Category Archives: Culture

Persecution of Christians

My family and I watched God’s Not Dead II last Saturday, and everyone agreed it was a quality movie. The focus of the movie is the pressure, or persecution, being applied to Christians living their faith in public. Such a premise is timely considering the numerous cases reported in the news of public displays of religion being challenged through the legal system. Still, much of the world sees what the Christian community is complaining about as nothing but whining. For instance, I recently stumbled across this quote, attributed to Jon Stewart:

Yes, the long war on Christianity. I pray that one day we may live in an America where Christians can worship freely! In broad daylight! Openly wearing the symbols of their religion… perhaps around their necks? And maybe — dare I dream it? — maybe one day there can be an openly Christian President. Or, perhaps, 43 of them. Consecutively.*

So, in the eyes of Stewart, Christians are simply imagining things. But, it is not just Jon Stewart who feels this way. Many people believe that the Christian community is just crying over little issues and, essentially, making mountains out of mole hills. Even worse, is the fact that there are many Christians who feel this way.

My question, however, is: How long are we to wait before acknowledging the changing tides? Sure, what we are presently seeing is more along the lines of “pressure” than “persecution.” But, after a while, this simply turns into a game of semantics. Belittling the idea of persecution now, on an individual and small-scale level, will allow the ease of transition into more widespread, governmental persecution. We must always remember that Russia was once a staunchly Christian nation that underwent a radical change in a very short period of time.

So, should Christians stand up and speak out when we witness the silencing of the Christian witness in our land of freedom? Absolutely! I cannot help but be reminded of “First they came…” the famous poem from Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.**

In much the same way, I wonder how long before the church can easily change the words “Socialists,” “Trade Unionists,” and “Jews,” for things like “Christian business owner,” “Christian politician,” and “Christian educator”?

* http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1719-yes-the-long-war-on-christianity-i-pray-that-one

** https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007392

 

 

 

The Corrosive Effect of Liberal Clergy

If you were to take a look at the church as a whole, you would probably notice that members of the clergy vary widely in their view of Scripture. There are many who have a very high view of the authority and veracity of the Old and New Testaments, and there are probably just as many that have a very low view of the same. Now, when I speak of a “high view,” I am speaking of a view that maintains that the Scripture is, in fact, the inspired, inerrant, Word of God. So, for instance, a person with a high view of Scripture will see the miracles recorded in the Bible as actual historical events. The high view also leads to the recognition of the Bible as the accurate and authoritative teachings of God in regards to morals and ethics.

The “low view” of Scripture, on the other hand, sees the Bible very differently. In this camp you can find an anti-supernatural bias that guides its members in their approach to Scripture. So, a person with a low view of Scripture will question the miracle claims of found in the Bible, and will cast doubts on the inspiration and inerrancy of God’s Word. As an example, an instructor I had for a class in the Course of Study doubted that Matthew wrote the Gospel bearing his name as well as the account of Jesus feeding the multitude. For him, Jesus simply inspired others to share their lunches. (For another example, click here, or read this post from Albert Mohler).

Now, I should also point out that there are people all along the way between the high and low views. So, now that I have mentioned it, I will move along.

The low view of Scripture (as I have described it) is found almost exclusively among liberal clergy. Please recognize that I am not referring to politics when I speak of liberal and conservative in the context of theology. You can find liberal clergy who are diehard Republicans, and conservative clergy who are died-in-the-wool Democrats.

So, why am I writing this post? Simple. Liberal clergy have an incredibly corrosive effect on the church. In fact, you could say that liberal clergy are the atheists’ “man on the inside.” That liberal clergy have a powerfully corrosive effect on Christianity can be seen in the watered down morality espoused at many churches. Even atheists such as Daniel Dennet and Linda LaScola recognize how effective liberal clergy are in destroying people’s faith (click here to see the article). I see such clergy as a fulfillment of Paul’s warning in 2 Cor. 11:14 that, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (NIV). But, to make matters worse, there are even atheist pastors. It is a sad, but true, thing to say that there are apparently numerous wolves in sheep’s clothing standing in pulpits. Evidence of this is abundant with the advent of The Clergy Project, and a book authored by Dennet and LaScola.

The reason I bring all this up is that we should take a good, hard look at what we are being taught from the pulpit. If we are being told only those things that we want to hear, it may be that we are worshiping something of our own creation. Christianity was never meant to be easy. Sure, it is easy to slap a label on one’s self and say, “I’m a Christian.” But, it is a whole other matter to actually BE a Christian. Ordination committees should be wise in carrying out their sacred duties, as should pastor-parish committees. And, if these governing bodies fail in their tasks, then Christ followers should prayerfully consider leaving those congregations that are being led by the spiritually blind.

So, at the end of the day, let me say that, if you want to see your faith grow, then you would be better off under the teaching of someone who actually believes what they are preaching.

The Allure of the Mighty Dollar

Way back, when I was in Seminary or Course of Study classes, I remember hearing that the most damaging persecution to the church was not the physical torment that so many suffered and died from, but economic persecution. Our ancient brothers and sisters in Christ stood firm in the face of all variety of physical torture. But, according to the one lecturer I was listening to, people would often crumble when faced with the prospect of losing their home or livelihood.

Jesus recognized how great a threat material wealth was to the faith. Whether speaking to the rich young ruler, or as part of his Sermon on the Mount, our Lord knew that many people, when faced with the choice of following Christ or pursuit of wealth, would drop Him like a bad habit and run after filthy lucre. Jesus is clear when he lays down the challenge in Matthew 6:24: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (NIV) There is no dispute here about what Jesus is saying: you can serve Him, or money, but you cannot serve both. A person may deceive his or herself into thinking such a feat is possible, but at the end of the day, one will ultimately be revered by the individual as the true object of worship and adoration.

Money is a tool. That is all it is, and ever will be. It sits in its place until it is needed, just like a hammer or wrench. Unfortunately, so many of us have turned it into an idol and served it, instead of letting it serve us. Please, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. There is nothing wrong earning a living and having material possessions, but there is something wrong with elevating these things to the point that we choose them over true devotion to God.

For instance, right now, in different parts of the U.S., we are seeing movements to protect religious freedoms. The concerns of those pushing for such protections are that business owners will be forced to do things that run contrary to their religious convictions. Now, what I find interesting, is the way pressure is being applied to these states. The NFL says it is contemplating taking Atlanta out of the running for a future Super Bowl bid, and Hollywood executives are threatening to pull out of projects that would have been made in Georgia. Similarly, the NBA is making threats of pulling out its All Star game from North Carolina. Notice the message: if you do not conform to what we want, then we will hurt you economically. I am curious to see the response, though I have a gut feeling I know what will happen: the states will cave, and the laws will be vetoed or overturned legislatively.

Once these laws are reversed, business owners with strong religious convictions will be left with a difficult choice: compromise or face crippling economic sanctions until the business collapses.

In the face of such a future, what is the Christian business owner to do? This is not an easy question, though I believe it should be thought through sooner rather than later. Many hard decisions will need to be made. In particular, business owners must ask themselves if being asked to provide a particular service does, in fact, violate some tenet of the faith, or if their refusal of service is informed by something else. Let’s face it, the majority of the services that businesses offer do not interfere with the religious convictions of sincere Christians.

The question will also have to be asked if the business could curtail certain services to all customers and still be functional. For instance, businesses that frequently deal with customers getting married (e.g. bakers & florists), will need to decide if they will continue to support the wedding industry. If the choice is made to support the industry, then some level of compromise will most likely be a part of that decision. On the other hand, abandoning that segment of business could be financially crippling to the business.

I am certain that there are other questions that can be asked as well, but these are the two that stand out most prominently in my mind.

To summarize my rambling, the words of Christ are as relevant today as they ever have been: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matt. 6:24 NIV)

Two Faith Based Movies – Two Very Different Outcomes

I do my best to support Christian films. In the past, this has often been painful though there were exceptions). Anyone who survived watching Noah, knows that its handling of the biblical text was almost as big of a disaster as the actual flood. It was a travesty through and through. Another big release was Exodus: Gods and Kings. Barf. That is all I can say about that one. And, we can’t forget the remake of Left Behind. Yikes! Fortunately, the quality in recent years has improved dramatically. So far, faith-based films in 2016 have included Risen, The Young Messiah, and Miracles From Heaven. While I have not seen Miracles From Heaven, I have seen the other two; which is why I am writing this post.

Risen was a fantastic movie that dealt fairly with the biblical text. The story follows a Roman Tribune who has been tasked with finding Jesus of Nazareth following rumors of his resurrection. While some artistic license is taken to make the story work (there is no Roman Tribune hot on the case in Scripture), the overall film does an excellent job of capturing and telling the story of Jesus’ resurrection. This is a film that I can heartily recommend.  By the way, the actor playing the Roman Tribune also had the lead role in another excellent Christian film, Luther.

The Young Messiah, on the other hand, was a complete dud. Even before going to this movie I was skeptical simply because of the lack of material we have on this part of Jesus’ life. Still, I went with hopes that I would be proven wrong. After all, there were rave reviews for the movie on many Christian websites. Sadly, however, my worst fears proved true. This movie was like watching a bad movie based on the few accounts of Jesus’ childhood that are almost universally regarded as fantastical and having no real value in historical Jesus research. So, as much as I want to encourage people to support Christian films, this is an example of an exception.

The problem is not that there is a lack of Scriptural content for people to work with. Indeed, the exact opposite is the case. The trouble, as far as I can see, is that secular movie companies feel that they must be careful about “endorsing” messages that some viewers will taken offense to. That is why you will probably not see a faith-based film dealing with hot-button moral or social issues coming from a secular movie company. On the flip side, Christian movie companies do not have the deep pockets their secular counterparts have.

Let me add in one more note about content. The Bible is loaded with material that could be made into movies, or even a series – think of the Old Testament historical books. So, why is it that so many Christian movies are fixated on the rapture? I cannot understand this phenomenon. Sure, it makes for an interesting movie. But, come on, there is so much more that can be worked with outside of this one item.

Now, let me say that there have been a number of watch-worthy Christian films through the years. I have always enjoyed the films produced by the Christiano Brothers, and Cloud Ten Pictures, when it was up and running, turned out quality movies. PureFlixPureFlix has made some very high-quality films recently, and will open God’s Not Dead 2 on April 1st.  If you are looking for single website that focuses on Christian movies, then please check out Christian Cinema.   For more on Christian entertainment, please take a look at my earlier post on the topic.

A Troubling Trend Regarding Free Speech

The news has been filled recently with news stories that should send chills down the spine of every freedom loving American. In late 2015, we learned from a Pew Foundation poll that 40% of millennials favor some sort of restrictions on free speech. This alone, should be enough to scare us, but like a late night infomercial salesman, I need to say, “But, wait, there’s more!”

In just the past two weeks there have been news stories about censorship in a scientific journal because the authors of an article dared to use the word “Creator.” The article was retracted and cries went out for the dismissal of editors and peer reviewers. The message was clear: there is no room for discussion of a “Creator” in a scientific journal. So, if you have ever doubted the claims of certain scientist who hold to the idea of the divine role in creation when they say they do not get published in science journals, well here we see a live action demonstration of censorship.

At the same time the hand article referencing a “Creator” was being retracted, we also had the joy of reading about “Feminist Glaciology.” Because, you know, that seems far more likely to advance the scientific enterprise. Anyhow, the point being, we castigate some researchers for positing the idea of a “Creator,” while at the same time giving a level of credibility to researchers that want to opine about the possible role of sexism in the study of glaciers.  Was the retraction of the “Creator” article motivated by the pursuit of scientific integrity, or the silencing of talk about the divine?

But, wait, there’s more! Now we read about protesters shutting down a Donald Trump political rally. Now, I must say, that regardless of anyone’s political leanings, this is a scary situation. You would think we were living in the early stages of the Bolshevik Revolution. Seeing young people cheering the fact that they had stopped a political rally during a party primary from taking place is simply disgusting. While such a “victory” may seem grand to the protestors, I wonder if they realize that what is good for the goose, is good for the gander. In other words, I can easily see those who celebrate the forceful shutting down of free speech wailing if there own voices were suddenly silenced.

Whether it is the censorship of alternative ideas, the shutting down of the political process, or the growing acceptance in general of limiting free speech, we should all recognize the dangers that such a path can lead to. We must also realize that those who are silencing the voices of others can soon turn around and silence ours. We must all stand for the right of free speech, lest we all lose it.

What Should The Church Do With Marriage?

With the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriages last summer, it is time for the church to take a serious look at its understanding of marriage. There are some who suggest that the redefinition of marriage by the state should have no effect on the church, and to some extent they are correct. After all, churches can still carry out marriage rites as always, and according to the dictates of their beliefs. But, I am left asking the question: what role should the church play in marriage now?

The church does not issue vehicle tags, driver’s licenses, building permits, marriage permits, or any other government documents. The church does, however, baptize, confirm, and marry people. At the moment, the government has no intent that I am aware of to baptize or confirm (though the Soviets did try something like this in their efforts to eradicate religion). It is the overlap between the church’s and government’s role in marriage that causes friction. Many people, especially religious folks, recognize marriage as something sacred. On the other hand, to be recognized as married by the government, a couple must be married according to the government’s standard and have the accompanying official paperwork.

It is my contention that the church should thoughtfully consider breaking its partnership with the government in the arena of marriage. This will obviously have no impact on those that want to have nothing to do with the church in the first place. For a Christian couple, however, this would mean that they could take one of at least three options.

  1. They can get married by a government official, completely apart from the church, and be recognized by the state as married.
  2. They can get married in the church, completely apart from the state, and be recognized by the church as married.
  3. They can get married by both government and church officials, and be recognized by both.

Admittedly, there are benefits to the third option, and this is the route I would advocate for most couples. However, if a couple is aware of the possible difficulties that come with option #2 (think hospital visits, inheritance issues, legal difficulties, etc.), then I think it is a viable, respectable, and God honoring option. The most difficult option from the church’s point of view would be #1. If the church is going to maintain that true marriage is a God ordained institution, then the couple that chooses to marry apart from the church would not be recognized as married by the church.

So, couples that choose to get married outside of the church would be regarded as living together in a sinful relationship and engaging in fornication: sex outside of the marriage relationship. Obviously this will hurt feelings, but the church was not called to make everyone feel good. If the church holds this position, then it means that when a couple that has been married outside of the church wants to join a local body of believers, then that couple will be required to be married in the eyes of the church. If they refuse to be married in the eyes of the church, then membership in a local body of believers should be withheld. Yes, we have all sinned, but when a person comes to the church living in an ongoing, continuous sin and asks for membership, the church should have the moral fortitude to say that the person’s chosen lifestyle is incompatible with Christian teaching and therefore, church membership is not presently an option.

I know there are many who disagree with this position, but this is where my thinking has led me to stand.

The Need for Identity

A recent news article described UFC fighter Ronda Rousey’s thoughts about suicide following her loss to Holly Holm.  In the article, Rousey is quoted as telling Ellen DeGeneres, “What am I anymore if I’m not this?’ I was literally sitting there and thinking about killing myself.”  This is a sad admission, yet it is something that can be heard just about anywhere.

It is very easy to get wrapped up in something so tightly that it becomes our sole source of identity.  And, while this approach can work for a certain amount of time, the trouble is that worldly things will almost invariably let us down eventually.  For Rousey, this happened to be when she lost her first fight as a professional fighter.  For others, it may be the loss of a job, a broken relationship, loss of social status, or something else similarly devastating.

For Rousey, her source of inspiration in those dark moments was found in turning to other worldly conquests.  According to the article, she told DeGeneres, “To be honest, I looked up and I saw my man Travis standing there and I looked up at him, and I was just like: ‘I need to have his babies. I need to stay alive.’”  While this sounds nice, the question then turns to what happens when the kids grow up or rebel?

When we allow our identity to be determined by others, we turn our back on the one true source of identity for humans: God.  The Scriptures teach us that we were made in the image of God, and as such we are of great value simply for being human.  A fighter can lose a fight and, consequently, lose their identity.  A person consumed with a career can lose that job and then be lost and questioning who he or she really is.  But, a person who knows that true identity is found in relationship with God will never have to worry about losing that identity.

If I lose my job tomorrow, I will still be someone made in the image of God and loved by Him.  I may lose everything, but He will not forsake me.  My identity is in Christ, and that is something I seek to remember constantly.  So many people are hurting today, wondering who they are and how they fit into this world.  They look to the outside world for help, but impressed on their very being is the answer.  We all bear the image of God.