Author Archives: Pondering Pastor

About Pondering Pastor

I am an ordained minister who one day decidied to create a blog. I am a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and the Turner School of Theology at Amridge University.

Thoughts on Social Distancing

“Unclean! Unclean!” These are the words a person with certain skin diseases was to shout while walking around their community (Lev. 13:45). This scene from the ancient world seemed so foreign to us only a couple of months ago, but now we are told to keep our distance from others because they, or we, may be asymptomatic carriers of a virus. The ancient Israelites were not epidemiologists, but they did know that social distance was necessary to prevent the spread of certain diseases.

Some might argue that the Biblical text only calls for the ill to be distanced and that there is no need for us to all practice social distancing at this time. It is true that the Bible only calls for the ill to be distanced, but there is a critical difference that should be noted. The Israelites were on the lookout for a skin disease, something that typically is readily apparent. The afflicted were visible to the human eye. In our present circumstance, however, the illness is not that obvious – infected individuals may not show symptoms for days, and some apparently may not show symptoms at all. This leaves us in a situation with enormous unknowns and a fear that anyone could be a carrier of the virus.

Let me bring this back around. When it came to illness in the Biblical world, seen especially in the Old Testament, social distancing was the norm and not the exception. As an ordained minister it pains me to see churches shuttered while we get through this difficult time, but these are necessary steps to protect the health of everyone. So, if you are sitting at home and wondering why you can’t attend services this weekend with young and old and healthy and ill, remember that social distancing was the most effective means of preventing the spread of certain diseases in the Biblical world, and reflect on how some things do not change with the passage of time.

Thoughts on Finding God in the Waves

I rarely listen to music in the car these days. Instead, I take the opportunity to redeem the time and listen to podcasts, lectures, or books that interest me. One such book I recently listened to was Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science, by Mike McHargue – a.k.a. “Science Mike.”

I first heard of this book while listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Justin Brierly’s Unbelievable? I was intrigued by what the author would have to say about his journey from belief to atheism and back to faith. However, it did not take long to realize that this book was definitely not what I was expecting. McHargue is a very engaging story teller and the book is a very transparent account of his struggles with belief, doubt, and unbelief. I am also thankful that he is charitable to the evangelicals he has crossed paths with through the years.

I have spent the last 24 hours turning over in my mind what to say about this book, and I must say that I have two sets of thoughts.

On the negative side:

  1. The author is clearly a smart man who has spent a lot of time reading and studying. What gets annoying is that he comes across at times with something of a superiority complex – a kind of, “I know all of this stuff and you rubes don’t” kind of vibe. Now, he never uses that kind of language, it is strictly my read on his language at times in the book.
  2. I am curious impact his own deconversion and reconversion to his new brand of faith has had on that of his family. Families tend to follow the dad when he is in the picture. From the book, it sounds like his family worships with him at the progressive church he attends, but I wonder if his family also abandoned their evangelical faith and ultimately followed the same path as him.
  3. It didn’t take long to realize there was something fishy going on with the way Mike viewed the world and his retooled belief system. And, sure enough, it eventually became apparent that He is some sort of materialist (my words, not his). I am not alone in thinking this, an article in the Christian Research Journal zeroes in on this point quite succinctly. At the end of the day, a purely materialistic worldview is not compatible with Christianity.
  4. The book takes a strange turn when Mike has his spiritual moment at the beach. Strangely, his materialism seems to be put aside (yet never disavowed) without explanation. In one place in the book he makes sure to let the reader know he corrected Rob Bell at a conference when he was telling the crowd that science cannot explain the “why” of things. To this, Mike objected and made the case that science can very well explain the “why.” Yet, toward the end of the book he plays some sort of semantic shell game and tells of how science can’t explain everything. Now, it is possible I did not hear something correctly, but I do remember this standing out and leaving me wondering why he was doing the very thing he had earlier claimed to correct others for doing.
  5. The book mentions Christian apologists in a blanket fashion, but he never names any or speaks of any real engagement with their work. On the flip side, however, he drops the names of New Atheist and Progressive Christian writers.

On to the positives:

  1. The book is a very transparent telling of the author’s struggles. His story gives readers (especially clergy and counselors) a wonderful glimpse into the inner workings of someone struggling with doubt. Mike is not the only one who has, or will, experience such struggles. As such, it is worth having an awareness of what some of those struggles might be.
  2. As noted earlier, the book is charitable to the numerous Christians he encountered through the years. Whether conservative evangelical or mainline, he treats all sides with dignity. This was refreshing.

There is more I could write on this book, but for the sake of everyone involved, I will stop here.

Is Acts 8:38 an airtight case for immersion baptism?

Baptism is a sacrament of the Christian faith. As such, people can feel rather strongly about how the rite is carried out. While for some there is only one acceptable mode, immersion, for others of us there are three: sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. I, myself, am one of those people who is fine with any of the three modes.

I recently had an exchange with someone who believes that immersion is the only acceptable mode. One of the proof texts presented to me, and one that is frequently used to defend the immersion only view, was Acts 8:38, “And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.” (NASB)

The idea is that since Philip and the Eunuch “went down into the water,” it somehow proves that an immersion baptism took place. There are some difficulties with this, however. First, the context states that these events took place on a desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza. This is an area that is remarkably arid – hence the mention of the “desert road.” As a consequence, it is doubtful they came across a substantial body of water – unless the argument is going to be made that a Jewish ritual bath was used in a town somewhere along the way, but this has its own difficulties.

Second, “went down into the water” is not an indicator of depth. The text does not state that they were under the water, only that they went into the water. The same language can be equally applied to deep and shallow water. A person can get drenched in water up to their ankles. Water can be dipped from a shallow water source.

Third, if the statement that they “went down into the water” in and of itself makes it necessary that the Eunuch was immersed, we should turn around and ask if Philip was also under water when this happened. After all, it was both of them that “went down into the water.” If that phrase alone necessarily puts one under the water, then it should put both of them under the water, or very close to under the water.

I will stop there.

Let me make myself abundantly clear: I have no issues with baptism by immersion. I have baptized people by immersion. At the same time, I also believe that a person can be baptized with substantially smaller amounts of water.

The point of this post is simply to point out that Acts 8:38 does not present the airtight case for immersion baptism that some might suppose.

A Sign of the Times? Chicken Sandwiches and Famous Rappers

This post is a little late in coming, considering the events I am writing about took place several weeks ago. However, I still feel it is worth speaking about the topsy-turvy world we live in. So, Chick-fil-a, a company many in the Christian community have supported for decades, has recently made drastic changes in what charitable agencies would receive funding from the fast-food chain. Some of these changes are surprising, and even saddening. Especially, when one considers that the chicken sandwich giant has decided to stop giving to the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army? Really? Yep. There has been a great deal of ink spilled regarding these changes and you can find great write-ups here, here, here, and here.

Now, Chick-fil-a is a private company and it can spend its money however it chooses. At the same time, it is also true that a lot of people drive out of their way specifically to support the business because of its strong ties to the Christian community. So, while I will still dine there from time to time, I no longer see any reason why I should drive past Popeye’s – avoiding a rather delicious sandwich 🙂 – just to support Chick-fil-a.

At the same time all this was happening in the world of chicken sandwiches, the entertainment industry experienced its own shakeup of sorts, which came in the form of Kanye West. Not too long ago he publicly declared his faith in Jesus Christ. Then he said he would no longer make secular music. Then he started hosting a worship service that drew massive crowds and made a clear gospel presentation. Next, he dropped an album with explicitly Christian music. And now he is planning a massive event with Joel Osteen!

While I may not be that keen on Joel Osteen, the man attracts quite an audience and I do think the Lord can use anyone He sees fit. So, the man who brought us “Gold Digger” is now making music that glorifies God Almighty. Praise the Lord! This is truly remarkable and I hope that Kanye stays faithful and strong as he walks down this new path.

Two lessons these episodes should teach us is that things are not always as they seem, and our trust should not be put into things of this world. After all, it is the Lord who is unchanging. That is something that cannot be said of worldly things.

Woke Credits?

Carbon credits are those remarkable items that some people purchase to make themselves feel better about their own pollution. It is a remarkable system – I won’t change anything about my habits, but I’ll send money to have someone else plant a tree (that I’ll never see) somewhere in the world. The ultra-wealthy love carbon credits, and are known to jet set around in private airplanes while complaining to everyone that will listen about how we are killing the planet. Take this story for example. 

However, despite these initial thoughts, I am not writing this post about carbon credits. Instead, I wanted to talk about something I will call, “woke credits.” It seems that there is a newer phenomenon in which people in one class bewail the fact of their existence in an effort to show solidarity with others. So, for instance, there is the example of a young man from a rich family who finds his wealth repugnant. He has written a piece describing his horrible plight for all the inquiring minds out there. Now, like most of you, I was not born rich and have no idea about the sufferings of those who have more than a billion dollars (or a million dollars). But, for some, the struggle is real and they want to identify with the rest of us… or something like that. Now, the real world simple solution is just to give all the money away and come down here and live and work like the rest of us. But, thanks to woke credits he doesn’t have to do that. Instead, he writes an article for a website, tells his readers how his wealth is immoral and the system should change, describe his struggles with juggling so much money while being ever vigilant in recognizing social issues. The beauty of this is that, by writing this article he gets to stay rich, sleep well at night, and be a hero to all of his woke buddies. But, to most of us, we just look at him, scratch our heads, and think, is this guy serious?

Woke credits are also used by certain Hollywood types to signal their angst at being in the elite section of society. So, take for example the recent screed by Rosanna Arquette in which she laments being born her. Yep, you read that right. To heck with the self-esteem movement! (You can read about the incident here, here, and here) So, this particular actress was born into a family of actor-types, has been in several movies, enjoys the wealth and fame that comes with such, and has decided that she is disgusted by being born the way she was. What message does this send to people who are born into actual bad predicaments? Still, by claiming she is ashamed to be who she is, and disgusted by her own birth, she has managed to utilize woke credits to her advantage (how privileged) and is now able to return to her posh Hollywood life as herself. This entire post so far has been difficult to compose with a straight face and feels like fiction. Sometimes, however, truth is stranger than fiction.

Now, there are some out there that are not yet fully invested into woke credits. Instead, they are merely working off of “feels.” It is true that “feels” are a powerful force in our present world, but they don’t seem to have the same purchase power that woke credits do. Take, for example, the case of Tom Steyer. He is a billionaire that recently decided to let folks know that he doesn’t see himself as rich. This is, without question, a truly remarkable statement. A man worth over a billion dollars, and who is willing to spend 100 million dollars on his own political campaign, does not see himself as rich! I suppose he sees himself as one of us common folk. I mean, after all, don’t most Americans you know toss around a hundred million here or there on pet causes and political campaigns? Sheez… Anyhow, as Ben Shapiro is fond of saying, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” So, Tom, I’m thrilled to learn you don’t see yourself as rich. However, this doesn’t change the fact that you are rich. In fact, you are very, very rich.

That is all for now. Until next time, know that in addition to carbon credits you can also now use woke credits.

Viva la Resistance! Or, something like that…

Well, it is June and that means it is Annual Conference time here in United Methodism. Of course, this year the hot topic at Annual Conferences across the connection was the Special General Conference that took place in February. Ever since that seminal event in St. Louis the leftist faction of the denomination has been feverishly at work to organize their resistance… or, something like that.

Not terribly surprisingly, LGBTQ clergy were ordained or commissioned in the Northern Illinois and Baltimore-Washington Conferences. I guess you can file this in your ever-expanding “Who Needs Rules in the United Methodist Church” folder.

Slightly more surprising, though not entirely, was the ordination of an LGBTQ clergyperson in the North Texas Conference. I say it is not entirely unsurprising because North Texas does include Dallas, which is not exactly a bastion of conservatism. However, there is a unique aspect to the situation in North Texas. That is, the clergyperson in this case is not a practising homosexual. Thus, the argument can be made that the ordination in North Texas is within the parameters of The Book of Discipline.

Now, the “resistance” can be further witnessed in the passing of resolutions at the various Annual Conference meetings. If you are unfamiliar with our propensity to pass head scratching, facepalm worthy resolutions, then you are missing out on quite the spectacle.

Case in point: the Great Plains Annual Conference passed a resolution condemning the Traditional Plan and apologizing for the way the vote went at the Special General Conference. Now, the folks at MainstreamUMC.com want us to believe that this is some pretty radical and shocking stuff. Of course, the Great Plains Annual Conference is Adam Hamilton’s backyard.

So, we’re told in the article that Nebraska and Kansas are reliably conservative and have a history for voting for Republican presidential candidates. They do, in fact, have a history of voting for Republican presidential candidates. However, Kansas also has a Democrat Governor and Lieutenant Governor – so, I’m not sure what we are to take from the voting habits of people in Kansas. Kansas was also home to the well-known late-term abortion provider, George Tiller. And, the Kansas Supreme Court recently ruled that abortion is a constitutional right under the Kansas Constitution. So, let’s not pretend that Kansas is the poster child of conservative states.

Now, couple this with the fact that the UMC in the United States has a substantial number of left leaning members and the Great Plains Conference is in the backyard of a megachurch whose pastor is actively campaigning against the Traditional Plan, and suddenly it is not too surprising that such a resolution would pass. If this resolution had passed in Oklahoma, then that would have been worthy of note. As it is, its just another resolution that will be read by a small group of people and ignored by even more, just like nearly every other resolution.

Divorced clergy?

In light of recent discussions in the United Methodist Church regarding sexuality and how it relates to ordination and the rite of marriage, some have attacked the denomination’s allowance of divorced clergy. The argument basically goes like this: If you are going to say that a practicing homosexual cannot be an ordained member of the clergy, then neither should divorced people. By and large, most people simply ignore the argument. I, however, have to confess that I agree with the argument. I, personally, do believe that divorce is a disqualifier for pastoral ministry – with a couple of exceptions.

Exception #1: The divorce is the result of marital infidelity, and the person that was faithful to the marriage covenant is the one seeking ordination.

Exception #2: The divorce preceded conversion.

Now, this second exception gets pushback because it is not spelled out explicitly in Scripture. However, the Bible does teach us that, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor 5:17 NKJV). If it is true that “old things have passed away” and that “all things have become new” when we are in Christ, then I do not see why a divorce that precedes conversion should prevent ordination. If we say that it does, then we are essentially saying that the convert is not a new creation.

I should add here that I do believe worldly consequences do remain regardless of conversion. So, if you have committed a crime, conversion does not negate the consequences of your actions. One relates to our standing before God, and the other relates to our standing before our worldly laws. God has given us the ability, and responsibility, of creating governments and enforcing laws.

I am beginning to digress… So, back to the subject at hand. As I read and understand the Bible, it seems clear that divorce is a disqualifier for ordained ministry (1 Tim 3:2, 12; Tit 1:5-6). While an argument can be made that Paul is teaching not about divorce, but polygamy, I would say that his teaching applies to both polygamy and divorce. The person seeking to be an elder or deacon is to be the husband of one wife.

So, why do so many pastors stay in the ministry after divorce? Simple: economics. It is hard to start over in life. I am sympathetic to the hardship that is faced by someone whose marriage has dissolved, perhaps against their will, and is now faced with having to leave what they have known and felt called to. Pastorally, my heart aches for people in such a predicament.

Now, you may be asking yourself: why do you stay in a denomination that will ordain divorced individuals? Excellent question! I read several years ago about a distinction that can be made between Biblical and personal convictions. Simply put, Biblical convictions are those that are rooted so clearly in Scripture that to deny them is to deny the clear teaching of Scripture. These are mostly things that Christians around the globe agree on. However, there are also those convictions that have divided the Body of Christ into so many denominations. Many of these convictions we hold as Biblical, and simply can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t agree. In a nutshell, that is how you end up with so many different denominations.

Personal convictions, however, are those convictions we hold that do not quite rise up to the level of planting a flag on a hill and asking others to conform to our way of thinking. These convictions should be informed by Scripture, and should be supported by Biblical texts, but they aren’t so solid that we’re willing to die on a hill for them. Alcohol consumption is an example of a personal conviction. Many people believe that Christians should refrain from consuming alcohol, while others have no problems with it. There are very few people who are running others out of the church because someone drank a beer, and some will even wave at you in the liquor store.

For me, I feel strongly about the issue of divorced clergy, but this is not an issue on its own that will cause me to leave the church. The opposing view has well enough developed answers to most of my objections (though not convincing), that I am willing to tolerate, and peacefully coexist with, those I disagree with. Even though they’re wrong 🙂