Category Archives: Church

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.

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.

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 🙂

The Traditional Plan Prevails Again

I must admit that I am pleasantly surprised that the Judicial Council has upheld the Traditional Plan. Even more surprising, however, was the Judicial Council’s decision to uphold parts of the Disaffiliation Resolution. If you are interested in seeing how the council ruled on the various items related to the Special General Conference, the folks over at UMNews have a handy-dandy chart for you to consult. Now, not surprisingly, there are some who are suggesting that the Judicial Council made a horrible decision when it comes to barring the consecration and/or ordination of people who would be otherwise disqualified under the Book of Discipline – go figure…

Since the council has ruled, talks of a split have apparently escalated. Of course, Progressives are up in arms and apparently feel that the traditional Plan is bad for publicity. So, apparently public opinion and not Scripture is of primary concern for those on the left. Indeed, all the talk of “resistance” is about resisting Biblical teaching. The sad truth is that pastors of large UMC churches find themselves in a position where they choose compromise over Biblical integrity for one of two reasons: (1) They have made the personal decision to abandon historic teachings of the church, which makes them wolves in sheep’s clothing; or (2) they simply find that standing up for what they know is right is too costly professionally.

But, that is enough for now on the Special General Conference. After all, only a year from now there will be the regularly scheduled General Conference. I have some ideas for the next several posts, and none of them are specifically related to any UMC issues.

On Making the Sign of the Cross

I should admit up front that I have not always been familiar, or comfortable, with making the sign of the cross. The services I attended for most of my life would be considered “low church.” However, as I have aged physically and matured spiritually an appreciation for the practice has developed.

In this post, I want to take just a few moments to briefly describe what is going on when a person makes the sign of the cross. I should also note up front that most of what I will write will be from the Orthodox perspective, something I became familiar with while visiting Eastern Europe. To begin, the practice drives home specific Christian teachings. The sign is made by touching the forehead, the center of the chest, and the shoulders. In doing this we are reminded to love the Lord our God with all of our mind (forehead), our heart/soul (chest), and our strength (shoulders). Now, you may notice that Roman Catholics will cross their shoulders from left to right while the Orthodox will cross from right to left. Even this movement has symbolism. For the Orthodox, this is a reminder that the Lord will separate the sheep from the goats (sheep to the right and goats to the left). Finally, for the Orthodox, the hand being used to make the sign will have the thumb touching the index and middle fingers. The thumb, index, and middle finger touching together remind us of the Trinity. The ring and pinkie fingers remind us of the two natures of Christ, that He is both truly human and truly divine.

There you have it, a brief overview of making the sign of the cross. Obviously, there are far more definitive and exhaustive resources out there for learning about the practice, and I encourage anyone interested to learn from such authoritative sources.

Progressive Methodist Voting Logic

If you haven’t been keeping up with all the latest and greatest adventures in United Methodism, then you may be surprised to learn that there is a rift in the church. For those who have been keeping up with it, especially traditionalists, you have probably been reading stories about the church and wondering how the Babylon Bee had infiltrated UMNews.org. The latest story I read certainly had me scratching my head.

It all begins with a headline declaring, “Centrists, progressives to discuss church’s future.” Unsurprisingly, Adam Hamilton, is quoted often and his leftward leanings continue to be displayed for all to see. In fact, the whole article is basically discussing a blog article he recently wrote titled, “What’s Next for The United Methodist Church?” Now, Hamilton is remarkably articulate, there is no denying that. What I can question, however, is some of his thinking in regards to how voting works.

At the Special General Conference in St. Louis, the Traditional Plan won the vote. Now, what I find interesting is the collective progressive shock that traditionalists within the United Methodist Church could actually pull off such a victory. Since that time Progressive disdain for our African brothers and sisters having a voice in church matters has become increasingly apparent. We’ve had no problem telling them how to conduct business all these years, but now that they have a powerful voice at the table the alarm bells are being raised by the liberal wing of the church. But, I digress.

What the article at UMNews, and the post by Hamilton, have to say however, is quite the spectacle to behold. In the face of losing the vote, progressives have now taken this approach: we realize you won the vote, now leave the denomination. If you are saying to yourself, “Wut?!” it is an understandable response. Indeed, this seems to be the latest and greatest approach of the left. Now, how did they come to this conclusion? Well, apparently, because traditionalists had contemplated leaving the denomination if the leftists won the day, then it only goes to follow that if they actually won the vote and staved off the progressive onslaught, that the traditionalists should leave. Its kind of like looking at the Clemson Tigers following their upset victory over Alabama in the college football national championship this year and saying, “Look, we know you won the game and all, but most people thought you were gonna lose. So, why don’t you go ahead and give the trophy and title over to Alabama and just go home.”

Now, they did manage to come up with some more fuzzy logic. As it turns out, in the bizarro world of progressives it would take years and be legally difficult for progressives to leave the UMC. In fact, if they were to leave the whole denomination would just need to be dissolved and new Methodist denominations would need to be formed. However, if the traditionalists leave, the progressives would be so beneficent as to provide us with a financially easy and gracious exit. Well, gee-whiz, that sure sounds snazzy. That is, until I remember that it was the traditionalists who carried the day at the Special General Conference. So, yeah, I’m not buying the logic that says it would be easy for traditionalists to leave, but not progressives.

As I mentioned recently, progressives also have plans to simply resist. In other words, they plan to be annoying and make the church so uncomfortable for traditionalists that they will eventually leave. The basic strategy is for progressives to be progressives. This is the “turd in the punch bowl” strategy.

Still, not to be outdone, the progressives have another plan! In this plan, the Judicial Council throws out most of the Traditional Plan and the left celebrates. I can only imagine the amount of lobbying that is going on with members of the Judicial Council.

But wait! There’s more! If the above plans do not work, they also have hopes that they can elect new delegates to the General Conference in 2020. These new delegates will then try to overturn the vote of the Special General Conference. But there is trouble brewing on the horizon! The church in Africa will have 20 more delegates at the General Conference. And this development has progressives wringing their hands.

That’ll suffice for now.

UMC Shenanigans!

Unsurprisingly, certain members of the liberal wing of the UMC are suggesting underhanded tactics to rip apart the church in the face of their defeat at the Special General Conference. In one case, it is being suggested that United Methodist churches in United States become separate from the global body and govern themselves according to their own wants, unshackled from those pesky Christians overseas. Reading such an article, I can certainly understand why the Bishop John K. Yambasu of the Sierra Leone Area was quoted by the United Methodist News Agency as saying, “As an African, I find myself thinking, is this the church where I really want to be?” Indeed, the reaction to the vote by United Methodists in the U.S. and Europe have the Africans wondering if they should become an autonomous church. But this is exactly what the liberal wing of the church wants.

In a telling moment, Adam Hamilton, who has finally started to come out from under his sheep’s clothing to reveal himself a wolf, had this to say to UMNews.org:

“One is people saying, ‘This is our church and we’re not giving it up and we’re going to resist and we’re going to disobey the Discipline,” he said.

Hamilton added that “if it’s uncomfortable enough” then traditionalist churches may choose to leave and form their own denomination, especially if they can retain their property.

According to Hamilton, this was one of two possible paths for progressives moving forward from the Special General Conference. The other was to form two Methodisms from the existing church. In short, the progressive/liberal wing of the denomination has no real intent to be part of a global church.

This goes a long way to explain another move within the church to determine what can and cannot be contextualized in varying cultures.  While there certainly are questions about contextualization in relation to missions, there are some things that should be universal regardless of cultural context. For instance, moral principles based on Scripture should not be altered based on cultural context. If we are simply talking about matters related to trustees and what not, contextualize all you want. If we are talking about moral issues, Scripture is our guide and not our culture.

 

 

 

Well, that didn’t take long…

It has not been long since the Special General Conference in St. Louis ended. Still, in the relatively short span of time between the end of February and now, it has become apparent that the liberal wing of the church was not prepared to deal with the defeat of their precious “One Church Plan.” The vote at the Special General Conference is being called into question by some who are claiming that unauthorized people voted – I do find it funny that the UMC required a photo ID for voters at the conference despite so many who protest against such policies in the secular arena. Now a task force has been organized by the conference’s organizers to investigate the alleged voting irregularities.

But, even that small matter pales in comparison to the defiant attitude of some Annual Conferences.  Apparently, and admittedly unsurprisingly, the New York and Greater New Jersey Conferences are having trouble coming to terms with what transpired in St. Louis. UM News even has a quote from Bishop Bickerton stating, “Just because the vote went a certain way, we cannot expect conformity to follow.” This is a strange thing to say, especially since many of us could venture to suppose that he would have expected conformity to follow if the “One Church Plan” won the day in St. Louis.

We should not be surprised that supporters of the “One Church Plan” are so up in arms at the moment and seemingly eager to engage in slash and burn tactics until they get their way or force conservatives out. At least the WCA and other conservatives were honest enough with themselves and others to put their cards on the table and let it be known that leaving the church was a live option. The same cannot be said of those on the left. They are like a hair in a grilled cheese sandwich – they will stay and make a mess until it becomes more desirable to throw it all away than try to salvage what is good.

Now, back to the “One Church Plan” and why we should not be surprised by their disgust with having existing, long-held, and Biblically based standards enforced within the denomination. The “One Church Plan” removes accountability and turns the denomination into a buffet of individualism. Supporters of the “One Church Plan” have essentially turned their noses up at historic Christianity and decided to throw off the yoke of accountability.

Anyhow, that is enough for now.

Wrestling with Counseling Models

Years of pastoral ministry has led to scores of counseling sessions. Bible college and seminary both taught what is typically called “Christian Counseling.” Basically, this is putting a Christian spin on secular counseling theory and practices. Years ago, I even went through the American Association of Christian Counselors‘ (AACC) “Caring for People God’s Way” course on VHS. While I have found great value in Christian Counseling, I have grave reservations about the secular components of its foundation.

Though I never completed the degree, I did take several courses in the behavioral health program at a secular university. I gleaned a lot from the role-playing sessions in the basic counseling skills course and enjoyed learning about a wide variety of counseling theories. The ethics course, on the other hand, was a little tougher – not due to the coursework, but as a result of seeing how powerful cultural influences are on the field. It was in that course I realized how difficult it would be to maintain a faithful witness to Scripture and be a counselor licensed by the state. It was also in that course that I gave up my desire to pursue a secular counseling degree and abandoned any plans of counseling outside of the pastoral ministry context. To further pollute my views of secular psychology, the APA has come out with some controversial statements about masculinity – this in a society so desperate for authentic men and not the boys in men’s bodies we so commonly see masquerading as the real thing. Thankfully, there are voices of reason out there that are pushing back against the progressive onslaught.

Moving on…

Through the years I have read various Biblical counseling texts, but have not been overly impressed with them. It wasn’t the notion of Biblical counseling that I had trouble with, it was the practical application – what did it look like in actual practice? Recently, however, I began listening to a Biblical Counseling podcast and have been impressed with it thus far.  I appreciate the focus on Scripture and how the podcaster gives practical examples of application.

If you are unfamiliar with Biblical counseling, take a look at this article.

This is not to say that I have abandoned Christian Counseling. Indeed, I think there is much to commend in the approach. For one thing, a lot of research has gone into the various therapeutic models. Furthermore, I think some models have an underlying foundation that is rooted in the Scriptures, even if this was, and is, unknown or unrecognized by its modern proponents. In particular, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy reminds me of Paul’s exhortation,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2 ESV)

Similarly, Paul says,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:8-9 ESV)

You can also take a look at Colossians 3:1-11

While I have very serious reservations with certain aspects of secular psychology, I also think we need to be careful to avoid throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water. We need to be able to chew the meat and spit out the fat and gristle.

This post is getting rather long, so I’ll wind it down. At the end of the day, I think both Christian and Biblical counseling models have tremendous value and people who are interested in the ministry of counseling can learn a great deal from both.