Saturday, August 29, 2015

Words As Peals Of Thunder

I has become quite en vogue among certain segments of the religious social media world to trash the Apostle Paul for his various inconvenient and politically incorrect statements on pretty much everything except "love", a word easily misused and reinterpreted to meet the standards of the world.

That is not how the early church viewed Paul. They had, as did many other generations of Christians, a much higher view of Paul. Rightly so. Jerome is quoted in The Principal Works of St. Jerome as writing the following regarding the words of Paul:
I will only mention the Apostle Paul, whose words seem to me, as often as I hear them, to be not words, but peals of thunder.
Peals of thunder. Peals is not a word we use these days but we probably should. What a different view of Paul we see from the early church and the great theologians throughout history, especially in the Reformation. In fact I ran across this quote again recently when reading  the intro to Timothy George's masterful work, Theology of the Reformers, now in a revised edition. George writes:
The Reformation was not merely a tempest in a teacup. Jerome once said that when he read the letters of the apostle Paul, he could hear thunder. That same thunder reverberates through the writings of the reformers as well. Contemporary theologians would do well to listen afresh to the message of these courageous Christians who defied emperors and popes, kings and city councils because their consciences were captive to the Word of God. Their gospel of the free grace of Almighty God, the Lord God Sabaoth, as Luther’s great hymn put it, and their emphasis on the centrality and finality of Jesus Christ stand in marked contrast to the attenuated, transcendence-starved theologies that dominate the current scene. It is not the purpose of this study to canonize the reformers. The sixteenth century was an age of violence and coercion, and the mainline reformers were not completely innocent of bigotry and intolerance. The Anabaptists, who had warts of their own, offered a counterwitness on this score, a witness that still needs to be heard in our own violence-ridden century. Luther’s invective against the Jews, Zwingli’s complicity in the drowning of Anabaptists, and Calvin’s in the burning of Servetus are all the more tragic because one senses that these, of all people, should have known better. However, what is remarkable about the reformers is that despite their foibles and sins and blind spots, they were able to grasp with such perspicuity the paradoxical character of the human condition and the great possibility of human redemption through Jesus Christ. This concern undergirded their approach to the church, worship, ministry, spiritual life, and ethics. In each of these arenas we need desperately to hear what they have to say. 
George, Timothy (2013-09-01). Theology of the Reformers (Kindle Locations 178-190). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Emphasis mine.
To paraphrase Maximus Decimus Meridius: Their words echo through eternity like thunder. I think we could use a little thunder these days. Scratch that, we could use a lot of thunder these days.

We have lost the power of words, of ideas, of truth. Our battle-cry is tolerance, ecumenism, pragmatism. We try to fight the good fight by surrendering before the first shot it fired and shockingly keep losing, although that doesn't seem to bother some people. Anything to keep the peace and ensure that the tithe checks and book royalties keep flowing in. Paul makes for an easy target for the self-appointed editors of the faith because he is so readily slandered by those looking for an easier, less offensive gospel. Just pick and choose some seemingly innocuous passages about love, preferably from Jesus, and call Paul a misogynist or simply suggest that you can't really trust what Paul wrote, thereby setting the stage to discount whatever portions of the Bible the culture finds inconvenient. Pitting Paul against Jesus is a favorite pastime for too many religious folks and a fair number of Christians buy into it in their quest to find cover for their embarrassment of following such a primitive faith.

We could use a lot more thunder these days, a little more spine and a lot less congeniality. No one is going to read Jim Wallis or Joel Osteen or Rachel Held Evans and say wow, their words are like peals of thunder! Somewhere along the line we decided that being nice and inoffensive and politically correct were the hallmarks of a Christian when anything but that is the case. Thanks to our Hallmark culture we have a skewed, sub-Christian view of love and that view makes many of us theological wimps and whiners. I have a lot more to say about the view of the Bible and Paul in particular in the days to come. How we view the Bible in our culture today makes all the difference between a faithful witness and an empty religion. Stay tuned.

Hay And Love

Driving around yesterday where we live almost anywhere you went you could smell freshly mowed and raked hay fields. That is such a wonderful smell. With thousands of Amish in close proximity to our home, everywhere you looked there were farmers, Amish and English alike, cutting, raking and baling hay for the winter. Watching the English with their high tech equipment and then watching the Amish with the plodding but mighty draft horses is such a contrast but when you look at their houses it looks like the Amish are prospering more with less technology. What is especially awesome is when you are out of the car and can not only watch but listen. All you hear are the sounds of the horses doing what they love, leaning into the harness and pulling hay rakes and hay wagons. The soft jingle of their harness out in the open air while they do what man and beast have worked symbiotically together for centuries to accomplish in the never-ending change of the seasons reminds me that bigger and louder is not necessarily better. Farming the way the Amish do seems almost quaint but I don't think many of the Amish envy their English neighbors and the environmentally controlled cabs of their massive tractors with a commensurately massive loan payments.

How different the times and seasons are when you spend a lot of your summer preparing for fall and winter rather than looking ahead to the next vacation or the start of the Christmas shopping season. The rhythms of the seasons in the Midwest are very meaningful for those of us who grew up here and choose to live here and it always brings back memories. For me the smell of freshly mowed hay means more than feed for our livestock this winter, it takes me back to my younger days when I was an insufferable kid dating the woman who would be my wife.

Part of the process of courting my wife included helping with the hay when her dad cut it back when his health was better. That was not much fun because the bales were bound with wire making it possible to make them much heavier than hay bales bound with twine. Some of the bales weighed more than half of what I did back then. Plus I didn't really know what I was doing which made me feel awkward, something I hate. To top it off my wife's brother would toss bales like he was playing corn-hole, which is made easier by him being a giant who was immensely strong. I was pretty strong for a 125 pound kid but each bale was a major effort. Lifting weights in the gym is not quite the same as using your whole body to manhandle a bale of hay.

When I was living in those days of sweating, sore backs and arms that looked like a herd of cats had used them for a scratching post it wasn't much fun but looking back it was all well worth the effort and irritation. I am not sure her dad ever thought I would amount to much but I have to believe it earned me some grudging respect to go toe to toe with the hay bales.

Those days seem so long ago but I still remember the smell of hay and it reminds me of my wife. She would be out there with the men, working every bit as hard but smiling all the while. Hard work never bothered her and I tell skeptical Amish guys all the time that back in the day she could work every bit as hard as an Amish woman or even an Amish man. Stacking hay bales in the barn seems an odd thing to remind me of her but I recall those days and the smell of hay reminds me of how blessed I am to have a faithful wife of more than twenty years and eight children that we love. Our oldest son is out of the house every morning before 7 AM to go work on Amish farm and I see in him so much of what I respect about my wife. My other sons will head out later to care for our pigs, horses and cattle. My daughters are bright and beautiful and the two older girls spent part of their summer in Nicaragua and Nepal serving Christ.

My ungrateful and vain younger self would be shocked and disappointed at how we choose to live but I look around at my family and especially my wife when I see hay being made and wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Cage Stage: Not just for Calvinists Anymore!

There is a well known phenomenon that occurs when a generic evangelical discovers Reformed Theology/Calvinism. It even has a name: the cage stage. I will turn to R.C. Sproul, Jr. to explain in more detail. From the article Cage-Stage Calvinism: What Is It and What Causes It? :
“Cage-stage” describes an all too common phenomenon wherein a believer comes to embrace the doctrines of grace, and for a time becomes an obnoxious lout in defending the doctrines to all comers, whether they are interested or not. It suggests that such a newbie should spend some time in a cage until they calm down. If you are a Calvinist, you likely have been through this stage. If you are not, you surely have encountered those who were infected.
Yep. I remember that stage. Like Sproul, Jr. says, what causes it is a lack of belief in Calvinism. Read the whole article if you are interested.

I can go back to my earlier posts when I was even less wise than I am now, which is hard to believe, and a newer Christian and you can see the cage stage pretty dramatically on display. I even used to spend a lot of time arguing with other Calvinists about what constituted legitimate Calvinism!  Get a couple of younger Christians who hold to the Five Points and they will find something to argue about. As I grew older, I grew (mostly) out of that stage. That doesn't mean I hold less firmly to the five points or Reformed theology proper, if anything I hold to it even more firmly. It just means that I don't wander the back alleys of the internet looking for a fight. Again, as stated above, the cage stage is not a flaw in Calvinism, just a somewhat understandable overreaction when someone is introduced to an alternative to the easy-believisim, semi-Pelagian hokum that passes for theology in most of evangelicalism.

As I travel this life I have noticed that while the cage-stage Calvinist is still a thing, although the fervor seems to have cooled a bit as I have mentioned previously, it is not unique to Calvinism. While most people who embrace Calvinism sincerely find the tenets in Scripture, it also seems to attract people who are exceptionally bookish and prone to arguing over minutiae. I have also noticed a disturbing trend in my own past writing and in the writing of a lot of others who are part of the "house church" or "organic church" or "simple church" movement. Perhaps being in a sub-movement in and of itself is a problem but there are a lot of advocates for a simpler, participatory church that are fixated on that over anything else. Again my past writing demonstrates some of this and a lot of people out there still do. That doesn't mean that striving for a simpler, more participatory model of ecclesiology is wrong, no more so than being a Calvinist is. It does mean that while this group is full of lots of great people that I call friends, it is also home to some serious egos, a disturbing amount of bad theology and some flat out false teachers who seem to get a pass on damnable heresy because they say the right things about ecclesiology.

I guess my point here is that it might be a good idea for more mature and wiser heads to help talk down some newly awakened folks who feel betrayed by the institutional system (probably with cause). Perhaps a little time in the cage to work out what this all means and ask some critical questions like "What do I do if I can't find exactly what I am looking for?" and "What are the boundaries of acceptable theology?". Like newly minted Calvinists, new house church types need some time for reflection before canonizing the works of Frank Viola and singing the praises of other house church advocates, many of whom are involved in a disturbing number of ego and power driven squabbles. Take what you have learned brothers and sisters and let it percolate for a while before you decide to conquer the world under the banner of 1 Corinthians 14:26 and assume everyone you meet is dying to hear why the way they do church is wrong.

Southern Baptist Convention To Cut Hundreds Of Missionaries

Christianity Today reports that the International Mission Board, the foreign mission arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, is cutting hundreds of staff including missionaries: Southern Baptists Will Cut 600 to 800 Missionaries and Staff. David Platt, president of the IMB, announced that the IMB has overspent by almost a quarter billion dollars and it sounds like the prior leadership was not exactly fiscally responsible. Is this a sign of things to come? It sounds like it could be...
Scott Moreau, editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly, said the IMB staff cuts could be a sign of things to come. Since the 1700s, he said, evangelicals have used the “William Carey” model of missions funding.
In that model, churches and individual Christians donate to a mission society, which then sends out missionaries.
It’s a model that could falter in the future, Moreau said. “This might be a step toward the demise of the centrally funded mission agency.”
To me it is inconceivable that the current model of missions will survive the near future. We should be thinking very seriously about how to fund mission work and we should have started to do so a long time ago. Being a missionary supported by the IMB must be nicer than having a dozen local churches you have to ask for money from but I think both of those models are in trouble, We should have been moving to a model of using mission funds to equip local Christians in foreign mission fields. rather than parachuting white American missionaries into foreign countries to save the heathen. We have plenty of white heathens right here in America and you can find a bunch of them pretty easily because they are in a pew on Sunday mornings. By equipping and even supporting for a time Christians in their own native lands we change the 'Murica To The Rescue! paradigm and hopefully have a more genuine and less threatening Gospel witness. Plus I think it would be far more cost-effective. For a fraction of the cost of supporting U.S. missionaries in the lifestyle they are accustomed to, we can send equippers to help Christians already on the ground obtain the tools they need to be witnesses, which is far more Biblical anyway (see Ephesians 4:11-16).

Of course it wouldn't be like me to not point out the institutional elephant in the room. The SBC's IMB has been selling off mission property and not replacing retiring missionaries because they lack the funds to stay within budget. That means people in foreign lands are not hearing the Gospel and are dying condemned in their sins. Meanwhile as I have posted previously, the Southern Baptist Convention, as the largest Christian denomination in America, has tens of billions in real estate that sits mostly empty most of the week (see my post, Speaking of haranguing the institutional church  to see where I come up with that claim.). How can we sleep at night as the church knowing that our priorities are that screwed up? Let me say that again: people are dying and going to hell without Jesus and the richest and most powerful Christians in the world can't be bothered to spend less on ourselves so we can send the Gospel to them. You can bet we have the money to support sending Marines and drone strikes to those countries but not Bibles and missionaries. If God were not infinitely patient and sovereign  I fear that every lot in America containing a "church" building would be a smoldering ruin. I am not at all joking about that.

We are at the point where we have to decide which is more important for us, having a cozy and convenient place to get our religion on or taking the Gospel to every corner of the earth. We don't have enough money to do both now and that is only going to get worse in the future. I am quite confident that the Bible already answers that question for us in favor of the latter. The only remaining question is whether the church of Jesus Christ will be a faith Bride and carry out the Great Commission He entrusted to us.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

800 Military Bases Around The World

Watch this video from Vox as part of the article This map shows how enormous US military spending really is and pay particular attention to a couple of stats. First that we spend between 70 and 100 billion a year to maintain these overseas bases, many leftovers from prior conflicts that just never were closed and that it costs 10,000-40,000 more to maintain troops based overseas compared to those in American bases. In the case of Germany there are around 50,000 U.S. troops so even at the cheapest rate of $10,000 more a year that means half a billion dollars in extra expenses to occupy a country we haven't been at war with for over 70 years. That is just one country.....

That is a whole lot of foreign bases for one country to have compared to all the rest combined. Just remember that when you are told that we need to spend more on "defense" lest the rest of the world catch up. Here is a spoiler, they are never going to catch up but we are still going to spend ourselves into financial ruin. (p.s. sorry the video is so wide)

Swing And A Miss

I know Bo is kinda distracting but I love me
some Bo Jackson.
Baseball is a game of inches, especially at the Major League level. The difference between a great hitter like Miguel Cabrera hitting a fast ball and missing it is usually determined by a tiny difference in when and where he swings. I would say the same is true in theology. Usually the most dangerous false teachers are not nutjobs like Jim Jones, David Koresh or Victor Hafichuk because they are obviously crazy. No, the really dangerous false teachers and teachings are those that modify Scripture just a little bit. Even among generally orthodox Christians this can be true.

I was reminded of this when I saw an article from the Gospel Coalition on headcovering by Benjamin Merkle, Should Women Wear Head Coverings? .The genesis of his essay is the very real problem posed to complementarians when they talk about why women are forbidden to teach men in the church. A common response, one I have gotten several times, is to ask why passages like 1 Timothy 2:13-14 are universal and binding but the church doesn't teach that women should wear a covering apart from some rare examples in Reformed churches, the "Plymouth Brethren" and conservative Anabaptist groups. It is a legit issue, one I have raised before. I can answer someone who asks that question by affirming that my wife does indeed wear a covering and that she is the one who broached the topic with me, not the other way around but most other Christians need to come up with a legit excuse. This is pretty typical of the response. Benjamin affirms that both passages above make their argument from creation but then says it doesn't apply to headcoverings:
A closer examination of the two texts, however, shows it’s consistent to reject the need for women to wear head coverings (1 Cor. 11) while affirming they are not to teach or have authority over men (1 Tim. 2). The reason for this distinction is that in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul only indirectly uses the argument from creation to affirm head coverings for women. The direct application of his reasoning is to show that creation affirms gender and role distinctions between men and women. Therefore, Paul’s argument from creation which demonstrates men and women are distinct cannot be culturally relegated. The application of this principle (i.e., head coverings), then, can and does change with culture. In contrast, the argument from creation in 1 Timothy 2 applies directly to Paul’s prohibition, and therefore is not culturally conditioned.
He later says that coverings only point to a greater reality:
Third, it’s important to notice the passive nature of a head covering. A head covering was a sign or symbol pointing to a greater reality. It had no meaning in itself, but was a concrete expression of an intangible truth. Thus, Paul isn’t concerned with head coverings per se. Rather, he’s concerned with the meaning that wearing a head covering conveys.
I see where Benjamin is going astray here. I would heartily affirm that headcoverings are not the main question. Male headship based on the created order is. Amen! However that doesn't negate the fact that women in the early church, not just in Corinth, wore a visible, recognizable symbol for submission to male headship in the covering. The problem is his assumption that while in the early church, and the broader church for much of post-resurrection history, women did cover their heads, they don't have to today:
Christian women are not required to wear head coverings today when praying, since the symbol of a woman’s head being covered is different today than it was during the time of Paul (at least in many cultures).
OK, so what is this different symbol. How does a typical evangelical Christian wife in an evangelical church setting demonstrate the principal involved here? *crickets*. What about long hair? What about a wedding ring? The problem here is that neither of those indicate submission to male headship. Lots of women, including single women, have long hair but no one looks at a long haired woman and assumes she is a Christian submitting to her husband's male headship. The wedding ring is worse because most people that are married wear those and women who are anything but submitting to their husband's headship wear them. Of course there is also the problem of substituting something (jewelry) for headcovering when the wearing of external adornment is problematic at best and we are never given permission to do so in Scripture. What we end up with is a muddled argument from Benjamin that demonstrates that he doesn't really understand the arguments for headcovering at all. No one I know thinks headcoverings are the point in and of themselves. What we argue is that the physical, visible covering is the external symbol of headcovering is a commandment that has not been abrogated and the covering on a woman's head cannot be replicated by something else.

Let's look at a different example and apply Benjamin's reasoning. Baptism is an external sign of an internal change. I am born-again, which is not visibly apparent, so I follow the command of Scripture to be publicly baptized to show outwardly what has changed inwardly. Now the practice of baptism or ceremonial washing is deeply embedded in the culture of the 1st century. Based on his reasoning toward headcovering, we no longer use ceremonial washing in our culture so we shouldn't baptize new believers. In our culture we could maybe post on Facebook in place of baptism or tweet "Born again!". That is how people nowadays show externally to the world what is happening with them. You might say "That is silly, baptism is necessary because there is greater meaning in baptism that can't be replicated, like identifying with Christ by being buried with Him in the water and coming out of the water to represent new life!". I would say "Amen!" and "Exactly!" and then I would show how a woman having a symbol on her head to show that she is covered by male headship cannot and must not be substituted for anything else because it loses the critical symbolism. The word "head" is used for a reason and a different word makes no sense. To say that "The husband is the foot of the woman even as Christ is the foot of the church" makes no sense. The head is the top of the body, where our mind resides in our brain. Having a symbol there is not something you can substitute with something else.

I would imagine that anyone who advocates for a gender-less church and home is going to see right through Benjamin's argument because it is as flimsy and transparent as ziplock bag. I can't see how anyone who thinks women should teach men in the church and wonders why complementarians are so inconsistent in their hermeneutic is going to do anything but chuckle at his argument. I don't even think they are the audience. His audience seems to be male church leaders who bang the drum for complementary gender roles in the home and church but are afraid of saying anything that would offend evangelical women by suggesting that they need to cover their head. The hatred of Muslims in our culture doesn't help because a lot of people assume if my wife has her head covered she is either a Muslim or Amish. Where we live that isn't the case because so many women cover but in most of America that has been true. I would say that fear is the same reason we don't hear preaching from  the pulpit about why women shouldn't adorn themselves because in our culture getting dressed up and looking good for church includes jewelry and nice clothes. A pastor who depends on the offering plate for his living is probably dumb to suggest that those who put the money in the plate shouldn't get dressed in external adornment and instead should dress modestly in a comprehensive manner. This essay from the Gospel Coalition is completely counter-productive, providing flimsy cover (pun intended) for those who are afraid of offending the church with such a primitive notion like headcovering while at the same time confirming to those who oppose Biblical gender roles that we are hypocritical and inconsistent.

I know some may wonder why worry about something this silly when we have Planned Parenthood aborting babies. Let's fight the demonic anti-Christ of "choice" and leave this sort of stuff to the theologians. I don't see this as an "either-or" situation. Here is why.

First the obvious. Nothing is in Scripture by accident or as a superfluous detail. Everything that was preserved by God's sovereignty was preserved for our benefit. If Paul took the time to address headcovering in a church with issues like unrepentant and perverse sexual sin (1 Cor 5:9-13), we should not be so quick to dismiss it.

Second, those two issues are not distinct and unrelated, to the contrary they are very much related. The move to a consequence-less sexual free-for-all that has led to abortion on demand to sweep the results of promiscuity under the rug is the same movement that denies gender distinctions in the home and church. We have got to stop treating issues that face the church as if they are unrelated to one another!

In other words there are no unrelated issues in the church because they all have a common authoritative source, namely the Bible. Give Benjamin's article a read and see if you agree with my assessment.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Pox On Peter Jackson

I have made no secret of my disdain bordering on an infantile fit over the crime against art and humanity itself known as the "Hobbit" trilogy put out by the once great director who brought the Lord of the Rings to life, Peter Jackson. Having Jackson butcher the Hobbit story to drag it out into three films, apparently to make a few extra bucks, invoked the same emotional betrayal I would feel if Al Mohler started officiating at gay 'marriage' ceremonies and embracing Arminianism.

Anyway, my fury slowly cooled as the Hobbit movies faded into cinematic irrelevance as they were destined to do. I thought I had vented my anger and moved on. Alas it was not to be so.

The actor that plays Thorin Oakenshield, Richard Armitage, joined the cast of NBC's Hannibal this season playing a well known character, Francis Dolarhyde aka The Great Red Dragon. He rarely speaks but his performance is magnificent as he commands the screen while not uttering a word and when he does speak he captures the role of the serial killer Red Dragon perfectly, far better than the actor in the older movie based on this character, Manhunter, in much the same way that Mads Mikkelsen is a far better Hannibal Lecter than the great Anthony Hopkins, especially in the sequels which were pretty awful compared to the Silence of the Lambs. His presence on screen is amazing, one of the best performances I have watched in a television show in a very long time, and one on broadcast television to boot.

As I watch the character played by Armitage unfold in the third season of Hannibal, it is painfully obvious how misused he was in the Hobbit movies. I don't blame him for the performance as he clearly had little to work with as an actor playing a well known character with an awful supporting cast and ridiculous dialogue. It turns out that Armitage is a wonderful actor who is doing justice to the part in a way that he was not allowed to in Jackson's criminal trilogy. So this has rekindled my quiescent anger into a bright flame of righteous indignation. I know that Hannibal is a terribly violent show, not cartoonish violence but up close and personal violence, with a major character (Will Graham, played by Hugh Dancy) fighting a descent into madness brought on by his uncanny ability to get in the minds of the criminals he fights, something that is probably not great for my own mental health. Yet what attracts the unfortunately small audience (leading to cancellation of the show for poor ratings) to the show is the depth of the characters, especially in scenes of one on one interaction. Armitage has meshed into the show perfectly.

So Peter Jackson, you need to go make small budget movies and get no acclaim for it until you atone for the ongoing atrocity known as The Hobbit trilogy. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Speaking Of Music

Two music related posts in a row! Better get out your prophecy charts, Nicolae Carpathia might have been born of a jackal or something last week.

My wife was out of town so I went with three of my girls to a Gospel sing in our town. I don't mean our town as in Fort Wayne, the closest metro area. I mean our home town, the tiny little burg of Spencerville, notable mostly for our covered bridge. The event was sponsored by Cuba Mennonite Church (no relationship to the nation of Cuba, it is on Cuba Road), the fellowship we semi-regularly gather with. I was only able to stay for about an hour and it was pretty sunny so the pictures below are not great but it was still nice time to see some friends, have some hot dogs and listen to music with some of my girls.

The event featured two quartets, the New Heights Quartet out of Ontario, Canada and Cross Walk Quartet out of Goshen, Indiana about an hour away. It was a nice evening and it looked like quite a few people with no affiliation to Cuba Mennonite showed up plus a whole bunch of other miscellaneous Anabaptists. I am not a huge fan of the quartet style of singing but any song sung with an eye toward honoring our Lord is a joy.

The Crosswalk Quartet

Terry Myers, one of the elders at Cuba Mennonite,
introducing the members of the New Heights Quartet

The New Heights Quartet

A view of the audience from the parking lot

It was a little warm and very sunny so a lot of the audience
huddled in the shade of the Spencerville Community Center

Friday, August 21, 2015

Obligatory Old Fuddy Post About Youngsters And Their Rock And Roll Music

As I get older I find less and less to be appealing with the obsession of deafening music when the church gathers. We haven't been to anything approximating a "contemporary worship service" for a very long time except for a friend's installation service and my wife and I both remarked to one another afterward that it was so loud that it drowned out the sound of the congregation singing. Now when you go to a rock concert (and yes I have been to some, back in the hard rock hair band 80's when I saw Ratt and Cinderella in concert and was deaf for two days afterward.) you certainly might be singing along but you aren't there to hear yourself and those around you sing. You are there to see and hear the musician. In church we should be singing together as the Body of Christ, not trying to be heard over the deafening music. Like everything we do in the gathered Body, it should be marked by mutuality across the Body, not a performance by one or a few up front.

I have to say that while I think some of the really rigid groups when it comes to not having instruments accompany congregational singing are a bit kookie and are doing a lot of swallowing camels and straining gnats, especially the exclusive Psalmody people, but in general the less accompaniment the better for me. Perhaps a piano or an acoustic guitar but I like singing when the only thing you hear is the followers of the Lamb singing praises to His holy Name. This is the sort of music I am talking about from the Shenandoah Christian Music Camp, very similar in style as well as dress to the Anabaptist fellowship we semi-regularly fellowship with:

Notice what is missing. No smoke machines. No disco lights. No interpretative dance or holy mimes on stage. Actually more jarring, no instruments, not guitars or even a piano. I wonder how many church goers comfortable with "praise and worship" music would not be able to "worship" to that? I am not saying that you can't or ought not have musical instruments and many people really like them but for me, much as I sort of like being drowned out as I am terribly self-conscious of how badly I sing, I like to hear the voices of the brothers and sisters around me. It might not be the highest production value but the true value of congregational singing is in the heart of those who sing, not the quality of the performance.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Reading The Words Of God But Hearing The Voice Of The World.

It is inevitable I suppose that our interpretation of the Scriptures, timeless documents written in a culture completely unfamiliar and foreign to us today, gets muddied with our cultural presuppositions. Add to that the stifling religious culture we exist in as the church in America and the process of interpretation and application becomes supremely challenging.

I was thinking about this last night when looking over the admonition of James in chapter 2 to not show partiality to the rich and snub the poor...
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-9)
Oh what a supremely uncomfortable book that James wrote and the Spirit preserved for us!

Why would this exhortation even be necessary to a people who were taught the words of Jesus? Even more so why is it necessary today 2000 years later with all that time to parse and analyze the words? More troubling, why does it seem that we need these words even more today than in days past? Given the cancerous growth of the oxymoronic "Prosperity gospel" it is clear that we need to read these words afresh today and do so reading what is written in God's voice, not the world's voice.

What do I mean by that? Here is an example I hear all the time among religious folks in America. Something great happens, a higher paying job, a bigger house, a newer car, the latest iPhone. Our immediate response is to make our exuberance holy by telling our fellow religious folks just how "blessed" we are. That doesn't quite mesh with what Jesus taught.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
It seems like He is maybe saying that our blessings carry eternal weight but the world's notion of blessing is fleeting and temporal because it is based on comfort and wealth. That is what it seems like anyway. 

Likewise we look at words like "rich" and "poor" and so often think of those words as the world defines them. Someone who is "rich" is marked by having lots of money and lots of stuff. Someone who is "poor" is notable for not having much money and not having much stuff. Poor people are losers, rich people are winners and Americans love a winner and love even more to identify and be identified with them. When viewed with the mind and eyes of Christ often the opposite is true. I have said before that in my career in financial services and banking most of the people I knew who were legit rich people were also miserable people. That is a trite saying but it absolutely is true. We do know a very well to do family that are also solid and generous Christians and not ostentatious about their wealth but I would say they are the  (very, very rare) exception rather than the rule. But read through the eyes of the world those with the most are the happiest. That lie has led to error, misdirection and sadness in the church around the world as we take our erroneous understanding and export it along with our missionaries to the mission field. 

I think this is where a community hermeneutic comes into play. When all of the brethren of the church are involved and engaged in the mutual teaching ministry it is easier to catch blind spots but when it is a top down system where one guy tells everyone else what to think who is going to call him on it if he is wrong on something? The idea of questioning a member of the clergy on an issue of faith is considered to be a mortal sin in the church, a sign of a rebellious heart that is "anti-authority". I believe that when the brothers can speak freely the church is more alive and less likely to slip into error.

As the era of Christendom-lite evaporates into the mists of time, will we once more see, hear and more importantly live the words of Christ in His spirit and with His heart? Or will we keep perpetuating the error of seeing the words of Christ in the voice of the world?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Married White Male Seeking Another Male Or Three To Share A Hotel Room Next April For Together For The Gospel

Advertising on my blog that I am looking for other dudes to share a hotel room in a somewhat unfamiliar city. How could this go wrong?

Eight years after I went to Together for the Gospel I am planning on going again next April. The venue has changed and one prominent voice, C.J. Mahaney, is absent and some new voices are in his place. I am curious to see what the atmosphere is like. When I was there it was laced with a lot of triumphalism, all the cool kids were there and knew stuff that the rest of the church didn't. There was a top secret resource for attendees so we could network together. It all seemed kind of cliquish in retrospect.

As we head for 2016 the Reformed movement has taken some prominent hits and the fervor seems to have cooled a bit. With prominent names getting some bad press, from founder C.J. Mahaney stepping away amidst legal troubles to Mark Driscoll (never a speaker at T4G, to the credit of the conference organizers) stepping down and seeing "his" ministry implode to Tullian Tchividjian stepping down from Coral Ridge after a short and controversial stay as pastor amid revelations of marital infidelity. Much of the Reformed world seems to be victims of their own success, sniping and backbiting becoming prominent. Some perhaps some humility is in place. We will see. The main guys are still there, Mohler, Dever, Duncan, Piper, Anyabwile, MacArthur and that plus the fellowship and "free" books makes it worthwhile. As a bonus I very likely will be able to take some Amish to southern Indiana to help defray the cost of driving.

So anyway, if you are thinking of or definitely going to Together For The Gospel next April and need to split some of the costs, give me a holler. I am willing to split with as many as 3 other guys assuming we can find a couple of air mattresses.

I haven't gone to T4G since the first time I went, partly for monetary and health reasons and largely as a protest against the notion of a "conference for pastors and church leaders" which seemed to be intended to exclude "lay members", although an awful lot of the guys there in 2008 were not clergy. The speakers are generally all defenders of the institutional church status quo and that rubs me the wrong way. None of that has changed but I am secure enough in where I stand in regards to ecclesiology that I can go and just enjoy the teaching, the singing and the fellowship without feeling the need to make some sort of protest statement (like the nutjob charismatic that crashed the stage last weekend while John MacArthur was speaking). I am more hungry and thirsty for solid teaching and comradeship around a common understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ than I am for a protest against a deeply flawed church system. When they are talking about issues of the Gospel rather than church specifics or baptism I am in complete agreement with everything they are saying and I am in agreement with the T4G affirmations and denials (with the exception of article V on the centrality of expository preaching but even there I would prefer expository sermons over any other kind).

So there you go, hit me up if you wanna shack up in Kentucky.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Cookie Monster, Fascist Agent Of White Privilege

I know Cookie Monster is blue, just humor me.

Pretty much every day the forces of American liberalism descend deeper and deeper into hilarious yet unintentional self-parody. The only proper response to their foolishness is to point it out and mock it mercilessly.  You may think that is unloving but the least loving thing I could do is let this malarkey spew forth on the internet unchecked. Let me introduce the latest risible parody combining a keen sense of cluelessness with a bushel basket of liberal slogans. It concerns the news that HBO is funding and broadcasting beloved children's show Sesame Street and in doing so is helping "The Man" to keep poor kids down:
In short, Sesame Street was founded to help low-income kids keep up with their more affluent peers. That is literally why it exists. It succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. And now it is becoming the property of a premium cable network, so that a program launched to help poor kids keep up with rich kids is now being paywalled so that rich kids can watch it before poor kids can.
That in itself is not a tragedy or an injustice. Tragedy is the devastating funding cuts that Head Start has suffered in recent years, affecting tens of thousands of young children. Injustice is the nationwide lack of subsidized high-quality child care and universal pre-K. In this context, relocating Sesame Street to the gated community of HBO—even if that community's gates swing wide at nine-month intervals—is only to be expected. There could be no more cruelly perfect metaphor for the ultra-efficient sorting processes of socioeconomic privilege.
Really, you can't make this stuff up.

Before you ask, no that is not intended as satire and it is not on the webpage of The Onion. It appears on the electronic pages of Salon, which is inferior to a stopped clock because at least a stopped clock is correct twice a day whereas Salon is pretty much never correct. About anything. The article is titled Why Sesame Street’s Move to HBO Is Both Great and Extremely Depressing and is written by someone named Jessica Winter.

What is so ridiculous about it (well the whole article is ridiculous but this is especially ridiculous) is that she even admits that Sesame Street is suffering declining revenues and that 2/3 of viewers don't even watch Sesame Street on PBS, using streaming services:
What’s more, PBS only accounts for about one-third of Sesame Street’s viewership—most kids stream the show and would be unaffected by HBO’s involvement, which would bring in enough money to produce twice as many new episodes per season and spin off new programming.
So this private sector partnership with HBO is basically saving the show and not only that but is going to increase the content by doubling the episodes and new programming. So what is her problem? It is the unspeakable injustice that "rich kids" will be able to watch episodes 9 WHOLE FREAKING MONTHS BEFORE "POOR KIDS"!!!!! Oh, and HBO might make some money on the deal and of course that is bad although I am pretty sure no one is going to subscribe to HBO just so they can get Sesame Street.

First off, I doubt there is much evidence to support the notion that "poor kids" don't have HBO. We are a middle-class family more or less and we have never had HBO. My parents who are a well off retired couple don't have HBO. I am quite certain that a lot of "poor" people have cable and many of them probably have HBO. Second, it seems like a great trade-off for HBO to have exclusive rights for 9 months before the episodes go public. HBO doesn't release Game of Thrones episodes to the public after 9 months, they don't release them at all (although pirate sites certainly do). This is a win-win in all respects. According to Wikipedia, Sesame Street has gone on for 45 seasons with 4,386 episodes that are available on DVD at the library for free and probably a bunch of free streaming services. If "poor kids" can watch that many episodes before the 9 months are up, they are spending too much time watch TV. Of course parents might have to put down their smart phones for a second and swing by the library or relinquish their phone so their kids can watch a couple of episodes. Heavens to Betsy, they might even want to crack open a book and read to their kids in the couple of waking moments a day kids are not incarcerated cared for in day care or school

So what is Ms. Winter's problem? That is probably a pretty complex question but in this case it seems what her problem is that PBS is getting into bed with one of those fascist, evil for-profit companies! Viva le revolution and all that! Of course PBS has been raking in the dough (see what I did there?) via DVD sales, toys, etc, in their licensing empire. That is all private sector and darn it, it is not fair that "poor kids" can't afford a stuffed Mr. Snuffleupagus! A chicken in every pot and a Big Bird lunch box in every school locker! It just seems to be rubbing Ms. Winter wrong that this is a great deal but it doesn't involve Uncle Sam. Based on her screed it looks like this is just an excuse to bang the drum for the usual, tired litany of leftist causes: universal Pre-k (womb to college hand-holding for everyone!), subsidized day care (because why should a mom be at home taking care of her kids instead of some government lackey?) and of course Head Start, a program that is a failure on every level but is still stubbornly advocated for by liberals because they can't admit a program doesn't work, it only needs more money. When I read "the gated community of HBO" I can't help but snicker. I will say it again, even with a pretty vivid imagination I couldn't make up stuff about the left that they are not already contemplating.

The message from Ms. Winter is arrogant and condescending: Poor people (i.e. minorities) are too lazy and stupid and simply cannot be trusted to read to their kids or get a DVD from the library so the government needs to appear in the benevolent form of Cookie Monster and Big Bird. It is the same racist, paternalistic, pat the dark hued people on the head, sort of insulting attitude that accompanies most big government programs. If you are not college educated and working for a government department, you certainly are not smart enough or qualified in any respect to do anything for yourself. The programs Ms. Winter pines for, Head Start, universal pre-k, government subsidized day care so women can go to work and pay taxes which are them pay for day care, all assume that the least trustworthy people to raise kids are the very parents of those children. When you expect little from people and incentivize them to not care for their own kids and shout that they are unqualified to raise their kids, it is little wonder that the end up doing exactly that. People will usually live up to or live down to the expectation of others. With all of these programs designed to keep kids away from their parents, we can't be too far from proposals that the government seize minority kids and kids from homes under a certain income level at the hospital, whisking them off to a government holding pen, er, school, within hours of birth and keep them there until they graduate from college and can repeat the cycle.

C is for cookie indeed. It is also for crazy.

Friday, August 14, 2015

My Personal Favorite Moment In Sports Movie History

Sports movies tend to be very formulaic even though the formula still works in sports from football to gymnastics to golf. It is hard to do anything novel or new because it is all ground people have already made movies about. Spots movies tend to fall into one of a handful of categories:

1) The lovable loser wins big against all the odds. This is the Rocky movies, at least the first two and is perhaps the most common.

2) Sports movies about something other than sports: I call this the Field of Dreams movie. Field of Dreams is a great movie and it contains a lot of baseball but it really isn't about baseball.

3) The team version of number 1 or the Bad News Bears movie.

4) The lewd comedy sports movie, for example Slap Stick and Caddyshack.

All sports movies contain a little of 1/3 and a little of 2. The against all odds winner is especially common, from the Karate Kid (which is kind of sketchy when viewed with jaded eyes today) to Rudy  which is just a great movie to Miracle detailing the defeat of the evil empire's hockey team (Rocky III with hockey sticks and better acting).

For my money the first Rocky movie is by far the best. As a kid I liked Rocky III and Rocky IV much more than I and II because they were more action packed and had the big theme thing going on. What red-blooded American man didn't want to see Rocky pummel the cartoonish Ivan Drago? Now as I am a lot older and arguably modestly wiser I kind of appreciate what is going on and the humanity on display in spite of the over-the-top violence of boxing in the first two movies. As a side-note, I don't care who you are or how tough you are, the beating Rocky takes in Rocky III and IV would kill someone.

Part of what makes the first Rocky movie great is that Rocky doesn't "win" at the end. Apollo Creed keeps the title in a split decision. It sets up the second movie beautifully and Rocky II is one of the best sequels of all time, not The Empire Strikes Back good (the all time best sequel ever) but still great. It is just a all time great movie. In the second Rocky film the scene at the end when he wins (spoiler alert!) and says "Yo Adrian, I did it!" is still a tear jerker and spine chiller but it is not as good as late in the first fight. Likewise when Rocky is in the meat cooler and punching the hanging side of beef, his trainer Duke (played by Tony Burton and appearing in every Rocky film along with with Stallone and the guy who plays Paulie, Burt Young. I didn't know that before tonight). As Apollo is working out marketing arrangements and is completely disinterested in the fight, Duke is watching the TV and seeing the south paw challenger Rocky cracking ribs on sides of beef. His face gets more and more troubled, another great example of acting without saying a word. You can watch it here. Another great scene. Not my favorite though. This is my favorite.

I will tell you what happens and then you can decide for yourself starting at 5:20 in the clip below. After a long bout where Apollo dominates but can't knock Rocky out, he finally lands what should have been the knockout blow. He goes to his corner with his arms upraised. This was supposed to be an exhibition, nothing serious and Apollo (and everyone else including Rocky) expected it to be over quickly. The champ is wearing a fancy outfit, Rocky is wearing a cheap robe with a sponsor name on the back. Another favorite interplay happens as Rocky and Mick get ready to walk out. Mick asks about the sponsor name on the back of the robe and Rocky tells Mick that his brother-in-law gets paid and Rocky gets to keep the robe. Mick just replies "shrewd" which cracks me up. It is the polished boxer versus the fighter. Anyway here is the clip:

Rocky, down on the mat. His friend and trainer Mickey is urging him to stay down in his raspy voice: "Down, down, stay down!". He proved his point, just stay down and take the loss. There is no shame in losing to the champ. Of course Rocky doesn't stay down and struggles to his feet. Apollo (played masterfully by Carl Weathers, in stark contrast to his work in Predator) turns with his hands still in the air but he slowly drops them as he stares in shocked disbelief that Rocky is getting up yet again. Then to top it off, Rocky urges him on "come on" and as the announcer says he can't believe it, neither can Apollo. Carl Weathers doesn't say a word but that scene is just masterfully done. You can see him go from relieved triumph to resigned disbelief. As the fight ends Rocky is pummeling Apollo but Apollo wins the decision and both men at the end say there will be no rematch which of course means that a rematch is assured. Carl Weathers is great in this movie, even better than Stallone.

I can watch that scene over and over. This isn't a deep or controversial post, just something I was thinking about after watching Rocky last night. What say you, do you have a different favorite scene in a sports movie?

In Honor Of The Release Of Straight Outta Compton

My own meme like so many hilarious others:

Waterville, Ohio is my hometown and is about as far from Compton as you can get. Believe me, I have been through Compton a couple of times while in L.A. while on business and it looks just like the scenes from movies from that era, Boyz In The Hood to Colors.  Waterville when I was growing up was a sleepy and quaint suburb of Toledo surrounded by corn fields on three sides and the Maumee River on the other. According to Wikipedia my hometown has a population that is over 96% white. Like a lot of kids in quiet and safe suburbs my friends and schoolmates were attracted to anything that was not like our hometown so most guys I knew in the 80's had N.W.A.'s cassette tapes along with a litany of others rappers. By the time I graduated in 1990, rap had supplanted classic rock as the music of choice, which is kind of hilarious because we never had so much as a real fight other than a few random incidents. Certainly nobody was getting shot in a drive-by and we were all polite to and respectful of the police. I just a chuckle out of the irony of a tough guy rap group making a ton of money by selling angry, misogynistic urban music to suburban white kids.

(By the way, my beard is at least 3 times as long and lot grayer these days, this picture is several years old. I also never wear a suit and tie anymore except for job interviews)

Why Do Christians Not Like Other Christians?

An interesting and brief video from John Piper on that question. His answer is to ask two more questions in response. First, does the person actually know any Christians? I like the disdainful way he separates Christians from "churchgoers". The second is to ask what it means if we get more joy from people who in turn get their joy from something other than what Christians ought to get their joy from, i.e. God. You have to watch the last bit more than once but it is an interesting question.

I think there might be a lot of reasons why many Christians prefer to hang around with non-Christians. First, a lot of Christians are just not pleasant to be around. I am probably Exhibit A for this as I am generally more argumentative than I need to be and am one of those people that in a conversation isn't listening so much as I am waiting for the other person to stop talking so I can. Another more troubling reason is something my wife said after we watched the video. She said that she feels more relaxed around non-Christians because it often seems like other Christians are constantly judging their brothers and, just being honest, their sisters. Is your house neat enough, are your kids well behaved enough? The subculture around Christianity in America is often more of a suburban, upper middle-class country club atmosphere than one of genuine care and acceptance of one another. That is not true everywhere or with everyone but it happens often enough that a lot of Christians feel very on the defensive when around other "Christians". I generally don't mind because I have enough religious trivia and can whip up decent verses to deal with most issues so I can impress people. For my wife and a lot of other women in the church this seems to be less common. Don't get me wrong, people love my wife. When someone I know meets her for the first time they always say later how nice she is although it is rather irritating that they sound so surprised that a kind and decent woman would marry me and bear me 8 children. There is also the very real way that we have cordoned off "church" into a once or twice weekly set aside time to get our fix and check the "went to church" box on our religious checklist. I spend time with Christians on Sunday and Wednesday night because I am supposed to, the rest of the week I spent time with people I actually like being around. This is not true for everyone but it is true for a lot of people.

We better start to check ourselves and ask why what Piper is talking about is so common. I think it bodes ill for the church if we can't start to take more pleasure in other people who share with us a common love and joy for our God.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Cloud Of Chaff Grows Larger By The Day

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:12)
The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities or CCCU has been notified that member school Union University that Union is leaving the coalition in the wake of inaction by CCCU in response to  the decision by two "Mennonite" schools to hire practicing homosexuals as faculty and staff. This is just the latest example of the splintering being driven by the issue of normalizing homosexual behavior and it certainly will not be the last. The President of Union, Dub Oliver, is quoted by World Magazine as writing to the leaders of CCCU:
“It grieves us to make this decision as we have been members of the CCCU since 1991,” Oliver wrote in the letter. He said Union benefited from the council’s programs, professional development, and advocacy, but “our faithfulness to the authority of Scripture takes precedence … marriage is at the heart of the Gospel.”
A hearty amen to that. Being faithful to the authority of Scripture, and not paying it just lip-service when it is convenient is an indispensable part of Kingdom life in Christ.

Goshen and Eastern Mennonite University are allegedly Mennonite schools and yet they have chosen to flaunt their willful disobedience of and disregard for the Bible in a vain attempt to earn the approval of the world, leading to an unequal yoking with schools that choose not to surrender. I am not sure what the right term is for their religion but it isn't Mennonite and it isn't Christian, no matter how often they invoke the name of Jesus and talk about "social justice". The Mennonites and their fellow Anabaptists were notable for, and viciously persecuted for, their insistence on seeking a comprehensive faithfulness to Scripture. They were, in other words, known for standing against the winds of the culture and the traditions of man and for simple trust and Biblical fidelity, even when that resulted in persecution. Those who claim to follow on their path by doing the exact opposite of what the Anabaptists believed and practiced either don't know or don't care what the early Anabaptists thought and taught. Men like the earliest Anabaptists living out Anabaptism today would be on the forefront of opposing these cultural surrenders, not participating in them and cheering them on. Certainly the historic Anabaptist traditions identified with those on the margin of society but the people on the margin they identified with were there because of their fidelity to the Biblical faith. In fact one of the things that drove the Anabaptists and formed the basis for the idea of a regenerate, voluntary church made up only of the regenerate was the laxity of lifestyle and immorality they saw in the state churches. To say now that these issues are irrelevant is to thumb your nose at the blood shed by the Anabaptist martyrs.

I wonder if this is simply another example of how pursuing higher education and seeking the recognition of the world. especially the academic world, leads inexorably to compromise and eventually capitulation. Look at the original colleges that now make up the elite Ivy league schools. Virtually all of them at their founding invoked the Christian faith in their founding documents. Now being a Christian at these schools is tantamount to being a leper in the first century. Likewise later schools like Wake Forest, Duke and Baylor founded by Baptists; Methodist and Quakers; and Baptist respectively. These schools are essentially completely secular. Schools like Calvin College in Michigan and Wheaton in Illinois seem to be heading down that same path, albeit more slowly. Even more recent, "conservative" schools like Liberty often welcome false teachers, unbelievers and cultists to speak to their presumed Christian student body simply because these speakers share the right (i.e. boilerplate Republican) political positions. There are still examples of orthodox schools in higher education, often smaller schools, and the most notable example which can be found in the Southern Baptist Seminary system along with other smaller seminaries but even those are being nibbled at on the fringes. If the conservative resurgence had not succeeded in the Southern Baptist Convention I wonder if any major universities or seminaries would exist or if they all would have gone down the wide path of the world.

It is often seen as impolite to suggest that someone who asserts that they are a Christian, whether an individual or a local church or a denomination or a school, might in fact not be Christian at all. Anyone who takes the time to read the New Testament, and especially the Gospels, would see very quickly that we are warned over and over that many will come in the name of Jesus but will be found to be teaching another gospel, whether by adding requirements to the Gospel or in revising the teachings of both Jesus and the apostles on topics like sin and judgment to make them more palatable to the world and less embarrassing for these  wannabe academics. We should not be surprised when this happens and we absolutely should not be silent for the sake of some misguided sense of unity. When you willfully walk away from the historic teaching of the Bible and the understanding of the church on a topic throughout the ages, you are the one who is being divisive and causing schism. Unity in the church based on disobedience is a false unity in every way. What ought to unite  the church is shared agreement and unity grounded in truth. In the church the order is plain: Unity In Truth>Unity In Externals.

When the going gets tough, and it will, where will you stand? Will you stand in front of the crowd and be willing to suffer all for Christ? Or will you slink to the back of the crowd and hand them stones? This question is very quickly going to cease to be academic.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Church Consolidation: A Sign Of The Times?

Saw an article in my local newspaper and other than featuring a photo in which a friend is in the picture it might have been easy to brush over. The story deals with a church taking over the building of another church and is titled Carrying on church legacy. The gist is that a SBC church plant in 2003 is getting their own building while another church basically shuts down:
To put it in biblical terms, Fort Wayne’s St. Joe Community Church has stopped worshipping in tents.
The congregation, planted by the Southern Baptist denomination in 2003, has spent more than a decade of existence wandering from one location to another – in all, three schools and a movie theater, said its pastor, Greg Byman.
In February, Byman said, the 120-member congregation had its first chance to worship in an actual church building, Memorial Baptist Church at 2900 N. Anthony Blvd., after that congregation agreed to a location-sharing arrangement.
 Now, Byman says, Memorial has agreed to allow St. Joe to have the building all to itself. The two congregations will celebrate today with a 6 p.m. joint worship service with Memorial’s pastor, the Rev. Dave Mitchell, as St. Joe settles into its first permanent home.
This seems to be a quiet but growing trend. Another friend of ours is part of a fellowship that assumed the ownership of another church that was largely made up of older Christians. The future was grim for that group so rather than just having the last member to die turn off the lights and lock the doors, they gave it to a group with more young families and children. Many of the older members stayed on in the new church while others moved on to other fellowships in the area.

In the years to come this will become more pronounced. There are too many small fellowships and simply too few Christians in a land saturated with "churches". As members age and as younger couples seek the more customized religious experiences being offered by the production focused larger gatherings, the left over local fellowships will slowly wither and die. When the money flow slows to a trickle, I expect to see more clergy moving to bigger congregations or just giving up. Since the vast majority of Christians are conditioned to be completely reliant on those clergy, job openings will remain open and churches will struggle along with "pulpit supply" pastors. That is not a long-term sustainable solution so eventually they will just fold up or be absorbed into newer fellowships seeking that all-important permanent location.

Ultimately I expect the number of distinct congregations in America to plummet in the next 10 years. Look back 10 years ago and a lot of what we are dealing as the church was unthinkable. That trend is not going to slow down but rather accelerate. Eat your Wheaties church of the living Christ. It is going to be a rough go for the next decade unlike anything the church dwelling in America has experienced before and I expect a lot of chaff will be separated from the wheat.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Great Idea In Theory But No So Easy In Practice.

Eric Carpenter raises an issue that a lot of people who are yearning for a simpler, more faithful expression of the church have encountered, namely that it is a lot easier to theorize about "simple church" than it is to practice it. He writes in his recent post,  Where Are All the Simple Church Folks?...
Where are all the simple church people? I know they are out there;many are seeking fellowship with other believers. And yet, they are difficult to find. 
More and more Christians are done with the institutional model of church. I'm one of those Dones. If you are reading this blog, chances are fairly good that you are a Done, too (or are at least considering it). For your sake I hope you have close fellowship with other believers because it can be very difficult to find. If the institution does one thing well, it's that it makes it obvious both when and where meetings are taking place.
I know precisely what Eric is saying. There are lots of people who read the New Testament, specifically what it says about the church, and compare it to the traditional church setting and see a huge disconnect. The insatiable appetite for money, the focus on self-preservation, the anonymity it provides (and encourages), the professionalization of elders, the muting and neutering of the "laity", the need in general for the term "laity" in the first place, the jealous guarding of the pulpit and the pulpit in general, the reliance on monologue sermons. On and on. Yet for many of us the sort of fellowship is hard to find or nigh impossible. In conversation here and elsewhere I have heard from a lot of people all over the country that want something simpler but they can't find it or start it. There are lots of great simple fellowships around and if you live near one it is great. If you don't, it can be awfully hard to interest others in a start-up.

I agree that part of it has to do with the overwhelming dominance of the institutional model. It is all a lot of people know and if the truth be known it is all they want. I used to work with a guy, a pretty smart and decent guy, who attended a very large church. I asked him once if it bothered him that he was essentially anonymous and nobody knew if he was there on a given Sunday or not and his response boiled down to this: he liked it that way. He liked to show up, get his church fix and then go about his business. A lot of people are just like that. The other issue, and one that is more troubling to me, is that the simple church/house church crowd is home to some pretty sketchy people. Not like shoplifting sketchy but dangerous teaching sketchy, even at (or especially at) the most visible and prominent level.

As I have written before, the longer I spend seeking out the house church ideal, the more concerned I have become with the entire movement. Like many "movements", the house church movement is full of wonderful Christians. It also has attracted a lot of people who have egos and agendas that put megachurch pastors to shame. Of even greater concern, many of them are pushing heterodox and dangerous doctrines. The only house church type group we found in driving distance was mostly led by women who seemed to see the gathering as a way to highlight themselves along with lots of squirrely "visions" and "revelations" that were never challenged from Scripture. If I have to choose between a particular format of a church and sound teaching, I will choose sound teaching 100% of the time. Better a rigid Reformed institutional church with paid clergy than a simple church that teaches error. If I am honest, it seems like the simple church ideal attracts a lot of great and sincere people but it also attracts a lot of perpetually aggrieved people with a chip on their shoulder, kind of like how the Reformed ideal seems to attract people who like to feel superior and live to argue with other people.

Like others I find myself having to choose between fellowship in what is most certainly somewhere along the spectrum of a less than Biblical manner or having little to no regular fellowship at all. I know others struggle with this. It is easy to be bitter and blame the "sheep" who trudge off to work all week to make money so they can trudge off to church on Sunday and give part of their earnings to ensure they can do it again next week. It is also true that a lack of meaningful fellowship is a slow poison to the Christians soul. No one who is a serious teacher among simple folks types advocates for a solitary existence for the Christian individual or family, although that accusation is often made. I worry that a lot of us are, to paraphrase the old aphorism, making the perfect the enemy of the good. On  the other hand I never would suggest that the church should just shrug our collectives shoulders and soldier on in the status quo. All of our traditions need constant refinement and reflection against the mirror of Scripture. So I don't know what this all means. For a variety of health related issues I am not in a place to start a fellowship. I also am seeing pretty clearly the damage that a lack of fellowship is having on my family and especially to my own spiritual health. We periodically attend a super-conservative Mennonite fellowship and while they do a lot of things I question, they also know us and love us and welcome us, albeit in a somewhat limited way.

So that is a lot of words to basically say I am stumped and not a little worn out.

(***addendum: Eric posted a follow-up piece you should also read: Wandering in Church Wasteland)

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Machen On Public Education

I might lose my membership in the fundamentalist club for admitting this but I have never read J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism. I finally started reading it this afternoon (for a couple of reasons) and it is delivering as I expected it to. I am highlighting like crazy and I only got through one chapter. For example, you won't find a more prescient view than this...
A public school system, if it means the providing of free education for those who desire it, is a noteworthy and beneficent achievement of modern times; but when once it becomes monopolistic it is the most perfect instrument of tyranny which has yet been devised. Freedom of thought in the middle ages was combated by the Inquisition, but the modern method is far more effective. Place the lives of children in their formative years, despite the convictions of their parents, under the intimate control of experts appointed by the state, force them then to attend schools where the higher aspirations of humanity are crushed out, and where the mind is filled with the materialism of the day, and it is difficult to see how even the remnants of liberty can subsist. Such a tyranny, supported as it is by a perverse technique used as the instrument in destroying human souls, is certainly far more dangerous than the crude tyrannies of the past, which despite their weapons of fire and sword permitted thought at least to be free.
J. Gresham Machen (0100-12-31 17:00:00-07:00). Christianity & Liberalism (Kindle Locations 235-242). Mark Walter / The Calvinist Cafe. Kindle Edition. 
Yeah, that sounds familiar and he wrote this almost 100 years ago. America circa 2015 is living proof of the rightness of what Machen is warning about. Between the enormous bureaucracy, the agenda driven university system where we get our public school teaches and the rabid defenders of the educational monopoly in the teacher's unions, there really is no better system for dumping complacent, materialism conditioned and planting the seeds of rejection of parental convictions than the compulsory and largely monopolistic public education system. Little wonder that advocates of those very notions are so interested in expanding this compulsory and "free" system to younger ages and older ages alike in programs like Head Start and in pushing for "free" universal government preschool and post-secondary education.

The broader issues Machen raises are critical to understanding where the church stands in our pluralistic and often mushy and muddled religious landscape in America. Expect to hear more from the good doctor in the days to come.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Digging Deeply Into The Text

When I say I love this new teaching series from John Piper, I don't mean I kinda like it. I mean I love it. A lot. Not just because it is currently dealing with some of the most powerful teaching in all of the Bible but because Piper gets beyond the superficial level reading of a text and breaks it down. We need so much of this. His analysis for Romans 9:22-23 is powerful. To quote Piper: 

“In all the Bible, there are no more weighty, or ultimate, or difficult words than Romans 9:22–23.”


These are some of the most disturbing, troubling, disquieting verses in all the Bible, especially the New Testament and they receive the treatment you would expect which is to generally avoid them. Problem is, you can't avoid them just like you can't avoid verses about enemy love and gender relations and judgement. They are in there and there are in there for a reason, namely preserved by the sovereign decree of God the Father and the unquenchable fire of the Holy Spirit to testify and teach the followers of the Son. We know nothing authoritatively about Christ that is not found in Scripture. Nothing. It is little shock that so many people are confused and teaching error so enthusiastically because they are more concerned about what they think than what God says. 

Watch this video with a humble heart and an open Bible. Drink deeply my brothers and sisters.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Speaking Of Being Unequally Yoked

Heading into the first Republican 17 ring circus debate there is this news story: Which presidential candidate leads among evangelicals? Right now, it’s Donald Trump.

What does The Donald have to say that would account for that sizable lead over the next closest choice for evangelicals? Perhaps it is his depth of theological knowledge which makes Mitt Romney seem almost orthodox:
Trump saw his campaign take off after broadly denouncing Mexicans who cross the border illegally, calling them rapists and drug dealers. He also drew attention for saying Sen. John McCain is not a war hero. In the same Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, where he made those comments, Trump was questioned about whether he asks God for forgiveness. 
 “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “If I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”
Trump said he participates in Holy Communion.
“When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed,” he said, according to CNN. “I think in terms of ‘let’s go on and let’s make it right.’ ”
Or maybe they just like his hair.

I hope that is it.

At least he is honest and is saying what a lot of people believe, which is why America is such a fertile mission field if we but have the courage to tell people that the above has no relationship to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


70 Years Since The World Unleashed The Worst Weapon Of Mass Destruction Ever

70 years ago on this day the world saw the first of two atomic bombs unleashed on a mostly civilian population in Hiroshima, Japan. A few days later we did it again to the city of Nagasaki, Japan. With those actions hundreds of thousands died or were maimed and the world changed forever. If you have a streak of the macabre you can look at your own city and see what it would look like if the Hiroshima bomb was dropped on it today. You can also see the original orders for the atomic bomb strikes. What struck me was that the military was thoughtful enough to schedule religious services for Catholics and Protestants to worship Jesus right before they flew off to incinerate women and children. I wonder if they sang "Jesus Loves The Little Children"?

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was an act of state-sponsored terrorism. That sounds harsh and not at all right to American ears. After all, we stopped the Nazis and then we stopped Imperial Japan, stomping the Japanese so badly that they still officially don't have a military (good news though, we will spend ourselves our of existence to defend Japan so they don't have to). Terrorism is what them Arabs and other people with funny names do, not what America does. Not so fast my friend. One of the prime definitions of the word "terrorism" is: Violence against civilians to achieve military or political objectives. That is exactly what happened and it doesn't make much difference to the civilians being killed if the plane was a commercial flight flown into a building in New York or a B-29 dropping a bomb on Hiroshima. Keep in mind that in both Germany and Japan, the U.S. used mass firebombing of cities to break the will of the people. The difference of course was that the U.S. and our frienemies the Soviets were already closing in on Berlin while we firebombed the Germans while an invasion of Japan proper was still in the works. Thanks to the fact that Hitler was nuts and the Red Army and the U.S. army were rampaging toward Berlin, German surrender was rendered moot. The Japanese however were more recalcitrant and harder to get to, even though the atomic bombing were preceded by months of firebombing of Japanese cities, including a raid on Tokyo that might have killed outright more people than the Hiroshima bombing, although firebombs don't have the radiation impact that the atomic bombs did, burning people alive in their homes.

Very subtle
Over the years as I have come to a place of non-resistance, I have found the excuses we use as a people to defend our use of weapons of mass destruction and terror to be increasingly hollow. I have run into all sorts of arguments, from new ones like nuking Japan saved them from being invaded and occupied by the Soviets (so see, we did them a favor. Sorry about incinerating those kids.) to old ones like the atomic bombing forced Japan's surrender and saved countless U.S. lives. I have even been told that the civilians had it coming because they were helping the war effort. Of course American citizens were doing the same thing on a massive scale but you can bet we wouldn't feel the same if Hitler had the bomb and used it on New York City. What made it more palatable then and probably secretly now was the very effective propaganda that dehumanized the Japanese people, just like Nazi Germany dehumanized Jews and ironically how pro-abortion forces dehumanize babies today. Watch some of the propaganda films from that era. Even Bugs Bunny got in on the act (watch the videos from that era and you will see what I mean). The Japanese were easy to dehumanize, even more so that the Germans, because they were foreign looking. The Germans looked like Americans but  the Japanese were an "other". They were called "Japs", "Nips", "little yellow devils" and all sorts of other charming names and the hatred for them was palpable up until recently. My maternal grandparents were Democrats but hated the Japanese people decades after the war. The vitriolic way they spoke about the Japanese seemed normal to me at the time but it is kind of shocking now that my sweet little Grannie had a hatred burning for an entire people decades after the war ended. It used to be a good way to get beat up where I lived if you drove a Jap car in the Rust Belt where American cars were built by American union autoworkers. If you Google search World War 2 propaganda posters you get pictures like the one above with the oh so subtle message that those dirty Japs were coming to rape white American women (search the "Tokio Kid" series for some particularly revolting pictures). In most of the propaganda posters the Japanese are portrayed as evil, leering subhumans with exaggerated slanted eyes and huge buckteeth, sometimes with fangs thrown in to reinforce the message. That message was clear, Japs aren't really humans. They are "The Enemy" and whatever we need to do to defeat "The Enemy" is OK, whether that means food and fuel rationing for the war effort or sticking those dirty Japs in internment camps or nuking women and children. This same tactic was used in Vietnam to excuse the war crimes perpetrated against the Vietnamese people. They were just "zipperheads" or "Gooks". Not people cuz the U.S. doesn't do that. We still see this today. So sorry kids got killed in that drone strike, they are "collateral damage" but we killed a high value target. USA! The U.S. has been acting like the drunkest guy in the party since World War II ended with the atomic bombings, stumbling around looking for a fight and generally making a mess of things, all the while killing lots of civilians while saving lots of other civilians. Ya want to make an omelette ya gotta break a few eggs. #amiright?

Militarily you can justify the atomic bombings. After all the goal was to force Japan to surrender and save American lives. Civilians always have and always will die in war in disproportionate numbers. I would not have wanted to be a civilian family in Germany that had a visit from Soviet troops or Americans because the stories are out there and they are ugly, often as ugly as the atrocities commited by the Japanese and Germans (I don't count the Italians because they were really useless in the war). Like I said, the goal was achieved. The Japanese surrendered, we won, the world was saved, USA! I am not minimizing the facts like the simple playground excuse of "They started it" and the reality of invading Japan leading to a lot of lives being lost among military and civilian alike. The Japanese were brutal in war, from the Bataan Death March to the practice of using teen-aged girls from occupied areas as "comfort women", a clever euphemism for sex slaves. Although less well documented than the Holocaust, Japanese war crimes are nausea inducing. Make no mistake, I am absolutely saying that the world as a whole is better off because we won and they lost although it is a lot more complicated. World War II didn't happen in a historical vacuum, just like the War on Terror isn't the result (entirely) of events since 9/11. I am personally glad that we got the bomb before the Nazis did (and also that Hitler was unhinged enough to invade the USSR, splitting his forces and changing history). That doesn't change the reality that the United States used terrorism as a weapon to subdue the Japanese people and we do history and humanity no favors by pretending that it was anything other than an atrocity, even if it was a "necessary" one. There are still many lessons to be learned today from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and I don't mean the lesson of "Don't mess with the U.S.".

The bitter irony of the United States being the only nation to use an atomic weapon in war while scolding others for seeking to gain access to the same is not lost on me and becomes more grating every year. I really don't want Iran to gain access to a nuclear weapon but I also am not super keen on Israeli already having them, or India or Pakistan or France or even the good ole U.S. of A. since we actually used them. After the Iraq invasion and occupation came up empty on WMDs, we could have sent the inspectors to America because we have them all over the central part of the country in innocuous looking concrete bunkers in Wyoming and Nebraska.

The Japanese people still remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We need to remember them as well, not as an opportunity to pat ourselves on our collective backs but as a bitter reminder of the cost of war that perhaps will dissuade us or at least give us pause before we get into the seemingly inevitable next war. We seem to look back with nostalgia on  the days of World War II and have been trying to recreate that heady feeling by getting into war after war ever since. Korea. Vietnam. Iraq. Afghanistan. Countless smaller wars and a decades long Cold War where only the threat of mutually assured destruction kept the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. from lobbing nukes at one another.

We like to pray for God to "bless our troops" and thank Him for our freedom but we must remember: The "freedom" you enjoy was purchased with the currency of dead women and children. That is an uncomfortable truth but a truth nevertheless.

The lesser of two evils is still evil. Remember Pearl Harbor but also remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Dresden and countless other places. Remember the mother in Dresden burned alive alongside her baby in a carriage. Remember the dead in Hiroshima and those maimed so horrifically that I couldn't bring myself to post a picture of them. If you are also a Christian remember the words of Christ...
"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. (Luke 6:27-29)