the opposite to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the history of the founding of America, a familiarity that you won't get in our public school system. Functionally and practically we are creating a standing army in our midst. With Federal spending to buy military gear then being transferred free of charge to local civilian police departments we are seeing a clever end around to avoid the Posse Comitatus act. Some $4 billion worth of military gear intended for use by the U.S. military to combat enemies of the United States is now in the hands of local police departments. Makes one wonder if the citizenry of America is now considered to be an enemy of the United States?

Even still many Americans, especially those who perceive that they have a lot to lose to faceless thugs (i.e. mostly white suburban middle-class Americans) in contrast to those who generally see the police as oppressors, are completely willing to let the police be armed like a military occupying force and to have the NSA spying on us because they believe that will keep us "safe". Safe from Muslim terrorists, from illegal immigrant, from violent minorities, from pot smoking hippies, from commies, from whoever is the threat du jour. As long as their is an "other" that is seen as a threat, many of us are willing to trade liberty (because we don't think it is threatened or particularly valuable) for security. That tide is turning, although all too slowly, but it is quite possible that it is too late. As long as we let the authoritarian forces use fear of others to control us, we will turn a blind eye to the real threat that is right in our home town.

Having an "other" is critical

Without an other to fear, people ask questions. Questions are inconvenient. Questions impede the march of progress. Stop asking questions because that terrorist/communist/black kid/dope smoking hippie over there is trying to take away what you've got. When you have the "other" for people to fear you can paint any who asks questions as being allied with the "other". Question the militarization of the police? You are pro-criminal. Question the "war on terror"? You are aiding the enemy. As President Bush helpfully painted it in stark either-or terms, you are either with us (and support our policies without question) or you are against us (and therefore an enemy). The "other", perhaps shadowy, perhaps real, perhaps a useful pawn, is how the state keeps people in line and in subjection. If anyone really thinks that armed personnel carriers and grenade launchers are necessary to community policing, I have a news flash for you. They aren't. No, I am not a cop but I know a little bit about the world we live in. Cops are not engaged in regular gun battles with thugs wielding military weapons. The one example from L.A. was a) in one of the very largest cities in the world and b) many, many years ago. In other words, stockpiling military weapons by a civilian law enforcement agency "just in case" is a potential threat far beyond the possibility of a pitched gun battle that requires gear more suited to the battlefields of Iraq (where we shouldn't be anyway) than they are to the streets of Fort Wayne. That is not being "anti-cop", one of my good friends is a cop and we talk about this all the time. I just think that having a pervasive armed force beholden to the government in our midst is a dangerous precedent.

So why isn't anyone trying to solve this?

Who benefits from this state of fear and conflict? It is not the average white person that lives in fear of the growing minority population in America. It certainly is not the minority community that has suffered under crippling policies designed to keep them essentially enslaved. The powers that be in our country benefit from a state of fear that drives spending which grants power. Keeping America in fear while encroaching on American liberty helps those who are already powerful stay powerful. That is not a conspiracy theory, it is just common sense and simple observation. There are those who intentionally keep Americans at odds, who pander to the fear of average citizens, who design systems that keep people as chattel by incentivizing poverty and dependency and in turn bribe those chattel, not with economic freedom or opportunity but with the wages earned by others.

So back to Ferguson, Missouri and Michael Brown. What is on display is portrayed by much of the media as an isolated incident but there simply is too much unofficial and frankly subversive reporting going on to make that notion stick. We are seeing the boiling over of decades of anger compounded by an increasing sense of distrust and aggression by the state toward the citizenry. I think this is just the beginning. I also would be very surprised if some new "crisis" wasn't suddenly ginned up by the state to distract people from what is going on. Pay attention people. Things are only going to get worse.

Monday, August 11, 2014

One sentence says it all

Tim Challies weighed in, as I knew he had to as one of the most widely read bloggers around, especially in the "Young, Restless, Reformed" or "New Calvinist" circles, on the firestorm around Mark Driscoll. At the outset let me say that I have never been a big fan of Driscoll. Even though he has largely been on the money on issues of theology his manner always struck me as a school kid trying too hard to get the cool kids to like him. I know a lot of others really admire him and I think secretly like his pseudo-tough guy machismo talk about cage fighting and stuff but not me. Anyway Tim put up a post (and probably wisely made a bogus excuse as to why comments were closed) titled Character Is King. His point is that in the New Testament what we see emphasized in calling elders is character rather than education or success. What grabbed my attention though, and why I think this public disaster was inevitable, is captured in one sentence (emphasis mine):

both he and his church have been removed from Acts 29, the church-planting network he helped establish.

That is the problem right there. Mars Hill, The Resurgence, etc. were all about Mark Driscoll. It is a common problem in the church and it is a cancer. Many pastors refer to the church they serve as "my church". Local churches pastored by well known pastors are known as "so and so's church". Most churches put the name of the pastor on the church sign. It is especially pronounced in "reformed" churches and ministries. Grace to You is all about John MacArthur, Desiring God is all about John Piper, 9 Marks is all about Mark Dever and Lignoier is all about R.C. Sproul.

Of course not every one of these ministries ends up like Mars Hill seems to be going. Combining the man exalting nature of our religious culture with a personality that craves it was a combustible mix. However the culture itself that makes ministries an extension of the personality of one man is a dangerous one, dangerous for the men involved and their families and dangerous for the church when the inevitable fall comes.

If your church or ministry is about a man, it cannot be about Jesus no matter how much you say it is or how proper your theology. We need a lot more people who make much of Jesus and lot fewer man-centered "ministries" that collect money from the church to provide a platform for one man and his personality.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Living By The Sword

Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

- Matthew 26:52

With these words Jesus rebukes Peter for striking the servant of the high priest with his sword. Peter meant well. He lashed out with his sword to defend Jesus even though doing so against a "great crowd with swords and clubs" was a suicidal move. His heart was in the right place. It turns out that history is replete with what seemed like well intentioned decisions that ended up going horribly wrong. The church in America has an internet front row seat to a prime example right now.

Unfortunately this teaching of Christ is not restricted to just those who draw the sword or that particular event. Whenever violence is employed on a wide scale, innocents suffer. Millions died in the World Wars, many millions of them civilians. Mothers incinerated with their children, the elderly dead under the rubble of bombings. We even have a nice clinical name for it, "collateral damage". There simply is no way to wage war on a large scale without innocents suffering, even when that suffering is unintentional.

The news coming from Iraq is ugly and for Christians is especially heart-breaking. The once small but relatively secure population of Christians in Iraq is on the verge of extinction, as is the case all around the Middle East. Forced conversions, torture, rape, murder and the defilement of bodies are all happening right now to our brothers and sisters. Many of us sit in our homes in America aghast that this could be happening in 2014 and we are filled with a combination of impotent anger and horror at what we see, knowing that there is little we can do other than pray (and prayer is no small thing). What reminded me of  "live by the sword, die by the sword" is the very real part that American Christians unwittingly played in setting the stage for this atrocity that is happening to our family in Iraq.

It is hard to remember the Middle East as it was before 9/11/01. For the last dozen plus years we have known nothing but war. When September 11th happened, America as a whole was looking for vengeance. Someone to hold responsible and someone to make pay. To be honest I am not sure we much cared who that was. Like President Bush said, if you aren't with us you are against us. Given a general lack of "hard targets" America invaded and eventually occupied Afghanistan, home of the Taliban. Concurrently a case was made, leaning heavily on alleged weapons of mass destruction, to invade Iraq and finish the job we left unfinished under the first President Bush. As anyone could predict, American forces steamrolled the Iraqi military and we set up shop with dual occupations for the next decade, a decade that was drenched in blood, both American and Iraqi.

Fast forward to more recent years. In 2011 the so-called "Arab Spring" kicked off across the region. Formerly stable regimes in Egypt and Libya collapse. America is interfering a little here and a little there. Syria is embroiled in a civil war that still rages. Iraq is destabilized and with the withdrawal of American forces there is nothing to stop the ISIS other than the ragtag efforts of Iraq's military. Religious minorities are persecuted, notably for us many Christians who face unspeakable atrocities.

In a tragic irony, the collapse of Iraq and the ensuing conditions that allowed the ISIS to seize huge areas of Iraq and persecute Christians were a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq that deposed Saddam Hussein (a dictator that largely tolerated Christians) in an unprovoked assault of a sovereign nation that was widely supported by American evangelicals. While I disagree with him on a lot of issues, I think Jonathan Merritt is largely on target in his piece, Blame Obama and U.S. evangelicals for the persecution of Iraqi Christians. Without the widespread and largely unquestioning support by American evangelicals of a preemptive invasion of Iraq, it is possible that America would not have gone down that road. I know of what I speak because I was pretty vocal about my support of the decision by President Bush to invade and occupy Iraq. In other words, in our thirst for vengeance over 9/11 and our ungodly fear of terrorism, Christians supported a decidedly unjust war that set the stage for unimaginable persecution of our brothers and sisters. Of course the sins being gleefully committed by the ISIS and other satanic groups in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere are on their own heads. Should God not grant them repentance and a regenerate heart they will perish to face a holy justice that will last for an eternity. That doesn't absolve American evangelicals for their role in helping to create the conditions that ISIS is thriving in. This is just another example of Christians being manipulated by the powers of the world into supporting their machinations and yielding unintended consequences, just as the church was manipulated into supporting World War I which led to Hitler and Stalin and the persecution of Christians as well as Jews and others.

Some may say and not without justification, that this is not the time for theological point scoring, not while our brothers and sisters are being tortured, raped and brutally murdered. I say that with all due respect, and I am as deeply grieved as anyone, this is precisely the time to have this conversation. We are seeing the unintentional fruit of a misguided and unbiblical war of aggression enthusiastically supported by the church. In an era when memories are short and attention spans are measured in 144 characters, we need to open our eyes now, not just to the tragic events we see playing out on social media but also to the events that have led to this situation because we will forget all about it once the news is replaced by something else.

We must stop turning to Caesar to advance our own agendas because it always turns out badly for the church when we yoke ourselves to the godless power of the state. We need to repent in sackcloth and ashes and beg forgiveness from our brothers and sisters in Iraq. I especially need to do this because I was driven by the fear of man to support a war that endangered my family in Iraq and elsewhere. We need to vow to stop letting Caesar manipulate our fear or greed or selfishness to support his wars with our witness, our treasure and our children. How many Christians have sent their children to be sacrificed on the altar of Baal to appease Caesar and accomplish his goals? I say no more. No more wars for gold or pride or power. No more of our children sent to die and to kill for Caesar. No more endangering our brothers and sisters in other lands to preserve our ungodly lifestyles in America. No more living by the sword and being surprised when we perish by the sword.

No more.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Animal Farm and the Doctrine of Vocation

Two seemingly unrelated events crossed my mind the last week. One had to do with a discussion of the doctrine of vocation in the church. If you are unfamiliar with this idea it actually goes back quite a ways and is probably best championed by Gene Veith.  He writes:

The word "calling," or in its Latinate form "vocation," had long been used in reference to the sacred ministry and the religious orders. Martin Luther was the first to use "vocation" to refer also to secular offices and occupations. Today, the term has become common-place, another synonym for a profession or job, as in "vocational training." But behind the term is the notion that every legitimate kind of work or social function is a distinct "calling" from God, requiring unique God-given gifts, skills, and talents. Moreover, the Reformation doctrine of vocation teaches that God himself is active in everyday human labor, family responsibilities, and social interactions.

That seems to make sense, right? Stay with me. The other event was that I sat down and read Animal Farm, a book I have been meaning to read for some time, having never been required to read it in school. As an aside, the list of classics I haven't read in spite of a college prep background in high school and a liberal arts B.A. is amazing. I am kind of glad because now I can read them and probably get more out of them but still it is little wonder we have such ignorance in this country. Anyway. The point being that all vocations have value in the eyes of God.

So what does Animal Farm have to do with the doctrine of vocation? Animal Farm is a biting satirical tale of a farm taken over by animals with the Soviet era promise of equality and shared prosperity. As the years go by it becomes apparent that in spite of the empty rhetoric some of the animals are working really hard and others (the pigs mainly) are living off their labor as the intellectual leaders of the farm. They are kept in line by slogans that seem to indicate that they are invaluable to the farm but it is obvious that they are being used by the pigs. The original commandments of Animal Farm are abandoned and replaced with one commandment.


Orwell, George (2009-07-01). Animal Farm: A Fairy Story (p. 118). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

This is where the connection clicked for me. All animals are equal but some are more equal than others. All vocations are equal but one is more equal than others.

In spite of  the claims of the doctrine of vocation that all vocations are equally valuable in the Kingdom, the uncomfortable reality is that one vocation expects all of the rest of the vocations to work to earn a paycheck to in turn support them. It is pretty hard to say that God values the work of plumbers and cashiers as much as the vocational pastor when the pastor pays his bills with the wages earned by the rest of the church. In fact it sounds rather like a self-serving doctrine when you get down to it. The church needs members to be content to show up day after day at their job to earn a check that they can give part of to the church so that the church can keep paying her bills, most especially the salary of the pastor. While Joe is swinging a hammer all day and Steve is answering the phone in an office, Mike is sitting in his office preparing a sermon, relying on the others to bring home a paycheck so that he can get a paycheck. Little wonder sermons on giving are so awkward. I think more and more Christians are questioning this whole system and wondering why they are busting their humps all week to pay someone else who is perfectly capable of getting a job.

All vocations are equal but some are more equal than others.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Some Linkage

Some stuff I have been reading and pondering the last week or so....

As the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, it is instructive to remember that religious freedom being under assault in America didn't start with Obamacare. This is a great time to remember Joseph and Michael Hofer, two Hutterites imprisoned, tortured and eventually martyred for refusing to be soldiers. Two other Hutterites, a third Hofer brother named David and Jacob Wipf were also mistreated and tortured but survived their imprisonment despite treatment that sounds like something done by a medieval inquisitor rather than American servicemen. You can read their story here: The Martyrs of Alcatraz and recall that misguided nationalism has cost many innocents their lives in America.

The "pope" has been vocal in calling for a "poor church" but the vestiges of wealth and privilege are hard to overcome. CNN, no friend of religion (or at least not of religion that takes religion seriously) ran a story on The lavish homes of American archbishops. In contrast to the often very humble living quarters of mere parish "priests", many "archbishops" live in lavish homes valued at over $1 million and with amenities like hot tubs and wet bars. It must be an increasingly tough sell to get parishioners to donate their hard earned money to pay for sexual abuse lawsuits and lavish homes for clergy. Of course Protestants have plenty of the same silliness in their own ranks to be sure.

I had some conversations on Facebook regarding the proper role of Christians, the church and the state. I am contintually amazed at the unwitting acceptance of Constantinian Christendom by so many believers when everything about it is anathema to the church. I went back to an oldie but a goodie from Dave Black, The Anabaptists and State Religion. It is worth your while to read to get a flavor for how Constantine changed the church for the worse and how the Anabaptists modeled a different way that we can learn a lot from in a post-Christendom environment. I disagree with his conclusion about the appropriateness of Christians engaged in lethal violence on behalf of the state but otherwise the essay is quite good.

The Atlantic takes a look at the shifting environment for paid pastors, Higher Calling, Lower Wages: The Vanishing of the Middle-Class Clergy. As the religious culture changes at breakneck speed, more and more clergy are taking on "secular" employment to make ends meet. Being bi-vocational is nothing new but it always seemed like a stepping stone until a pastor could find full-time employment. Now we are seeing this shift the other way as fewer churches can afford to pay a man enough to support his family. I don't think this is a bad thing, it seems to be far more healthy to have elders in the church, no matter their title, out in the world working for a living just like the rest of the church rather than being cloistered in their office expecting the congregation to earn money to support him.

Timothy Paul Jones penned an interesting article that proposes a new name for those who subscribe to the so-called Five Points of Calvinism and yet do not belong to a historical Reformed tradition and reject some of the secondary issues that are commonly associated with Reformed theology. As I fall into that camp I was interested to read his piece Naming The New Calvinism. He comes up with the name "Neo-Dortianism" which I think makes some sense. Now the last thing we need in the church are more dividing labels but I appreciated his thought process.

More recent news has the IRS agreeing to monitor some sermon content from 99 suspect churches. I guess this is not unexpected but it still has ominous undertones not just for religious liberty but for liberty in America in general. Check out The IRS's God Complex.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

You say you want a revolution....

Each July 4th I repost my essay Happy Violation of Romans 13 Day! The point of my essay is that in spite of the rhetoric about the "Christian founding" of America, the very revolution itself was an ungodly act of rebellion against the lawful authority of England and by proxy an act of rebellion against God. I have been encouraged by a lot of the comments I get back on this post, some in agreement and others not. I have also seen an increase in the number of others who are making similar points (See Chuck McKnight's post What Did Jesus Think of the Revolution?). As should be expected this has led to some push-back as it contradicts one of the sacred tenets of the American pseudo-Christian cultural religion, namely that America from her very founding was uniquely blessed by God. The latest that came across my desk was linked by a good friend, an essay written by Rod Martin for WORLD magazine Was the American Revolution Sinful? As one would expect from an essay in WORLD the answer of course is no. I read through the essay and posted some thoughts in response to my friend, below are my comments to him:


You will be shocked to find that I found his argument unpersuasive. His argument is based on three points, two brief points that misapply or fail to apply at all the Scriptures and a third lengthy post that deals mostly with irrelevant minutiae of English law.

Point 1 has nothing to do with the American revolution. Paying taxes is not an unlawful order.

Point 2 deals with national Israel under the Old Covenant and is irrelevant. America is not Israel and George Washington is not King David.

Point 3 presumes an out clause in Romans 13 that basically says that whenever we think the government is doing a bad job we should rebel violently against it. Under that logic we would have been justified and/or obligated to violently rebel against the current American system at any number of places in our history including our invasion of Iraq.

He does point out the glaring flaw in his own argument with the common tactic of recognizing the counter-argument to your own by downplaying and dismissing it:

"Your friends will at this point say something about Rome, and note that Paul was speaking to people under a far worse regime when under the Spirit’s inspiration he wrote Romans 13. They will be right, so far as that goes. But these are apples and oranges. Again, I will leave a proper discussion of Roman citizenship, and of Roman rule in Israel, for another day, but Scripture must interpret Scripture, and Romans 13 is only applicable to lawful commands no matter what position you take (see item 1 above)."

Which is fine and dandy except that it depends on his first point which has nothing to do with the American revolution. The unlawful orders clause would only apply when rendering something to Caesar that rightly belongs to God, i.e. aborting a child or worshipping a false god. Conversely Jesus disarmed the question about paying taxes to a tyrannical reign by pointing out that the very currency being collected for taxes was Caesar's and even though it was being used for the most ungodly of purposes (including the crucifixion of Christ). As distasteful and onerous as the situation was for colonial subject of England prior to the Revolution, it pales in comparison to the situation in Rome for Christians. This is the great flaw in his argument and explains why he tries to disarm it. If ever Christians were permitted and indeed obligated (as he suggests with his statement that "To support the king was to reject right and support sin, period.") to violently oppose and overthrow unjust rulers, one might wonder why Jesus never called on His followers to revolt against the Roman rule, a rule instituted on the people of that region by conquest rather than a rule of people who accepted that they were English subjects of the King. If ever there was a time for Christians to be called on to rebel against an unjust ruler, it was in the first century against Rome. Yet they were not.

His essay is eloquent and chock full of fun 18th century legal trivia but it relies on obsolete and inapplicable Old Covenant examples, unspoken clauses in Romans 13 and an utter suspension of historical context in spite of his attempts to the contrary. The American revolution might be considered a good and proper event from a secular standpoint and one can easily argue that America has been a greater force for good than it would have been had it stayed a British colony (although, for example, slavery might have been outlawed in America sooner ,without a bloody civil war and the subsequent racial tension that still plagues us had we remained English subjects). However a violent uprising against ruler far more lawful than Caesar cannot be considered to be a sinless act nor one pleasing to God as it directly violates Scripture in multiple places.