Saturday, October 31, 2015

On A Lighter Note For Reformation Day...

Happy Reformation Day

Today is October 31st and in many circles of the Protestant world it is Reformation Day. On this day 498 years ago a nobody named Martin Luther posted a series of questions known as his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, What followed is known as the Protestant Reformation and depending on where your loyalties lay it is either a date for celebrating as the Gospel was reclaimed or an infamous date when the supposed unity of the church was forever shattered.

For me it is a day of mixed emotions. On the one hand this marks the days of Post Tenebras Lux, after darkness, light. The Biblical gospel of justification by faith alone was recovered and spread like a wildfire. In spite of the tragic violence that sprang in part from the Reformation, on balance the saving Gospel was worth all the strife and division. What value is there in peace when it comes at the cost of men's souls? On the other hand, the Reformation left much un-reformed, specifically the church. Protestantism retains much of the structure and organization of Rome: a professional clerical class, a tendency toward institutional self-preservation, a largely passive laity, ritual and tradition. On and on. So it was at best an incomplete reformation. I don't accuse the Reformers of being too radical but not being radical enough. Thus my affinity for the Anabaptists who suffered from persecution and murder at the hands of those who allegedly were their brothers in Christ.

Today? Is the Reformation complete and over? Not hardly. Within the church there are as many false teachers and false teachings as at any point in church history. The church needs bold men to shout from  the rooftops the Gospel of Jesus Christ and at the same time calling to account the flase teachers and the wolves among the sheep for they are plentiful. As we near the half century mark there are still many Christians who seek an unequal partnership with Rome based on politics, especially now that Jorge Bergoglio has become the religious equivalent of the Beatles for many on the left of the religious spectrum. Many on the political right seek to minimize the differences with Rome in order to secure a partner in worldly battles. Now more than any time in my life or the life of anyone reading this we need to reclaim the godly heritage and the boldness of the great Reformers, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Menno Simons. Remembering that they were men with feet of clay just like us but blessed by God with a powerful boldness that stands in stark contrast to the weak and flaccid faith of so many today,

God send reformation on your church in these days of growing darkness and great turmoil. We need reformers for our day who will not preach compromise and capitulation but who will stand firmly on the Gospel of your Son revealed and preserved for us in the Bible. Let that written Word be the only place we stand and let the teachings therein be boldly and without apology be declared.

Watch the video below of John Piper talking about Post Tenebras Lux and have a happy Reformation!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Hard Work Has No Intrinsic Value

It is one of our cultural truths that if you work hard, you get ahead. That mantra is as American as mamma and apple pie. While it is certainly true that working hard in your profession is usually rewarded, hard work has no value by itself apart from the labor market. Let me elaborate.

I can go outside and dig a huge hole in my yard and work really hard doing it but if no one wants me to dig that hole, they won't pay me for it. No one deserves a particular wage just because they think they should, it only matters if what they do has economic value to someone else. What I do for a living has a value to the people I provide services for. If it didn't, they wouldn't pay me and I in turn wouldn't do it and I would find something else to do. How hard one works is also typically irrelevant to the wage they receive, what instead determines the wage is the relative value of that job to the person paying you to do it because they are unable or unwilling to do it themselves. A major component of this is scarcity. The more scarce and specialized the skills required to do a job are, the more people in general are willing to pay for it. That is why doctors, CEOs, biochemists, etc. make more money than someone who works at McDonald's, even if that person flipping burgers is working really hard. Anyone can work at McDs flipping burgers but very few people have the skill set to run an organization like McDonald's in the CEO suite with nearly half a million employees, tens of thousands of locations and billions in revenue. There are a lot of factors in determining what work is worth to an employer but hard work is only one of them.

This shouldn't dissuade anyone from working hard at their job, it simply is a reminder that work in  the labor market is only worth what someone will pay you for it. Teachers work for 9 months of the year and by all accounts they work pretty hard during those months but the local school board decides what that work is worth. It has no intrinsic value. If the school district thinks it is only worth $20,000/year to be a school teacher then qualified prospective teachers have to decide if they will teach for that amount. If not enough of them sign up for $20,000 the school board has to decide if they will run the school short-handed or raise the salary to attract more teachers. That is how the labor market works, or at least it is how it is supposed to work when artificial means like collective bargaining and minimum wage laws don't interfere. 

Here is another example. My wife and I drove together into town today and passed a garbage truck. It used to be that garbage trucks had guys hanging off the back who picked up the cans and dumped them into the back of the truck. Kind of a stinky job but it probably paid decently. Now many garbage trucks have a mechanical arm that picks up the dumpster and angles it just right to pour the trash in the top of the truck. That arm was probably really expensive to install plus the need for dumpsters the right size and configuration for customers but the owners of trash hauling services have decided that a one time investment and on-going maintenance of the mechanical arm is more cost effective than paying a guy or two to hang on the back of the truck. That means that every garbage truck with one guy driving and a mechanical arm picking up is replacing a crew of 2 or 3 workers. Actions have consequences.

This is pretty basic stuff but in a Twitter and Facebook world many people seem unable to grasp that every economic action causes a ripple effect. ATM machines replace human tellers. Centralized order takers replace a kid in a window at McDonald's. Automated garbage can picker-uppers (that is an industry term) replace workers picking up cans. Manufacturers find ways to make stuff with automation instead of relying on expensive and often undependable workers. On and on. When we think about economics looking only at the immediate impact, we often make disastrous decisions. 

So remember, work hard at your job but remember also that your job is only worth what someone else will pay you for it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Command To Mission Not The Call To Mission

Check out this brief video from Dave Black on missions. I love what he said, if I can paraphrase, that even though Dr. Black has been on many a mission trip he never was called to mission but he was commanded to mission as we all are.

"Every Christian a full-time minister of the Gospel"

Yes and amen.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Talking About Morality In The Most Immoral Of Acts

As someone who has listened cautiously to the news on NPR since my college days, I have to admit that it is becoming increasingly difficult to filter out the nonsense. It is a rare NPR story that doesn't focus on abortion, "climate change" or homosexuality. Today I heard a blurb leading to a story on Fresh Air interviewing Gloria Steinem. She is 81 years old and apparently has a new book coming out, a book is dedicated to the abortionist who murdered her child way back before the blood-letting under Roe v. Wade became so commonplace. So at 81 years old one of the most important people in her life, someone worthy of a book dedication, was the man who killed her child. What a sad, tragic commentary on her life. There was no way I was going to listen to that entire interview, I would rather wade in a septic tank, but I did read the transcript and saw this little gem:
On the morality of abortion
It seems to me that every child has the right to be born loved and wanted, and every person has the right to control — male and female — to control their own bodies from the skin in. I think we need a legal principle called something like "bodily integrity" which recognizes that though the state may jail us, they can't insist on injections or tests or pressuring us for organ transplants. Our skin needs to be the line of defense between our own dignity and will and any outside force. ...
The definition of patriarchy is to be able to control reproduction, and that means you have to control women's bodies.
So only children that will be adequately "loved" and "wanted" have a right to be born and women control anything "from the skin in", so even though a unique human being is dwelling in her womb, she has absolute control over that life until it is outside of her skin, where ironically the same people calling for abortion on demand are mistrustful of those same parents raising their own children. If she really wants to talk about bodily integrity she could maybe talk to young women about sleeping around and getting pregnant is they don't want to get pregnant at this particular juncture in their lives. Since the overwhelming majority of abortions are, like Ms. Steinem's, electively done after a voluntary sexual act it would seem to me that the time to talk about "bodily integrity" is before a woman has sex without taking the commonplace and cheap methods provided by modern "progress" to prevent pregnancy. Even still those methods have a failure rate so it might just be wise to abstain from having sex during the window of fertility if you absolutely don't want to get pregnant. It would be swell to see a feminist give women a little credit and assume that they can exhibit some self-control for a few days a month. That one can even speak of "the morality of abortion" as if there is a moral position to be found in the extinguishing of a human life should be baffling but unfortunately I have lived long enough to hear this sort of sub-human nonsense for much of my life.

The last line killed me. I have never heard patriarchy defined that way but I guess when getting an abortion is the most important day in your life it sort of makes sense. Again the idea of "controlling women's bodies" assumes that women are uncontrollable sex machines who can't abstain for sex or take readily available measures that they have been taught to use in our public school system to avoid pregnancy. I guess I have a higher view of women and think that women can be trusted to control their bodies before they hop in the sack with someone who is not capable of being a father. 

One more item jumped out at me. Apparently women can't even be trusted to be in the same house with a man (emphasis mine)...
If you add up all the forms of violence, whether it's domestic violence in this country, which is at an enormously high rate — I mean, the most dangerous place for a woman in this country is her own home, and she's most likely to be beaten or killed by a man she knows...
Let me state unequivocally that there is no place in the world that my wife is less likely to be struck by a man than in our house. That is true for every other family I know. But for Ms. Steinem all men are just potential rapists, woman beaters and deadbeat dads. With that sort of attitude toward men it is a wonder any women get impregnated and need an abortion in the first place. 

This poisonous mindset is being force-fed to women throughout the "educational" system. It is little wonder that the relationship between men and women has never been worse in our society in spite of all of the wonderful "progress" we keep hearing about. It is a worldview like the one Ms. Steinem is selling that the church needs to respond to with God honoring Kingdom families. The world needs to know that there has to be a better way than  the bleak and blood soaked worldview that the Gloria Steinem's of the world live in.

Pitting Jesus Against The Bible

I have commented before on the new, hip position a lot of religious folks are assuming that boils down to "I follow Jesus, not the Bible.". It is supposed to sound wise and nuanced, more so than those icky fundamentalists who are always quoting the Bible. It also gives you plenty of room to reinterpret, diminish or outright ignore what the Bible says on discomforting topics. Underlying the position is an assumption that some parts of the Bible are more authoritative than others. I run into that exact position all the time but what I also find is that those same people are very reluctant to actually specify in public which parts of the Bible are OK to ignore. It is easier to excuse your own behavior in private without going public with anything other than a vague generalization.

What many people seem to mean when they talk about following Jesus, not the Bible, is not that they take the commands and example of Jesus to heart but that they have created a notion of who Jesus is and what He was like based on some scripture, some tradition and some of what they have heard from others and then using that as a template to decide what they ought or ought not do. They make "Jesus" from those disparate sources and then that becomes their god. They would of course deny this, at least I would hope they would, but that is what seems to have happened nevertheless. It is a subtle distinction but it allows people to follow their image of Jesus rather than the specific commands of Scripture. "Jesus is love, not the mean god of the Old Testament". "Jesus hung around with sinners so we should to and of course never tell them they are sinners".  And so on.

The specific commands of Jesus are important to understand as they are recorded rather than turning  them into piecemeal general principles. During His earthly ministry, Jesus was not just incarnation but He was also revelation. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews put it elegantly and majestically this way:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Where once God directed men to speak on His behalf, in Christ God Himself came to man directly and revealed the fullness of divine revelation to mankind. We receive this revelation of the living Word by way of the written Word. Certainly someone can tell you about Jesus without the Bible but that is a dangerous pathway that has often gone astray. We ought to be encouraging Christians, and especially new Christians, to get deeply into the Bible so they are equipped to distinguish truth from error. God deemed it proper to record His revelations in written form and many of our brothers and sisters have paid with their lives to distribute and even possess that revelation. We should honor that.

Here is the real foundation I am talking about. You cannot "follow Jesus" without knowing what He taught and the only authoritative way to know what Jesus taught on various issues is to read it or have it read to you from the Bible. Let me say that again:
Every single thing we know authoritatively about Jesus is found in the Bible.
No one who subscribes to an inerrant and sufficient Scripture worships the Bible with the possible exception of some of the most extreme King James Only kooks. Don't tell me "Jesus is like this" or "Jesus isn't like that" without backing it up from the Bible because I am pretty much only interested in how Jesus revealed Himself via recorded revelation, not your opinion. I will never in my lifetime exhaust my need to study the Bible and I hope I never get to the place where I find the revelation of Christ in the Scriptures to be inadequate for my yearning. You can't have Jesus without the Bible. You just can't and no matter how much religious mumbo-jumbo you toss around that fact remains. 

Trying to pit Jesus against the Bible is like pitting your heart against your brain. You can't have one without the other. It is incredibly arrogant to assume that here in 2015 we have it figured out and know more than the rest of the church combined for the previous 2000 years. It is arrogant but not unexpected. Each succeeding generation in the West assumes that it knows better than those that came before them, a mindset replicated with children and parents when children are amazed to find that the same parent who seemed so out of touch when the kid was 18 have suddenly gotten pretty wise when that same kid turns 22.

The greatest gift God gave the church was of course His Son Jesus. The second greatest was the Holy Spirit. Coming in third is the Bible, a comprehensive and all sufficient treasure trove that reveals to people who live thousands of years after the fact what Jesus as well as His apostles taught and did. We minimize the importance of the Bible at our own risk. If you want to know Jesus. especially here in the West, it is as simple as opening the Book. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Replacing Individualism With Collectivism Is Not The Answer

I posted an article on Facebook by John Piper where he responds to the question: How Should Christians Think About Socialism?. Piper admits up front that he is not an expert on politics or economics but does a pretty decent job of explaining why socialism is not compatible with Christianity. His money quote is below:
In other words, Socialism borrows the compassionate aims of Christianity in meeting people’s needs while rejecting the Christian expectation that this compassion not be coerced or forced. Socialism, therefore, gets its attractiveness at certain points in history where people are drawn to the entitlements that Socialism brings, and where people are ignorant or forgetful of the coercion and the force required to implement it — and whether or not that coercion might, in fact, backfire and result in greater poverty or drab uniformity or, worse, the abuse of the coercion as we saw in the murderous states like USSR and Cambodia.
I got a little pushback on social media regarding this brief message by Piper so I wanted to expand my thoughts here. Economics is an area where I think much of the church tends to think with the mind of their old man and where we tend to ignore what Scripture teaches about not just money but also the nature of fallen man.

I don't see Piper making an equivalence between "democratic socialism" and the totalitarian regimes he mentioned, in fact he specifically says that those two examples are the result of extreme abuse of the coercive power of the state. Piper is responding to the notion that the church should enlist the aid of Caesar to force people to be "charitable" toward one another. That notion is directly in contrast to what the Kingdom stance of the Bible teaches about the free and cheerful sharing with anyone in the church who has need. We are pretty awful at this, there are plenty of circumstances even within local churches where one family is living a very comfortable life with an excess of resources and the family in the next pew is having a hard time paying the mortgage or electric bill. The church should react to the Kingdom denying injustice on display with a Kingdom practice of sharing with those in need rather than washing our hands of the poor among us and tossing them at Caesar's feet.

The forces of collectivism and envy gave this world National Socialism, communism, Stalinism and all other forms of oppressive collectivism. Those same impulses are alive and well today and people like Bernie Sanders and others within the church are misguidedly seeking to reform Constantinianism with a collectivist twist. Electing Bernie Sanders would not inevitably lead to a Soviet style economic system in America but it certainly demonstrates a counter-Kingdom collectivist mindset..

There are some people in American religious circles who respond to an individualistic, westernized faith by proposing a liberal or progressive westernized faith. Neither is the correct response. What is needed is an otherworldly community of faith that takes into account the impact on economic behavior exhibited in a secular society full of unregenerate people. We cannot and should not expect people who are unregenerate to act like people who are born-again and that includes their economic behavior. What we should expect is for the church to respond to the needs of others, especially for "the household of faith", i.e. the church ( Galatians 6:10 ), like people who are regenerate and see economics through the lens of the Kingdom. We ought to joyfully and cheerfully give to our brothers and sisters in need. As Piper rightly points out:
In other words, there is built into the Christian faith an inner impulse by the Holy Spirit through the gospel to make sacrifices so that others have their needs met. And there is no such impulse built into human nature or the human heart apart from God’s grace.
If you missed that he is rightly saying that the impulse to sacrifice for others is not part of the human nature. That doesn't mean that unbelieving and falsely believing people don't sacrifice, certainly lots of people who are not Christians contribute in various ways to the needs of others and cultic false groups like the mormons do a lot of charitable works but those are motivated by societal pressure rather than anything inherent in themselves (for the most part).

The main problem with socialism as well as with communism, capitalism, etc. is that they are worldly systems of economics and as such are inadequate to faithfully represent the Kingdom. That doesn't mean that there is no difference between these systems, I can't imagine any rational person would draw an equivalence between the totalitarian regimes past and present and American style capitalism, so these issues do matter. However as I said no earthly system is a sufficient substitute for the Kingdom community we see modeled in Scripture.

Christians should think first of the needs of others after providing for the needs (and not the whims) of their own family. That this message is not getting out is not cause for the church to turn to collectivism but should cause the church to a critical self-examination. What do the budgets of most churches sat about where the priority of those who attend said churches? Too often they reflect a deeply self-interested mindset, in some ways  the same mindset that fuels collectivism. If your generosity stops at the end of your church driveway then you are doing it wrong. 

Dan Edelen has some good thoughts on this topic as well.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Faithful In A Little, Faithful In A Lot

All across social media for the last week I have repeatedly seen the story and accompanying picture (see to the left from LifeNews) of a group of women clergy "blessing" am abortion clinic and praising the "bravery" of the staff and patrons of this clinic, at least the mothers who abort their children, the children being killed don't warrant prayer apparently.  From the LifeNews story United Methodist and Episcopalian Church Clergy Lead Prayer Rally to“Bless” Abortion Clinic.
In Ohio, United Methodist Church pastor, Reverend Laura Young, says she believes pro-life protesters in front of Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities have “misguided faith.” In fact, she thinks these clinics should be blessed, which is why she went out to an abortion facility called Preterm on October 8th in Cleveland. In 2014, Preterm was involved in the abortion-related death of Lakisha Wilson.
Young explained her acceptance of abortion like this: “Christianity, like most faiths, is founded on love. Watching protesters shouting judgment and hate based on what they call religion is horrible. Is that loving God? Is that loving your neighbor as yourself?” 
Think Progress reports that the group hopes their “blessing” will protect Preterm from “preachy protesters, as well as encourage the strength and bravery of those providing and relying on its services.” Young plans to go out to other abortion facilities in the state if their event in Cleveland is successful.
Young also says religious groups are fueling the so-called war on women. She explained, “Women are being attacked at a moral level by the radical Religious Right. They’ve hijacked the political discussion. This event is an opportunity for progressive religious leaders to stop the silence. We need to be in the conversation.”
I hate to break it to Ms. Young but there is nothing progressive about infanticide. It was going on under the auspices of false religion long before Jesus walked the earth and it is condemned as an abomination by the Bible. Along with the article itself is the picture reproduced to the left of a group of clergy exclusively made up of women, dressed up in religious robes and with short haircuts.

This sort of grotesque display doesn't happen in a vacuum. One doesn't go straight from orthodoxy to blessing abortion mills. There are plenty of warning signs that a group or individual is abandoning orthodoxy and walking down the path of damnable error and it usually starts with a position that is uncomfortable to hold in our modern culture. In other words, when the Scriptures are forced to compromise with the world, the world doesn't get more holy but the Scriptures inevitably lose their power and authority.

I have seen a disturbing trend in the church to diminish the significance of the Scriptures, relegating them to a nice source of sermon quotes and memes but really being guided by the world, by pragmatism and an amorphous definition of "following Jesus" which more often than not seems to be "making things up as I go without really consulting Scripture". This is not restricted to United Methodists, ELCA Lutherans, Episcopalians and MC USA Mennonites. It is cropping up more and more in people who generally are pretty orthodox.

The United Methodists and Episcopalians started down this road in the 20th century and one of the most visible signs is the presence of women elders. A lot of people seem very willing to decry the blessing of the abortion mills but are silent on the leading indicator of this sort of blasphemy, namely the recognition of female elders/pastors.  It is easy to post something publicly on Facebook about how terrible it is to bless abortion mills but it is a lot less popular to point out the errors that led to this point, including the calling of women to a function in the church that is reserved for men.

The Bible forbids women elders in both the way it speaks of elders as exclusively a male calling and also by directly forbidding  to women one of the most critical aspects of the elder, namely the teaching function within the church. Women can and are encouraged to teach younger, less mature women but are absolutely forbidden to teach the broader church including men. This is one of the least debatable positions in the New Testament but man does it rub a lot of people the wrong way.

I often get pushback on this that includes some language about how talented a woman is and that my wife/my mom/my sister "feels called" to ministry. I can't speak to what led women in each of the cases I have been cited to think they were called to be elders but I do know this for certain, if you think you are being called to something that is contrary to what Scripture teaches, your "calling" is not from God. That may sound harsh but that is just the plain truth of it. I may also seem to be beating a dead horse here but the evidence is right before your eyes and one of the most obvious places we see capitulation and fear of judgment is in the ordination and calling of women to roles reserved for men.

I am not suggesting that straying from Scripture invariably leads to women "pastors" with short hair cuts blessing abortion clinics but I am quite certain that when we are less faithful in what seems to be the small matters, it is much more difficult to stay faithful with the big stuff. It seems to me that saying women shouldn't be pastors is a much easier pill to swallow than saying that a Jewish guy was killed and rose from the dead three days later in the first century. I am also aware that it is possible and pretty common to get so focused on the "small stuff" that you gloss over the "big stuff" and cause unnecessary division. That doesn't mean the "small stuff" in unimportant, just that we need to beware of spending all of our time focused on it.

Beware of those voices that call for capitulation in the "small stuff". It is tempting and it is pretty easy to shrug off stuff in the Bible that seems so old fashioned and dated but it is always critical to remember that God chose that time and that place to reveal the fullness of revelation in His Son and to preserve that record of revelation in the Bible. Jesus didn't come in the 60's to lead the vanguard of the sexual revolution. He didn't come in contemporary times to bless same-sex "marriage". No, He came in the midst of a primitive time but the truths that He and His chosen apostles revealed are timeless. We twist and ignore Scripture today at our own peril. The real blame for women clergy blessing an abortion clinic is found many decades ago when humans started to echo the serpent in the Garden "Did God actually say...?". Yes He did and we are not permitted to revise what He revealed.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Money And The Church: For Good Or For Ill.

Two things I wanted to bring to your attention, one a sign of the danger money has in  the church and one an example of how money can be used in a positive fashion.

First the ill. The storm surrounding the massive Gospel for Asia (GFA) ministry, headed by K.P. Yohannan, being booted from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) is getting worse by the day. The latest story from Christianity Today, Why Gospel for Asia Got Kicked Out of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, tells of money being shuffled around, deceiving donors, staffers and others being asked to smuggle cash into India to avoid government scrutiny and a cult of personality that had newly ordained clergy being "asked to kiss Yohannan’s rings as an act of obedience.". The whole thing is a sad reminder that massive amounts of money and a huge bureaucratic system yoked with religion is often a toxic mix. I don't know enough about the inner workings of GFA but from what I have read it is a financial mess and calls into question the standings of GFA as a trusted ministry to contribute to. There may not be any actual malfeasance going on but there are enough red flags to make people think pretty hard about sending GFA a check. When it comes to money and ministries I hold pretty firmly to the mantra that bigger is not better and is actually often worse. I would much rather give directly to a small ministry that I know personally than some massive, international group with millions spent on overhead and fund raising. In other words, I want my donations to go where they are needed rather than going to help someone raise even more money.

On the flip-side, for some reason which may be a sign of possession or temporary insanity, Dwight Gingrich is moving his family to Atlanta. I have been in Atlanta on business and while the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead is a delightful hotel, I couldn't deal with that many people and that much traffic for very long. Anyway, Dwight tossed out the idea of getting people to contribute micro-loans to help get his home purchased in the Atlanta area on Facebook and the idea caught fire. You can read about it in his post Churchfunding A House In Atlanta: Official Launch.  Rather than one big mortgage, it would involve hundreds of smaller loans. I think this is a great idea and so out of the box we normally think in. The church in America possesses enormous wealth earmarked for religious purposes but most of that wealth is either horded, tied up in real estate or used to otherwise make Sunday morning as comfortable and convenient as possible, in other words being spent on behalf of the giver to benefit the giver. Meanwhile there are so many real needs out there from crisis pregnancy centers needing diapers to kids from families that can't afford to send them to Christian schools to families who want to adopt and would be great adoptive parents but lack the resources required. Because I no longer work at a job where I make lots of money and stay at places like the Ritz-Carlton, I am not sure if I can swing the funds myself but I wanted to get the word out to those who might be interested. If nothing else it is a fascinating idea. As Dwight wrote near the end of his post:
And if I may dream just a little… it would please me greatly to see this experiment repeated many times by God’s people. I look forward to the day when I can help churchfund the needs of another Kingdom citizen!
Amen to that. Money in the hands of Christians can do a lot of different things but I will always prefer smaller scale, more personal financial transaction over dumping money more or less anonymously into the gaping maw of some huge organization. Read over Dwight's post, he has obviously given this a lot of thought and if you are so inclined get in touch with him.

Is it any wonder that money matters get so much attention in Scripture?

An Important Post On American Civil Religion

Dan Edelen put out a pretty solid post today on something I rail against on a regular basis, namely the civil religion of America that masquerades as Christianity among many (most?) religious Americans. His post, American Civil Religion vs. True Christianity breaks down the multiple points where what he abbreviates ACR stands in stark contrast and in fact opposition to actual Christianity. Here are his opening paragraphs...
In my previous post, “The Only Martyr’s Death Worth Dying,” I began to explore differences that exist between true Christian faith and the mishmash we often practice in America. A fancy word for this melange exists, syncretism, which is the blending of two different ideas or practices into one. Often those ideas or practices are contradictory, yet the practitioner cannot recognize the inherent contradictions.
Nowhere is this syncretism more apparent than in America. The narrative of our country and the narrative of the Kingdom of God have syncretized so profoundly that the religion far too many self-proclaimed Christians in America practice isn’t true Christianity at all but something I like to call American Civil Religion.

You should read the whole thing

The biggest problem with ACR, other than the matter of it being a different gospel, is that it envisions Christianity in an indistinguishable way apart from American religious practice. Most religious, church-going folks can't imagine a Christianity without the comfortable trappings of ACR: convenient and comfy buildings to meet in, professional entertainers called clergy to keep us interested for half an hour, religious teaching that does nothing to challenge or offend us and that never interferes with our way of life. I don't think it is a stretch to say that in the absence of these features, an absence that is fast approaching, most religious, church-going Americans will stop attending entirely. That will leave the actual church, which has largely bought into this model except in rare cases where it has retreated and bunkered up, similarly lost and confused. 

You really can't shout the warning about this too often or too loudly. The greatest challenge  the church faces in the coming years is not "gay marriage" or the removal of Ten Commandments monuments from Caesar's buildings or even ISIS or whatever iteration of Islamic terrorism  the U.S.will help to create in the future. No, it is the collapse of the religious system that has kept us disengaged and soporific for centuries. As I have been saying until I am blue in the face the time for preparing for these days and disentangling from the American civil religion is now, not ten years from now when the state padlocks church doors. I am going to keep on banging this drum because the church needs to wake up, like right now.

Just War Is A Theory. Jesus Is God. Which Then Should We Follow?

In March of 2014 a debate was had over the issue of "Just War", a doctrine which purports to lay out the conditions under which a nation may justifiably go to war and from a Christian perspective which wars can be considered just and righteous so that Christians can support and participate in said war. The debate itself is over 2 hours long and I haven't had the time yet to watch the entire thing. However one of the participants arguing against "Just War", Dean Taylor, carved out his closing statement and I thought it was worthwhile to link to it. One of these days I am going to actually watch the entire thing even though a) I already have a very firm conviction on this issue and b) I have some concerns about Dean's partner David Bercot. Anyway give it a watch and consider watching the entire video if you can make the time, I am thinking you probably want to watch it all in one sitting.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

On Guns

Social media is atwitter with the gun question again, thanks to another mass shooting by a deranged individual and kept alive by comments from amateur pundits and Presidential contenders alike. It is always a terribly difficult discussion to have because many people have firmly established notions one way or the other. So I thought I would add some fuel on the fire by throwing in my two (cyber) cents.

I am something of an oddity, a non-resistant Christian who abhors war and bloodshed but opposes gun control legislation. That may seem somewhat contradictory but allow me to explain.

I support the right of American citizens to keep arms not because I think we should all pack heat to defend ourselves against criminals but because as a realist I understand the very real deterrence an armed population has on a would-be tyrannical government. I don't advocate armed rebellion, even the rebellion that led to the formation of this country, but I do recognize that the state is properly understood in the size and scope of ours to be an enemy of liberty. The primary motivation of most institutions, including and especially our government, is to retain and expand its own power and thereby preserve itself and those who benefit from it. An armed populace stands as a counter to a state that seeks to reduce individual liberty and force conformist behavior on said populace. Even a casual glance at our government and the accompanying bureaucracy sees a state that is in multiple ways seeking to increase control over a largely flaccid and disinterested people who don't seem to mind losing freedom as long as they can watch The Bachelorette. As I wrote in my post Why worry about things that don't matter? I believe that even things that are not Kingdom issues still have meaning. It is better for people to be more free and to enjoy more liberty than it is for them to have less. If you don't think that many of the ideological drivers behind gun control are more concerned about law abiding citizens who are armed than they are about mass shootings, I have to assume you are naive.

Of course as I have pointed out before, making something illegal only impacts those who obey  the law, i.e. not criminals. By definition a criminal is someone who, typically, is aware of the law but has decided to break the law anyway. The gun control movement never seems to get this. Perhaps a better way of stating it is that the gun control movement doesn't trust people with guns, even when the evidence points to law abiding gun owners as being, again by definition, not criminal. Most gun control legislation, existing and proposed, treats every America citizen as a law breaker waiting to happen.

Some claim that it is inconsistent to be a pro-lifer who is anti-abortion but pro-Second Amendment. Abortions kills people. Guns kill people. Right? Wrong. The United States has some 300 million guns in the hands of private citizens if the stats are to be believed. Some insane percentage of those citizens with their hundreds of millions of guns, 99% perhaps, have never shot anyone, threatened to shoot anyone or even considered pulling a gun on someone. I own a number of firearms ranging from shotguns to rifles to hand guns. I have never and likely would never shoot anyone and the only exception would be a heat of the moment defense of my family and even that I don't consider to be proper for a Christian.

On the other hand, with a few rare exceptions where a child somehow survives the butcher's forceps and is born in spite of the best effort of a "doctor", abortions always end a human life. Not only that but they are intended to do just that no matter how much clinical and sterile language we try to hide it behind. It is the exact opposite of gun ownership. I would guess that 99.99% of abortions end as expected and desired with the death of a child. To recap, legal gun ownership almost never results in the death of someone else, much less an innocent except in the cases where a negligent parent fails to secure their gun and fails to educate their child.  Conversely abortion is intended to and almost always succeed in ending the life of another human being and by definition that child is innocent in a way that virtually no adult could be.

Get that? Owning a gun by a law abiding citizen is almost never going to lead to the death of an innocent and is generally not intended to. Having an abortion almost always leads to the death of an innocent and it is intended to do so. Comparing the two is asinine. Now one can make the argument, and I have, that being pro-life when it comes to abortion but at the same time being pro-war is inconsistent. War is intended to take life and innocents dying in those wars is an expected result.

So there it is in a nutshell. Feel free to tell me I am wrong but be prepared to use facts and reason rather  than simple emotionalism.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Do We Value What The Bible Cost?

479 years ago today is the traditional date assigned to the murder and martydom of William Tyndale. Tyndale is best known for producing the first comprehensive translation of the Scriptures into English using the printing press. As was typical of those days his murder was accomplished by a charming method, in his case being strangled to death and then having his corpse burned. He knew that the penalty for what he did would almost certainly be a gruesome death and yet he went ahead. In many ways I owe Tyndale for his courage to bring the Scriptures to a mass audience in English even at the cost of his own life.

Today I own literally dozens of Bibles in English, in traditional hard copy, on my computer, on my Kindle tablets, etc. It is so common place that I often treat it casually, failing to spend as much time searching the riches of God's revelation as I ought. I find myself rather ashamed of the cavalier way I all too often treat the Bible. Worse, there are many in religious circles around this land who go to great lengths to brag about how little value they find in the Bible, preferring instead their own experiences and preferences in an empty mockery of Christianity. Pretending to be wise they are actually mere fools.

How have we come to a place where what so many men in ages past were willing to lay down their lives to transmit and believers around the world risk freedom and life itself to possess is now something to be tossed in a corner and largely ignored? That question is perhaps the most pressing one today, greater than "gay marriage" or any of the other hot button issues, because every one of these questions that bedevil and split the church have at their core a low view of Scriptures. The Scriptures need no one to defend them but the church needs prophetic voices who will call the people back to the revealed Word of God as our authoritative source of knowledge about Jesus Christ.

A Christian man with an open Bible is something to make the religious authorities quake in their boots. A Christian man with nothing but his own experience and opinion is unarmed and prone to be tossed to and fro by the whims of the same. Men and women alike have risked life and liberty so that we can have our Bible. We owe it to them to treat the Bible with the same respect and even awe that they did.

What Sixty Grand A Year Buys You

You might not have heard of Swarthmore College. It is one of those little, very expensive East Coast colleges that probably wasn't on your radar if you went to college. There are tons of these, when I was looking at colleges I got brochures from dozens of them but I never gave them much thought. Anyway, Swarthmore is near Philadelphia and is not cheap. What do I mean by "not cheap"? Look at the picture below from the Swarthmore financial aid page.

So for sixty thousand per year you would expect a pretty good education. But then there is this, reported by National Review, a scathing indictment of the sexism inherent in teasing girls about their annual love affair with all things pumpkin spice:
According to a Swarthmore College student’s op-ed, the real reason that people make fun of pumpkin-spice lattes is that our society thinks everything girls like is stupid because “girls don’t get to have valid emotions.”
“It all comes back to sexism,” Min Cheng writes in a piece for The Phoenix, Swarthmore’s official student newspaper. “People love to hate on what girls like.”
"The PSL hate seems to me like a symptom of a larger problem: girls don’t get to have valid emotions,” she continues.

I think she is serious which is both hilarious and terrifying.

Now I don't think everyone on campus at Swarthmore takes this seriously but I bet a lot of people do. This is the sort of "academic" environment parents (and tax payers in the form of grants and student loans) are shelling out obscene sums of money to exposure their children to, namely a mindset where anything and everything is a symptom of sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, specism and white privilege. This environment is not open-minded and diverse, it is the exact opposite.

This sort of nonsense would be easy to laugh off it it weren't poisoning the minds of young adults who get out in the real world and find that they haven't learned much of any use and then are stunned to find that employers are not begging them to take $50,000 a year jobs right off campus. Since they have been taught to blame everyone else for their misfortune and failure to prepare for adulthood it is little wonder we have a generation of bitter and entitled young adults sulking in mom's basement.

Before you send little Johnny or Susie off to some liberal arts school that will land them in debt for the majority of their adult lives, take a few minutes to ask what exactly they are being taught. You will find that at most schools they are being force fed a steady diet of propaganda, an indoctrination that you are paying for in the hopes of being a "good parent". If you want to really teach your kids to learn and to think for themselves it might just be that the university system is the worst possible place to send your kids and if you do, you owe it to yourself and to general decency to not send them somewhere that is as obscenely expensive as Swarthmore.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Serious Christians Pack Heat. Seriously?

In the category of facepalm worthy statements by politicians there is this statement from the Lt. Governor of Tennessee:
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey responded to the mass shooting at an Oregon community college in a Facebook post Friday saying that “fellow Christians” should consider getting a handgun carry permit to protect themselves.
In his Facebook posting, Ramsey, who is also speaker of the Tennessee senate, said the recent spate of mass shootings around the nation is “truly troubling.
The Blountville Republican said, "whether the perpetrators are motivated by aggressive secularism, jihadist extremism or racial supremacy, their targets remain the same: Christians and defenders of the West."
"I would encourage my fellow Christians who are serious about their faith to think about getting a handgun carry permit," Ramsey wrote. "I have always believed that it is better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it. Our enemies are armed. We must do likewise."


I say this with the respect due a magistrate who is the Lieutenant Governor of one of these United States of America: that is one of the most theologically ignorant statements I have ever heard issuing from the mouth of a fellow Christian. I consider myself serious about my faith and while I own a number of firearms and I absolutely affirm that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right of citizens of this country to own personal firearms, I categorically deny that carrying a gun to protect yourself from whichever bad guy you are afraid of is a sign of Christian maturity. I also deny that Christians should be lumped in with "defenders of the West" as if defending Western civilization, a civilization that has generally been anti-Christian (no more or less so than Eastern civilization) is somehow the duty of "serious" Christians.

The latest mass shooting which seems to, according to early reports, indicate that an unhinged individual specifically targeted Christians has galvanized believers and intertwined the gun control debate with the faith of the victims. While our President hardly waited for the bodies to get cold before callously trying to use a tragedy to further his own political aims, it would be be nice if Christians didn't get down in the political mud with him on this question. Those who were Christians and were murdered because of that join the ranks of martyrs who died for their faith. We should grieve with and pray for their families but we shouldn't abandon a key teaching of Jesus in order to make a political point. I have a strong opinion on the right of Americans to own firearms and I categorically deny that making something illegal makes it less likely that criminals will engage in a certain behavior. That has nothing to do with how followers of Christ should think about and act toward those who make themselves our enemies.

Lt. Governor Ramsey says that Christians should arm themselves in order to be prepared to kill their enemies if the need arises. Jesus said that we should love our enemies and leave vengeance to the Lord. It should be a no-brainer which we should listen to. Unfortunately in America it is not as obvious as it ought to be.

Can Anabaptism Thrive In A Climate Of Affluence And Religious Liberty?

Hundreds of years ago, Anabaptists from Europe began a mass migration to America, a migration that ended up with Anabaptism being little more than a historical footnote in European history while at the same time seeing an incredible flourishing here in America. The various Anabaptist groups have never been a numerically significant population but they have become in many ways a quintessentially American phenomenon. Certainly there are Anabaptists in places like South America but the vast majority have lived in America for centuries. While the persecution slowly was reduced and eventually ceased altogether during their stay in America, I wonder if this has really been healthy for the descendants of European Anabaptism.

Somewhere around the mid-20th century the Anabaptists stopped being outsiders and started becoming just another denomination with mission boards, bureaucracy, colleges, all of the trappings of American religious culture. Around the time of the death of Hutterite draftees who were tortured and martyred in American military prisons as conscientious objectors during World War I, things seemed to change. Many Anabaptists served in civilian roles during the second World War and some even served in combat roles. Anabaptists also seemed to lose their missionary zeal, a zeal that in Europe caused persecution but in the relatively secure land of America seemed less important. Groups like the Amish and the Hutterites split off from society at large and other Anabaptists. The Mennonites began a seemingly constant splintering and re-splintering in response to the pressures of modernization and encroaching liberalism. When you look at many contemporary Anabaptist groups, they are not only not persecuted but they seem to have greatly prospered in America and are often affluent and comfortable. Today I look as an outsider at Anabaptism at large and I wonder if there is any real manifestation left in America today.

I believe we have already seen what happens when the Anabaptist portion of the church becomes too suburban, too comfy with the world. Much of what passes for Anabaptism today has slid into the broader evangelical world, becoming just another vanilla church. There is a large evangelical church near us in the middle of a major building project that once was a Mennonite church but now is just a generic evangelical church. Others claim the mantle of Anabaptism while looking an awful lot like a somewhat liberal megachurch, raising the question of how a people who treasured discipleship can flourish in the anonymity of the megachurch setting. Other portions of Anabaptism have moved into a quasi-Fundamentalist model with the traditional distinctive of their manner of dress to separate them from other Fundamentalist groups. Their focus is on keeping themselves free from overt sin and nipping in the bud any sign of "liberalism". Still other Anabaptist groups have merged into the progressive religious sphere and are largely indistinguishable from other progressive/liberal groups, having abandoned the prayer veil, ordaining women as pastors, taking tentative steps toward the normalization of homosexuality, replacing non-resistance with an activist political stance and denial of crucial and foundational truths like the reality of judgment and hell. These groups are committing the same "suicide by accomadation" that has killed liberal Protestant groups to the point that many who call themselves "Anabaptists" these days look, act and sound no different from any of the "mainline" Protestant groups and are dying off just as quickly.

My great fear is that Anabaptists in America have forgotten what it means to be Anabaptist. They no longer know how to be strangers and sojourners in the land who are hated and reviled not for how much Biblical truth they have abandoned but for their unwavering and child-like confidence in the Scriptures, a confidence that leads to a zealous evangelism and the resulting persecution. America is a land blessed with religious freedom but has it really been a blessing? I am not sure it has been when we look at contemporary Anabaptist groups. In fact I am not sure that Anabaptism has survived intact after a century of ease and acceptance.

The necessity and inevitability of suffering as part of the life of a disciple of Christ is deeply entwined with the Anabaptist history and theology. When people became Anabaptist in Europe, they did so knowing that it would mean sacrifice up to and including laying down their life. What happens when that suffering stops and is indeed replaced by affluence and comfort and ease? This is not merely an academic question. With the looming threat of a major shift in the American cultural landscape, the Anabaptists ought to be leading the way and an example for others. Instead I am concerned that Anabaptists are nearly as unprepared as the rest of the church for a post-Christendom existence because they have forgotten their heritage.

I hope I am wrong about this but the evidence doesn't seem to indicate that I am. Now is the time for Anabaptists to recover their heritage and start to think seriously about how to live as their forefathers did in Europe. The tales of persecution are not just interesting historical tidbits or tales you tell children to make them more appreciative of what they have. They are signal flares that show the way forward. I have found that an awful lot of Anabaptists barely even know their own history and this should make the leaders of Anabaptism deeply concerned. More so than almost any other groups, Anabaptists are a historic people. Their existence is inseparable from their history. When you lose that history and you lose the mindset that comes along with it, you lose the essence of what it means to be Anabaptist, especially in a world where people see fit to reinterpret Anabaptism to meet their own preferences.

The loss of their history as Anabaptists ought to be a far greater concern to Anabaptist leaders than the length of sister's hair or the style of dress they wear. The Christians of the very near future in America desperately needs Anabaptism and that means that the Anabaptists themselves need to remember what that word means.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Boy That Escalated Quickly

So the bloom came off that rose awfully fast. After a week or so of absolute, Beatles-Mania level screaming praise from "progressives" who stumbled over each other to sing the praises of Jorge Bergoglio during his papal visit, declaring him a Christian and showing a remarkable lack of understanding of issues surrounding why there was a Reformation in the first place, it seems that the pontiff made the grievous error of meeting with Ms. Kim Davis, the culture war flavor of the day who refused to issue marriage licenses to homosexuals. The Left turned on Jorge pretty quickly. This morning featured not one but two pieces on NPR (which has become insufferable to listen to) on how this was "disappointing" and confusing to advocates of homosexual normalization, Pope's Meeting With Kim Davis Puts A New Twist On His Visit and Pope's Meeting With Kim Davis Disappoints LGBT Catholic. Perhaps they will need to recall the upcoming Progressive Tiger Beat cover story of adoration for the "pope".

I doubt Jorge even knows there was a kerfuffle and I likewise doubt that he cares but it is worth noting anyway because it demonstrates that the Left in America, especially the religious Left, is every bit as dug in and intractable as the Religious Right. What abortion is for the Religious Right, a non-negotiable hill on which to die, homosexual normalization is for the Religious Left (along with abortion on demand, women pastors, universalism, ignoring Paul, etc.). There is no room for "common ground" or "dialogue", it is an all or nothing proposition. Something important to consider when addressing these issues.