Friday, January 30, 2015

Has Anything Changed Much In Seventy Years?

This week marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the infamous concentration camp known as Auschwitz. This drone video from the BBC flies over the remains of a man-made nightmare where over 1 million people were systematically murdered....

 The cold calculation, the careful planning, the macabre farcical sign "Arbeit macht frei" (work will make you free) promising freedom for those who worked hard placed by men who knew that no one was intended to get out alive. This all speaks to murder not only peculiar for scale but also for the amount of care and planning that went into it. Human beings butchered systematically like an assembly line with the extermination of an entire people as the goal. Others like Stalin perhaps killed more in total but the insane genius that was on display here is unparalleled in human history.

Humanity was given an unmistakable message as the camps were discovered and liberated. We had gone down a very dark road. Nations that were once some of the brightest cultural lights in the world had turned their knack for efficiency into a perverse proficiency in killing men, women and children. The shock and horror remains today although it is also clear that in spite of the regular reminders, fewer and fewer remember what happened in these camps in what seems to have happened so long ago. Fewer yet seem to care.

What about today? Surely we are better than what is on display from this drone camera, the shame of Germany on display in a silent, cold reminder?

In the developing world the news is regularly filled with stories of modern atrocities. Men still kill men and many more innocents as well over land, over money, over religion, over ethnicity, over pride or seemingly over nothing at all.

In the enlightened nations of the West today we prefer our slaughter of undesirables to be a little more clinical, more neat and tidy. We still dehumanize the inconvenient to make it easier to murder them, preferring now to turn humans into philosophical abstractions and clinically inoffensive terms.

Have we changed? Have we learned? The evidence would seem to indicate we have not. That we can be bludgeoned with evidence of the depravity of man and the hopelessness of self-improvement is some of the most compelling evidence of the need of every single human being for Christ Jesus. Trying to make men act less like beasts by means of force has proven futile and counter-productive. Trying to make men be something other than horribly cruel by thinking positive thoughts and putting bumper stickers on our cars has likewise been shown to be naive and ineffective.

The response to Auschwitz is preaching the Gospel. The response to Stalin is preaching the Gospel. The response to false prophets sending men on Crusades is preaching the Gospel. The response to Al Qaeda and ISIS and 9/11 is preaching the Gospel. The response to the slaughter of innocents in abortion clinics is preaching the Gospel. The response to racism, to police brutality, to young men killing one another over "disrespect" is preaching the Gospel.

It is foolish to be sure but the hope of fools in the cross of Christ is the only hope for the world.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Punishing Thought Crimes, Coming To A Town Near You

Imagine this news story:

Authorities in Nashville yesterday arrested a 19 year old Christian missionary they say was on his way to Guatemala to join a hate group. Police say they had been monitoring the suspect for months as a result of his affiliation with a domestic group accused of promoting intolerant ideas including claiming that homosexuality is "sinful". When authorities monitoring his financial transactions noticed a series of large deposits and the purchase of airline tickets to Guatemala they arrested him at his home. Prosecutors are recommending that the suspect be placed under house arrest and required to attend counseling to determine why he adopted a radicalized religious outlook. 

Sound far-fetched? It really isn't. I was listening to NPR this morning and they had a story about a young man of Somali background who was arrested for allegedly planning on travelling to Syria to join ISIS. What is critical to note is that this guy had committed no crimes as of yet as far as I can tell. A judge has ruled that he be put under house arrest and forced to submit to "counseling" to figure out why he radicalized. Authorities had apparently been monitoring him and saw a $1500 deposit to his bank account. What he seems to have been arrested for was "radicalization" and a desire to join a foreign power that is on the wrong side of a localized war.

Well yeah but ISIS are the bad guys, they are beheading people and committing all sorts of atrocities. Everyone knows the difference between ISIS and Christian missionaries!

Do they? Don't be so sure. Many, many people, and more each year, see essentially no difference between ISIS and any sort of "fundamentalist Christianity", where "fundamentalist" is defined as "believing anything that makes me uncomfortable". In fact I would suggest that many people in America see "fundamentalist Christians" as a far greater threat than ISIS.

What is alarming about this story is that I can imagine a lot of conservative, law-and-order, flag-waving patriot Christians are glad we arrested this guy before he could join a terrorist organization. They would be missing the perilous slippery slope here. The same government that can arrest someone, who happens to be Muslim presumably, before he has committed any crimes and sentencing him to "counseling" which sounds a lot like "de-programming" can do the exact same thing to a Jew or a mormon or a Christian. Pre-emptive arrests. Monitoring of citizens not accused of any crimes. Declaring certain religious beliefs to be dangerous and certain levels of religious affiliation to be off-limits. It is not a terribly long stroll from the real life story of a Somali heading to Syria to join ISIS and my scenario of a Christian missionary travelling to Guatemala.

We need to be very careful with how much we trust Caesar to police thought because it could be our thoughts that he decides are dangerous next.

The Distortion Of Dominance And Prosperity

Watch this from John Piper. I mean like watch it now.

To the Church in America Today from Desiring God on Vimeo.

That is some good stuff. I mean some really good stuff. I love how we describes how dominance and prosperity in America has distorted the church and how we understand not just the church but our very understanding of the Gospel.

Some keys things he said:

- The idea of Christianity in America implying a sense of "At home-ness in the world"

That is so true and also why the collapse of civic religion is so frightening and devastating to so many. Christianity, or at least what we call Christianity, in America is the opposite of what we see in Scripture and in history in virtually every way. Rather than calling us to come out from the world, our version of Christianity promises that you will be more at home, more successful if you become a Christian.

- The call to Christianity is the call to be a respected citizens in the community.

When the Anabaptists preached the unadulterated Gospel they did so to an audience that knew that following Jesus in that way was going to get them killed. People left behind Christendom in favor of Christ anyway. Not a lot but enough and this has never been a numbers game anyway. We can preach the Gospel as it should be preached and they will still come. Even if they don't it doesn't matter, it is better to be seen as unsuccessful by the world but faithful by God than to be successful in the eyes of the world by watering down what God has declared.

- “I don’t want to be a comfort-seeking, entertainment-addicted, security-craving, approval-desiring Christian.”

Yet that is precisely what American Christianity is all about. Our message is so inoffensive, so based on being moral people and meeting your felt needs that it has no danger, no cross bearing at all.

Piper nails it in this video. Hopefully he will keep walking down that road and looking at ways that Desiring God and Bethlehem Baptist are, in some ways, more reflective of American Christianity than Biblical Christianity than he might realize.

Book Review: The Legacy of Michael Sattler

I recently finished John Howard Yoder's compilation The Legacy of Michael Sattler. Yoder compiles all of the known documents attributed to the Anabaptist martyr Michael Sattler, one of the most prominent thinkers and leaders of early Anabaptism, especially the Swiss Anabaptist movement. Sattler is someone I have written about before and as one of the lead authors of the Schleitheim Confession he can be arguably labelled the most well-known Anabaptist theologian.

Yoder includes in his work a number of letters and formal writings attributed to Sattler, accounts of his trial and execution, letters written by him from prison and on his behalf from others, notably the Reformer Wolfgang Capito. Also included are two hymns thought to have been written by Sattler that are still in use today by the Amish in their Ausbund, or German hymnbook. Some of my Amish friends recognized his name from the book when I was reading it and confirmed the use of those hymns. Also included is a rather difficult to interpret set of scriptural references seeking to refute infant baptism.

For the student of historic Anabaptism this is an invaluable addition of primary documents, which stands in contrast to the more typical "survey" books like Verduin's The Reformers and their Stepchildren. We get the chance to look at these early writings and see the nascent theology of those who rejected Roman doctrine and many Lutheran/Reformed adaptations alike. Some of the writings exhibit a fairly primitive attempt on a topic but Sattler, like so many others, didn't live long enough to work out his theological positions in great detail. Still The Legacy of Michael Sattler is like a brief step back into history and one I found to be fascinating and encouraging, even though it is overshadowed in places by the gruesome, anti-Christian murder of Sattler.

As an aside, the more I read of the historic Anabaptists the more it seems to me that contemporary "Anabaptists" don't look, think or act much like them on either side of the spectrum. While I feel far more affinity toward the "conservative" contemporary Anabaptists, their insistence on external uniformity and lack of evangelistic zeal indicate that they turned inward and never turned back somewhere along the line. The contemporary "progressive Anabaptist" movement shares a desire for peacemaking with the historic Anabaptists and that is about it, having co-opted the name as a groovy sounding name to dress up run of the mill progressive theology. I think a lot of this stems from general ignorance and indifference to what the men and women who first carried the name Anabaptists thought, taught and did. I think conservative Anabaptists would rediscover the zeal for evangelism that marked their forefathers and perhaps progressive Anabaptists would realize that you can be a peacemaker without embracing every leftist political idea and aberrant theology that comes along.

If you are interested in the Anabaptists and have read over some of the popular level surveys of Anabapist history, The Legacy of Michael Sattler is a great way to get deeper and meet from afar some of our brothers and sisters who paid with their life in order to serve our Lord.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Not a member? No ministering for you!

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another the members of your church." (John 13:35 SRV, Seminary Revised Version)

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith by which I mean members of your church because Christians who aren't members are not your problem. (Galatians 6:10 SRV)

I often harbor concerns that my blogging can be interpreted as being "anti-pastor" when it really is not intended that way. I am absolutely anti-clericalism, anti-professionalization and anti-hierarchy. Quite the opposite of being "anti-pastor", many of the most godly brothers I know are pastors (but many more are not) and I think we need a lot more shepherding and pastoral care in the church rather than less of it. Of course what I mean by that is not more sermons.

Not a member of "my church"?
 No ministering for you! 
What I am "anti-" is the majority of the religious-corporate industrial complex that sucks the life out of the church and a great deal of the resources to boot. This is a top down process where a number of prominent professional "teachers" are constantly feeding sincere, godly men who want to serve the church and His sheep with a bunch of horse manure and calling it "discernment".  Not all but a many of the professional leadership teachers in the church resemble the condemned shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34

The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. (Ezekiel 34:1-6)

What a great deal of it is obviously designed to do is reinforce religious institutional norms, suppress any uncomfortable questions and keep the machinery of the religious-corporate complex moving, which is critical because it allows these guys to keep making a very nice, very comfy living off of the hard work of the rest of the church. Does that sound harsh? It is nowhere near harsh enough.

There is plenty of this going on. Case in point, a post from "VFT" or "Valiant For Truth" on the blog of Westminster Seminary, California (Oh, and the irony of a posting under the pseudonym "Valiant For Truth" while hiding behind internet anonymity is not lost on me. Valiant indeed.). 

Since Westminster Seminary is the home of R. Scott Clark and some of the other most vocal advocates of the most virulent forms of institutionalism this is not really a surprise but the brutal honesty is, if not refreshing, at least indicative of the mindset at work. The post is titled A Pastor’s Reflections: The Benefits of Membership but what it sounds more like is a Mafia protection racket. When "benefits" are linked to what amounts to extortion I am not really sure who is benefiting. Or maybe I am.

The opening paragraph poses the question of whether some Christians are more important than others:

Are some people more special than others? As the pastor, to whom do you owe your time? These are important questions because you will have people pulling on your calendar and schedule and you’ll have to decide to whom, among the many people you encounter, you should give your time. Let me illustrate this point. At any given time you will have people in your church who need consistent and regular counseling. You might set up a weekly time to get together with a person in your church who is struggling with a besetting sin. You might meet with him for prayer, Bible study, and counsel. But what should you do when you have a visitor to your church, a person who needs counseling and a large investment of your time? To whom do you give priority? To the member or to the visitor?

Right away we see the division of the church into "My members" and "other Christians". This is understandable coming from  the mindset of the religious-corporate industrial complex. "Members" are your employers. They pay your salary, they hired you and they can fire you. You need to keep them happy so they keep the paychecks coming. Of course this is also the result of a system where "ministry" is concentrated in one employee of the church meaning that the time allotted for "ministry" is limited to what he can fit in his calendar. I guess I think it might be better if we concerned ourselves with those who are in the greatest need rather than prioritizing who we minister to based on who signs our paycheck. Then "Valiant" answers his own question (emphasis mine):

For me, this was always (and still is) an easy question to answer. I always gave priority to members of the church. You see, there are benefits of church membership. A church member has made a commitment to join the congregation, serve the other members of the body, and even contribute in various ways to the life of the church.

Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! If you read this: "even contribute in various ways to the life of the church " and don't see it as code for "put money in the offering plate", you haven't been paying attention. Notice also the language being used here "I always give priority to members of the church". Again "the church" means "my church". The rest of the church? They are someone else's problem. If you have ever suffered through a sales pitch for an extended warranty or a time-share you might recognize some of the language being used here.

The visitor, on the other hand, has made no such commitment. I have found over the years that many visitors would do their best to take up a lot of my time, use a lot of church resources, and then leave after a while. Like someone using a free trial membership, once the time came to make a commitment they would flee and move on to the next church to do the same. Too many people treat the church like a gym—once the church no longer suits their needs, they dispose of it.

I am sure this is somewhat true. There are unfortunately a lot of people who see local churches as a place to go for a freebie. Or maybe once people get what they need they move on because there is no love for them, no inclusion, no sense of belonging unless they submit to a manmade set of rules and structures. In short there is nothing there of any value beyond what they needed in a pinch. 

As the pastor, you have an obligation to place the needs of your sheep first. Visitors are important—you should look out for their needs—seek to show them the love of Christ. But you must set some boundaries. I would meet with visitors, try to help them with their problems, but then I always ended the conversation with something like this: “I’m more than willing to help you, but you have to understand that apart from becoming a church member, I’m rather limited in what I can do. I have to take care of my sheep. They have, after all, made a commitment and joined the church. Moreover, they have brought themselves under the accountability of the elders of the church. Apart from church discipline, counseling lacks the needed teeth of accountability. If you are willing to join the church, then I can offer more assistance and counseling, but apart from membership, there is only so much we can do.”

Hey there, I can see you are in need of help. Sorry but I really don't have time for you unless you submit to an extra-biblical scheme of "church membership" which means whatever I want it to mean since it appears nowhere in the Bible. I mean, how can I minister to you unless I can threaten you with church discipline? So either sign up or shut up, your call. Have a blessed day!

Whoever "Valiant For Truth" is, he needs to learn that those are not "his sheep", they are "His sheep". Also we see the employer-employee mentality on display here again. I wouldn't expect an employee of Target to go to a Wal-Mart to stock shelves. I would however expect someone who claims he is my brother to help me out without demanding that I join his little religious club first. 

Far too many are willing to shack-up with a church—they want to attend, they want to listen to the sermons, they want to receive financial assistance, they want the option to stay home on some Sundays—they want all of the benefits but none of the commitment or responsibility. These types of people can take you away from the sheep in your congregation, those who deserve your pastoral care because they have made a commitment to Christ and the church. Recognize that there are benefits to church membership, and you as the pastor must guard against neglecting your sheep.


Hate to break it to ya VFT but lots and lots and lots of Christians are at least as committed to Christ and the church as you are but are not "members" of any local church, much less your local church. This tired, damaging and dangerous notion that attendance=commitment has no basis in Scripture and has been harming the church for 1700+ years. As an aside, I didn't realize that we were only obligated to minister to those people who "deserved your pastoral care". I thought that actual pastoral care was not interested in who is deserving or worthy of it. I left that sort of mindset behind when we left mormonism and mailed our "temple recommends" back to Salt Lake City

Can you imagine how this would play out in Acts 6:1-6?

"Hey apostles, the Hellenists are complaining about their widows being neglected in favor of the Hebrew widows!"

"Well are the Hellenist widows members of the First Baptist Church of Jerusalem?"


"Well there is not much we can do about it, we only have time for our members. If they would like to become members we can maybe help them out"

So they called seven men of good repute to teach membership classes.

Ironically some of the most critically important pastoral care I have received came from a brother that I call friend today, at a crisis moment in my life and we were not "members" of "his" church. He nevertheless, in love, without complaint and free of charge, ministered to me for quite a while when he could have been doing stuff for the "members" but he saw a brother in need and stepped up. He never once used or needed to use "church discipline" as a stick to threaten me. Ministering to someone in love without obligation or stipulations is actual love.

If someone won't minister to you because you aren't a member of "his church", he isn't a minister in any Christian sense of the word. If you fancy yourself a minister and think that Christians who don't have their name on a list on your church computer aren't your problem, you need to repent in sackcloth and ashes and read the New Testament again. Legitimacy of brotherhood is not based on proximity or extra-biblical requirements. It is based solely on a regenerate heart and a confession of Christ as Lord.

I have to say I often finish a post and wonder if I was too harsh. I finished this post and wondered if I was harsh enough.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Tempest In A Tight Pants Teapot

I apparently missed the initial outrage but a prominent blogger who happens to also be a woman and a Christian, Veronica Partridge, made the grievous error of posting a very short, very non-judgmental post about why she had made the personal, non-binding on anyone else, decision to stop wearing leggings and yoga pants outside of the house: Why I chose to no longer wear leggings. It drew over 800 comments on her blog and went viral (her prior posts drew single-digit comments). As you can imagine if you pay attention to the culture this post has caused a great deal of outrage.

If you take the time to actually read past the title you will see a prominent disclaimer where she specifically says that she is not intending to tell anyone else what they can or can't wear. On her facebook page she reiterates this and writes:

Whether you agree with me or not, that's okay. Like I said, this is just my personal journey I thought I'd share.

That is what blogging is for most of us that are not making a living from blogging, an outlet for us to write about what we are thinking about and thinking through. To some apparently her personal thoughts on a topic are tantamount to a condemnation of their own behavior. I suspect that a lot of the backlash has to do with a sense of guilt hidden by many that comes to the surface when anyone brings up the topic, which might explain why no one brings it up because who wants that sort of grief? Here is what she wrote that got everyone in a tizzy:

Was it possible my wearing leggings could cause a man, other than my husband, to think lustfully about my body? I asked my husband his thoughts on the matter when he got home. I appreciated his honesty when he told me, “yeah, when I walk into a place and there are women wearing yoga pants everywhere, it’s hard to not look. I try not to, but it’s not easy.”

I instantly felt conviction come over me even stronger. Not that I wasn’t feeling it earlier, or else I wouldn’t have thought twice about the conversation, but after talking to Dale, it hit me a lot harder. If it is difficult for my husband who loves, honors, and respects me to keep his eyes focused ahead, then how much more difficult could it be for a man that may not have the same self-control? Sure, if a man wants to look, they are going to look, but why entice them? Is it possible that the thin, form-fitting yoga pants or leggings could make a married (or single) man look at a woman in a way he should only look at his wife?

That this is even slightly controversial says a lot more about the state of our culture than it does about Victoria Partridge.

I have some thoughts on this topic. Go figure. I am sure that my thoughts will draw the ire of some so I will save you the trouble of shouting the following at me:




There, having that out of the way we can continue. It is odd that we can talk openly and frankly, even to the point of being awkward and creepy, about sex except if we suggest any sort of limitation or self-control. When someone suggests to college women that getting drunk to the point of being severely impaired in your ability to make rational decisions on actions you might regret later or even drinking to the point of passing out might just put you in serious risk, gets you labeled with all of he terms above and an apologist for the "rape culture". As others have pointed out this is like saying that the suggestion that you shouldn't leave your new car running with the doors open in a bad neighborhood is being an apologist for car theft. Saying "you should take reasonable and rational precautions to protect yourself" is not even close to saying "if you get drunk and get raped you had it coming" but you would think it was in our culture.

Back to the pants issue. The trend of wearing leggings and yoga pants has been a goldmine for many dudes like nothing men have seen since the advent of the bikini and the mini-skirt. Being uncharacteristically blunt, leggings leave pretty much nothing to the imagination and that is precisely what they are designed for. Every contour of her skin is on display under an awfully thin layer of fabric. Again, by design. I appreciate Victoria's  use of the word "entice" because I think it is an excellent word to label the impact leggings are designed to have.

I work in a place where the public comes and goes and a huge percentage of women are wearing leggings. I can watch my fellow men and you can see the heads swivel almost involuntarily. It is a cultural trend and it seems that a lot of Christian women are swept along by this tide just as so many Christians are by other cultural waves. Unfortunately we have come to a point where these sorts of conversations either don't happen at all because of a conservative setting where a sister wearing yoga pants in public is unthinkable or in the rest of the church where even the suggestion of common sense self-limitation is met with frothing at the mouth anger.

Before I get to the main issue, here are a couple of the most common responses....

You shouldn't be looking anyway, it is your problem!

Do you know why billboards along the highway have been an effective marketing tool for a long time? Because they work. Even if you aren't meaning to your eyes are drawn to a billboard because they are designed to attract attention. The same is true for neon signs. Also true for flashy jewelry. The same is true for any attention grabbing device. You get my point. Baggy sweat pants would be just as comfortable as leggings but they don't draw much attention. While some women clearly have not looked in the mirror before leaving the house in leggings you can't tell me that most don't check themselves out and wear leggings specifically because it shows off their hind end. Back in the 80's girls used to wear high-waisted (so their butt crack wasn't showing whenever they bent over) jeans that were so tight it had to be a major struggle just to get them on. Were they comfortable? I doubt it. Did they draw attention to their butt? You betcha.  It is absolutely true that I shouldn't be looking at other women. I think that most men struggle with this, that is why it gets special mention in the Bible. Turns out men and women are different and have different struggles and the Bible addresses those issues differently (but they are usually interconnected). It is almost like God is omniscient or something. I also have an obligation to not encourage my brother or sister to stumble. If they sin it is on them but I bear a different responsibility if I encourage it. I don't go to AA meetings and offer people there a beer. I don't leave a flash drive loaded with porn for someone I know is struggling with that issue. I don't leave stacks of money around someone who has a problem with stealing. You get my point. Life is hard enough to navigate in the old flesh with a new heart without intentionally and willfully making it harder for others in the name of "liberty". Paul had a lot to say about this and it is as true today as it was back then.

Well they are just comfortable!

Maybe, but so are lots of other outfits. To be blunt it might be comfy in the summer to wear nothing but my boxers but I don't do that, not around the house and certainly not in public. It might be comfy and convenient to wear your robe in the house after you shower but you don't go out like that (hopefully). It is about a sense of propriety. What you wear in public ought to be different from what you wear around the house and what you wear to bed. I am not advocating for a uniform or a burqa, nor am I a fan of forced formality in clothing, just some common sense and common courtesy.

Get ready, I am about to use the "M" word, the dirtiest word you can use in the church today. Leggings aren't really the issue. The ultimate issue here is about modesty and modesty is much more than not wearing revealing clothing. Or let me rephrase that. Modesty is more than not wearing revealing clothes but it is also not less than that. Paul wrote about modesty in a way that I think is profitable for the church today.

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1 Tim 2:8-10)

Paul isn't really talking about jewelry or braided hair here, nor is he setting a minimalist standard. My wife and I don't wear our wedding rings anymore partly because of this verse but it is about so much more than that. Why do women wear costly attire and jewelry and spend a ton of time on their hair? Why do men buy sports cars or wear gear from their favorite sports team? In short to draw attention to themselves.  That is what this is really about. Leggings and yoga pants are just the latest fad to draw attention to women by enticing men to look at them lustfully. Whether it is leggings or costly jewelry for women or a new luxury car for men, we like to be noticed even if we don't like the way we are noticed. We ought to expect this from the world but as the church we ought to try something different. We ought to be marked by humility, by our good works in response to the Gospel, for our self-control and sobriety and most of all for our love of one another and of all men, even our enemies. There is a reason that virtually all of the qualities to be demonstrated by an elder are based in our public witness rather than on charisma or public speaking talents. People should notice us for how different we are and how consistent we are, not thrown about by every wind of the culture but standing firm on the ancient teachings of God's revelation.

I don't know much about her other than this one post but thanks to Victoria Partridge for sharing what was on her heart and for standing firm in the face of the slings and arrows of detractors. I wish more brothers and sisters in  the church had the courage of conviction to stand against the cultural tide rather than seeking to accommodate in every sense of the word. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Conclusive Case For An Anabaptist View Of Government In Less Than Two Minutes

Behold Mike Huckabee:

That makes my brain ache. The only thing worse than the nonsense Huckabee is saying is the knowing, pious hums of affirmation coming from the host (no idea who that guy and his wife are). I am declaring an edict that any Christian who does the eyes closed, head nodding, "mmmhhhmmm" when someone else is talking is subject to immediate excommunication.

When we make the church about politics and politics about the church we should expect to receive mockery. Not the sort of mockery we expect because of the foolishness of the cross (1 Cor 1:18) but rather the sort of well-deserved mockery that this kind of garbage draws. I have no reason to doubt that Mike Huckabee is a brother in Christ. I wish another brother would take him aside and tell him that this sort of stuff is doing nothing to advance the cause of Christ.

As an aside, is this what the Republican party is going into 2016 with? Mike Huckabee. Mitt "Third Time Is the Charm!" "The Human Weather-vane" Romney. Jeb "Also Third Time's The Charm" Bush Version 3.0. Sarah Palin. If that is the plan, to pick from whichever candidate emerges from the GOP clown car as the anointed one to slay the Hillary dragon, they can do so without my support and without my vote (which they aren't getting regardless nor is anyone else). America is 17 trillion in debt and heading full speed over a fiscal cliff that will make pre-World War II Germany look like a model of fiscal discipline and people are serious about Mike Huckabee? I guess he would be a better President than the current President but that is true of just about anyone you picked up off the streets.

Don't Talk To Me, Can't You See I Am Fixin' To Minister To You!?

Eric Carpenter linked to a post by Thom Rainer and it was one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read (the post by Rainer, not the post from Eric). The post, Six Observations About Speaking to Pastors Right Before They Preach, is a list of things you absolutely, positively must not do because you might distract your pastor from giving a great sermon (that he spent 15-20 hours preparing for you!). Like Eric I find that Thom Rainer writes some decent stuff but I agree that this is not in that category. Here is the critical line:

Many times pastors get very distracted and even discouraged when someone speaks to them right before they preach.

He follows with six observations which boil down to "Don't talk to your pastor before he preaches and if you rudely insist on it only say nice, encouraging things". You can read them for yourself by following the link but here is what I commented (assuming my comments makes it through moderation):

This makes perfect sense if we see the church gathered as primarily a time to observe a performance. We certainly don't want to distract the performer before he goes on stage. Of course if we actually gather for fellowship and mutual edification as we see modeled and commanded in Scripture, this sort of advice makes no sense and in fact seems more designed to treat clergy as celebrity divas who mustn't be disturbed by the petty things like talking to people before they get to show off how well they have prepared. This really gets to the difference between how we understand church in our religious culture and how it is revealed in Scripture.

Are clergy so emotionally fragile and prone to performance anxiety that we have to walk on eggshells around them before their sermon? Speaking from personal past experience I would say yes. The entire post sounds like parenting advice for the parents of an especially temperamental teenager or perhaps a harried venue manager preparing to host a particularly picky rock star (Google "outrageous celebrity demands" to see what I mean).

Don't talk to them. Don't ask them to make an announcement (even one you write out for them!). Don't introduce people to them, they don't have time to meet new people when they are about to go on stage. For crying out loud don't ask them to deal with any issues, fix your own dang toilet lady!

Let me lay it on the line. When the church gathers if you are too self-absorbed and consumed with performance anxiety to be bothered with talking to the people who you are supposed to be ministering to, you aren't a pastor, you are a performer and you need to know the difference. 

This post also reveals a serious problem within the church regarding how we view pastors and "preaching". Eric wrote:

As with so many inside the comfy confines of the institution, Rainer believes that pastors have some sort of exclusive communication connection with God. In particular, he acts as if what a pastor happens to say from a pulpit is a literal special message from God. This is nothing more than mystical mumbo-jumbo and complete nonsense.

I would largely concur. I don't necessarily fault most pastors for this situation. They are simply the products of our religious culture that elevates the act of giving a prepared talk on a topic to hearing the oracles of God. When men enter enter the clergy system they are inundated with people telling them how critical their sermons are and elevating those sermons to a holy act. There is so much emphasis on the sermon that a 45 minute prepared talk has become the focal point for the church gathering while actual, Biblically based reasons for gathering like sharing a meal and encouraging one another are tacked on as special events held a couple of times a year. Little wonder that virtually every pastors sweats over their sermon all week and feels inadequate and discouraged afterward. It is an impossible standard to meet because it has been made into something that was never intended. The failure to understand this is what leads to "multi-campus churches" where tens of thousands of people call a man they have never met and who wouldn't know them by sight, much less by name, "pastor". Biblical pastoral ministry implies and demands interpersonal relationships. If you don't have that, you have something very different from what Scripture shows us about leadership, serving and teaching in the church.

If you really want to pastor people, to minister to them, then encourage them to talk to you. Go out of your way to meet new people. Don't worry if your sermon starts a couple of minutes late or is a little less polished in delivery than you might like, very few people are going to remember it even a few hours later anyway. They will remember if you took the time to talk to them even when you are busy, they will remember that you seemed genuinely glad to meet them instead of giving them an irritated perfunctory greeting while rushing off to deliver your sermon. Better yet remove the religious barriers that make this sort of post by Rainer necessary. Teaching in the church is a brother edifying and equipping his brothers and sisters, not a performance to be enjoyed and then forgotten. 

We have enough divas in the celebrity world, we don't have room or need for them in the church.

Friday, January 23, 2015

It Is Time For The Abuse To End

As a follow-up to my post, Had Enough Yet?, regarding the latest betrayal of pro-lifers by the Republican Party, I wanted to talk through this a little more. I am still seeing some pretty serious backlash across social media and it is refreshing in spite of the infuriating actions of the Republican majority. 

Christians are in an abusive relationship with the Republican party, a relationship where the GOP takes and takes and heaps abuse on us and we still keep coming back convinced that they actually like us when in fact I think a lot of establishment Republicans either sneer at us behind our backs or find us repulsive chumps that are tolerated for our votes. I am not alone in that opinion. 

The redundantly named Eric Erickson writing for RedState opines in his elegantly titled essay, The Pro-Life Movement Must Stop BeingWhores of the Republican Party, that pro-lifers are to the Republican party what black voters are to the Democrats, a reliable voting block that has nowhere else to go:

In short, the pro-life movement must stop being the whores of the GOP. The Republican Leadership knows the pro-life movement is in its pocket. They have nowhere else to go. They have no one else to vote for. As much as Republicans look at black voters and tut-tut that they are being taken advantage of by a Democratic Party that knows black voters will not go anywhere, the Republicans are doing precisely the same to pro-life voters.

I actually think the better comparison is that Christians are to the Republican party what working class union folks are to Democrats, a reliable voting block that shows up to vote and contribute funds but gets nothing in return. I was just talking to my eldest son about this today. Contemporary Democrats are mostly concerned with taking money away from people who work to bribe those that don't and pandering to sexual deviants and illegal immigrants even though that not only does nothing to help working class Americans, it often is at odds with their economic self-interest and their own personal values. Likewise Christians and other pro-life religious groups (mormons, Catholics, etc.) vote overwhelmingly for the GOP but in return get lip-service about abortion and policies that mostly are aimed at the richest Americans (many of whom are ironically Democrats) or otherwise are at odds with Christian principles. 

What!? I have to be joking, right?! Of course Republican policies are Christian principles! Like for example:

- Pre-emptive wars of aggression! Ok maybe that is not a good example.

- Lower taxes! While that is a good social policy it isn't really an issue that Christ spoke about. He told us to render unto Caesar, not to lobby Caesar for tax breaks.

- Insistence on working for a living, see 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12! Well in context that is speaking about people in the church and is not speaking to broader social policy (which I agree is a dehumanizing policy and bad for the economy and for those who receive the aid). Ironically we are incredibly intolerant of the welfare recipient that may or may not be part of the church but we not only tolerate but celebrate clergy in our midst who take money from the church gathered from the work of others. 

You get my point.

Eric goes on to say, and I hope actual conservatives are listening, that:

We will remain conservative in the primary, but now we must say we will generally be Republican in the general. There must come a time, however, when we are willing to blow up a Republican in a general election and make an example of them for betraying our first principles.

That time is now.

This site must now commit itself to defeating Republicans in general elections, even if it means a Democrat will get elected, should those Republicans betray the first principles of our party. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)  must be first on that list. If she is not beaten in a primary, the fight must continue in the general election.

Pro-life voters must do the same. Our shared agenda will never advance if they keep serving as agents of the GOP. National Right to Life, among others, must stop working so hard to give seals of approval to the GOP and must start fighting the GOP. The pro-life cause must stop being a job protection racket for otherwise failed political consultants and must be a child protection effort willing to fight those failed political consultants and the politicians they back.

It is clear the GOP thinks the pro-life cause can be taken for granted and its voters will come home every election because of the Supreme Court, the Mexico City policy, etc. But it must be a two way street. The pro-life cause must stop acting like the Republican Party’s whore and must, instead, show New Testament grace to the world and Old Testament vengeance to politicians.

If you pay attention to politics and especially pro-life politics, that statement is staggering.

I am less than convinced that trying to bludgeon the GOP into obedience or forming a third-party will get the job done. The coercive power of the state is universally corruptive to the Kingdom. What we really need to do is completely divorce the church from all forms of statism, refusing to be patsies for any secular political movement and instead taking the way of the cross as our marching orders, trading in the sword of the state and the ballot box in return for the towel and the basin of servant-hood and humility. Nevertheless it is always encouraging to see an abuse victim seeing he light and leaving their abuser.

Maybe I should start a book, read the entire thing and THEN start a new book? Nah!

I have a terribly tendency to start new books while reading others, often manifested in looking for new books from the library when I have just started to read the books I got a few days earlier. Reading lots of different books is great but not so much when you don't finish books because you have ten books started at the same time. I need to get better about that but based on my current reading habits that isn't likely to change. Right now these are some of the books I am working through....

One I should have complete fairly soon is a smaller book, The Legacy of Michael Sattler by John Howard Yoder. Sattler was one of the leading theological minds of the Radical Reformation and one of the victims of the violent state-church perversion that dominated much of Western history. Sattler is also one of the chief authors of the Schleitheim Confession and as such holds a unique place in Anabaptist history. One thing that it has also sparked in me is an interest in reading more from Wolfgang Capito, a Reformer who was uncharacteristically tolerant towards the Anabaptists and who wrote favorably about Sattler after his martyring.

Another book I am working on is Spiritual and Anabaptist writers: Documents illustrative of the Radical Reformation. This is another older work that looks at the "other" Reform movements in terms of Anabaptism, By looking at Anabaptism separately but chronologically parallel to the Spiritualist movement and what the authors terms "Evangelical Catholicism" you get a truer understanding of what the Anabaptists proper believed rather than lumping them in with everyone from that time period who is not a Roman Catholic or Magisterial Reformer.

A third book on Anabaptist thought is J.C. Wenger's Separated Unto God. This is one of the best treatments of traditional, conservative Anabaptist thought on separation and worldliness. I expect it to be a little frustrating but also very challenging. Even the introduction lays out pretty starkly the author's concern (written in the mid-20th century) for the complete disregard for any substantive discussion on being separate from the world in the broader church.

You might sense a pattern here and you would be right! I am always thankful that our local library system sits in the midst of a densely populated region of Anabaptists including not just the Amish but also a large number of Mennonites and close to Goshen College, home of many early attempts at recovering and recording Anabaptist thought. This makes available to me a lot of works that are hard to get and for free!

I am also reading some non-Anabaptist books. The first is Ron Schmid's The Untold Story of Milk: The History, Politics and Science of Nature's Perfect Food: Raw Milk from Pasture-Fed Cows. I am a big fan of raw milk and this book is a great introduction to an otherwise kind of bland topic. We take milk for granted because it is ubiquitous and cheap but it is something provided by God as an incredibly valuable food. I don't need much convincing on this topic but it is pretty interesting anyway.

Another book I just got from the library is Broken bonds : what family fragmentation means for America's future by Michael Pearlstein. I am incredibly concerned about family fragmentation and I think that it is the root cause of many of the most serious problems in our society and is the single greatest threat to the long-term prosperity of Western civilization.

Anyway that is what I am reading these days. Hopefully I will finish a few of these soon and can report back on my findings!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Had Enough Yet?

Many of my fellow Christians who are also politically conservative see abortion as a non-negotiable issue. It is not hard to understand. Unborn children epitomize the concept of "the least of us". They are the most vulnerable, most powerless in our society and have served as a political football for decades.

For those of my political and faith persuasion our concern for the unborn means that we are expected and obligated to show up in droves on election day to vote for Republicans. No matter how incompetent or odious the GOP candidate might be, the alternative is almost certainly an avowedly  pro-abortion Democrat, someone who is somewhere on the spectrum between reluctantly supporting abortion and wildly enthusiastic about abortion as a secular sacrament.

So understandably many Christians were cheered by the rather lopsided win for Republicans in the elections last fall. Perhaps a new era was dawning and the GOP would finally actually respond to our faithful support by making substantive policy changes to protect the unborn.


Today the GOP House of Representatives, with an overwhelming majority largely sent to Congress by people like me, botched and failed to advance a very popular bill preventing abortion after 20 weeks. This should have been an easy bill to pass but it was completely bungled (assuming it wasn't callously sabotaged by the GOP, something that seems pretty likely).

The social media backlash has been swift, angry and exhibits a sense of being fed-up. Ross Douthat tweeted:

Mollie Hemmingway wrote a scathing piece, Why Everyone Should Be Terrified By The GOP’s Abortion Bill Debacle, including video from two female Republican supporting the bill when it didn't matter before helping to block it today.

Here is a poorly kept secret. The GOP establishment leadership doesn't really care about abortion except as a flashy, emotional issue that drivs voters to the polls. What they mostly care about is keeping their moneyed donors happy. Rod Dreher had this to say "Once again, social conservatives are useful idiots for the Koch Party." Pretty much.

It might be time to divorce the Republican party and to disavow these vain attempts at soft theonomy and realize that we are getting played as chumps by politicians. We are making very little progress in actual protection of the unborn while at the same time being unequally yoked with the party of preemptive war and capital punishment.

The historical Anabaptists look wiser every day.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Oh good, another ridiculous culture war squabble

So it hit the interwebs today that largely (see what I did there?) irrelevant media personality Michael Moore implied that Chris Kyle, the soldier who is the subject of the movie American Sniper, was cowardly because he was a sniper. In true Michael Moore fashion he then backpedaled on that statement but everyone knows that is what he meant. In fairness to the corpulent Mr. Moore he knows all about putting his life on the life for something he believes in, after all every time he devours another cheeseburger he is rolling the dice. All kidding aside I have nothing but respect for a guy who has made millions and lives a lavish style by castigating people who make millions and live lavish lifestyles. Ironically his attempt at being clever will probably drive untold numbers of people into the theaters to see this film.

The backlash has been swift and predictable. People are rushing to defend Kyle and excoriate Moore. In doing so we see the near canonization of a man who is famous for being a professional killer.  That sounds harsh but it is the truth, he is famous for being very, very good at killing people. Maybe they deserved it, maybe it was for a good cause or even noble but it boils down to being one of the most proficient individual killers to have ever live. It is hard to draw up a more idyllic representative of American cultural heroism than a sniper who killed perhaps hundreds of presumed terrorists, looking through a scope at his next target holding a rifle with a cross tattooed on his arm. Little wonder the movie is doing so well. 

I haven't seen the movie and have no real desire to do so. I also have little interest in sitting in judgment of the life of a dead man. I am slightly bemused and more than a little discomforted to see battle lines drawn over something like this and seeing professing Christians lining up on either side to demonize a man or lionize him. Our entanglements and obsessions with the world poison the church, rob of us of our unity and sully the name of Christ. How desperately we need to disentangle ourselves from the world, not to hide from it but to demonstrate a different way. Using a film depicting the life of someone who apparently had a very troubled, tortured existence for our amusement and to score political points on one side or another is crass and low. Every day there are real issues to deal with, babies being murdered, the lost going to the judgment without Christ, children starving. When did the church get so petty?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Diminishing the Gospel

It is quite in vogue today to opine that the Gospel is not about "going to heaven when you die" but rather about living the Kingdom here and now. That sounds very clever and progressive but it also gets the order all out of whack. I think it also tends to diminish the need for being born-again and for repentance from sin. Anyone can embody certain values or work in a soup kitchen or avoid shooting their neighbor but only those who have been born-again can truly follow Christ. We don't like that language in the church today, it grates against our modern sensibilities. So much of the church loves to quote Gandhi as if he is a paragon of Christian virtue when by any measure he was not a Christian and died bereft of Christ, of forgiveness and of hope. When we celebrate a dead pagan and sneer at our simplistic Christian neighbor it is indicative of having lost the real imperative of the Gospel, namely that all of mankind is lost and under condemnation for sin and that Christ came to offer Himself in the place of His sheep to redeem them from the curse.

Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. He came to redeem those who believed who were otherwise already under condemnation. The Gospel is not the Gospel if it is divorced from the sinfulness of man and the effectual redemption of the cross. Paul laid it out for the church in Corinth and we apparently need a reminder today.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15:1-5)

Christ died for our sins. He was buried and then raised again. Belief in this is what saves us. That is the Gospel and by definition nothing else can be the Gospel. There are certainly, and indeed necessarily, implications for doctrine and practice that flow from this Gospel but they are not the Gospel.

We must be very cautious to not confuse the priority and the order here. Living out Kingdom virtues is a result of the Gospel, an outward manifestation of a supernatural internal change. The Gospel proper is the Good News of redemption from sin made available to condemned sinners. Jesus said that one must be born again or they would never see the Kingdom of Heaven but many seem to want to try to show blind men, indeed dead men, the Kingdom while skipping over the born-again part.

I understand the backlash against the "easy believe-ism", "get out of hell free card" model of "evangelism" that dominates the pseudo-conservative evangelical church. When we reduce being born-again to "making a decision for Christ" in response to an emotional plea accompanied by the soft playing of "Just As I Am" from the piano, of course we are going to get a whole bunch of unregenerate church members who necessarily fail to embody any meaningful Christian virtue. I reject that entire enterprise as a perhaps well-meaning (or perhaps not) exercise that seems mostly aimed at producing flashy numbers of "conversions" and of course filling pews and offering plates. Yet the very worst response to the excesses of evangelicalism is the neutering of the seriousness of sin and the need for regeneration. Substituting "get to heaven" with "live for the here and now" is simply trading one error for another.

When Christ gathered His disciples and commissioned them with the Great Commission His charge was clear: go to the world and preach the Gospel and the Gospel by virtue of the message is necessarily futuristic, looking forward to the renewal of all things for the redeemed and warning of the wrath of God to those outside of Christ. That declaration of both warning and hope is the priority of the church. We ignore or diminish this to the detriment of the lost who unknowingly depend on the preaching of the Gospel for the salvation they so desperately need. It is an ancient message, it is a foolish message in the eyes of the world but it is the message we have been sent to declare. We have not been given the right to water down this message, to smooth the rough edges, to reduce it to a social gospel or a number game. Let's stick to the message we see preached in the New Testament and not worry so much about whether the world thinks we are being old fashioned or concerning ourselves with how many names are on the membership rolls. The Gospel is too precious and the alternative is too dire for us to do any less.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

More Oscar Nominations Won't Change Anything

I try to avoid commenting on issues of race because it is hard to not be inflammatory and I am all too conscious of my own failings and flaws in this respect. Having said that I was unusually struck by the backlash against the apparent "excessive whiteness" of the Oscar nominations. Full disclosure, I haven't seen any of the movies nominated nor have I seen 'Selma', although I would like to. I also don't care who wins an Oscar or why, not do I care who wore what to the Awards or who had the best acceptance speech. The entire process is an never-ending parade of sill, self-important people who are famous and rich for being good at pretending to be someone else patting each other and themselves on the back for being so awesome. No thanks. Nevertheless the reaction, first from professional race hustler and extortionist Al Sharpton and then a growing chorus of voices has got me thinking about how far we have come as a country and yet how quickly we seem to be losing ground. Take for example this commentary from film critic Gen Seymour (and is there a less useful, less productive function in our society than 'film critic'?):

I was prepared to offer that perspective, too -- until I noticed a distressing dichotomy looming on this branch.

A depiction of African Americans in shameful, soul-depleting captivity is one thing; African Americans organized in open rebellion against their oppressors is very much another.

Movie history has many films with black slaves and black victims. It's much harder to think of a Hollywood movie in which African Americans are depicted as the active agents of their own salvation. "Selma" is one of those movies. And its relative dearth of worthy nominations is viewed, fairly or not, as a collective snub of not just a movie, but of African Americans' vision of their own empowerment.

So whites are OK with films portraying blacks being abused but not a more contemporary account of marches in the South because we like to see blacks being abused, a not so subtle masochistic streak among whites? Keep in mind that 'Selma' was nominated for Best Picture which is the ultimate award. Given the backlash I would be stunned if it doesn't win, even if it doesn't really deserve to win, and it is kind of hard to cry about being snubbed when you are up for the top award in a ceremony. Apparently Mr. Seymour, Al Sharpton and their ilk would only be placated if every single nomination in every single category was given to a black lesbian illegal immigrant woman in a wheelchair who has had an abortion.

Selma focuses on the role of Martin Luther King, Jr., presumably without looking to closely at his well-known but forbidden to speak of character flaws and political positions. Ironically it was in his signature speech that he said the following:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Sadly it is precisely the opposite of that going on today. Now film makers are judged first by the color of their skin and secondarily by the quality of their production.

I have seen the previews for 'Selma' more times than I can count and as I watched it I was saddened to think of what the fight for civil rights has devolved into. Today the civil rights movement is dominated by shysters and snake oil salesmen like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, duplicitous politicians like Maxine Waters and a plethora of guilty white liberals who seem more interested in perpetuating a system of dependence than in healing racial wounds. Meanwhile more than 70% of black children are born to unwed mothers. Black unemployment and poverty still far outpaces other races. Young black men are a far greater threat to other young black men than the police, although the level of police overuse of force is a serious issue. In spite of a black President it is hard to argue against the reality that by and large the black population in America is falling farther behind the rest of America, a trend that seems to be increasing. Demanding more Oscar nominations for black film makers is not going to do a thing to reverse that.

The real solution to racism is the Gospel which teaches that all men are created in the image of God, the elect and the non-elect, white and black, men and women, Europeans and Americans and Asians and Africans. That is not a naive notion. It is the deep truth of a broken humanity that only by making peace with God through the cross of His Son and viewing mankind with a heart regenerated with the new life in Christ. Christians on the political Left who see income redistribution as the solution and Christians on the political Right who see capitalism as the solution both miss the real and only solution: Christ. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Spending on new church buildings "down" to $3,150,000,000?!

Wow indeed. From the Wall Street Journal (let me know if the link doesn't work), Gathering the Faithful, No Church Required. This opening was a killer for me, emphasis mine:

Church construction in the U.S. has fallen 80% since 2002, now at its lowest level since record-keeping began in 1967, according to reporting in this newspaper. The $3.15 billion in spending on religious buildings is half the level of a decade ago. Several factors are contributing to the declines, including postrecession financial challenges—religious giving has never returned to its 2007 peak—and the waning of religious affiliation.

$3.15 billion spent on religious buildings. Let me say that again:


That is incredible. I don't mean incredible in a positive way. The rest of the article is pretty interesting, especially the second paragraph:

Yet even as church construction ebbs, church congregations are sprouting more rapidly than ever—about 4,000 annually, according to estimates by the nonprofit Leadership Network’s Warren Bird. Ed Stetzer, who has been studying the movement for 25 years and now directs LifeWay Research, estimates that growth has doubled or tripled in two decades. Most of these new congregations are renting facilities from schools, community centers or other churches.

While that is encouraging, I still I can't get over that number and I already knew it was something in that neighborhood. Even in a day and age of annual trillion dollar budget deficits that is a big number. I don't need to go through the exercise of pointing out what that kind of money could accomplish in actual ministries that reach the lost and the needy rather than paying for a building that gets used a couple of hours a week. I will say again that we need some serious soul-searching and a reexamination of our priorities because that number is ridiculous and perhaps blasphemous.

There are probably lots of people who see that number shrinking as a bad thing. We need revival, we aren't spending nearly enough on new church buildings! Only $3.15 billion, we need to take back America for Jesus! This is the same mentality that sees any suggestion of reduced government transfer payments as a failure of Christian discipleship.

I don't have a huge issue with having a building in general. A modest, simple, inexpensive permanent place can be beneficial. A local Mennonite congregation we enjoy visiting has a building that is very utilitarian and is paid for, hosts a school and recently did a renovation with most of the labor provided by members. I have no problem with that, better a congregation with orthodox beliefs that meets in a permanent building than a heterodox group that meets in a home. What irks me is the idea that spending money on a building is equated with faithfulness. Even more so the guilt and fear inducing tactics used to extort money from the faithful to build these things. I am encouraged to see so many gatherings seeking alternative methods of meeting than insisting on purchasing a building but there is a long way to go to get the perverse Constantinian-American success combined model out of the church.

What do you think when you see numbers like that being spent on religious buildings? What do you think  the world thinks?

Monday, January 12, 2015

I Would Like An Order of Self-Service with Extra Guilt and a Side of Fear


It takes a lot to take me aback these days, having developed a pretty high level of tolerance for religious shenanigans and schemes, but once in a while I read something that is just jaw dropping. Maybe you won't see it this way but I read this article Should We Leave Our Children Inheritances? by Randy Alcorn and was aghast.  I like Randy, I have some of his books and he seems like a decent guy. This article however smacks of so much fear-mongering and not-so-subtle self-serving manipulation that the part of the message that makes sense gets lost. The essay starts out with a lengthy exposition of a) why the Bible might not really be telling us to leave a financial inheritance to our kids and b) why an inheritance in some cases is bad for kids. Finally, after ten paragraphs recounting the potential perils and pitfalls of leaving your kids an inheritance, we get to the real point of the article (emphasis mine):

Of course, besides preventing harm to our children, there is great good we can do by leaving money to God-exalting ministries (my note: the unspoken addendum "Gold-exalting this one! The donate button is right on the top!). Any family members who would pout about or fight over what belonged to their deceased parents or who respond negatively when we decide to leave most of our money to the cause of Christ instead of to them prove they’re unqualified to inherit in the first place. Such children need prayer and guidance. What they certainly do not need is more money.

If parents decide to give most or all of their estate to God’s Kingdom (my note: i.e my ministry!), they should explain their plans to their children. This will prevent false expectations and free their children from later resentment. It will also alleviate present guilt feelings stemming from what children might imagine they have to gain by their parents’ death. Even though they know they shouldn’t, grown children commonly find themselves thinking about and looking forward to all the money and possessions that will be theirs when their parents die. Some go into debt now because they expect to, so to speak, win the lottery through their parents’ deaths. The sooner these attitudes are defused, the better.

Don't give your kids and grand-kids the money you have saved and earned, give it to ministries like this one to keep the lights on and pay our staff! I am all for giving to ministries that actually minister to people in need. I also don't consider "ministries" that are largely in the business of providing teaching material to qualify for that. Having said that what I actually object to is the way this seems to be a heavy-handed way to scare parents into leaving their money to this "ministry", in the same way that sermons on "tithing" always come across as self-serving, delivered as the they by the very men who depend on the offering plate to pay the mortgage and feed their family.

Absolutely parents should teach their kids wisdom when it comes to financial matters, especially when it comes to generational passing on of wealth. I have seen what happens when someone without wisdom gets a windfall of any sort. Back when I was a bank manager I saw first hand people get large sums of money from inheritances or legal settlements or even from trust funds for an Indian tribe and they ended up burning through all of their money in no time with nothing to show for it. Money can make people go loony in a hurry. On the other hand I have seen people get an inheritance from their parents that make a huge financial impact to the positive. The vast majority of people don't inherit a huge sum of money, they get a modest amount after the government takes a chunk but the amount isn't really the issue anyway. It isn't the inheritance, it is how they view money that matters. Too many of the professional religious people in the church view the money held by Christians as something that they have a claim to because they are the financial gatekeepers, to quote Randy, of "God's Kingdom". Guess what, you don't. Christians are accountable to God for their stewardship, not Randy Alcorn or the pastor of your local church or anyone else that claims a position of authority by virtue of ecclesiastical office or web-page hits or books sold. I got more than my fill of religious leaders making claims on my money and declaring themselves as financial gatekeepers to God's Kingdom when we were mormons. Should I receive an inheritance when my parents pass it will go to paying off any existing debt on our home so we can pass that property to our kids some day as well as being invested in ways that will further benefit my children or others like orphan care ministries or crisis pregnancy centers.

Bottom line, we have way too much crass manipulation going on in the church, manipulation that misrepresents Scripture and makes the church look exactly like the money-loving religious charlatans that the world expects to see. It needs to stop. If you can't distinguish between God's Kingdom and your own "ministry", you need to stop asking for money and get back into the Bible, because as highly as you might think of yourself and your value to the Kingdom, it can and will get along without your unique ministerial contribution.

Five Years Later

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, killing hundreds of
thousands, creating a huge number of orphans and displacing innumerable people. Things were unbelievably bad in a way that Americans can't really comprehend.

A year after the earthquake I visited with a team from the Haiti Orphan Project. Before I went I wrote a post, Why Haiti, that I think gets to why this country of all places has such a pull on so many of us. When I got back I wrote more posts, including one linked by the Haiti Orphan Project about why we should go and not just write a check, Why go to Haiti? Why not just send the money?. Please check them out if you have time today.

In the world of philanthropy, especially in the wake of disasters, five years is an eternity. A lot of new, more fresh and interesting, disasters have happened and Haiti is old news. The political situation in Miami is not good and Haiti still struggles with the same old demons. Thankfully there is some attention being paid again on the anniversary but the need is just as great. I am thankful for The Haiti Orphan Project, for those people who have latched on to the orphans of Haiti and not let go, not even when the news media and the church by and large moved on. I am thankful for new friends I met that have uprooted their lives and moved to Haiti to minister. This is a good time to remember that the need of our brothers and sisters ministering in the hard places for support doesn't go away when the news cameras do. Consider sending a donation or prayer or both to the Haiti Orphan Project if you can. Remember the people of Haiti, they need our still need our help and remember the church as it ministers to them, they need our prayer and support.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


First and foremost our current weather....

Global warming indeed.

Next up an article on pork consumption in China from The Economist, Empire of the pig. The voracious appetite, pun intended, of Chinese consumers is enormous and growing daily. Given the sheer magnitude of the Chinese population this has a major impact on the rest of the world economy. Take for example this quote

The Communist Party prizes self-sufficiency in food. Most of the pigs China eats are indeed home-grown. But each kilogram of pork requires 6kg of feed, usually processed soy or corn. Given the scarcity of water and land in China, it cannot feed its pigs as well as its people. The upshot is that Chinese swine, which previously ate household scraps, increasingly rely on imported feed.

Ms Schneider reckons that more than half of the world’s feed crops will soon be eaten by Chinese pigs. Already in 2010 China’s soy imports accounted for more than 50% of the total global soy market. From a low base, grain imports are rising fast as well: the US Grains Council, a trade body, predicts that by 2022 China will need to import 19m-32m tonnes of corn. That equates to between a fifth and a third of the world’s entire trade in corn today.

What that means for the rest of the world is that a significant percentage of agricultural production is pretty much spoken for long before it is even planted. You can't exaggerate the significance of this for food and security issues.

This is a tragic story for a bunch of reasons, The Case of the Drunk-Driving Bishop. An Episcopal "Bishop Suffragan" named Heather Elizabeth Cook, struck and killed a cyclist, Thomas Palermo. She is apparently, according to the Baltimore Sun, being charged with drunk driving (triple the legal limit) and manslaughter for killing this guy while drunk and sending text messages, not to mention leaving the scene

This is both tragic for the horrible loss of life and for the simple fact that Ms. Cook should never have been called as a "bishop" in the first place, first and foremost because she is a woman and ineligible to be an elder and second because she apparently has been busted for DUI before in 2010 while so drunk that she "...couldn’t even complete the sobriety tests, had apparently thrown up on her shirt while driving and was driving on only three wheels as one tire had been worn to its rims.". The Sun also reported that in 2010 she was in possession of marijuana in her car and the reason the sobriety test was incomplete was that the cops were afraid she might hurt herself if she continued (with a .27 blood alcohol level). Another fun fact: "Cook's previous case was not revealed to Episcopal clerics and lay delegates who in May elected her to the post of bishop suffragan, making her the first woman to reach the position in the diocese.". So here we have a woman with a criminal record while in the leadership of the church elected to the office of bishop while information about her criminal past was withheld from the church. This is why you cannot have elders that you don't personally know.

Let's recall Paul's direction regarding elders:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1Timothy 3:1-7)

Once again we have a reminder of why Biblical fidelity is important. We have the teachings and commands and examples of the Scriptures preserved for us thousands of years later for a reason. A woman with a drinking problem that apparently doesn't have a family is not Biblically qualified to be an elder in the church for at least three reasons. Yet here she is styling herself a "bishop" and called to this position that she is unqualified for in order to make some sort of political point. Listen up and listen well. The church of Christ, His very Body that He laid down His life for, is not an organization to score points for political correctness or to fulfill some sort of quota or a mechanism for social engineering.

In the "things I despise" category, I got another email from some random business touting this:

Um yeah. Here is a Bible that purports to be simultaneously representing two diametrically opposed positions, a Kingdom mentality and secular patriotism! I present the 1599 Geneva Bible- Patriot's Edition! Here are a couple of choice gems from the advertisement:

Between 1560 and 1599, The Geneva Bible was providentially unleashed upon a dark, discouraged, downtrodden English speaking world. Just when it looked as if the Machiavellian, Divine Right kings, such as the Tudors of England, were about to drive Christendom back to the days of Caesar worship, a Bible appeared that set the stage for a Christian Reformation of life and culture the likes of which the world had never seen. By the time of the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, just 28 years after the first printing of the Geneva Bible, it was already being said of the English that they were becoming a people of the Book. The results of a people reading and obeying the Word of God were the explosion of faith, character, the first missionary movement in history, literature, economic blessing, and political and religious freedom. 

...and this,,,,

This edition also includes the following historical documents, which are based upon Biblical principles:
  • The Magna Carta
  • The Mayflower Compact
  • The Declaration of Independence
  • The Articles of Confederation
  • The Constitution of the United States
  • Amendments to the U.S. Constitution
  • Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior
I love it when you combine the Bible with secular political documents in an attempt to conflate the Constitution of the United States with the written revelation of the Word of God. On second thought maybe I don't. Also a quick point of clarification, Christendom has pretty much always been based in Caesar worship. This is proof positive that the Western culture-centric soft theonomy of David Barton and company is alive and well. In case you were unsure, I am suggesting that this is a bunch of hooey. Just to clarify.

The Federalist ran a piece titled #YesWomenAndChildren Are Safer Within Intact Marriages. The article gives some pretty powerful evidence that yes indeed the claims in the hashtag/title are correct. Given that women and children both are safer in an intact marriage, you might assume that those that claim to be concerned with the safety of women and children would advocate for marriage. Right? Well no, you would be wrong. Lots of people who claim to be concerned about that very thing don't like the implication and I recalled an article I read a few weeks ago in the Washington Post, The unbelievable rise of single motherhood in America over the last 50 years. The entire article sounds like an advertisement for "traditional marriage values", unless you read to the end:

The question remains, though, of how we should respond to all of these findings — and this is where much of the controversy lies today. If children of single mothers fare worse in many ways, then married parents might make their lives better, right?

Here McLanahan and Jencks are clear: None of these findings mean that children would necessarily be better off if their biological parents married.

That's because children of unmarried moms are more likely to have a father in prison, or who's unemployed, or who sells drugs or abuses his partner. "Furthermore," McLanahan and Jencks write, "even when a child’s absent father is a model citizen, the mother often has problems that marriage cannot solve." She has less education than married moms, or she's more likely to have mental health challenges.

Ah, so even though by essentially every measure kids are better off in intact families, women shouldn't be encouraged to marry the fathers of their children because, get this, they tend to be unemployed, drug users, criminals or some combination thereof. One can only imagine the tsunami of outrage if someone on the right suggested that. Of course the proposed solution is right out of the big government playbook:

That implies that we should give less-educated women more reasons — like educational and career opportunity — to postpone motherhood. And we need to improve the economic prospects of those suitable partners they're searching for. These are both incredibly complicated tasks. And they point to the conclusion that the rise of single motherhood charted above is an economic story as much — if not more so — than a cultural one.

Don't stop sleeping around, just use contraception and get married later (when of course you have a dramatically lower fertility and the non-criminal/unemployed/druggie guys are already married to someone else). The key here is this line: "And we need to improve the economic prospects of those suitable partners they're searching for". How do we do that? If you answered with "more government programs" well ding, ding, ding, winner, winner, chicken dinner! See also Michael Barone, Can Family Fragmentation be Fixed?  I requested the book he cites from the library, it looks to be an interesting and disturbing read.

Speaking of more government programs....our President who seems ever more desperate in his desire to seem relevant in his last two years has taken to threatening to veto any bill the Congress passes (his prerogative I suppose) and tossing out crazy ideas. Last week we go the latest, a chicken in every pot and free community college for all!

"Put simply, what I'd like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for anybody who's willing to work for it," he said aboard Air Force One amid a three-state tour to preview his State of the Union Address. "It's something we can accomplish, and it's something that will train our workforce so that we can compete with anyone in the world."

Ok a few points of clarification. First of all, it isn't free. The article suggests that the cost would be about $70 billion. In case you were unaware, we don't have $70,000,000,000. We already spend more than we bring in right now. It is only "free" in the Washington sense of the word where "free" means "free to me 'cause some other sap is paying for it". Second, anyone who thinks that it will "only" cost $70 billion is dumb. Remember, "free" public school soaks up an enormous amount of money, an amount that is endlessly increasing and provides rapidly diminishing returns. Giving community colleges, which right now have an incentive to keep costs under control, a free check is a certain recipe for them to increase tuition. Why not keep raising your prices when Uncle Sam is committing to paying for it? Third, "free for anyone who works for it" is an ironic statement because essentially no one is going to work for it. It is free to everyone, remember! You just need decent grades (i.e. a 2.5 GPA). As far as that, Charles Cooke makes this salient point at National Review:

Moreover, the staggering amounts of money involved would naturally tempt the receiving colleges toward chronic grade inflation and the routinely false reporting of standards. Honestly, I can’t imagine a better way of ensuring that everybody has a 2.5 GPA than to tell those who directly benefit from the cash that their institution’s health is now contingent upon everybody having a 2.5 GPA.

One can only assume that a professor who consistently gives under-performing students poor grades might get some pressure to stop messing with the gravy train. Fourth, as the USA Today article points out approvingly, this is the bookend to Obama's failed attempt at cradle to grave "education". Universal Pre-K, a scheme allegedly funded by another scheme, has never happened thankfully. How long would it take to expand this new "right" to community college to include four year college? I am a huge advocate of community college, heck I have three kids taking classes at one right now. I am not a huge advocate of creating an expensive new "right" that will end up heaping tons of new debt on the very students who are getting a "free education". It is not really all that free when you are just deferring the costs. 

Tim Bayly, someone I rarely read, points out the awful exegesis of those who advocate for "mutual submission" in marriage. I wrote about this some time ago in a post with the clever title of Mutual Submission? 

Back in November (I am kinda late with my links post) Dave Black was Thinking About the Local Church, something I do a fair amount of myself. Dave has a number of points that I would and have echo and I liked his summary:

For starters, maybe we should reexamine our priorities when it comes to church finances. Any church building we construct must be purely functional in nature and should express a biblical understanding of the true nature of the church. Theologically, the church does not require a building. A church building has no more right to be called a “sanctuary” than a garage does. The body of Christ, the communion of believers, is the true tabernacle of God. Think and act this way today and you may well end up where the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century did — maligned or even persecuted. The need today is not to mimic the Anabaptists. The need is to renew our commitment to the New Testament Scriptures. Think of the followers of Zwingli in sixteenth-century Zurich. It was their allegiance to the New Testament (in Greek, by the way) that got them in so much trouble with their erstwhile teacher.

We all need to rethink constantly our assumptions about the church. We all to often run on autopilot and the result is us going way off course but we think we are OK because everything seems comfortable and smooth. 

There has been a lot of chatter following some highly publicized killings of black men by police of the idea that black lives matter but as Life News points out: They Say Black Lives Matter But Abortion is the Number One Killer of Black People. The church cannot be taken seriously if we yammer about police killings of young black men but remain silent about the millions of young black children killed in abortion clinics.