Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Repost: A Season of Consummation and Melancholy

Thanks to a dry late summer harvest is moving along already so I thought this was a good time to repost this essay, one of the more thoughtful and less angry in my stable.

As October swiftly winds down here in Indiana I am reminded anew of the uniqueness of autumn in the Midwest. There is just something special when you live here out in the country that isn't replicated in other places we have lived around the nation . Sure New England has the fall colors and "Up North" Michigan has hunting season in the brilliant fall hues of seemingly endless forests. More southerly states have delightful weather, the fall in Kentucky was a wonderful relief from the oppressive summer heat. I am sure other regions of our fair nation have their own charms in autumn but none match the Midwest for me. Perhaps it is just the natural affinity for the place one grew up. Whatever it is nowhere we have lived can match the fall in the Midwest. It is something that is a part of what makes us who we are.

While suburbs mark the changing of the season from summer to fall with going back to school, curbside piles of leaves to picked up and the beginning of the Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season (a shopping season that is starting to blur together into one massive frenzy of shopping and consumption), autumn in the Midwest means the harvest. Not the harvest in the sense of "Harvest festivals" and a few corn stalks in your yard. I mean real harvest. All around us for the past few weeks the quiet fields of corn and soybeans went from the passive state of green to a frenzy of activity. Combines mowed down acre after acre of crops while trucks and tractors hauled away what is estimated to be the largest corn harvest in American history. It is incredible to watch fields of beans and corn disappear into the maw of a combine and turn into rivers of golden corn and beige soybeans.

In a unique and jarring contrast we also have the local Amish harvesting their crops. In one field you have a state of the art John Deere combine, a machine that will set you back in excess of half a million dollars, with the ability to cut up to 18 rows of corn at a time sweeping through fields, casting the discarded husks and stalks behind before emptying into huge tractor trailer trucks, trucks often lined up three deep because a modern combine can fill a tractor trailer faster than they can get to the grain elevator to dump the crop before rushing back. The pinnacle of American agricultural progress and innovation on display. In the next field you might have a team of four Belgian draft horses plodding slowly but surely through a field of corn, pulling a corn picker that harvests two rows at a time. Instead of corn that has been plucked from the stalk, husk removed and shaken and sifted through screens leaving just the kernel behind, the Amish fill their wagons with corn still on the cob. Rather than ending up in giant concrete silos, their corn often ends up in corn cribs at their home. While they have some modern conveniences, they harvest their corps in much the same way that farmers did in those same fields 100 years ago. Reminiscent of an agricultural John Henry versus the steam powered hammer, the Amish thrive using methods that seem quaint to our eyes and yet they prosper, often beyond their "English" counterparts.

The harvest is a season of accomplishment and consummation but it is also a wistful and melancholy time. The promise of harvest, just a whisper and a hope in spring as bare fields sit seemingly dormant while the seeds beneath the soil stir and grow unseen, has come to fruition. In normal years all the worry and fretting of impotently watching the weather to catch a window between the time the crops are ready and the fall rains vanishes as the crops come off as they almost always do. Farming makes for a powerful dichotomy, on the one hand farmers today have unimaginable technology at their fingertips. Precision farming, super efficient machinery, hybrid crops that produce unnatural yields, chemicals of all sorts to increase productivity and eliminate weeds and pests, all work together to squeeze every possible bushel out of an acre of land. Yet in spite of all the technology the farmer still spends most of the year on the sidelines, completely helpless waiting on the weather. Is it warm enough to plant but dry enough to get in the field? Is it hot and sunny but not too dry in the summer? Are the crops mature and dry enough to harvest but has the rain held off so we can get those green, red and orange behemoth machines in the field to harvest? I can't think of another economic endeavor that is so critical to our national economic security, so ancient and yet driven by technology, that is still dependent on something as fickle and primal as the weather.

There is something sad about the vast fields bereft of crops. Where once there were acres of tall, green corn softly rustling in the win there is now only stubble. In one field near our home the corn is all gone except for the solitary stalk standing all alone, sole sole survivor of the combine. I know that empty fields mean successful harvests and that those fields are testament to overflowing grain silos holding the American treasure from the breadbasket of our nation. I know that many farm families are smiling as they get their checks, the reward for a year of hard work and worrying. Still they make me sad. Empty bean and corn fields mean that winter is coming, just around the corner. The days will grow shorter and the extra darkness each day that I dread is also on the horizon. The joy of spring with new life in budding plants, fields being planted, lambs and foals being born, it all seems so far away, a distant and unattainable dream. I know that the winter is but a brief interlude and soon enough the horse drawn planters will be working the fields alongside massive tractors but that certainty is not enough to offset the melancholy that invariably settles on me each year at this time.

It is all part of the love-hate relationship so many of us have with the Midwest. Ours is a region that is sneered at by other parts of the country, derided as "fly over" country, an obstacle to fly over going from one fabulous place to another. It is a vast, flat landscape that is so awful to drive through but for many of us it is home, something deeply connected with who we are. So many of us strive for relevance and hipness but choose to live in a decidedly un-hip and in the eyes of many irrelevant region. In spite of the melancholy I feel in fall, the humid summers, muddy springs and freezing winters there is nowhere else that we feel so at home. This is where we belong, amid the generally simple people who make their living building stuff, moving stuff and of course farming. It is not glamorous, just like our football teams in the Big Ten are not glamorous (and not very good right now) but it is home.

Autumn in the Midwest. There is nothing else quite like it.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Two Critical Points To Understand In Interpreting The New Testament: Paul Was An Apostle. You Are Not.

I have seen a spate of comments on social media that boil down to this: "I accept what Jesus taught but what Paul taught is subject to change". Not many come right out and say this, although some do, but it is clear that is what they mean. Paul is looked at with a very suspicious eye by many in the church due to constant clamoring about him being misogynistic or "homophobic".  It is pretty easy to airily claim that while the words of Jesus (at least the ones about love and caring for the poor) are to be taken literally, Paul must be examined in light of current opinion and where he clashes with that opinion, Paul must be set aside or explained away. In Paul's teaching on gender relations or on sexual immorality, a lot of people go through some serious exegetical gymnastics to explain whey he didn't really mean it or if he did it was because he was a meanie. It reminds me of the gymnastics some conservatives go through to explain why "just war" is OK and Jesus didn't really take that whole "love your enemies" thing all that seriously.

Paul certainly thought of himself as an apostle and he wrote authoritatively. His contemporaries did as well. So has the church since the letters were written up until relatively recently. Taken in context it is pretty clear that when he wrote...

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor 15:8)

...he was laying claim to having witnessed the Living Christ in person after some fashion. So it seems to me that we should default to listening to what Paul has to say rather than finding ways to ignore him.

In fact, as an ironic twist, everything that we know with any authority and confidence about Jesus comes from the pen of Paul or other men who considered Paul an apostle and authority in the church. What this means is that Paul knows more than me or you or your favorite author/blogger/conference speaker on topics such as:

  • The Kingdom
  • Marriage
  • Gender
  • Heaven
  • Hell
  • Justification
  • Sexuality
  • Sanctification
  • The Church
  • The person and work of Jesus
  • Church Discipline
  • Christian ethics and morality.
  • Pretty much any other related topic you can think of
Paul doesn't have to answer to us and he doesn't have to tolerate having us sit in judgment of him. Paul also didn't teach anything different from what Jesus taught because he was called by Christ and taught by Christ Himself and was acknowledged by the apostles as one of their own. What Paul transmitted to the church is what Paul received from Jesus Himself.

John Piper, speaking at Together for the Gospel in 2010, addressed the common misconception that Jesus preached one Gospel and Paul another in his talk: Did Jesus Preach Paul’s Gospel?. Seeing as how Paul got his Gospel from Jesus directly, it is kind of foolish to assume that he just arbitrarily changed it when Jesus already struck the dude blind once. Check the video below out when you have an hour to spare, it is worth your time.

Back to my point. If you hear someone denying what Paul taught or diminishing him as an apostle and authoritative source, you need to be very cautious about anything else they say because that attitude betrays a lot about their general approach to Scripture. Paul wrote so much and so powerfully and so vividly that he is, when read with the aid of the Holy Spirit, the very best source we have to interpret what Jesus taught apart from Jesus Himself. Indeed on many topics he takes what Christ taught pre-cross and make it make sense post-cross for the benefit of the church.

Paul is not a 1st century Archie Bunker, an anachronism that needs to be kept under glass in a museum. God specially and powerfully chose Paul to be the chief author of the Epsitles. If you think that God is so incompetent that He allowed Paul to preach and proclaim a different message from His Son and that those false teachings were preserved for time immemorial in the Bible, you have to wonder what sort of God you think He is. 

Read Paul as you read Jesus. Read him deeply and read him with confidence. Jesus knew what He was doing when He interrupted Saul on that dusty road to Damascus so it seems to me that we owe it to Jesus to take what His chosen vessel has to say with the greatest of seriousness and sobriety

Coming Soon To A Religious Building Near You

photo: Hans van Vrouwerf
Check out this photo essay from Atlas Obscura looking at the ruins of Christendom left over in Europe (ht: Tim Challies ). The photos are haunting and a little sad but not simply because these buildings are empty but more for what they represent, namely the hubris of man seeking to create our own little religious empires, empires that were fueled by the contributions of people who no longer find them useful. The photographer, Hansvan Vrouwerf, is quoted as saying, in response to the question of why he takes these photographs:
It’s not because I’m religious of any kind—far from it, actually. But what attracts me is the fact that faith and believing seems to be  [becoming a thing] of the past. The modern life and the fast pace we are moving in almost seems to rationalize people a lot more.  But a place of worship will remain even though nobody is interested anymore. That’s actually the most fascinating part to me: How could this happen?
Check out his webpage in the links for higher resolution photos plus some extras not in the article. 

Make no mistake, this is the path America is headed down and more quickly than many imagine. We live in a pretty religious area and we have empty churches in the vicinity so I can't imagine what it will be like in 10 or 20 years. The article quotes a staggering statistic:
It’s estimated that every year between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close down in the USA. In Europe, the statistics vary by country: approximately 20 Church of England churches are closed per year in the UK; in Holland, the statistics are much higher, at around two per week.
That is a huge number, even if it is only 50% correct that still amounts to dozens of churches a month. When you add in the churches that are holding on by their proverbial fingernails, populated mostly by gray haired old ladies, it looks even more grim. The pace is going to accelerate in the coming years

So what to do, assuming one sees local fellowships closing down as a bad thing?

First, we need to disentangle ourselves from Christendom lest it drag us down with it. This is not the time to double down on Christendom and invest even more in buildings which will possibly sit empty 20 years from now. The church needs to learn to thrive on less money and be content with less influence. The head in the sand approach advocated by many church "experts" is a recipe for disaster.

Second, we need to reaffirm and strengthen our commitment to sound teaching and sound practice. That is also contrary to conventional wisdom which tells us we need to jettison anything that is vaguely offensive. While that course might work in the short term to attract people who aren't really interested in Christianity, it is eventually going to fail as people get bored with it. Every religious denomination that has tried this has either functionally ceased to exist, gone into schism or is headed for one or both of those outcomes. So don't listen to those who would diminish the value of teaching and doctrine. Abandoning those is not going to save a religious group in decline and in most cases seems to accelerate it.

There is not much we can do to avoid seeing pictures like this in America but there is plenty we can do to prepare for that day. The real question is, will those who lead the church try to cling to the past or will they lead to the future?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Jorge versus Jesus

Speaking of black and white...

Today Jorge Bergoglio, aka "Pope Francis", addressed the combined membership of the United States Congress. According to Jorge, he is addressing not just Congress but "the entire people of the United States". As one of those people, allow me to respond specifically to one paragraph in his speech.

I will set aside for a moment the preceding paragraph where he seems to paint with the broadest of brushes and links fundamentalism with religious violence. I know a lot of people who would be considered Christian fundamentalists, including yours truly, and none of them are remotely violent. Labeling all fundamentalists at least as potentially violent people, especially given the bloody past of the religion he leads, seems designed to assuage the sensitivities of Muslims while casting people who follow Christ under the proverbial bus.

I wanted to look specifically at the next paragraph replicated from a transcript found at the website of the National Review (emphasis mine):
But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.
Well pardon me for being simplistic but after all I follow a simplistic Savior. Jesus said you must be born again (John 3:3-5) or you will not be able to see His Kingdom. Not "you might consider being born-again as one of dozens of possible acceptable options". No, He said You Must. He also said that those who are born-again and believe in Him are saved but those who aren't are still under condemnation (John 3:14-18). He further said that on the last day He would divide the sheep from the goats ( Matthew 25:31-46 ) and the wheat from the tares ( Matthew 13:24-30). The fate of the tares and the goats is fire and eternal punishment. Kinda a downer and awfully reductionist. You are in or you are out and you are only in based on being born-again in Christ. Otherwise you are out. The world consists of two kinds of people, unregenerate sinners and those made righteous in Christ (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus was many things and one of the most notable was that He didn't mince words, calling evil for what it is and directing the word "good" only to His Father. Noticeably absent from his speech was any reference to Jesus Christ by name, although he did make room for Dorothy Day. I do give him credit for his somewhat oblique reference to the rights of the unborn. 

I know it is considered impolite to question this visitor to our fair land but after all he did address me in an indirect way. I liked the prior "pope", at least Ratzinger was a little less nuanced and more direct. It turns out that I like my popes to be a little more Catholic.

Some Things Are Worth Fighting Over

From the opening of J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism:
The purpose of this book is not to decide the religious issue of the present day, but merely to present the issue as sharply and clearly as possible, in order that the reader may be aided in deciding it for himself. Presenting an issue sharply is indeed by no means a popular business at the present time; there are many who prefer to fight their intellectual battles in what Dr. Francis L. Patton has aptly called a “condition of low visibility. Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding. May it not discourage contribution to mission boards? May it not hinder the progress of consolidation, and produce a poor showing in columns of Church statistics? But with such persons we cannot possibly bring ourselves to agree. Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end. The type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases, regardless of their meanings, or shrinks from “controversial” matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life. In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight
J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism (Kindle Locations 50-60). Kindle Edition, emphasis mine.
What a terribly un-modern, even primitive, notion that is! As everyone knows the greatest problems we have in the church are attributed to those awful fundamentalists! 

Snarkiness aside, we have a major problem when it comes to picking and choosing what we will fight over or even if we will fight at all and yes some things are worth fighting for. In many cases it seems when we do bother fighting, we are fighting over the proverbial color of carpet and while at the same time assuming the critical points of the Gospel. I tend to fall heavily on the side of polemics here and while I occasionally go overboard I don't apologize for being willing to be crystal clear on a topic I feel strongly about. We never get to the truth by dancing around and nuance. The Kingdom is a very black and white thing, either in or out. The Gospel is very black and white, saved by the blood or still under condemnation. Jesus taught in a black and white manner, lots of "You have heard it said...but I say unto you" kind of teaching. Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, all we lacking in nuance but bold on the truth. 

The need of the day is for more men like Machen, men who will call progressive theology what it is, another Gospel unrelated to and opposed to Christianity. It is not unique in this as there are plenty of other false gospel systems out there but it is on the march today and is the urgent matter that demands our attention. The fawning reception of progressives over the visit of Jorge Bergoglio is proof enough that this is true. One would think that the Beatles had been reincarnated given the crowds of screaming fans in person and on social media. They are not cheering him because of his pro-life stance but rather for his embrace of the man-made climate change farce and apparent indifference to the sin of homosexuality. I am quite certain that there are many voices of progressive religion that are indeed saved and of course voices of orthodoxy that are not but that is in spite of, not because of, the skewed understanding of the Kingdom that they promote. In other words, some progressives are Christians but progressivism is not. 

Of course truth doesn't exist in a vacuum. For something to be true it demands that something else be false. Timothy George writes: 
Truth can only be arrived at by way of confrontation with a contrasting truth. For example, we could not understand gospel were it not for law that reveals our inability to live rightly and thus points us to Christ. George, Timothy (2013-09-01). Theology of the Reformers (Kindle Location 1286). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
The old chestnut is true, the best way to learn to detect counterfeit money is to become immersed in real money. Confrontation without being confrontational is not un-Christian but being firm while contending unapologetically for the faith is the very essence of Christian discipleship, even as it often leads to the stake and the flame. There is no more certain sign of the Gospel absence of progressive thought than the acclaim that it draws from  the world. The world loves what Christ hates and the world hates what Christ loves. 

Those who would claim that fighting for the truth is un-Christian don't really know what Christianity is about. Being meek and non-resistant of the evil-doer doesn't entail silence, if it did we wouldn't have most of the New Testament. Fight the good fight without falling in love with fighting. Contend earnestly, especially when it is costly. Be willing to call a lie a lie and truth the truth. The shed blood of Jesus is too precious to be sacrificed to get along. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Dave Black On The Seven Marks Of A New Testament Church

Watch the video below where Dave Black discusses his book, Seven Marks Of A New Testament Church. It is a little over half an hour but it is fascinating stuff.

If you are interested you can also read my review of Seven Marks... I found it a far more accurate portrayal than many other books and organizations that seek to identify THE marks of a New Testament fellowship.

After you watch the video what do you think?

Joe McCarthy moves to the other side of the aisle.

In A country without churches Mr. Dominic Bouck, a Roman Catholic in the Dominican order (which makes sense given his first name) argues that religious organizations both provide a contrary voice against the state and also provide a general public good.
Allowing conscientious objection is an acknowledgment that the state does not have all the answers. The state has an obligation to make laws, but the state has no obligation to be correct. The independent voices that critique the state make the state better, and should not be silenced. Lose churches, lose the independent voices that prevent the state from having an absolute say in complicated moral matters.
Set aside for the nonce the idea of churches seeking financial blessings from Caesar. That paragraph is outstanding. The purpose of the First Amendment, as I understand, is to permit dissenting voices to speak up without retribution. It wasn't so stoned college kids could burn flags or tweet about how repressed they are on the iPad their mommy bought them, although it does provide them cover as well. No, it was made so voices like Patrick Henry could speak out against the government, just as the religious beliefs and expressions of citizens could not be controlled by the state, as they were under the Crown. As someone who holds to non-resistance, I of course support the practice of conscientious objection which is another expressions of freedom of expression and association. I choose not to take up arms to kill others even when Caesar says we are supposed to.

What is really important in that paragraph is the idea that the state can make laws but there is no assumption or guarantee of accuracy. Too many people have a slavish devotion to the state and seem to think that because something is legal under the laws of Caesar, it must be beneficial. The opposite is more often the case, I can't think of many laws that actually make better the problem they purport to address. To a certain segment of the population, what I wrote above is tantamount to heresy. One must never question what the state has done or what it is doing or suggest that it might not be the proper mechanism for any future problems. Thanks to their control of the media machine, public school system, the government bureaucracy and virtually every university, they are able to go a long way toward silencing any dissenters.

The infuriating reality is that many of these people seeking to quash any and all dissent directed at homosexual normalization are the same kind of people who cry McCarthyism at the drop of a hat. How ironic that they have taken up the McCarthy enemies list that allegedly was used to terrify people who were insufficiently patriotic and now use that same method to silence those who dare deviate from leftist ideology. Sadly, the irony involved is completely missed by the very people who need to see it most.

Religious people from across the spectrum, from Christian to Catholic to mormon and everywhere in-between, have done far more good than harm. Look at the history of universities and hospitals and you will often find a religious group. They have also been a counter-cultural voice when needed from abolitionists to civil rights leaders to contemporary advocates for the unborn. The mindset that says that people are not permitted to make decisions based on their most deeply held beliefs if those beliefs are religious is the mindset of totalitarianism and worship of the state. We have seen the bitter fruit of that mindset in the former Soviet bloc nations and in contemporary North Korea and Cuba.

Religious voices are sometimes on the wrong side, such as ministers in the South fighting civil rights legislation, but given the choice between a monoculture that only values statism and an open marketplace of ideas that sometimes are wrong, I will always choose the latter.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Picking and Choosing: Bad With The Bible, Good With Tradition

On many occasions I rant about those who cherry pick from the Bible, picking which verses they believe (which oddly enough tend to reinforce their presuppositions) and which verses they reject. The practice of treating the Bible like a buffet line, not to be confused with reading the Bible in a literary sense, interpreting different sorts of books of the Bible as they are intended, has given us all sorts of screwball theology. When people start waffling about Paul or the Creation account or the miracles of the Bible or the timelessness and applicability of Biblical ethics, it starts the warning bells ringing in my mind. The Bible is a seamless work and even the most obscure passages are and were preserved for a reason, even if we don't understand that reason or like what the passages has to say to our contemporary ears.

Traditions on the other hand are a different matter. Outside of Rome and the Orthodox faiths, it is generally understood that tradition is not in the same universe as the Bible. While many groups put forth their traditions as an all-or-nothing matter and will withhold full fellowship to those that don't take the whole shebang, I have no qualms about examining the traditions of a stream of the faith, comparing them to the Bible, adopting those that match up and are profitable and jettisoning those that are not. This practice has led to a definite sense of being outside the camp with many groups over the years but I am just not cut out to swallow every tradition of man when so many of them are not Biblical and in some cases are counter to the teaching of Scripture. I find nothing terribly noble about "I was born in a Baptist family and I'll die a Baptist".

I came to faith in a Southern Baptist church in the small Kentucky town we lived in for a short while, a place where we renounced mormonism and came to saving faith in Christ. For a number of years, through moves and new churches we stayed with that tradition. Along the way I came across Founders Ministries, my first introduction to Calvinism. This was in the early days of Reformed theology taking hold in the SBC and the beginning of battle lines being drawn between the more traditional SBC leaders who espoused a more "free will" theology and those who followed the Doctrines of Grace. After a number of years in the Baptist tradition and a jarring exposure to some of the megalomania that can infect church leaders, we moved on. I carried with me the Baptist love and devotion for Scripture, believers baptism and of course the controversial elements of Reformed theology, something I both understand far better and hold to more firmly than ever.

We found ourselves in the East Lansing area of Michigan and there we found fellowship with a group of "Plymouth Brethren" and more pleasant people and genuine brotherhood you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. We had our first exposure to the practice of headcovering (something that we came to beforehand and was instrumental in seeking out this sort of fellowship) as well as the more open and participatory meeting style that provided the opportunity for every brother to share a teaching or a song. Those times were wonderful in spite of the constant specter of dispensationalism which I have no use for whatsoever.

Eventually we moved to Indiana and we have had something of a tough time here. Taking the Plymouth Brethren (fairly) open meeting to the next level I became convinced that simple, house church was the way to go. I also found a fascination for the Anabaptists, driven by books like Dave Black's The Jesus Paradigm and living among a diverse population of Anabaptists. We have had zero luck finding a simple church setting that meets in a home that was also orthodox in theology. On the other hand we have had a similarly frustrating experience trying to acclimate to conservative Anabaptist groups.

Through this journey I have had the opportunity more often than not to be an outsider looking in. We don't naturally or by heritage claim any tradition as our own so I found myself comparing specifics of different traditions and keeping what matches what the Bible teaches and leaving behind what it doesn't. In general I would have to say that while the transitions have been hard on me and on my family, the exposure to different traditions has been beneficial. Through it all I have sincerely tried to hold fast to the Word and His Word and tried to not compromise for the sake of "fitting in". I don't see any benefit or Scriptural warrant to wear a "plain" Mennonite coat, so I don't even though a lot of other brothers do. I don't see a necessary linkage between the five points of Calvinism and the Reformed subculture that surrounds it so I keep the former and toss the latter.

I think we would all do well to think beyond our denominational and traditional boundaries to see what the rest of the church does and also to examine those traditions against Scripture afresh. If our traditions can't hold up to scrutiny, they really aren't worth clinging to. Regardless, we ought to feel free and even encouraged to pick and choose from  the dozens of traditions of the church but we ought never feel that we can do the same with the Bible.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Luther On Being Lutheran

I ran across an interesting quote the other day, reproduced below:

Far from attempting to found a new sect, Luther always saw himself as a faithful and obedient servant of the church. Thus his deep chagrin that the first Protestants, in England and France no less than in Germany, were being called “Lutherans”: 
“The first thing I ask is that people should not make use of my name, and should not call themselves Lutherans but Christians. What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone. . . . How did I, poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the children of Christ by my evil name?” 
This disclaimer, written in 1522, was not the protest of a false humility but rather a genuine effort to deflate an already-burgeoning “personality cult” and to direct attention to the source of the reformer’s thought. “The teaching is not mine”— to understand what Luther meant by that statement is to grasp the central thrust of his Reformation theology.

George, Timothy (2013-09-01). Theology of the Reformers (Kindle Locations 1142-1149). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

The man Lutherans are named after specifically didn't want people using his name. Any Lutherans out there come across this and what is the response? There are plenty of other examples: Calvinists, Wesleyan, Mennonites, etc. and it always seemed jarring in light of 1 Corinthians 1:10-16.

I don't like the naming of a group after a man. I prefer the more generic term Anabaptist to Mennonite or Hutterite, both named after early Anabaptist leaders. The more we divide ourselves based on secondary issue, the worse we seem to be in our witness. I recognize that many traditions can be valuable over time but when we start to identify with a single man, I don't think that is helpful. Anyway, just though that quote was interesting.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Third Chapter Of John: A Chapter Of Wrath

That title can't be right. The 3rd chapter of John's Gospel account is all about the love baby! John 3:16 yo and all that. If you can't get your theology from a guy wearing a rainbow wig and carrying a sign, where can you get it?

The reason I bring this up has to do with the general method a lot of people use for interpreting the Bible, namely picking out a verse and ignoring the verses before and after it. This leads to all sorts of screwy theology.

John 3:16 is a prime example since it is perhaps the best known verse in the Bible. If all you read of John chapter 3 is that particular verse you might end up with a "God is love and nothing else" theology but that misses the broader statement Jesus is making. I know the chapter and verse markers are made up after the fact but just looking at that one verse gives us a false understanding of what Jesus is saying and boy oh boy do we have a lot of that going on with  the "Give me Jesus, not some dusty old Bible" malarkey going around (more on that later). I would argue, and am about to, that the third chapter of John speaks a lot more about wrath and judgement than it does about a sappy notion of unconditional love, defined as letting people do whatever they want and forgiving them anyway.

Let's look at some of the passages in question (as usual all from the ESV):

Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

Unless you are supernaturally born-again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God. Not inhabit it, no you can't even see it. Jesus is drawing a stark line here and one that is often missed, especially on the progressive end of the religious spectrum. Those who are born-again can see the Kingdom and those who are not, cannot. In other words you can't share the Kingdom with people who are not regenerate, those who are still dead in their trespasses and sins. Many so called "Kingdom Christians" completely miss this.

Jesus goes on with this theme:

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)

Again the stark difference. Not born-again, no Kingdom. Not that it is more difficult, like a rich man trying to enter the Kingdom (Matthew 19:24). Cannot. I don't know the Greek but I am guessing that it is pretty clear that cannot mean impossible.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)

In the verses immediately preceding John 3:16 we see Jesus qualifying eternal life and restricting to believers. You believe, you have eternal life. You don't believe? Well then you don't get eternal life. Jesus pretty much lacked nuance and subtlety, His words are often the most black and white, "you are either in or you are out" in all of the New Testament. Even John 3:16 has wrath as a theme (emphasis mine):

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

The reason God came was to show His love by providing a means for people to not perish. In other words they were all going to perish but Christ, again here drawing very clear lines, died to redeem those who believe in Him. Onward....

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

Verse 17 seems kinda happy, clappy. See, Jesus didn't come to condemn anyone! God is love! Not so fast my friend. Verse 18 tells us that He didn't come to condemn anyone because the unbelieving are condemned already. You don't see that on t-shirts very often. Jesus had as His mission the saving of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). That means that people are sinners and they need to be saved because, as we see in the words in red in our Bible, apart from that specific redemption for individuals (and not all individuals) those people are condemned and will perish. 

The last three verses in red are below and you might see a pattern here:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God." (John 3:19-21)

Darkness vs. light. Believer vs. unbeliever. Born-again vs. dead in sin. Jesus came and many hated Him and still do because they love the darkness. Their deeds are evil. They shun the Light of the World because in the light of Christ are evil deeds are exposed and people love their evil deeds. That is the thing, sinners don't want to follow Jesus on their own because they all, we all, love sin.

My point here is not to deny God's love. The same guy that wrote the Gospel of John, i.e. John, also wrote 1 John and twice we see him describe God as love (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16). My point is that God is much more than love. He is love and He is wrath. He is just and He is merciful. He is jealous for His name and He is supernaturally patient. If all we look at are single verses out of context we get as skewed a view reading John 3:16 as we do Roman 9:22 by itself.

Trying to describe God by plucking a verse here and a verse there is bad exegesis and leads inexorably to bad theology. God went to some trouble to preserve the New Testament, the least we could do is read the whole thing rather than just the parts we like.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Up Next

I am sure no one much cares what I am reading but I am gunna tell ya anyway.

First on the list if Timothy George's Theology of  the Reformers. I have wanted to read this one for a while but when it was on sale for a couple of bucks for Kindle I jumped on it. I really appreciate that George includes Menno Simons as many Reformation history books from a Reformed perspective don't give equal time to the Anabaptists.

I am also working through a book on the Amish, called unimaginatively The Amish. Written by Donald Kraybill it is a major research work that is accessible to a broad audience. I know a lot about the Amish living and working among them but even many Amish don't know much about their own culture and faith, how they got where they are and why they do the things they do. Kraybill is probably the English person who knows the Amish the best and it is a pretty fascinating read.

Another book I am reading is by Dr. Ron Paul, Swords Into Plowshares. Dr. Paul served in the military and he is one of the most outspoken critics of American interventionism, which has been pretty much disastrous wherever it occurred.

Two other books in the queue are a survey book called Zwingli: An Introduction To His Thought and Gospel versus Gospel by Theron Schlabach.

Some excerpts and/or reviews forthcoming.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Gospel Is The Heart Of The Question

Recently Jorge Bergoglio, aka "The Pope", made headlines for announcing that he would permit Roman "priests" to forgive the sin of abortion. The entire thing is a counter-Gospel but it met with the approval of the world who saw it as a move in their direction, a first step toward acceptance of abortion on demand. It was nothing of the sort but it caused a ruckus of adoration from the adoring secular media. The reason this is of concern is that the entire thing makes clear the huge difference between the Roman notion of sin and forgiveness versus what the Bible teaches. Russell Moore, who has been on occasion a touch too cozy with Rome in my opinion, wrote a powerful piece today that sets the record straight for those who think that being anti-abortion is sufficient to make on not an unequal partner in the Gospel yoke. From Where Pope Francis Is Right–and Wrong–On Abortion and Mercy:
That said, the Pope’s pronouncement reminds those of us who are convictional Protestants of what we are, in fact, “protesting” against after these 500 years. In Roman Catholic theology, the church is the dispensary of the grace of God through its sacraments and rites. This is at the heart of Martin Luther’s theses against the medieval church for the selling of indulgences, which were also from the pronouncement of the Pope and also for the forgiveness of sin. The very conversation brings up just about every fracture between Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants—from the papacy to the doctrine of the church to, most fundamentally, the question that prompted Mr. Luther’s protest in the first place: “What shall I do with my guilt?” 
In an evangelical doctrine of the church, apostolic authority adheres not in a succession of bishops but in the ongoing witness of the apostolic writings—the Bible. The Apostle Paul’s authority, for instance, did not come from the other apostles but from his encounter with Christ Jesus and from the content of his gospel (Gal. 1:11-2:10). Forgiveness comes not from a system of rites and clergy but from a personal encounter, by faith, with the content of the gospel of the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. The sinner who looks to Christ, as offered in his atonement for sin, is forgiven, full stop (Jn. 3:14-17). The entire point of Paul’s letters to the Romans and to the Galatians is that the sacrifice of Christ is received by the sinner through faith. The entire point of the epistle to the Hebrews is that Christ Jesus now serves as high priest, standing and interceding before God with his own blood, for any sinner who comes to him by faith. The church bears witness to this gospel and recognizes those who are defined by it through baptism and the discipline of the church, but the church stands under the gospel, not as the dispensary of it. The Spirit blows where he wills.
That is good stuff. You should read the whole article, I think it generally hits the right tone and is more gracious than I tend to be. Grace is not something that man gets to turn on and off like a water spigot. Grace proceeds from the cross and is offered directly and without any strings attached via the proclamation of the Gospel and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. There is no greater divider between Rome and Christianity than how each views grace and forgiveness.

To quote Dr. Moore a final time: The greatest antidote to an abortion culture is the gospel.

You Can Only Wish You Could Sleep This Soundly

The Weather Today In Northeast Indiana Is.....

Book Review: Christianity & Liberalism

As a more or less fundamentalist Reformed guy I am ashamed to admit to having just now finished reading J. Gresham Machen's prophetic early 20th century masterpiece, Christianity & Liberalism. I don't use words like "prophetic" and "masterpiece" lightly but they apply in this case. This isn't a sweeping novel or a supremely deep theological treatise, it is just common sense that clearly became uncommon long before I was born. Machen could clearly see the direction that "Christianity" was taking even back then and the intervening years have validated his concern. His writing is not going to win awards for nuance or prose but they hit like a hammer on page after page.

The basic premise of the book, written at the beginning of the 20th century when the "mainline" denominations were starting to rot from the inside out, is that Christianity is not divided into conservatism and liberalism (or progressivism in today's parlance where liberal is a dirty word). Rather the divide is between Christianity and liberalism, and Machen is in no way subtle when he declares liberalism to be by definition not Christian and in fact a completely separate faith system. Here is Machen at his un-nuanced best:
But one thing is perfectly plain – whether or not liberals are Christians, it is at any rate perfectly clear that liberalism is not Christianity. And that being the case, it is highly undesirable that liberalism and Christianity should continue to be propagated within the bounds of the same organization. A separation between the two parties in the Church is the crying need of the hour.  J. Gresham Machen (0100-12-31 17:00:00-07:00). Christianity & Liberalism (Kindle Locations 2201-2204)
Or as I like to put it, progressives might be Christians but if so it is in spite of, not because of, their progressive notions. Talk of separation over doctrine makes many religious people run for their security blanket but being unequally yoked is always destructive to the witness of the church.

Machen hits on the main topics that have led to the downfall and slow death of "mainline" Protestantism, topics like the denial of what the Bible teaches on issues like the nature of Christ, the atonement and the church and of course the main problem, a gross misunderstanding of the nature of the Bible itself. What continually stood out for me was that the same problems he pointed to almost a century ago are still infecting groups today. Not content with destroying some of the denominations that were early adopters of a functional universalism, evolution and a gender-less church, the same destructive ideas are infecting groups like the Mennonite Church-USA, and like other denominations the message is that the MC-USA must capitulate and adopt these errors or risk dying, even though the evidence suggests just the opposite.

The language used Christianity & Liberalism often sounds jarring to our tender ears, steeped in contemporary political correctness as they are. I would say that we need more talk like this, unashamed, unapologetically blunt and devoid of nuance. We as the church have been nuancing ourselves to death for a century and the result is a post-apocalyptic landscape of dying local congregations and toothless church leaders who are terrified of offending the people putting the money in the offering plate and emasculated by the thought of being mocked by the haughty learned in religious circles for clinging to a primitive religious system. 

Read Christianity & Liberalism today, the events Machen foretold are happening all around us and there is no time to waste.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Gluttony, Thy Name Is Arthur

I ate so many mashed taters, buttered noodles, chicken and various deserts, think I pulled a muscle.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Peter Hoover Coming To Indiana

Lord willing, Peter Hoover from Rocky Cape Christian Community in Tasmania will be in Indiana this Sunday, September 13th, at the Berne Christian Fellowship in Linn Grove, Indiana. The meeting begins at 9:30 AM and there ought to be a time for fellowship afterward. Peter is well known in Anabaptist circles for his book, The Secret of the Strength and I am going to try to read through it again before Sunday. I am not sure what the topic will be but I am sure it will be interesting so if you are in the general area and would like to attend, directions to the fellowship building are available via the link to Berne Christian Fellowship above.

Baby Piggehs!

A plethora of porcine pictures for your perusing pleasure.

Airborne Bacon

He And He Alone Is Eternal Life

How great is this verse in the introduction to John's 1st epistle?
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3, emphasis mine)
He is eternal life. Eternal life made manifest. Note that John does not say that He makes available eternal life. He is eternal life and apart from Him there is only condemnation and darkness.

Oh what a low view so many have of Jesus. Whether He is seen as a galactic concierge, eager to fulfill your every request, or if He is seen as merely a wise teacher and example or perhaps when He is described as someone who introduces to us the concept of eternal life but leaves the rest up to us, His very Name is diminished. He does not simply talk about eternal life or model what eternal life will look like, He is inextricably linked to eternal life. Just as there is no truth apart from the One who is Truth incarnate or love apart from the One who is love itself, so also there is no life apart from Jesus.

Our world is full of dead men walking, men giving the semblance of quickening but inside are as dead as a stone. Dead men cannot be revived by a political revolutionary or an especially good teacher or a mere man. They can only be made alive and given a new heart (Eze 36:26) by the supernatural, omnipotent God-man Jesus who is life itself, life eternal and free from sin. I will admit my tolerance of those who, Christians though they may be, nevertheless proclaim a Christ who is not and cannot be the author and finisher of eternal life has grown even shorter. I feel more acutely these days the urgency of the time we live in and the task we are entrusted with. As my health slowly seems to improve, my focus must likewise turn away from the inward and turn to face more fully the transcendent God who dwells in us and among us and calls us friends. He it is that we proclaim, the very source of eternal life.

Too long I have only sipped of the Living Water, consumed by other cares and seeking to hang on. I must drink deeply like one who is parched from the desert but has rediscovered the oasis, Jesus Christ that fount of every blessing.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Conforming To "Christian Values" Is Not The Gospel

I am just going to leave this here. Thanks to Tim Challies for another profound picture.

Is the Pope Catholic?

Growing up in a nominally Roman Catholic extended family, that snarky response to a question where the answer was obviously yes was an alternative to the fecal habits of bears in the woods. If you come from an ethnic Catholic Polish family, you have almost certainly heard that response.

These days that question might not be quite as tongue and cheek as it once was. Each day Jorge Bergoglio seems to be turning Catholic orthodoxy on it's head. Whether it is vaguely approving sounding language about homosexuality or railing against the "evils" of capitalism, the economic system that has done more than any pontiff to lift people out of poverty, it has to be bewildering and troubling for more traditional Roman Catholics because it sure is to me (bewildering anyway).

Today brings big news on the marriage front. In an unprecedented move, Jorge is making it even easier for married Catholic couples to get an annulment. Now annulment is a nice way of saying divorce accomplished by declaring that the marriage the church approved turned out to be a mess from the beginning. I don't know of many divorced couples who think their marriage was a swell idea in retrospective. By making it easier for people to ditch a marriage and go back to partaking of the Mass and remarrying, Jorge is talking out of both sides of his mouth, convening a summit on the family on one hand and installing a "6 marriages or fewer" express lane to end marriages on the other.

An analyst I was listening to on the BBC World News suggested that this was a compromise, Rome will go this far but no further. The problem with that logic is it never goes the other way. Every move to compromise, every move to placate progressives is permanent. You never come back, with the singular exception of the Southern Baptist Convention which managed to pull itself back from the brink before it went too far. Progressives will never compromise because they are ideologically driven rather than capital "T" Truth driven. That is why they denigrate Scripture and twist it for their own purposes. I don't think Jorge got snookered here, I think he is doing exactly what he plans to do in remaking the Roman Catholic religion in his own image. I have to wonder what the former "pope", Joseph Ratzinger, a very rare living former pope, thinks of what his successor to the "Chair of Peter" is up to. I imagine he might be regretting his decision to step down, at least privately.

The issue of divorce and remarriage, which led to the split with England and the formation of the Anglican church, has long been a non-negotiable with Rome, and rightly so. The Bible is crystal clear on this issue, even if one divorces for cause, i.e. fornication on the part of one party in the marriage, remarriage is forbidden. Compromise with the completely unBiblical and anti-Biblical "annulment" was bad enough but now the dam is is open and you can expect the Vatican to get a flood of annulments very soon. Make no mistake, it doesn't end there. Winning this one major concession will embolden those who are pushing for married priests, female priests and normalization of homosexuality. Rome is going to learn the lesson of her wayward former subjects in the Anglican communion, compromise to stem the loss of membership always has the result of speeding it up instead. This sort of stuff makes me glad that my source of authority is not some guy who gets elected in a religious political contest whenever a pope dies but the revealed and preserved Word of God.

Together for the Gospel 2016 - We Are Protestant - The Reformation At 500

So the theme of Together for the Gospel 2016  is "We Are Protestant". Since the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses falls in an off year, this year is the celebration of that world shaking event.Watch the brief video below.

T4G 2016: We Are Protestant from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

This is from the theme webpage:

From the Occupy Movement to the Arab Spring, from the streets of Ferguson to the steps of the Supreme Court, protest seems to mark our age. Almost daily, we see images of people around the world publicly airing their beliefs — some good, some questionable.
Ours is not the first generation to protest. Names like Wilberforce, Gandhi, King, and Mandela come to mind, as do a litany of rallying cries: “Give me liberty or give me death,” “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” “Make love, not war,” “We are the 99 percent,” “Je suis Charlie,” “Black lives matter.”
Although causes will come to an end, there is an eternal and righteous one that towers above all others: the cause of Christ. It’s the cause for which men like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli risked their reputations and lives when they set about to recapture the essentials of the Christian faith from the theological distortions of Rome in the 1500s.
So the video invokes Martin Luther King Jr., "Black Lives Matter" and Occupy Wall Street, among others. Ours is not that sort of protest so I am a little leery of lumping the Protestant Reformation in with the selfish, narcissistic and unwashed Occupy children. We will see as the conference draws closer but I am not excited about the video although I am about the topic. These are days to reestablish who we are and why in a day of desperate ecumenism and unequal yoking.

It also looks like C.J. Mahaney is back this time around. I am considering going to the Beauty of Complementarity pre-conference as that looks interesting and is sponsored by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. If you are considering attending, early bird registration ends, appropriately enough, on October 31st. Let me know if you will be there, I would love to meet you!

Monday, September 07, 2015

The State Of The American Worker

Today is Labor Day in America, a day supposedly set aside to honor and celebrate the American worker, more specifically the "labor movement" which is usually synonymous with the union movement although very few people who work in America are represented by or wish to be represented by collective bargaining. In fact I kind of resent the implication that "American workers" only or primarily means "people who have jobs covered by a collective bargaining agreement". Lots of people work, just as hard or harder, than those covered by a union and lots of people work extremely hard in this country while wearing a suit or business casual clothing in an office. "Work" and even "hard work" is not the exclusive province of union workers or even blue collar workers.

So how are American workers doing these days? Not great. Unemployment is down but workforce participation which looks at people who are involved in the workforce by either working or looking for work is at an awful level. From U.S. News & World Report:
There are more job openings available in America today than at any point since the Bureau of Labor Statistics first started tracking vacancy data back in December 2000. Yet the percentage of adult Americans working or actively looking for a job stands at 62.6 percent, the lowest level in nearly four decades.
The U.S. economy has created 11.5 million new jobs during the last 57 consecutive months of domestic labor force expansion. And there were nearly 5.4 million open jobs at the end of May – more than twice as many vacancies as there were six years ago.
And yet Americans are actually trickling out of work at an alarming rate. The country's labor force participation rate – which measures the share of Americans at least 16 years old who are either employed or actively looking for work – dipped last month to a 38-year low, clocking in at an underwhelming 62.6 percent.
What is up with that? Not only that but the jobs being "created" are not the equivalent of those being vacated, as skilled workers from the Baby Boomer generation leave to be replaced by low wage, low skill service industry workers. The same report also points to a more than 50% increase in the number of people in college (4 year schools) as well as a doubling of people on Social Security disability from 2000 to the 2010 high of 2.9 million. Almost 3 million adults on "disability" and a huge number of kids in college who have no business being there and saddling themselves with no marketable skills and tends of thousands in unsecured debt equals bad news.

The college thing is really an issue. As former Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe says:
“We’re lending money we don’t have, to students who can’t pay it back, to educate them for jobs that no longer exist. That’s nuts.”
The problem is not a lack of jobs. There are plenty of good jobs. The problem is a) workers without skills needed in the workforce (and not many jobs require a survey course in Renaissance art) and b) sadly a lot of workers without motivation. If you want a good job in this country, you can get a good job in this country. In fact it is so bad that, according to a report I heard on NPR today, prisoners are learning to weld and getting great jobs when they get out, something that has long been a problem for recently paroled inmates. From Amid A Shortage Of Welders, Some Prisons Offer Training (emphasis mine):

America needs more welders — and soon. Baby boomers with the skill are retiring and not enough young people are replacing them. 
In the '80s, when Flashdance brought us Alex the welding woman who really wanted to be a ballet dancer, America had well over half a million welders. Welding was hot. Today, there are about 40 percent fewer welders. 
The American Welding Society estimates there will be a shortage of nearly 300,000 welding-related positions by 2020.
300,000 good paying jobs sitting empty because no one knows how to weld. Our local community college offers a 2 semester program in welding technology and that leads to a career in welding. A recent high school grad can spend a year in school learning to weld and before his classmates from high school start their sophomore year of college, 20 pounds heavier and $20,000 in debt, he or she is making good money in an honorable and valuable position. Democrats are proposing making community college "free" (although someone is paying, believe me) the average kid can get into a welding career for not much money and pay back any debt they might pick up before a college kid graduates.

I am absolutely encouraging my kids to explore other options beyond just "Elementary School-Middle School-High School-College-Now What?". If you have kids, you should as well.

The state of the American worker today is not great but it is not hopeless. We need to reduce the incentives for people to leave the workforce (i.e. welfare of various kinds). We need to encourage kids in high school to think beyond just college and start seeing high school as a place to learn a trade instead of only a stepping stone to college. As Gardner Carrick said in the NPR story:
"We made the decision that all kids should go to college and as a result you saw the elimination of a lot of the technical programs at the high school level," he says.
Precisely. Finally we need to stop seeing blue collar jobs as a political football and start thinking of it as a worthwhile, foudnational part of the American economy. The state of the American worker on Labor Day 2015 has a lot of promise but not if we keep thinking like we have been.

Together For The Gospel Registration....

...opens tomorrow!

A Tale Of Two Pastors

This is an awkward and uncomfortable topic but I think it needs to be brought up. I normally shy away from stuff like this but it is in the religious news a lot.

Pastors are regular people and that means that sometimes one of them screws up and sins against God in a spectacular fashion. When the pastor or other Christian leader is famous, it makes it worse because the world sees it. I was reminded of that recently with the whole Ashley Madison fiasco and the almost inevitability that famous Christians would show up there. They did. First Josh Duggar, who seriously needs to get into some major counseling and disappear from the public eye for a very long time. Then R.C. Sproul, Jr. admitted he had gone to the website and used an old email address. He says that was pretty much the end of it, no contact with any women and certainly no actual physical adultery. It our society that seems like a pretty minor thing but he isn't treating it that way. He has cancelled his speaking engagement for the next year, been suspended from Ligonier ministries and placed himself under church discipline through his presbytery. You can read his statement here. All in all, it is pretty much exactly what someone in this unfortunate situation ought to do. Stuff like this is never acceptable, not even out of curiosity or while in a difficult situation with your wife having a terminal illness. I expect to hear a whole lot of nothing about or by R.C. Sproul Jr. while he works this out. As I said that is the right way to go about it.

This incident brought to mind another high profile issue of sexual sin. The culprit in this case is Tullian Tchividjian, or as he is often known, Billy Graham's grandson Tullian Tchividjian. He was once an up and comer in the Reformed world but high profile and sinful squabbling when he took over for D. James Kennedy at Coral Ridge followed by some sketchy theology had kind of taken some of the wind out of his sails. Then came news of an adulterous relationship, a relationship that he took pains to point out happened after discovering that his wife had also been involved in infidelity in an less than gallant reminder of Adam's finger pointing in Genesis 3:12. He of course also stepped down because he had to but his response was completely different Sproul.

Keep in mind that while they come from the same sinful source, these are pretty different issues. One guy registered for an online hook-up site but denies ever doing anything more than that. The other guy was involved in a consummated adulterous relationship.

Sproul mostly seems concerned about dealing with the issue under the auspices of church discipline. Tullian seemed very concerned with his clerical career. He told the Christian Post (emphasis mine):
"It's one thing not to be shocked at other people's sins. That was the one thing I was convinced I would never do. I knew that I could be lured by this or that or the other, but I always had my guard up. I knew that that (adultery) was a career killer, at least in my experience with pastors and church leaders," said Tchividjian in an interview with William Vanderbloemen for a new podcast series recently launched by Vanderbloemen Search Group, America's leading pastoral search firm.
A career killer? Compare that to David in Psalm 51:1-19 as he poured his heart out for having sinned against God, not worrying about his "career". Just calling it a career shows a troubling mindset. That really should be the last thing on his mind. He and his wife needed to focus on repairing their relationship. Instead it was announced that Tullian was filing for divorce and had his ministerial credentials stripped. The presbytery stated:
Tchividjian must display an “eminently exemplary, humble and edifying life and testimony” for an extended period of time before he can return to ministry, according PCA’s Book of Church Order.
Forget that! He has a career to think about. Looks like Tullian already has a new job in "ministry", not as a pastor so much but he is now on staff at Willow Creek in Florida. Look at his bio:
Tullian Tchividjian 
Director of Ministry Development 
We're so delighted to welcome Tullian Tchividjian to the staff of Willow Creek Church. A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (M.Div.), Tullian is a best-selling author, having written seven books on the gospel of Jesus Christ and its liberating implications. Most recently, Tullian served as the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and founded Liberate, a ministry devoted to connecting God's inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world. He loves the beach, loves to exercise, and when he has time, he loves to surf. He's also a huge fan of both the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Heat.
No mention of anything untoward, if you don't know what happened all you know is that he was the former pastor at Coral Ridge. Nothing about the Liberate ministry he started being shut down or the damage he inflicted on Coral Ridge during his tenure. In the meantime Willow Creek has responded to the outcry with a release that sounds like something a politician would send out after getting caught with an intern,
"The position offered to Tullian is a non-ordained, support position. Recognizing his deposition from office, it does not involve any functions unique to the office of elder in general or teaching elder in particular. It provides him a community of grace in which to work and worship; the means to provide for his family; and an opportunity to display his repentance before the body of Christ. For these reasons, we are overjoyed and eager to welcome him into our church family," added Labby.
Basically we didn't break any rules is the response and  that is even found in the title of the article in The Christian Post, Willow Creek Church Says No Rules Were Broken in Hiring Tullian Tchividjian. So they get a big name pastor on staff and you can bet he will be up front sooner rather than later. It smacks of opportunism and obeying the letter rather than the spirit of the church discipline process, although perhaps they simply are trying to help a brother out with a job (given the number of books he has sold I can't imagine he is hurting for money, if he is that is another sign of foolishness on his part). One of the great dangers of the clerical system is that you have men who are heavily trained for just one model of ministry and lack any practical job skills, leaving them reliant on a paid pastoral position to provide for their family.

This whole situation is a very public mess, made all the worse by the fame of a pastor and his refusal to quietly place himself under church discipline for any length of time. Like politics, religion in America is infected with a combination of men with big appetites and a craving for fame coupled with gushers of money. I think the solution to both is the same, starve the beast. Take money out of institutional religion and institutional politics and the sort of men drawn to them will find greener pastures. It also speaks to the need for a comprehensive rethinking of the church discipline process and how we deal with issues like adultery and divorce. For way too long we have pretended that divorce, and especially divorce and remarriage, are not the massive problem that they are in the church and the world sees our hypocrisy. We shouldn't respond with less zeal but more. Let's talk about divorce and remarriage and what it means for someone in the Body of Christ and let's pray for R.C. Sproul Jr. as he seeks restoration and for Tullian that he repents and begins to seek Biblical restoration.