Monday, March 30, 2015

Around The Web On #RFRA

I don't normally get especially incensed over political stuff anymore but the ludicrous response to my home state of Indiana passing a law that is substantially the same as an existing Federal law and some 30 odd state laws, including one supported by then State Senator Barack Obama who has predictably changed his tune after testing the political winds, has me feeling compelled to keep putting out decent responses to the inane responses from people who largely don't live in Indiana and wouldn't be caught dead here.

The first point to make is that when you get a coalition of academic pseudo-intellectuals, "social justice Christians", guilty leftist business leaders, the Obama administration and a mishmash of Hollywood liberals who feel qualified to speak on an issue because of a talent for pretending to be someone else, all opposing what you have done, it is a sure sign that it was the right thing to do. I am not super-interested in fighting the culture wars mostly because they have been largely counter-productive, a huge waste of resources and lead increasingly to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. I am even less interested in being scolded by people who a) haven't read the bill and/or b) couldn't find Indiana on a map with both hands. The professional class of people in this country that are offended and aggrieved over something new every day, creating ridiculous notions like "micro-aggressions" to turn any and every casual human interaction into a cause to be rallied to and a wrong to be scolded about, are a cancer in our culture. I don't use that word lightly but I do use it unapologetically and intentionally.

The uproar over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act can be linked to the social media prompting of George Takei and that is the reason, the only reason, that this law which is essentially the same as the laws on the books of 60% of the states as well as the Federal government is getting so much attention. There is nothing quite like social media to inflame the passions of the willfully ignorant. This backlash, while predictable in retrospect, has taken the Right in this country off-guard, at least initially. Very few voices stood against the ironically labelled forces of "tolerance". Thankfully in spite of the slow start that has changed. I wanted to highlight a few for your reading pleasure.

The Daily Signal has a brief article, The True Facts About Religious Freedom Laws, that is noteworthy for a helpful graphic. It isn't an in-depth look at the issue but in this day and age a clear graphic is a useful tool in responding to the forces of religious bigotry that depend on sound-bytes and memes to make their point.

The National Review has several good articles, Is Indiana Protecting Discrimination? as well as Liberals against Religious Liberty in Indiana and The White House Doesn’t Like Indiana’s Religious-Liberty Law, but Won’t Say Why It’s Different from the One Obama Supported. It is typical that the media is completely giving a pass to Obama for yet another flip-flop. It is almost like they have an agenda or something....

Matt Walsh has a decidedly snarky essay but one worth reading, Sorry Gays, You Don’t Have The Right To Be Free From Discrimination. All businesses discriminate by virtue of price, product line-up, location, etc. Victoria's Secret discriminates in favor of women. Heck it used to be considered a virtue to be discriminating. Now the real virtue is to have no opinion or preference about anything other than what the government says or the marketers tell you.

Rod Dreher, writing for the American Conservative has a very comprehensive piece, Indiana: A Religious Liberty Bellwether.
It seems to me that the media/elite freakout over the Indiana law is a moral panic analogous to the freakout over the UVA rape case. People rushed like lemmings to endorse as true something that turned out to be a hoax because it confirmed their prejudices about Bad Classes of People. This is why so many in the media are making no pretense to be fair in their reporting and commentary on the Indiana law. As Mollie Hemingway avers, the most interesting — and most worrying — aspect of all this is that religious liberty is not considered to be important at all to very many people in this country, especially the most powerful people.
Notre Dame’s Pat Deneen wrote this weekend on Facebook that law school friends tell him of plans underway now by progressive law profs to “Bob Jones” churches and religious institutions that have policies they consider discriminatory against LGBT people. That is, they want to campaign to take away tax exempt status from all religious entities that have traditional views and practices related to homosexuality. This is the next frontier. Many churches and religious entities operate so close to the margins, budget-wise, that they will not be able to survive this.
Set aside the reality of church operating at the budget margins, a worthy topic for another day, and concentrate on the words above. The media is paying so much attention to this issue because it allows them to bash the Bad People and like so many other issues like the noted UVA "rape" farce, the "hands up, don't shoot" farce, the "bombing" of the NAACP offices in Colorado farce, etc., what is important here is the agenda driving narrative, not the truth. Let's be honest, the "media" in this country is mostly designed to push an agenda. This is a charge regularly lobbed at the evil Fox News by the left but it is at least as true for the NBC/ABC/CBS cabal along with CNN, MSNBC and NPR/PBS. What changed with the advent of Fox News and talk radio, etc., is that the monopolistic stranglehold of the leftist media was broken and they cannot forgive that. Also of note is this tweet from the Dreher article:
That is exactly on the mark. This is very much the government at the state level attempting to put into place protections for religious small businesses to exercise their religious beliefs as a defense against the elites of our society in academia, entertainment, government and business. The groups he lists have a lot in common, namely that they want nothing to rock the boat and interfere with the money flow that is the lifeblood of the government, the academy, the entertainment world and the massive corporations. Ironically the American Left has placed itself firmly on the side of the most privileged and white organizations in the world.

The attempt to muzzle religious expression, and make no mistake that while evangelical Christianity is the primary target here this same law will extend to Roman Catholicism, Muslims, Jews, really anyone with any religious convictions. As many of the articles point out , these laws do not provide blanket amnesty to discriminate, they simply provide a legal framework for litigation if it arises. Of course lost in this entire discussion is that many of the existing cases across the country are pretty clearly activists intentionally trying to force a business to cater to them to make a political point.

Anyway, it is just really important that the reality of this issue gets circulated because it is turning into a witch hunt with the wealthy elites trying to one-up each other over who is more outraged.

The Communion Default

I got to thinking about the idea of closed vs. open communion today for a couple of reasons. It is an issue that is pretty settled in a lot of the church but settled incorrectly in my view and it needs to be challenged as it exists and debunked for the damage it does.

Our religious culture, taking cues from Rome, for the most part has a default position of suspicion and presumption of guilt when someone new comes to the Table. You must first prove your worth to an authority figure in a local church prior to coming to the Table and being allowed to partake. Of course the easiest way to do that is to "join" a local church, a pragmatic mechanism put in place to substitute for actual relationships but one that leaves little room for people who are visiting or who are not interested in being shackled to an extra-biblical "covenant".

In contrast to how our religious culture approaches our ritualized version of communion, the Bible teaches that the proper stance of the church toward other believers desiring to come to the Lord's Supper is to welcome them unless something they do necessitates that we don't welcome them. The burden is on the church to show why someone should not be welcomed to the table and the standard is a very stringent one. Like our legal system, other believers are "innocent until proven guilty" rather than the reverse.

In other words, a fellow professing believer is not disqualified from the Supper because they are not a "member" of your congregation. Since gatherings that look even vaguely like your local church didn't exist for hundreds of years after the Cross and formal church membership is not commanded, implied or even inferred in Scripture, it is silly to demand that any other believer meet the extra-biblical standard of "joining your church" before you will permit them to partake of something that the Lord commanded His followers do.

In fact I would suggest that it is a greater sin, a far greater and more dangerous sin, to stand between a believer seeking to carry out the commands of our Lord than it is to risk someone who is not eligible partaking of the supper.To put it more succinctly, the damage done by denying the Supper to a brother is far worse than an ineligible person being inadvertently welcomed to the Table.

As someone has been simultaneously told that we are welcome in a gathering but unwelcome in an observance of the Supper, this is an open wound. You are no more justified in refusing fellowship with another believer apart from an unrepentant sin than you are in denying them the Table.

So why is "closed" or even "close" communion so common? As mentioned I think a lot of it is tradition that is a holdover from Roman Catholicism where the ability to deny the demi-salvific nature of the "Mass" is a key tool to control and compel people. That need to control and compel is not unique to Rome and has been Protestantized by countless evangelical groups over the centuries who follow the lead of the Roman hierarchy in taking a sign of love, fellowship and unity and turning it into a club to demand obedience. Another key factor is the general distrust of clergy for the testimony and profession of believers from other traditions. "Oh you were baptized in a Pentecostal church? You probably aren't really saved then. Take our membership classes and affirm our statement of faith and then get back to me, maybe you can come to the communion service next quarter (provided the church votes to accept you as a member, of course)." Pastors are awfully untrusting of other Christians from inside their own tradition, thus the jealous guarding of "their" pulpit. That is exponentially true of Christians in other traditions. So when you combine tradition, control and (to be honest) contempt, you end up with a lot of people being prevented from following the commands of Scripture by the men who of all people should know better.

It is not your Table. It is not my Supper. It is His. He makes the guest list. He tells us who can be excluded (and it is a short list). He commands His followers to gather for the Supper and nowhere mentions them jumping through ecclesiastical hoops. Pastors be very aware that when you deny a fellow believer the comfort and fellowship of the Table you are really telling our Lord that His guest list needs some refinement and you might just know better than Him who should be invited. Do you really want to place yourself in that position?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Speaking Of Intolerance

Turns out the good folks at The Gospel Coalition have taken a page from the thought police of the secular university world by blocking me from posting comments on their webpage. I got blocked by the administrator of their Facebook page a while back but now my Disqus account is also blocked.

I get it. My posts tend to be polemical and are often aimed at the unquestioned acceptance of the institutional church system that the authors and board of TGC are reliant upon for their income and influence, although I take pains to not be overly hostile or unpleasant when I post. I guess when they form a coalition around "The Gospel" they are really referring to the "Good News of Organized Religion". As for me, I am pretty tolerant of comments on my blog, even when they are inflammatory or ad hominem. Unless a comment contains excessive vulgarity or is clearly spam, I approve it. I am also pretty sure that I have never been blocked by another webpage.

Oh well, I guess the writers and readers of the Gospel Coalition page can keep discussing issues in the safe, sterile confines of the world of organized religion and keep churning out their books and conferences, keeping their webpage safe for the reader who likes his assumptions unchallenged. The rest of us can have the messy conversations somewhere else, safely kept at arms length by the censors of the institutional church world.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Forces of Toleration In A Full State Of Intolerant Hysteria!

The internet hysteria over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA is attaining unheard of levels today. Keeping in mind that most of the social media circles I run in tend to be more "conservative" or libertarian, the amount of nonsense I am seeing is pretty staggering and indicative of what the leftward end of the social media world must be like. Case in point below.

(Names and Facebook images removed to protect the ignorant)

So we have Governor Pence described as a sociopath, as brainless and the tired yet predictable comparison between a gay couple not being able to get a floral arrangement from one of the dozens of possible florists and Jews being gassed in Auschwitz or blacks being lynched in the South. The same guy doubled down on his RFRA=Lynching=Holocaust analogy a few comments later, cementing the reality that he is incapable of formulating a rational argument against this piece of fairly common legislation. As I pointed to out to another Facebook pundit who presumed to speak for the "people of Indiana", the elected representatives of the Hoosier state are overwhelmingly Republican and are doing precisely what most of their constituents want. It also happens to be the right thing to do.

This kerfuffle is a prime example, along with things like #handsupdontshoot and the "bombing" of an NAACP office that, oops, turned out to be nothing of the sort, why it is very hard to take most arguments from the political Left with any seriousness. Now there is this editorial in the Indy Star from a law professor that is in favor of "gay marriage" but it is the exception to the rule. We are inundated with nonsense like "privilege" which apparently excuses intolerable behavior by people "fighting the man". We are accused of "microaggressions" which apparently can mean anything and are usually unconscious but also are an excuse to demand more special treats from the government. College students are so insulated from any sort of critical thought that a piece in the New York Times describes the "safe space", another inane term, for adult college students to hide away from any contrary opinions.
The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.
Really. Was thumb sucking involved? I am sure parents are gladly forking over big bucks to see their adult students being reverted back to an infantile state by the university system.

RFRA is just the latest example of the semi-professional aggrieved class in America that cannot stand any opinion other than the one they are spoon fed and is incapable of responding to a discomforting topic without resorting to the fetal position or hyperbolic allusions to the Holocaust. Ironically these are the same people who sneer and revile people who watch Fox News for precisely the sort of behavior they are exhibiting today.

Tempest In A +5 Teapot of Smiting

My home state of Indiana is on the verge of passing a bill (SB 101) with a typically politicized name, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA for short. Governor Pence is signing the bill this morning. This bill aims to protect the religious liberty of business owners in Indiana so that they will not be coerced into engaging in actions that are contrary to their religious beliefs. Given the very real examples of Christians being strong-armed into providing "wedding" services for homosexual couples, this is not an unreasonable concern to address but of course anything that hinders the forced conformity with the homosexual agenda is going to cause the predictable outrage. This is no different. George Takei, famous for being Mr. Sulu on Star Trek and posting lots of funny stuff on social media, went on record calling on GenCon, the granddaddy of all gaming conventions, to move from Indianapolis. GenCon is a pretty big event (and at around $50 per person to attend, it should be) and brings lots of money to Indiana. GenCon dutifully warned that it might consider moving the convention to a new location:
The organizers of Gen Con, the city's largest convention in attendance and economic impact, are threatening to move the event elsewhere if Gov. Mike Pence signs controversial religious freedom legislation that could allow business owners to refuse services to same-sex couples.
"Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state's economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years," said Adrian Swartout, owner and CEO of Gen Con LLC, in a letter sent to Pence just hours after lawmakers sent the measure to his desk.
Gen Con's website describes the convention as "the original, longest-running, best-attended gaming convention in the world!" The conference attracted 56,000 people last year to the Indiana Convention Center and has an annual economic impact of more than $50 million, Swartout said in the letter.
"Gen Con proudly welcomes a diverse attendee base, made up of different ethnicities, cultures, beliefs, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds," she wrote. "We are happy to provide an environment that welcomes all, and the wide-ranging diversity of our attendees has become a key element to the success and growth of our convention."
As someone who has been dabbling to one extent or another in fantasy gaming since I was a little kid, taking my Dungeons & Dragons books to the lake (and pretty much anywhere else I went), I have been aware of GenCon for longer than many attendees have been alive. So I sure don't want to see them leave for a lot of reasons. Nevertheless this is just a silly and empty gesture. Here is the digest of the bill from the Indiana legislature webpage (provided because I am sure that the vast majority of people who are frothing at the mouth over this bill have done zero research on what it actually says and does. After all, if you can keep hashtagging #handsupdontshoot long after it has been proven to be a farce, it is obvious that facts don't matter, only the narrative does.)
Religious freedom restoration. Prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the governmental entity can demonstrate that the burden: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest. Provides a procedure for remedying a violation. Specifies that the religious freedom law applies to the implementation or application of a law regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity or official is a party to a proceeding implementing or applying the law. Prohibits an applicant, employee, or former employee from pursuing certain causes of action against a private employer.
Call me crazy but that doesn't sound like people with torches and pitchforks standing at the borders of Indiana keeping them gays out of our state. Nor does it mean that homosexuals are unable to conduct business or vacation or travel through or eat at restaurants or attend a gay bar or go to a movie or....well really do anything at all that is legal in Indiana. It does mean that you cannot force a private business to violate their religious conscience in a business transaction. I don't think a Jewish painter should be compelled to take on a job to paint "Exterminate The Jews" on the side of a barn nor do I think that a black baker should be forced to decorate a cake with the words "Hang The Niggers". (Please note I refuse to use the substitute "The N-Word" because we all know what the "N-Word" is and substituting that infantile phrase for a disgusting word is juvenile).

Back to GenCon. When you read the article what is hidden in plain sight are some interesting statements.

First, they didn't say they would leave. In fact they are under contract until 2020 to stay in Indianapolis at which time this issue would blow over. They only said that it would be one of many factors they considered. It also isn't like Indiana Governor Mike Pence vetoing this bill would guarantee their renewing the contract past 2020.

Second, as the article points out their most likely alternate site (Chicago) has essentially the same law. In fact 18 or 19 other states have similar laws and others will no doubt be adding them as the years go by and bullying by homosexual activists gets more vigorous.

Third, every convention or event like this reevaluates their location and shops for the best deal when their contract is up, it just makes sense.

Fourth, state legislatures and the governor absolutely should not base legislation on the remote chance that a particular convention might not consider returning to the state at some future date. The religious liberty of Hoosiers is a much higher priority than a convention, even a large one like GenCon.

Finally, like I pointed out there is nothing to prevent or deter a homosexual fantasy gamer from attending GenCon in Indianapolis and having a lovely time.

Essentially this is an empty gesture to make a "statement" that has no basis in reality. This bill will become law, religious liberty will be strengthened, the professional outrage mongers will move on to something else and hopefully GenCon will continue to meet in Indianapolis, one of the most pleasant large cities around with plenty to attract convention visitors of all stripes and persuasions.

GenCon, stick to fantasy role-playing games and leave the clumsy attempts at social engineering, religious intolerance and capitulation to political correctness to the self-important elites. Here in Indiana no follower of Corellon Larethian will required to bake a cake for a meeting of the followers of Gruumsh. We just ask the same liberty for our residents while welcoming any and all, from farm equipment dealers to my fellow fantasy gaming dorks.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Unnatural Born Killers

There is plenty of news out there that turns the stomach but this story, intended to be innocuous, from NPR was just awful: Can Female Marines Carry The Load And Kill The Enemy?. The title was bad enough, the content was even worse.
More than a dozen Marines from Alpha Company fan out across California's Mojave Desert, far into the distance. Machine-gun fire gives them cover. The small forms dash ahead. Some drop to one knee, others fall on their stomachs, firing at pop-up targets.
Only one woman is part of this group. Until last fall, Sgt. Kelly Brown was fueling helicopters and trucks. Now she's running with an assault rifle.
"Sgt. Brown. She's a good Marine, she's adapted well," says Capt. Ray Kaster, Alpha Company commander, as he walks up a gravel road toward the training range at a Marine base in Twentynine Palms, Calif.
"She's a natural leader. She's been very good for us. Very good to have a positive influence amongst the females," he says.
But the number of women is dwindling. Kaster estimates he's lost about half of them, though Marine officials later say about one-third of the nearly 30 women dropped out.
Kaster says the majority of those dropouts were due to hip and leg fractures, injuries that come from the heavy load an infantry Marine must carry: weapons, ammunition, a pack that can weigh from 50 pounds to more than 100 pounds.
First the simple facts. Between 1/3 and 1/2 of the women have had to drop the program. Not a knock on their toughness or character, just a simple matter of biology. Women are just not meant to carry packs weighing over 100 pounds where the weight has to ride on their hips. One female Marine interview weighs 130 lbs. One stands 5'1", petite by any standards. So basically they are women, in spite of our cultural attempt to feminize men and make women masculine. They are being asked to perform a physical task that is difficult for a young, fit man and so difficult for women that it is literally crushing their skeletal structure, all to make some sort of political statement.

Second, the ethical issue. I know this question is largely settled in the culture but not for me. Do we really, with a military larger and vastly more potent than any other in the world, need a 5'1" woman, who needs to shop for petite sized dresses, being sent around the world to "kill the enemy" on our behalf? I don't want anyone killing anyone else on my behalf but I especially don't want a woman doing so. It is awful to think of a woman being asked to point a rifle at someone and pull the trigger so that my "way of life" can be preserved. It is even worse to think of that young woman lying in the sand somewhere with her life draining out from a gut wound, dying in agony or falling into the hands of the enemy who undoubtedly has a far less "enlightened" view of women than we allegedly do. I mean, is it really more demeaning to ask a woman to wear a burqa than it is to ask her to kill someone else instead of a man doing it?

You can teach a woman to "want" to be a cage fighter or go off to shoot the bad guys or any other activity that historically has been a male dominated one. You can't change their nature or their physique. Nor can you make it palatable and acceptable for any actual man to be comfortable with a woman serving as a blood-spilling proxy so he can continue to eat, drink and entertain himself into an early grave. The general state of American masculinity is disgusting and the enlisting of women to kill to satisfy the perverse motives of a radical few is second only to legalized infanticide under the guise of "choice" as the most egregious examples of how far we have fallen.

Men in this country are already sent off to kill, die and be maimed in foolish, unconstitutional and likely illegal war after war. Please stop compounding this by beguiling women with the false glory of blood-letting.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Gentlemen, Start Your Pandering!

Just like that, we are off!

The first of many Republicans announced  their run for the White House today, with the award for being the first to officially announce going to Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Senator Cruz seems like an OK guy, reasonable conservative in some areas and best of all he has been dubbed " absolutely unfit to be running for office" by noted authority on being unfit to be running for office, the well known intellectual heavyweight Governor Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown, of the train-wreck we know as California. I can think of no higher praise than being chastened by the addled Governor of California.

Anyway, Senator Cruz of Texas decided to announce his candidacy not in his home state of Texas. Not in D.C. Not in the early primary states like Iowa or New Hampshire. Rather he went to Liberty University, the world's largest "Christian" college that has hosted such luminaries Gospel denying, God blaspheming heretics as Glenn Beck. Cruz sounded the expected note to the captive audience (attendance was apparently mandatory for students):
In choosing to stage his announcement at Liberty University, a Baptist school founded in 1971 founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Cruz — who is also Baptist — signaled that he will cast himself as a principled social conservative and align himself with the evangelical voters who play a critical role in the early primary states. He marbled his speech with references to God, and told the story of his father, who left the family home when Cruz was three years old but later returned, having found redemption through Jesus.
“There are people who wonder if faith is real,” Cruz said. “I can tell you in my life it isn’t without a shadow of a doubt.”
“I believe God isn’t done with America yet,” he said later.
I agree with the Senator but I would say that God isn't done with any nation on earth yet, and none are more or less in His focus than any other. Someday the Son will reign on the new earth and the nations as we know them will have ceased to exist. Until that eschatalogical fulfillment we are left with citizens of the Kingdom of God living and witnessing to the kingdom of Caesar. 

Expect this to be a theme among a number of candidates in the upcoming primary elections. When speaking to a presumably Christian audience they will invoke God, country, guns, the war on terror and apple pie, although not necessarily in that order to raucous applause. You can also be sure that God, or at least invocations of that word, will be largely absent when speaking to the Chamber of Commerce or other more secular groups. Thus it goes on election cycle after election cycle as religious Americans of all stripes get patted on the head and given a little bit of lip-service to cement their unwavering support, just like black voters are treated by the Democrats.

I don't question Senator Cruz's sincerity or his faith. He is simply following the prescribed formula for GOP primary success. Perhaps someday we will see the majority of believers ceasing to fall for this charade year after year, but obviously not this year. We are in dire need of prophetic voices within the church who will call for a position of powerlessness and weakness rather than a vain and polluting thirst for political power. Not voices who substitute the Religious Right for the even more delusional Religious Left but rather for voices that reject both as attempts to yoke the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of man. Those voices are out there and even in the cacophony of "God Bless America" and roaring crowds, their voices are being heard. 

What of you Christian? Will you continue to follow the vain and doomed path of power or will you take the downward path of Christ? 

Star Trek 2.1: The Wrath of Winter

Snowing right now and expecting 1-3 inches, possible more this weekend. This is how I imagine winter...

For hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. Where is Spock when you need him?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Anabaptist Amnesia

For a fairly small group Anabaptists have managed to divide themselves up into a ton of distinct groups, especially within the largest group, the Mennonites (although they are plenty of divisions within the Hutterites and Amish of course). Some Mennonites have decided that the evangelical model is the way to go. There are a couple of those groups near us, one that is basically a huge church that is indistinguishable from any other Evangelical group (they even took "Mennonite" out of their name) and the other a quasi-Charismatic mess. There are a number of groups that are marked more by concerns over holiness and being unspotted from the world where the men wear the traditional suit coat and the women wear plain dresses and headcovers. Then there are the "progressive" groups that focus on "social justice" and militant pacifism. I would suggest that most of these groups have forgotten their heritage, some (like the "progressives") more so than others.

This has gathered some recent attention from the mainstream media, always a group likely to totally mishandle a question of religion. Amid the Presbyterian Church - USA voting to celebrate sin last week, I came across an interesting article in the Atlantic of all places on a regional conference of the Mennonite Church USA, probably the largest progressive group in the Anabaptist tradition. The article, Gay and Mennonite, features a banner with the ubiquitous rainbow banner and a woman wearing a cap, which seemed odd because I am pretty sure that most Mennonites who wear the covering are not having conversations about embracing homosexual behavior. The essay looks at the recent decision of the Allegheny Mennonite Conference regarding member church who had normalized sinful behavior and how the conference should respond.
On a Saturday in March, the Allegheny Mennonite Conference met in Springs, Pennsylvania, to determine the fate of Hyattsville Mennonite Church. A decade earlier, the Maryland congregation had been formally “disciplined” for accepting gay and lesbian members. Now, there were three resolutions on the ballot: let Hyattsville back into the conference as a full member; remove Hyattsville from the conference altogether; or, if no agreement could be found, dissolve the conference.
This is probably not much of a spoiler but in the end the conference voted to retain fellowship with the church that embraced homosexuality to the point of sending delegates to the regional conference that were open homosexuals. That is not surprising but I found some of the quotes from those in attendance to be telling in this troubling situation. This is the first one:
During conversations like these, pastors and church members who object to same-sex relationships tend to return to certain passages in the Bible. At Springs, they quoted Leviticus 18:22, which states that “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination,” and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which says that “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men … will inherit the kingdom of God.”
For Christians who are gay, words like these could be taken as a direct assault on both their faith and their gender identity. But Miller said he tries to ignore them. “I don’t react very much any more—maybe an eye roll. Anything that biblical writers were addressing had nothing to do with modern same-sex couples,” he said. “Some people’s whole focus about gay and lesbian relationships is all about sex—thinking below the belt, and that’s not the totality of what our life together means.”
Ironically and tragically that is precisely what it is. When a man couples with another man by seeking to substitute the natural relationship between men and women with a disordered and perverse action it inherently makes the relationship "below the belt". We are not talking about celibate same-sex loving relationships but rather relationships which have at their foundation a sexual act. The Bible doesn't prohibit a man from loving another man but it does call sin a man having relations that are restricted to a heterosexual, married relationship with another man. This particular statement from that quote really gets to the heart of the entire debate:
Anything that biblical writers were addressing had nothing to do with modern same-sex couples
So here we have it. At least he doesn't try to pretend that the Bible doesn't say anything about homosexual behavior like some do but he states what many clearly believe: the Bible doesn't have anything to say about this issue to sinners today. I wonder if that would hold true for those who steal or those who murder? Maybe those don't have anything to do with our modern society either. That raises the question, does the Bible have anything definitive and authoritative to say on anything? The answer increasingly for people who claim to follow the Christ revealed in Holy Scripture is no.When you decide that your own opinion is sovereign and creatures get to dictate to the Creator where He can speak and where He must be silent, even when it comes to Him being the Creator in the first place. This is the essence of pagan idolatry, the rejection of a transcendent and absolute authority in favor of an ephemeral notion of divinity that is subject to change on a whim and that is why you cannot join the embrace of sin with the sin repenting and self-denying Gospel.

The second quote is just jaw dropping, even for a cynic like myself (emphasis mine):
The floor opened for debate. Almost immediately, a representative from Springs proposed an amendment: Hyattsville should be allowed back in, but “members of congregations who are living lifestyles not generally accepted in conference should not be eligible to hold an elected position.” This restriction would apply to anyone whose lifestyle wasn’t in keeping with the Mennonite USA confession of faith, he said.
The pastor from Springs, Eric Haglund, rose and said that he had helped draft this amendment and written the morning’s sermon with it in mind—the conference needed time to adjust, he said, and this offered a compromise. “We can’t put deadlines on the Holy Spirit,” he said. “We have all been so bound up, I’m not sure we could recognize the Holy Spirit if he came crashing through the roof.”
But as another woman pointed out, the amendment might have unintended consequences. “I stand here a sinner: I am divorced, and I am an adultress,” she said. “I would like us to consider the challenge that would be before the leadership council if they had to screen people of certain sin categories from the leadership council. 
Wow and yet in a lot of religious circles that might not even get a raised eye-brow. Keep in mind that when the apostle Paul, patriarchal misogynist as some would label him, wrote to Timothy regarding the qualities that are non-negotiable in an elder (i.e leadership in the church) he said:
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. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
Lest we think this is an anomaly, Paul wrote something very similar to Titus:
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:5-9)
My point here is that leadership in the church in inextricably linked with a visible witness that is largely based on not sinning. So yeah, it might be a challenge in our world but we absolutely have to screen people based on certain sin categories. Of course the Bible also screens women from holding formal leadership in the church but that ship sailed a long time ago based on the number of "pastors" who are quoted in this story that are also women. A post revisiting the growing linkage between egalitarianism and embracing homosexuality is forthcoming. This is a pretty simple problem, namely that a lot of people don't want to be told that their own personal decisions and choices have ramifications for leading in the church. We live in an age of no accountability, of zero consequences and missing responsibility. I want to be an elder and I don't care if the Bible says that I can't.

The article points out that immediately a number of local congregations withdrew themselves, as they are unwilling to compromise the truth for the sake of a false unity. Good for them but they largely whiffed on the issue a long time ago. Many probably see their decision to leave as being inflexible but the decision to do so, like others who have split from progressive denominations, was forced on them.

This is a microcosm of the same conversation happening across the progressive Anabaptist sphere and one that has gone even farther in the "mainline" Protestant denominations. It is a "no going back" decision, once this door is opened it usually means the eventual wholesale departure of any contrary voices who can no longer be unequally yoked with their accommodating former brethren. This leaves the "progressive church" to sit around agreeing with themselves and affirming their error as they quickly die out.

Progressive Mennonites are, if not in the vanguard, at least part of the main host of the religious cultural accommodation movement. This flavor of Anabaptism is very in vogue these days for a lot of non-Anabaptists because they seem to have found an established, respected, historical movement that practiced non-violence and in turn have adopted and twisted what it means to be an Anabaptist.

This is where the amnesia comes in. Historically the men and women known as Anabaptists were not accommodating the culture, they were just the opposite and in turn were persecuted and killed for it. No one burned an Anabaptist at the stake or drowned them for agreeing with the powerful religious elites. When the rest of the religious world embraced a state church, the Anabaptists demanded a free church. When the rest of the religious world nonchalantly accepted war in the name of Christ, the Anabaptist chose instead the simple way of peacemaking. When the religious world "baptized" infants and bestowing purported membership in the New Covenant church on those who had not been born-again, the Anabaptists insisted on a believers church made up of the regenerate alone. This was radical, real radicalism, and non-accommodating and was as far as possible away from the movement to diminish sin, emasculate the Scriptures and embrace error. The historical ignorance by contemporary religious types who claim the heritage of Anabaptists is so counter-historical that it boggles the mind which is why I found this quote ironic:
Being a person of any faith means finding a balance between taught tradition and the moral imperatives of modernity. In the Mennonite church, the call of the past is particularly strong across the theological spectrum.
The first sentence  might be true of some religious traditions but it is not a part of Christianity and especially not Anabaptism. The second statement is sort of accurate but not across the theological spectrum. At all.

I tell people who are interested in the Anabaptists that they need to read the actual, historic Anabaptists rather than contemporary writers who cherry pick or flat out ignore what the Anabaptists taught and practiced. The historical ignorance and amnesia that infects a lot of "Anabaptism" has made the very notion into a fuzzy and empty feel-good religious club. If you want to be an Anabaptist you had better be prepared to stick to the Bible and not get too worked up when the culture doesn't like what you say, especially the religious culture, and be prepared for some suffering for your faith. It comes with the territory.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Sixth Sola of the Reformation?

If you are down with the Reformed set you know the Five Solas of justification:
  • Sola Fide, by faith alone.
  • Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
  • Solus Christus, through Christ alone.
  • Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
  • Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.
Turns out there is a sixth one according to Russell Moore, Sola Voting Boothus, justification by who you vote for in American Presidential elections. I discovered this in his recent post, A gospel-focused reenergizing of politics. Dr. Moore states:
We recognize that our vote for President of the United States is crucially important and we will be held accountable at Judgment for whomever we hand the Romans 13 sword to. 
Well that is a....creative... reading of Romans 13. Now perhaps that is just a clumsy or overenthusiastic statement but it is troubling because it assumes something Romans 13 does not state and could not state, as well as adding to the word of our Savior. Jesus didn't seem all that concerned with our role in electing secular leaders but rather on our identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God. I don't think Dr. Moore thinks that voting for the wrong person for President (assuming there is a "right" one) or not voting at all is going to get you cast into the lake of fire but too many people in the church already sort of assume that.

Now in fairness I was cheered to read this:
Many have rightly grown cynical of movements that are willing to adopt allies that are gospel heretics as long as they are politically correct (such as Glen Beck or Donald Trump). They are disenchanted with movements that seem more content to vaporize opponents with sound-bytes rather than to engage in a long-term strategy of providing a theology of gospel-focused action in the public square.
A lot of Christians are eager to toss born-again believers aside in favor of rank heretics and wolves like Glen Beck because they share certain political convictions. So yes to that. I just wonder if Christians should even be in the business at all of picking and choosing who we "hand the Romans 13 sword to" because it doing so we place our tacit stamp of approval on the actions of Caesar, whether it is unjustifiable wars of aggression like George W. Bush sending forces to invade and occupy Iraq or Barrack Hussein Obama assassinating people, including American citizens, with drone strikes without any sort of due process. I have been voting since 1991 and have yet to cast a ballot for anyone who governed in a Christian manner.

Sometimes laying down our political arms and focusing on the Gospel just might be the right course to take.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

When ignorant journalism and bad theology mix

This is going to be a long one.

CNN ran a piece on their webpage that details the tragic story of D.E. Paulk, one time Pentecostal clergyman destined for greatness at the risibly named "Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Chapel Hill Harvester Church "and the derailment of that path. The article, How The Ultimate Scandal Saved One Pastor, is supposed to be a predictable story that goes from tragedy to triumph but it really goes from tragedy to worse tragedy.

This story has everything. Junk theology, family secrets, lurid sex, power struggles, mushy pagan syncretism dressed up as "ecumenism", rejection of Scriptural truth, confused chatter about "justice". It reads mostly like an exceptionally bad Lifetime movie in a religious setting. Yet even in the midst of the mounds of malarkey there are some important points.

If you want to suffer through the rest of my post it continues after the jump....warning, you might want to keep one of those air sickness bags close at hand...

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Spring has sprung on the farm

The weather has turned for the better although it is now incredibly muddy everywhere. Pretty much all of our snow disappeared in the blink of an eye and now the fields lay saturated and slumbering but the plow and the planter are not far away.

Warmer weather also means new babies, and unlike our lambs which came too early which led to some losses, two sows farrowed this morning on a fairly warm day for mid-March. One, a Tamworth bred to a Tamworth boar, smooshed a number of her babies and we took the rest away. The other, a Berkshire bred to the same Tamworth boar, did much better. We have had her for a while so I was glad she finally had piglets because she was heading for the butcher. We have also acquired some calves, a couple of Jersey cross bulls that my son is going to raise up and sell, hopefully for a profit, and the third a 1/4 Holstein, 1/4 Jersey, 1/2 Angus heifer that I plan to keep to breed for feeder calves for the family freezer.

The rest of the critters are getting more active so hopefully ducklings and goslings are in the offing. One more sow is ready to farrow any day now and yet another, a Berkshire-Yorkshire cross, is getting pretty heavy in the belly and should be ready to farrow in a few weeks. Our third, older, Tamworth sow has had a couple of litters and I haven't seen much of her but I assume she is also preggers as they run with the boar all the time. We are going to get to critical mass on pigs soon and have a couple of younger gilts that will be ready to breed later in the year so things are pretty hectic.

It has been a long winter but as long as God is sovereign and Jesus tarries spring is inevitable. Here are some pictures of the happenings for your viewing enjoyment.

Two Jersey cross bull calves and a Jersey cross heifer under the lights.

The heifer calf about to get a smooch from a cheeky bull calf. Jokes on him, he is getting snipped soon. 

Our Percheron stallion desperately wishing it were not so muddy so he could run in his pasture. 

This mornings piglets, mostly Tamworth-Berkshire cross.

Same piglets close up.

Friday, March 13, 2015

In Full Retreat

As someone who spends an inordinate and probably unhealthy amount of time and effort reading and trying to interpret the shifting culture, especially via social media platforms, I occasionally see a trend developing slowly over time. Once in a while I see one happen almost overnight and I am seeing that today in the retreat of the culture warriors. This is not a strategic re-positioning or an advance to the rear. This is a full scale, every man for himself, retreat that makes the Highway of Death in the first Gulf "War" look like a fairly even engagement. It is well within recent memory to recall the powerful leaders of the Religious Right strutting around Washington D.C., extorting concessions from any politician outside of deep blue districts who didn't want to be seen as being insufficiently pious with the promise and threat of reliable, devoted legions of religious voters who would march to the polls on command.

These days? Well it is hard to look at social media without hearing the message "Please just leave us alone". It is stunning to see the retreat of the culture warriors, from "The Moral Majority" to "Take Back America!" to "This Far And No Farther!" to "Stand For Religious Liberty!" to "Please Just Leave Us Alone!". We have been so long in this abusive relationship with the political powers that be, or at least the Republican flavor, that we now find ourselves just hoping to avoid being noticed like an oft kicked dog cowering in the corner. Rod Dreher writing for the American Conservative points out an article that describes "social conservatives" as moving from "useful idiots" to "political liability" for  the GOP. As Rod says "The social liberals have won decisively. Let there be no more illusions.". Here is a dirty little secret, they were always winning. Sure they used to make the right soothing noises to calm down the cranky religious nuts that they secretly disdained but these days they are pretty much not even bothering with that anymore. In spite of the ludicrous putative "campaigns" by Mike Huckabee (coinciding with a new book, go figure) and the social conservative pining for a Ben Carson candidacy like a middle-school girl swooning over the hunky high school quarterback, it is far more likely that we end up with a Jeb Bush type establishment candidate to be offered up as a sacrificial lamb against Hillary.

Then there is the odd essay from Russ Moore. Left Behind In America, that makes the case I have been clamoring about for some time, specifically that there have always been a lot fewer actual Christians in America than was assumed. Dr. Moore is a champion of cultural and even political engagement but sounds a lot less militant these days.
The problem was that, from the beginning, Christian values were always more popular than the Christian gospel in American culture. That’s why one could speak with great acclaim, in almost any era of the nation’s history, of “God and country,” but then create cultural distance as soon as one mentioned “Christ and him crucified.” God was always welcome in American culture as the deity charged with blessing America. But the God who must be approached through the mediation of the blood of Christ was much more difficult to set to patriotic music or to “amen” in a prayer at the Rotary Club.
That is completely true but a lot of religious people in America, including some bright and Scripturally fluent Christians, don't get it. The "god" of America, the one invoked in "God Bless America", is not the God of the Bible but a god of our own nationalistic imagination, a god of war and prosperity. It is a pretty good essay but it just doesn't seem to jive with even recent statements from Dr. Moore. Even as he states that we should not look to this very different climate with clenched fists or wringing hands, he doesn't really seem to know how it should look.

Social conservatives have really brought this on themselves. It is not because their positions, at least most them, are wrong. They are actually right. Marriage is indeed only valid when consecrated between one man and one woman for life. Abortion is absolutely state sanctioned infanticide. Being a drunk or drug addict is bad. It is the method that was wrong. Why they bear the fault is that rather than being a prophetic voice in the wilderness in sharp contrast to the prevailing culture we have tried to force the unregenerate to be moral people. Absent the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit making life anew in dead sinners this is impossible without the coercive power of the state and the coercive power of the state is the anathema of  the power of the Holy Spirit.

As for me, I will stay out of the path of the culture warriors charging in full retreat to avoid being trampled (or strafed by the gleeful and vindictive victors on the libertine Left). The mission of the church in America has not changed nor is it any different than our mission in any nation that does, has or ever will exist. In fact with the culture warriors out of the way it should be a lot clearer who is standing for the Gospel and who is not. In my eyes that is great news for the church. Sure it is horrible news for the institutional religion of America that depends on people to fill the offering plate each week but that was never a legitimate part of the church anyway. It was just a sad blip on the radar and one that I am cheerfully  waving good-bye to in my rear view mirror.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What is the essence of Anabaptism?

I continue to read a lot of early to mid-20th century books written by Anabaptists (well Mennonites mostly as the Hutterites, Amish, Old German Baptist Brethren, etc. didn't write many books). What constantly sticks out to me is how very different historic Anabaptism is from the later 20th century to contemporary period Neo-Anabaptism. That is not in and of itself a bad thing, just puzzling because it seems to me that a lot (not all, so please save your angry retorts) of what calls itself Anabaptism today is completely unmoored from the historic reality of the people who stood for the truth and suffered for it. For example, one author who would be (in my mind) associated with the contemporary Neo-Anabaptist movement is Stuart Murray, author of the book The Naked Anabaptist ( see my review here). He wrote:
In many nations, then, not only in Britain and Ireland, there are growing numbers of 'neo-Anabaptists' and 'hyphenated Anabaptists'. Neo-Anabaptists identify with the Anabaptist tradition and are happy to be known as Anabaptists, but have no historic or cultural links with any Anabaptist-related denomination. Hyphenated Anabaptists find inspiration and resources in the Anabaptist tradition, but do not identify themselves as Anabaptists. They might be Baptist-Anabaptists, Methodist-Anabaptists, Anglican-Anabaptists, Pentecostal-Anabaptists or various other combinations.
In short, a lot of the "Neo-Anabaptists" and "Hyphenated-Anabaptists" use the word Anabaptist but don't mean Anabaptist as it is historically understood and don't really care what the historic Anabaptists thought, taught or practiced.

What seems to be the essence of Neo-Anabaptism is a combination of social justice and modern militant pacifism with a sizable dose of rejection of tradition. This combination has led to some pretty squirrelly positions and an embrace of a lot of heterodox teaching and teachers. It is a pretty big tent, a tent big enough for just about anything except conservative doctrine and practice. My point here is not to simply rail against the errors of a lot of Neo-Anabaptism, well-intentioned though they may be. Rather I am interested in, to use corporate speak for a moment, level-setting. Anabaptism is a deeply historical movement with roots that run quite deep and are simultaneously sad and glorious. Anabaptism, at least the name, is experiencing a sort of renaissance but I am afraid a lot of people don't even get what it was and continues to be all about.

So what is the essence of Anabaptism if not social justice and pacifism? It is the issue of baptism, right? That is where the name comes from and what caused the friction with the Reformers and Catholics alike.

Not really. I ran across this quote in a book I am reading, The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision, in a chapter titled Anabaptism and the Reformation by Frtiz Blanke (p.60), emphasis mine:
They wanted a church free from the guardianship of the state, accepting such members as joined out of an uncoerced decision. They sought a free church in the double sense: a congregation free from the state and based upon voluntary membership. This was the first goal of Anabaptism. Their real interest was not in baptism, but in the church. They sought a fellowship of those who by God's grace had come to faith, who desired earnestly to be Christians and to testify to the Gospel in word and work. The baptism of believers was simply the most striking external manifestation of this new kind of church.
The basic essential of Anabaptism is therefore not "social justice" or pacifism,, nor is it the issue of believers baptism (or as I like to call it "baptism") . The essence of Anabaptism is the church, not an institutionalized version but the church as a fellowship of disciples. This basic fact must be viewed in light of the contrast to the state churches of Catholicism and Protestantism alike. The break between the Anabaptists and the Protestants did not really happen over baptism, baptism was the most visible manifestation of a fundamental and irreconcilable difference in the way the Anabaptists understood the church and the way that the Protestants did. Ironically there are many ways that the Protestants are closer to Rome than they are to the Anabaptists and baptism is one of them along with a coercive state church. Likewise I would argue that "infant baptism" only makes sense in the context of a state-church with a coerced membership that operates in tandem with a clerical system that makes the act of baptism and the Lord's Supper into "means of grace" to control the laity. That is a topic for another day.

That is so important to understand if we are to understand the Anabaptists. If Anabaptism means just anything you want, then it no longer means anything at all. We can get too caught up in dwelling on history, much as the Reformed tend to do with their Protestantized ancestor worship, but trying to lay claim to Anabaptism un-moored from actual Anabaptism is foolish. The very name Anabaptist, once a slur, has very specific historical meaning. Using the name today because it makes you sound all groovy and radical and hip might make for lots of blog hits but it is bordering on dishonest. If you ignore the importance of a regenerate church made of disciples in favor of emphasizing a flavor-of-the-month economic-political cause, you miss the essence of Anabaptism and in doing so neuter their historical and current (sadly diminished) witness, replacing it with yet another iteration of "progressive" mainline Protestantism. We already have too much of that going on.

To change course a bit, I see the Neo-Anabaptists a lot like the house church/simple church movement and I harbor the same concerns. I have to say that in spite of its current popularity I am very skeptical of the long term viability of the house church/simple church movement, as well as the "Neo-Anabaptists", precisely because of the tendency of the movement's leaders and by proxy their followers to reject historical orthodoxy based on its acceptance by the institutional church on the one hand and their acceptance of and even embrace of both heterodox teaching and teachers alike on the other. If you make the right statements against the institutional church you are automatically granted a certain level of credence no matter how unscriptural your doctrinal positions are. The history of religion and the witness of Scripture tell us that this is not a recipe for faithfulness.

If you are interested in the Anabaptists, stay away from most contemporary Neo-Anabaptist writers, at least initially. Read the early Anabaptists, read the mid-20th century Anabaptists, study the church and the contrast between a church of disciples and a religious group made of up people who share a zip code. You will find that  things like non-resistance (very different from contemporary militant and political pacifism) and caring for the poor (also very different from "social justice") flow naturally from the church explained in the Bible and manifested however imperfectly the Anabaptists. Get the order reversed and you get a moralistic social club where hipsters and political liberals remake the church to fit their political agenda. There are some good and profitable thinkers who fall under the umbrella of Neo-Anabaptism but there are also on the fringes (and moving closer to center every day) some out and out heretics, wolves and false teachers. Establish a baseline first, a firm foundation in the historical Anabaptism and you will be far more prepared to distinguish between wannabee Anabaptists who subvert the movement for their own purposes and profitable teachers who apply Anabaptist teachings to a contemporary setting. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

One/Few Voices Versus A Multiplicity Of Voices

Josh Gelatt is at it again, this time with a post Multiple Voices: The Bible's Guide to Organizing a Church Service. Josh is full-time pastor of a pretty decent sized church in West Liberty, Ohio, a fellowship my family and I were blessed to visit when Josh was installed as their pastor, but what he writes really resonates with me. Here is a snippet.
Now compare this picture with our modern church services. One guy gives announcements. Maybe someone performs special music. Perhaps another prays over the offering. In some cases, another to read Scripture. Finally, the pastor ascends to the pulpit and delivers a sermon.

Don't misunderstand. If all of that is done to honor the Lord, I just described a faithful, God-honoring church service. But I do wonder if we are missing out on much of the vitality, connection, fellowship, and power that the New Testament churches experienced. Remember the first church that was birthed in Jerusalem? The believers there gathered to hear God's Word, share a meal, worship, and engage in prayers (Acts 2:42). Plural. Multiple people praying. Can you imagine how powerful that would have been?

I think one of the reasons modern believers don't feel a sense of connection and fellowship with their local churches is because we've taught them to be passive. Their job is to come, sing, put money in the plate, and maybe take some notes. Once the service is over, they get up and go about their day. No wonder people don't feel connected! They are not involved! I strongly believe we can only reclaim the sense of fellowship and ownership of ministry experienced by New Testament believers once we do church like New Testament believers.

The "Show up, shut up and pay up" model!

I might quibble with a point or two but you should read the entire post. The church service as we understand it is designed to keep people passive, whether intentionally or not. It is really easy to go to a mid-sized evangelical church with a couple hundred people who regularly attend, put on your Sunday best and your Sunday smile, attend and observe in passivity and anonymity and then go home having not been edified and not edifying anyone else. Repeat this pattern Sunday after Sunday for decades and multiply it across most of the church and you have the perfect recipe for an unhealthy, Biblically illiterate and completely passive Bride of Christ. When the brethren are engaged and involved, when the Holy Spirit is active and the Scriptures are honored and followed, you are far more likely to have a vibrant, healthy community. That is no surprise as that is exactly what we see modeled and commanded in Scripture in contrast to a ritualistic, passive gathering where only a few voices are heard.

A lot of pastors won't publicly ponder this stuff so I am glad to see Josh raising these issues but he better be careful. When you take the red pill you don't realize how far down the rabbit hole you might find yourself (how is that for mixing my metaphors?). Come to think of it, Josh does look a little like Keanu Reeves....

Friday, March 06, 2015

Regeneration Is Not An Attitude

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17)

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:1-8)

Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of salvation in the broader evangelical church, up and down the spectrum, is the simple truth that salvation is entirely a work of God. Every bit of it. Jesus didn't die to make good men better or to create a potential, possible salvation maybe for anyone pious enough to grab it, a kind of faith meritocracy. Salvation is nothing less than a miracle, a greater miracle than parting the Red Sea or knocking down the walls of Jericho or Jesus walking on water, feeding the multitude or healing the sick and blind.

Instead of embracing the awesome and fearful image of a God who can and does save as He desires, we make salvation into a decision people make like deciding which house to buy or whether to go to Burger King or McDonalds. That decisional sovereignty might make sense if a right standing with God is predicated on your current attitude but that is not what Scripture teaches.

What troubles me about the language of "personal relationship with Jesus" and "Jesus wants a relationship not a religion" that is so in vogue in religious circles these days, other than the obvious issue of it not being anywhere in the Bible, is that it sidesteps the necessity of regeneration. There is no relationship with Christ apart from a supernatural act of regeneration and adoption. The "relationship" between an unregenerate man and God is one of an enemy and a criminal who will be held to account with no hope of acquittal. You can talk about your "personal relationship with Jesus" all you like but it is good for nothing more than making you look like a moral person in the eyes of your fellow man. It certainly changes nothing in your standing before God. Only being regenerate counts, only being born-again. That is why it is so maddening and inane when people talk about avowed unbelievers like Gandhi as if they are paragons of Christian virtues when the one thing that matters most in the Gospel was absent from their lives. They were never born again and therefore will not partake in life eternal. I have no problem with saying that Gandhi and anyone else who refuses to bow the knee to Christ in this life will face an eternal hell, one that is infinitely just. I take no pleasure in it but I would be ashamed to deny what Christ taught.

When a person is regenerated, it is not merely the taking on of a new attitude. A Christian who has been born-again is something completely new. He hasn't merely changed his mind. He was dead and now he is alive again. He was an enemy of God, a child of wrath and now he is reconciled to God and a child of The Most High. One does not waffle back and forth like a particularly fickle adolescent girl, this day, this hour in love with God and saved and the next falling out of love and unsaved. Salvation is not a spectrum where you get to 50% +1 units of saved and you get in (unless you slide back to 50% - 1 right before  you die). It is all or nothing. You are born-again or you are not. If you are, you a in the Kingdom of God, adopted and justified. If you are not you will never see the Kingdom no matter how many good works and acts of religious piety you perform.

When the church that has a doctrine un-moored from the necessity of regeneration it ceases to be the church of Jesus Christ. It might be a swell place to hang out, it may feed lots of poor people, it might have a fat bank account but it is not the church, the both invisible and visible temporal embodiment of the Kingdom of God. We are in real danger of losing this most precious, most necessary doctrine of regeneration. If we do we have nothing to offer the world but our own piety and that will save no one from the judgment to come.

You must be born again.

It doesn't get much clearer than that. 

Ministry? Dude that is your job!

My friend Josh Gelatt wrote an interesting post, Who Does the Work of Ministry?, that looks at the notion that ministry is something that the pastor is supposed to do exclusively. He looks at one source of this misconception, namely the different way that Ephesians 4: 11-12 is rendered in the obsolete language of the King James, which remains a favorite in the church especially in more "conservative" circles versus modern translations. First the KJV:

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: (Eph 4:11-12 KJV)

Notice as Josh points out who is doing ministry, the "clergy". Now look at the ESV:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (Eph 4:11-12 ESV)

See the difference? In the KJV the elders are doing the work, in the ESV they are equipping, as more mature believers, the rest of the church to do the work of the ministry. That is an enormous difference. I am not a Greek scholar but Josh knows his stuff, as do the translation committee of the English Standard Version, so I am inclined to favor the ESV (and why I use it rather than the KJV). I am a bit embarrassed that I never noticed that difference before.

I like something else Josh wrote (emphasis in original):

For generations Christians have lived under the false idea that God expects very little from them. They "get saved", go to church, maybe tithe, and try to avoid really obvious sins. In fact, the church even began to speak of being "called into ministry", by which we mean someone becomes a pastor or missionary. Such language, however well intended, is the Devil's lie. All believers are called into ministry1 Peter 2:9 says "but you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light." Also notice Ephesians 2:10, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand." Those verses were not written just to your pastor, but to all of us. Every single believer.

Exactly,  the "show up, shut up and pay up" model is a lie of the enemy. Now Josh and I disagree in places on the function of elders in the church, specifically the pastor, but he is right on the money here. Ministry is the work of the church, all of us not just a select few professionals. 

Check out his entire post and share it, this is a message that needs to get out to the church, pastors and "laity" alike. The call to ministry is far too big and way too important to relegate it to a few subcontractors. 

Are you called to ministry? If you are a Christian the answer is always "Yes!".

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Practice Makes Perfect, Or At Least Better.

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Boy, when you read those words it almost seems like the author of Hebrews was writing for the church today, or perhaps it is just that there are no new sins and errors.

We live in an era when we are not permitted to call evil what it is. We hear lots of chatter about "radical grace" and "nuance" but stuff like "sin" and "judgement" and "wrath" are out of bounds. What makes this so weird is that we are, supposedly, a people of the Book. We don't worship the Book, we don't idolize the Book but everything of a critical nature we know about the God we worship is found in that Book. That very book where we read about forgiveness and loving our enemies is also the same book where we are continually told to be on guard against error and evil.

My old wrestling coach when I was in middle school used to say "Practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect". In other words if you practice a lot but practice the wrong way, you don't get any better and probably get worse. The church today, and for a long time, has been doing very little practice when it comes to distinguishing between good and evil to the point that we find ourselves where we are today with many "Christians" not only failing to distinguish but in fact calling what God has declared evil to be good or at least not all that bad. What little practice we do when it comes to distinguishing good from evil seems to be flawed at best.

We of course can get overzealous in our practice. I have more to say on the semi-professional watchbloggers who can't wait to write someone out of the Kingdom over doctrinal infractions, real and imagine. Even so, the misbehavior of some ought not discourage the rest of the church from being on watch for evil, just as the failure of the church to speak strongly enough against divorce doesn't negate our principled stand again "gay marriage".

Something interesting to consider here is that maturity, something the church is all supposed to be striving for, is directly tied here to being able to rightly distinguish between good and evil. Instead of shouting down those who are sounding a warning against evil, sin, love of the world, etc., perhaps we ought to be standing beside them, with the Scriptures open?

The corrective to those who are overzealous in distinguishing good from evil is not to stop distinguishing at all but to be even more zealous in our study of the revealed Word. If we all desire to progress in maturity we cannot turn a blind eye to evil.