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?