Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Was I born to be a Rambling Man? Probably not.

I'm in the middle of the week one of three weeks of travel away from my family. I'm training for a new job and it is necessary for me so that I can serve the student I will be teaching.

There are some pros. While I love my wife, we have different food tastes. When she says Panera, I hear over priced rabbit food. I love craft beer; she loves fruit wines. So this means that I get to eat where ever I want (like New Albanian Brewing where I am sitting composing this. I get to exercise. I get put the temp where I want it. Watch whatever sports I want to watch (during the Women's World Cup and NBA finals). Meals don't have to be cooked and dishes don't have to be done.

While those things are great, going out to eat gets old. I miss me wife's cooking (and my wife's company). I get stick of not having couches to lay on. I miss my kids smiling and yelling "da-da!" as I walk in the door. I miss know where places are without having to look it up. Not having access to a laundry machine and a refrigerator is a barrier to planning as well.

The cons are much more pronounced. The feeling that nothing is my own is unsettling. The movement and lack of sure plans for two weeks makes it hard to imagine how refugees do it. I guess they get a new "normal" or a travel wilbury. Maybe it is different if traveling is down in a group (or not alone). But there is still a longing for a place to rest. A place to settle down.

The Christian life is a lot like this. It is easy to enjoy momentary joy of the "freedom" only to succumb to the burden of the monotony of clean up/tear down/move.

When I travel, I am reminded of Ephesians 2:18:22:
For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
(Ephesians 2:18-22 ESV)
The traveling uneasiness of my soul is now anchored in the union with the Father. I no longer an alien or sojourner. I have a home. This angst reminds me that this is how I need to feel daily on this planet. I am far to easily satisfied.

I am traveling but I am not far from home.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Note to Liberal [Want a be]Theologians

Recently, I've seen the following quote get spread around Facebook among my liberal friends. 
Jesus was a radical nonviolent revolutionary who hung around with lepers hookers and crooks; wasn't American and never spoke English; was anti-wealth anti-death penalty anti-public prayer (M[atthew] 6:5); but was never anti-gay, never mentioned abortion or birth control, never called the poor lazy, never justified torture, never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes, never asked a leper for a copay; and was a long-haired brown-skinned homeless community-organizing anti-slut-shaming Middle Eastern Jew. - John Fugelsang (HT
I find this type of argumentation infantile because it doesn't actually engage with the arguments.It only advances the stereotypes propagated by both the Political Right and the Political Left. This is meant to imply that [Political] Conservatives see Jesus as a Status quo loving American insider who was too good for people who loves wealth, capital punishment, prayers in school and who is against gay marriage, birth control, expects God to help those who help themselves, against the redistribution of wealth, loves torture, hates universal health care, racial diversity since he is buzz cut wearing white man.

I want to know who believes this? Other than the Fred Phelps of the Westbro Baptist Church, who actually believes asking the questions where this is the answer? Of course, Jesus wasn't white. Of course, he never fought for tax cuts in the non-democratic Roman Empire. Of course, he never asked a leper for a copay to heal them because he always did it by his grace in the vocation of a prophet, not Doctor. Jesus was a spiritual revolutionary, not a political one. He organized Church communities. Who is saying that Jesus is for torture? He hung with lepers, hookers, crooks, tax collectors, government officials, religious leaders, women, organized labor, zealots, Samaritans, Solders and just about everyone else. He was "silent" directly on gays, abortion and birth control but he does make much of selfishness, lust, parenting, marriage, divorce and children. Do you think positions on gays, abortion and birth control comes for the positive teaching on those things? Try that argumentation in the court of the law today with speeding. "It says 55 but it didn't say if need to get to Taco Bell before it closed." This is anachronistic and a misrepresentation of what orthodox Christianity actually believes.

I'm glad other see through this as well. While I may disagree with his overall conclusions, a liberal friend of mine posted on Facebook basically calling it for what it is. He wrote the following:
 I prefer this version of Jesus. But it should be obvious that it's a retelling of Jesus to make him a post-modern. I'm fine with that, since that's what the Bible is anyway [communally-oriented re-imaging].  
But I don't doubt the historical Jesus was probably homophobic [given that the concept of a homosexual orientation didn't yet exist, and most manpeople thought the way homophobes think today: gay = butt-sex, lesbians = tasty, but probably not really a thing]. Paul was definitely bigoted and most certainly not opposed to things like slavery and chauvinism. 
Christianity's greatest contribution to religion, though, is its inherent propensity to transform from extremely dogmatic, fundamentalist, in-group, tribalism to more inclusive, gentler, more morally defensible, and rational communal living. It's pretty great. I'd be happy to participate in that form of Christianity, too. But let's not lose track of the reality that the ethic listed in this lovely meme, are of our time, not Jesus'. I think that's ok, and really, much more true to the Bible as a whole, and the experience of Christianity-in-time than American evangelical fundamentalism. 
I respect the intellectual honesty to say, "Yep, that is what it really says but I disagree with it based upon this, that and the other thing."  We can then actually have a conversation how our views of things will impact our public policy and how our views are different. I also know that you are open-minded enough to listen to what I am really saying.

Please Liberals: Be honest with yourself. Memes like this is just red meat to a Blue State crowd and is no different than a "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" bumper sticker (or appealing to the "yuck" factor). This, along with the tired West Wing/Dr. Laura Leviticus discussion, just shows the ignorance of a person and not his or her intelligence.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Muslims" that hate Islam - My Review of the film The Muslims are Coming

This is the trailer to the movie that was shown to me and others at the community college I work at. This movie is attempt by some Muslim comedians to ease tensions between conservatives and the Muslim community. The vehicle to achieve that is comedy. The thought goes "If we can get people to laugh with us then we can start seeing how alike we are." The "power of comedy" can help overcome any barrier that we erect in the name of religion or politics. After all, if we can laugh it then we can accept it.

If that was the case, why didn't I find it funny? Others did but I couldn't laugh at much of this fun. In some cases, it was just too vulgar. At other points, it was just foolish in it's setup (same jokes could apply to city people going to the country). But on the whole, I didn't find the movie funny because it was misrepresenting Islam because it was devoid of talking about the core of Islam.

Even though I'm a Christian and I believe Islam to be wrong, it should be represented properly. The best way to combat Islamophobia is to provide people with facts. Do Christians attempt to proof text from the Koran? Yes (in the same way they proof text from the Bible). Do Christians/Conservatives take a little bit of misinformation and run with it? Yes. Is this film accurate on diagnosing the problem(s)? Yes. Do they accurately suggest solutions based out of the Muslim Worldview? Not even close.

This is was confirmed by the film maker, Negin Farsad, in the Q&A after the film. I ask if this was to combat Arab-American/Persian American hatred more than promote Islam. She said that was correct. She wasn't a scholar and couldn't speak to the religious issues (even though she felt confident enough to state that all religions are basically the same and imply as much in the film when pointing out the hypocrisy of Bible-believing Christians). The film was blatantly about ethnic hatred and not religious hatred. The very flippant attitude the filmmakers had about Islam shows they don't respect Allah like a true Muslim would. That is perhaps why many Muslims don't joke about their faith (like many Christians would).

I also asked if there were divisions in local mosques between Sunni and Shiite and/or between Asian/African Muslims (since there are more Asian/African Muslims in the world that in the Middle East). She responded about immigration in general. This was the perfect time to highlight and educate some differences, especially since the film highlighted some racism that some Middle Eastern Muslims have towards Jews/African Americans. The best we got was an anecdote about a rum cake and Jewish neighbors.

Finally, I asked a simple question if the film maker knew some good resources on Islam. After all, if I just google Islam, I'm not sure what I would find. Granted, getting advice from a "secular Muslim" on who is a good representative of "religious Islam" may be like asking a vegan for a good steakhouse. I assumed that if I'm doing research I should know who agrees with me and who doesn't. I could produce the names of people that are fair representatives of the "other" side. In this case, I was told email her because she didn't know or I could just go to PBS (which again may not be an accurate representation).

All in all, the movie director and many of the contributors in the movie are advocating a secular state and not the Islamic religion. There was an Iman in the film that explained things like Sharia Law and at least comic that thought Negin wasn't a Muslim because she drank/dressed risque but these things were more of afterthoughts. Those are both vital aspects that deserved more but that would take away from the "Coexist" theme. Too bad no one pointed out that these "Secular" Muslims are as close to "real" Islam as the "jihadist" Al-Qaeda (like Liberal Christians are as close to Historic Christianity as Westbro Baptist). There was no talk of the role of a Mosque, Halal diets, Mohammed (and drawing his likeness) or the Koran itself.  I know "The Middle Eastern-Americans are Coming" doesn't have as nice of ring as "The Muslims are Coming" but this would be more accurate.

It is at least nice to know that Christians aren't the only ones being misrepresented by secular comedians.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Brief History of the Papacy (AD 30 - AD 600)

This is a posted to fill supplement a Sunday School class I have been teaching at Christ Presbyterian Church in Richmond IN. The audio and the handouts can be found here. Since the sovereignty of God hindered me of directly delivering this content, I posted a term paper I did in the Fall 2005 dealing this topic. While there are some things I would like to add, it is still a good overview of the topic. Enjoy!

Probably the most familiar doctrine of the Catholic Church today revolves around the office of Pope. They believe that the office has survived through an unbroken line of succession that dates back to the apostle Peter. Catholics follow this bishop of the City of Rome since they believe he has the “keys” to rule the Church politically and spiritually on Christ’s behalf. While history disputes whether or not this connection is completely accurate, it is clear that the office has changed since the death of Christ. William Ernest Beet claims that Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) was the first to both “in act and influence” live out the office of “Sovereign Pontiff.”[1] If this statement is true and the current role of the Papacy did not develop until the end of the seventh century, then how did the events of the early church changed the original office?
Based on the Biblical record alone, there is not much support for a singular head based out of Rome. The church order that is evident is one where no one person is solely in control. The church was most likely being directed by a local group of male elders (presbuteros) as evident by the numerous references to elders as a ruling body both within a Jewish and Christian context. In Titus 1:5, the elders are referred to as plural and, in this instance, must be from the local they are ministering in. This is backed up by the discussion of the “body of elders” in 1 Timothy 4:14 “ordaining” Timothy, who is probably in Ephesus having this done by the local leaders. The term “overseer” (episkopos) is referring to the function of the elder within the congregation, as seen with the interchangeable use of terms of in Titus 1. The same can be said within Acts 20 when Paul instructs the Ephesian Elders to be overseers. Also, there is no place in the New Testament that gives the Roman church priority over other congregations.
After the death of the apostle John in approximately AD 100, the first significant developments took place in the Papacy’s development. In AD 107, Ignatius of Antioch becomes the first Christian Leader to mention a separation between a bishop and the perhaps a separate council of elders. In his seven letters to specific churches and their “leader,” the soon-to-be martyr expressed a clear idea of a single bishop and a plurality of elders.  He writes to the Trallians that

Y[ou] are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ . . .  It is therefore necessary that, as y[ou] indeed do, so without the bishop y[ou] should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ. . . .[2]

He also addresses Polycarp in his letter as the “Bishop of the Church of the Smyrnaeans” even though Polycarp sees himself a part of the presbyters.[3] This difference of view shows that church organization was in a state of flux. In regard to the Papacy, this provides a foundation that later Christian build there case of monarchical episcopate based on an early separation of some type of ruling “bishop” over a “college of elders.”
Shortly later, this single bishop idea would be used to fight heresies arising in the church. The Apologist Irenaeus pointed to “apostolic succession” of a single bishop from the first Christians to further enforce his orthodoxy claims. He is reminding the Gnostics of his day (roughly late second century) that his church is preaching the same things as Christ taught since it was “passed” directly to them through the leaders of the Church.[4] Irenaeus implies that the Bishop has the ability to determine what beliefs are acceptable since the “deposit of truth” resides with him.  It is because of Irenaeus that episcopal authority is forever linked with this idea of apostolic succession.[5]  
This same Irenaeus is one of the first to attribute any importance to the Roman See. He uses the Roman list of succession as example of how the “rule of faith” was passed from both Paul and Peter to the current Bishop. Irenaeus calls Rome the “greatest and best-known” church in the Empire in route to explaining the link between the apostles and the current bishop, Eleutherius.[6] Chances are that Irenaeus used Rome as an example since the Roman Church is a microcosm of what is believed in the entire empire.[7] This is bolstered by the fact that Irenaeus was very upset at Victor (Bishop of Rome) for wanting to enforce his views on some Eastern sees regarding the Easter disagreement in roughly 190 C.E.[8] Victor expanded on the argument the Ireneaus first penned. He believed he could enforce his rightful opinion since he “descended” from two apostolic martyrs. Regardless what Ireneaus’ intentions were, Roman primacy would start to appear more and more as result of this early reference.
A good example of this appears in the next century. In the middle of the third century, Cyprian argues that the Roman bishop is “the focal point of ecclesiastical unity” when addressing the validity of a person giving the sacraments.[9] During the Novatian schism, he also writes that the “keys” Jesus gave Peter marks the power that he alone was given in order to show that the church cannot be divided.[10] Later on however, Bishop Stephen of Rome uses the same idea of the “keys” to denounce Cyprian’s position on a theological issue. Even though he did not agree with Stephen’s interpretation, Cyprian is on record at one point validating the “keys” claim that Stephen expounded to refute him. This is another “historical brick” in the foundation that the Papacy would use to justify their position.
Up until this point, only those in the Church are directly influencing how the office was developing. That is until Constantine converted to Christianity and then became Emperor. The Church becomes a platform for Constantine to promote unity throughout the Empire. The Emperor takes over external management of the church and allows the bishops to tend to internal responsibilities.[11] Eventually, these lines would blur over time. By providing special favors to Rome and organizing Councils to settle controversy, the separation of Church and State is slowly eroded away.
After the walls between government and Church disappeared, the major Patriarchs started to jockey for position as to who was the most powerful. This was particularly true in the East. The Bishops of Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople over the next two centuries each accused one another of heresy over Theological minutiae. This chaos in the East prevented any of these sees from having the stability they needed to become a continued force in the Empire’s religious affairs. By contrast, Rome did not experience the same problems. No one in the West is actively challenging their authority. Rome became a voice of reason in a time of theological turmoil.
The best example of this is Leo the Great and the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. Two years earlier, Leo wrote a “Tome” to the Council of Ephesus to help settle the Monophysite question. Due to the political dealing of Dioscorus of Alexandria, the Tome was never read since it supported his rival from Constantinople, Flavian. Unfortunately for Dioscorus, the Tome was read in full at Chalcedon after Flavian’s successor reasserted his claim for priority over Alexandria.[12] Leo’s work became the final word on the issue and cemented the Roman claim as the true apostolic see, due largely due to the bickering of the East.
It is also around this time that political unrest started to appear in Italy. After the sack of Rome in AD 410, the capital was moved to Ravenna, leaving a political vacuum in Rome. As more troubles started to appear in Rome, the Bishop was looked to for guidance. For example, when the Huns were threatening to attack the Italian peninsula, it was Leo the Great that went out to meet Attila to help save the defensive people from an attack. It is at this time the Roman Bishop was seen as “first importance in the State” and “the preserver of the social fabric.”[13]
After the fall of Rome, the Bishop of Rome reluctantly took the place of the Ceasars.[14] Gregory the Great is the best example of the “Pope” becoming a head of State as well as the head of the Church. The former City Prefect was elected Pope in AD 590 and started to fill the void of leadership in Rome. He negotiated a peace treaty with the Lombards in AD 592, which was one way he practically demonstrated the temporal authority of the papacy.[15] He also sent envoys to Britain to preach to the Celtic people there. His actions, both politically and spiritually, turned the West from looking towards the Byzantine Empire to the new possibilities in the West.[16]
It is at this point the Papacy as it is known today comes into focus. Through nature evolution to fight heresy and some unforeseen political turmoil, the Papacy is able to emerge as a rock of stability for the people under its care. Though its original intent was to solely govern religious affairs, the events of the day prevented that from happening. Henry Hudson best sums it up when he says,

Call it a historical accident, if there be such a thing, but clearly, in the time-space continuum of historical happenings, responsibilities of a more secular nature were thrust upon the church. These may not have been desired by any of the Bishops of Rome, but the historical turn of events could hardly have been avoided.[17]

[1]William Ernest Beet, The Rise of the Papacy: A.D. 385-461, (London: C. H. Kelly, 1910), 60-1.
[2]The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians, 2.
[3]Everett Ferguson, Early Christian Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries, 3rd ed. (Abilene: ACU Press, 1999), 170.
[4]See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.
[5]W. H. C. Frend, The Early Church, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1965), 78.
[6]Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.
[7]Frend, 78.
[8]Henry Chadwick, The Penguin History of the Church: The Early Church, (London: Penguin Books, 1993), 84.
[9]T. A. Burkill, The Evolution of Christian Thought, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1971), 63.
[10]Chadwick, 119.
[11]Henry Hudson, Papal Power: Its Origins and Development, (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1989), 17.
[12]Chadwick, 203.
[13]Beet, 265
[14]Hudson, 17.
[15]Burkill, 132.
[16]Chadwick, 246.
[17]Hudson, 16-7.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The World, not the Church, is full of Judgmental Hypocrites

The term hypocrite get thrown around a lot in Church circles. Simply, according to Miriam-Webster, a hypocrite is “a person who claims or pretends to have certain beliefs about what is right but who behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs.” Many believe that people in the church say one thing and do the opposite. People don’t like being told to do (or not do) something by other people that they themselves aren’t (or are) doing. People hate people who appear pious to act impiously. They feel the “fakeness” of the impious acting piously because they know instinctively that bad people don’t really do good things.


The question is though is this description really fitting of Christians? Do they act differently than what they profess? Actually, true Christians are not hypocrites. Actually, the non-Christians are the hypocrites.


Jesus constantly addresses the Pharisees with the term hypocrite. His usage is best found in this phrase, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:29-33, ESV).  Notice that Jesus is pronouncing judgment by a standard he knows they hold and shows them to be wanting. The Pharisees claim to stand in the tradition of the Prophets when they really have deviated from that. He points out that the Pharisees were being judged by the Prophets to be shown as the murderers of the prophets. Their sentence would be Hell and they are piling up more and more evidence to validate that sentence.


Even though Jesus seems to make a big deal about, this is term is only thrown around in the gospels. Paul, Peter, James or John doesn’t use this word in any of their letters to Churches. Ironically, these churches often acted contrary to their stated belief and probably every much as inconsistent as the Pharisees. When Paul confronts Peter in Galatians 2 for instance, he says that Peter was acting in contrary to Gospel, not that he was a hypocrite. Why? Wasn’t it obvious that Peter was being a hypocrite? He should have jumped on him with this term and showed that Peter, the man that received the vision from God in Acts 10-12 that all foods were clean and preached to all men from many nations in Acts 2, was acting like elusive racist while he proclaimed an “inclusive” message. Why doesn’t Paul pounce? 


Or what about when Paul hears of a man with his father’s wife in 1 Corinthians 5? Does Paul say “You hypocrites! How dare you accept this sin that even the outside world hates while saying that you love marriage? No. He discusses “judging” those inside of the Church rather than those on the outside because God judges those on the outside of the church with the standard of grace. The apostle does call them arrogant and they should be mourning for this sin but he doesn’t use the “h-word”.


Or James, talking about the tongue, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so,” does he call those members of the church hypocrites in James 3? No, James judges this to be wrong and exhorts them to look at their nature since can fig trees produce olives?


There is the rub.  Jesus seems to reserve the term hypocrite for only those outside of the Church and no apostle even feels comfortable using it. Why? The answer is found in the Christian Gospel. This good news says that yes, you think you are better than you but really your nature is bad. Depraved. Without the ability to choose good. In your nature, you are a sinner. As much as you say to the contrary, that is want you are. Everyone who says that they can do good is a liar and a hypocrite. The “grading curve” we attempt to use to justify the myth we aren’t that bad, will be held to us to show up that we can even live up to that standard, let alone the standard a Holy and Righteous God. By the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who lived perfectly in action according to his nature (100%God and 100% Human) showed us by contrast the depths of our depravity and obeyed in our place and took the punishment in our place to give us a new life, new heart as a new creation. We are then saved unto good works we are able to do through our new nature.


This as a result means two things. Christians should know that to their core are really bad and they we need to be judged. We are working out our salvation with fear and trembling but we need the Law to shine on us to point out that our words are not matching our new nature. Repent and allow the grace of God train us to renounce ungodliness and world passion to live self-controlled, godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11-12). Being a Christian should mean that he or she welcomes the judging. It doesn’t mean we like it all of the time but we are humble enough to receive. Since we recognize our utter dependence on the grace of God in Jesus, our worth is not tried to our work but to His alone.  This frees us from the sting of judgment because this is no longer tied to our eternal destiny.


So when the people of the “judge” the church, we welcome it. That is what our message says. So are we really hypocrites? Do our actions conflict with our confession? Not really. Are there some Christians that don’t receive judgment well but our message allows for that. We realize there is a Judge that will judge us unless for the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. But also, when we “judge”, it for those inside of the Church based upon the agreed upon standard that is external. Anyone can read the Bible and “hold us accountable.”


But yet, if your standard is “judge not, yet you be judged” and you say the church shouldn’t judge, your actions are not matching your words. If judging is bad and you are judging, what does that say about you? You are violating your own standard and you stand guilty. You are your own judge, jury, and executioner (not to mention the Holy God who says Judge not, yet you be judged or the same standard will be held to you). Who hates being judged but will willing judge others with the greatest of ease?


Who is really the hypocrite?


Thursday, November 7, 2013

From Pastor to "Normal"

About 1.3 years ago, I left the pastorate for the stake of my family and my conscience. I took an ordinary Monday through Friday job as an academic advisor. While there is a lot pastoral about this job, there are many things I was pretty naive about as I lived day to day in my new vocation. Here is a small list of things that I found difficult as I made the transition.

1) Studying the Bible is hard. While I have clearer time breaks between work and play, I thought I would have more time to read and study but that failed to account for what purpose. I still love it so much. I'm listening to Podcast and lecture like crazy. However, without an avenue to teach, I find it hard to sit down and study something. I miss the forced accountability to study the Bible for a purpose.

2) Getting connected to/at a church is hard. As a theologically trained person, I knew it would be difficult. Also, any church worth its salt would make it difficult for some random person to show up and teach. But just average fellowship is harder than I remembered. As a pastor, people were naturally drawn to a pastor. They want to connect with you. While the relationships also took time to develop, people had more reason to work at it. This time, as just a normal bloke, there is no natural draw to relationship. This could be more to the fact I have two kids where before I didn't but I can't help but think this plays a small part.

3) "Normal" work is harder. Pastoring is hard. Don't get me wrong. The problem is I have to be on constant guard on what I say and how I act. Carl Trueman rightly put it recently the following:
Perhaps it is time for those of us who have ministerial jobs which we by and large enjoy which actually shield us from much of the aggressively secular world out there to spend less time puffing ourselves up as martyrs to a cause or as danger men living risky lives on the edge and instead give thanks for the comparatively easy green pastures in which we have been allowed to lie down. (source)
A "normal" job forces me to skirt the issue plaguing everyone when trying to help them. I can't come right out and tell people you are sinner and it is because of your sin that you are experiencing pain and suffering. I can be subtle and it is great that I work with a bunch of Christians. However, there is always that constant fear.

4) The future prospects are hard. A man with M.Div doesn't have direct career paths outside of church world. So while I would love to get back into church world, I don't see that directly happening in the near future. So do I get more education?  Do I hold I hope of getting back into ministry? I don't like my options. I trust that God will provide and call me to my vocation. I know there is always a prospect of changing jobs but it is the the what I will do that concerns me.

I'm still struggling but I know this is my season of life. It is hard but God is good and I trust in him.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Unwillingly Stoking the "Strange Fire"

There has been a lot of talk about the Strange Fire Conference all around the blogosphere and twitterverse over the last few weeks. One of the arguments made by the continuationists is that the Charismatic movement has helped revived and greatly improved the quality of worship music in this country. Adrian Warnock, a orthodox reformed Charismatic with New Frontiers in Great Britain and outspoken critic of the Strange Fire conference, writes:
It is astonishing to me that the great modern choruses and hymns written by charismatics could be rejected so wholeheartedly. What of such popular songs as “In Christ Alone” written by a team including Stuart Townend, part of the same family of charismatic church’s as myself? Has that song not been a blessing? Has it not, dare I suggest it, added to biblical understanding for many? Does he really reject Hillsong music like [Man of Sorrows], not to mention Jesus Culture, and a host of others? The Charismatic Movement has contributed masses towards worship! Not just the songs, but a renewed passion for God, and dare I say it a more biblical approach to using our whole bodies to worship God at times noisily. [source]
Very few people would raise a finger about Stuart Townend and the folks at New Frontiers or Bob Kauflin of Sovereign Grace Music, who is also charismatic. Why? Because they preach Jesus and the Gospel; they make much of sin and the need for repentance. Other than maybe a misguided view of the Spirit's gifts to his church, they are pretty orthodox. Singing their songs may be like a calvinist singing a hymn by Charles Wesley. When we hear them sing about the gospel, we can know they mostly mean the same things as we do. Sin is sin. Penal Substitutionary Atonement is Penal Substitutionay Atonement. God is triune and Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. Suffice it to say, we can know word games aren't happening.

Often times in our hymnody, a good (or great) song comes from a poisoned pen. A heretic can pen a song that sounds great but the author believed the words meant different things. One of reason Arianism spread was by song. It can happen very easily. Andy Naselli offered some helpful advice in an article entitled, When a Good Hymn Goes Bad. He writes about how the Keswick movement that tainted some songs for him. He suggested:
So what do you do if you’re singing a hymn like this with a congregation that is generally unaware about the hymn’s authorial intent? I can think of at least two options: (1) don’t sing, or (2) if the lyrics are redeemable, sing but don’t interpret the hymn according to its authorial intent. In other words, a postmodern hermeneutic may save you from the dilemma of not singing versus affirming error.
While this may work for songs that are now public domain, this advice doesn't go far enough in the modern age of CCLI. What is CCLI someone may ask? This article does a good job explaining it. In a nutshell, whomever owns the copyright of popular worship songs will get paid a royalty based on song usage in churches out of a pool of money that churches contribute too based on size. It is a way of making sure Churches pay for fair use of a persons/groups artistic creation.

This is a generally a good thing. We don't want to muzzle the ox so to speak. Churches should act legally when reproducing content. The problem though is that this means the simple singing of a song on a Sunday and displaying the lyrics will contribute to a ministry that you may or may not want to support. The money given to a church to proclaim the the correct Gospel will subsidize a false gospel if care is not taken.

This very fact should cause us to do all that we can to make sure that if the song is copyrighted that the royalties don't go to something we are against. As many are (rightly) upset if tax money is used to fund abortions, so should they be if their tithes and offerings are used to fund heresy. It should beg the question for us, where do our songs come from? What churches are producing our songs? That's why I laughed recently that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was singing How Firm a Foundation and had How Great Thou Art in their concert I saw on They were singing songs that were written by orthodox Christians with a different view of God than that they had.

Unfortunately, the modern church has that same lack of discernment. Two organizations mentioned by Warnock as helping the modern church are Jesus Culture and Hillsong. Jesus Culture is based out of Bethel Church in Redding, CA. Hillsong is a church in Sidney, Australia pastored by Brian Houston. Listen to the clips below and tell me how is Houston and Johnson orthodox?

Doesn't both of these guys sound like Health/Wealth Guys and Word/Faith? Do you hear a gospel that glory in the Christian and not the Christ? I could point to numerous examples of crazy things coming out of Bethel and Hillsong. They proclaim a corrupted version of Christus Victor that tweaks the tradition view of justification.

But yet, non word/faith churches sing these songs Sunday after Sunday and they receive the the CCLI royalty money from their participation. They sound orthodox but they redefine traditional Christian words to make them means something different. Like the odorless byproduct of incomplete combustion Carbon Monoxide can sneak into homes to poison, so do these songs in the Church.The Church then turns around and feeds the flame so they can poison us more. What a sad cycle.

Church after church from their pulpits are preaching against a "strange fire" but yet will sing songs that arise from the ashes of those same fire. Why aren't we consistent? Will somethings fall through the cracks? Yes. But shouldn't we be more careful of singing newer things for this reason? While this makes a really good case for public domain hymns, this doesn't excuse us from looking at from where do our songs come from. The language of our songs/prayers show us what we believe. Lex orandi, lex credendi. If that is the case, we are all becoming word faith heretics.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Soccer, Hockey and Jesus: A Modern Parable.

What do all of these have in common? Probably not much at first glance. One uses a ball, one uses a puck and one uses nothing (because the Second person of the Trinity is all sufficient in himself). One might say all three have a passionate fan bases All three groups of followers are trying to win the majority of a culture (which wants nothing to do with each of them) over as fan. The "fan bases" want to "convert and disciple" new fans. While being a Christian is not the same as being a fan, some Christians believe that they are like any group that needs to persuade people to "cheer for Jesus and follow him" with more intensity then one would follow a sport.

The objects of devotion is different but all of them have thought the same approach should work in gaining adherents. Let's Try and make the object of devotion more accessible. The thought goes that the barrier to getting people interested is that they are just ignorant to the greatness of the game. The solution is to "dumb down" the presentation to welcome in the new people. We need to figure out the things people hate and fix them. The fanatics would stay no matter what and they would welcome the chance to "roll out the red carpet" to welcome the people to the sport.

Well, it didn't work in Hockey. Fox introduced the "Glow puck" and new people found it confusing and diehards hated it. The NHL became the but of jokes. Also, new people didn't join in to watch. Players claimed the puck bounced different. True fans wanted a high standard of coverage but the "glow puck" changed the game experience so much that no one liked it.

Soccer faced the same problem, tried the same thing and got the same result in the United States. The thought was people just needed to education and American voices. In a recent podcast, Rebecca Lowe discussed how NBCSN was going to tow that line but still do things like Britain. It was agreed that NBCSN would not dumb things down because that has not worked before. If soccer was going to grow, it had to cater to the "real fans" while making sure to any additions would not be obtrusive to what makes fan love the sport in the beginning.

Yet, Christians will still claim we need to change the bad parts and that would make us grow. That has worked so well for things that don't have the gates of Hell lined up against it so it should work when the stakes are higher. Makes perfect sense to me. . . 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Stop abusing these verses!

Here is the secret to reading the Bible: Read it in context! That's it. Basic reading comprehension.Read paragraphs and see how sentences relate to one another. It is that simple. The SAT is more complicated than this. 

Yet, time and time again, I hear smart men trained in Seminaries and leading churches ignore these simple rules of English and make things say something that it does not. An aspect of these verses might have some truth but the context prevents certain conclusions from being drawn.

Here are the easiest verses to get wrong:

Jeremiah 29:11 - For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

The misguided meaning: God is over all things so trust in him not matter what. So when bad things happen, don't worry. You will prosper. 

The reality: Unless you are a Jewish Exile, this verse isn't for you. It is meant to be of encouragement to the Jews in Babylon. Read the entire chapter. It does speak to God's faithfulness but not as a universal truth.

Proverbs 29:18 - "Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint. . ."

The misguided meaning: We all need a vision for our life and our churches. If not, we perish or die or something. Get a vision for your life.

The reality: There is a second half to this verse. "but blessed is he who keeps the law." Proverbs are set up in couplets in order to highlight the meaning. No Bible, no guidance. With the Bible, there is wisdom and blessing. This has nothing to do with "vision" as we see it.

Philippians 4:13 - "I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

The misguided meaning: If I believe in Christ, I can do anything I want and he will hook me up.  The patron verse for athletes.

The reality: Paul states this while he is facing suffering. He can endure suffering or wealth in Christ. It is a picture of contentment, not abundance. 

There are more but these are the worst offenders.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Defibrillating the Healthy?

I was singing a song the other day at Church that was talking about how as a Christian that we are asking God to revive us again. I got to thinking is this a Biblical desire for Christians to sing about? Just stop and consider what revive means. It means to bring back to life or to make alive again. But isn't this what happens at regeneration? When God through Jesus's work on the cross by the Holy Spirit takes a dead man and makes him a new creation by giving him a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone, doesn't that sound like revival of a human? Wouldn't this be like attaching a defibrillator to someone with a healthy sinus heart rhythm?

I know the Old Testament talks about people being revived again. Psalm 85 is titled "Revive Us Again" and talks about restoring the relationship God has with man to allow the people of God to rejoice after a time of rebellion or spiritual non-activity (or deadness).  Same with Lamentations 1 and Isaiah 57. Other than that, Nehemiah 4 quotes Sanballat and Tobiah mocking Nehemiah about "reviving" the walls of Jerusalem.

Hosea 6 is the most interesting because it seems to foreshadow Jesus. It says:

6:1 “Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
    he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
2 After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up
    that we may live before him.
3 Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”
4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
    What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
    like the dew that goes early away.
5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
    I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
    and my judgment goes forth as the light.
6 For I desire steadfast love[a] and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
7 But like Adam they transgressed the covenant;
    there they dealt faithlessly with me.
8 Gilead is a city of evildoers,
    tracked with blood.
9 As robbers lie in wait for a man,
    so the priests band together;
they murder on the way to Shechem;
    they commit villainy.
10 In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing;
    Ephraim's whoredom is there; Israel is defiled.
11 For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed,
    when I restore the fortunes of my people.
(Hosea 6:1-11 ESV emphasis added)
Jesus quotes from this chapter but notice verse 2. That sounds an awful like the resurrection.It sounds like revival has happened already. It sounds like resurrection, the act of receiving new life after death, is the revival of which the Old Testament speaks. In Christ, we have a revival already so do we really have to ask for it to happen again? Does it matter that we don't feel it?

It is no wonder that the New Testament does not say "please revive us again." They talk about being made alive (1 Cor 15:22, Eph 2:5, Col 2:8, 1 Peter 3:18). Often it is a past tense manor like this has happened. Paul mentions a revival of the Philippians' concern for him but nothing about asking for revival in the church like we often discuss it. Nothing about a renewed vigor or feeling of life because it is implied that it has already happened.

What we need more is the reality that we have been given new life in Jesus. Trust in our baptism, the Lord's supper and the preaching word as means of grace, showing us what is real and what is living. Allow the gospel to be preached to us and instead of trying to recapture something, why don't we enjoy what we already have received? Why do we feel need to ask God for something that he has already given to us and ways to actually know that this as happened?