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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.

 

 

 

Christians need not apply?

It seems undeniable that keeping the faith in the market place is becoming increasingly more difficult. That is, if your faith involves holding traditional Christian convictions. If you are okay with being a “silent Christian” that does let your faith be widely known, then you should be okay. However, if it ever gets discovered that you hold to traditional Christian convictions, even though you are one of the silent ones, you should still expect repercussions. In recent news, the retailer of those delightfully delicious chicken sandwiches, Chick-fil-a, has been targeted for the views of its founder. It seems that in the name of tolerance and non-discrimination, a public showing of intolerance and discrimination by our elected officials is in order. Heh? Yes, you read that right. According to the more liberally minded, intolerance and discrimination are perfectly legitimate if they are aimed at people, organizations, and businesses that disagree with you – and as long as the intolerance and discrimination is being done in the name of tolerance and non-discrimination. Anyhow, you can read anti-quality food news stories here, here, and here.

Years ago, the Five Man Electrical Band releases the song, “signs.” In it we learn that, “Long-haired freaky people need not apply.” Increasingly, it seems that the sentiment is, “Faithful, Bible-believing Christians need not apply.” I only mentioned Chick-fil-a, a large business. But there have also been instances where bakers, caterers, florists, photographers, bed & breakfast owners, and others have faced public backlash, lawsuits, death threats, and more.

Now, as much as I wish there was a quick and easy solution to such shenanigans, there simply isn’t. The politicians that ban Christian businesses, questions the religious beliefs of judicial nominees, the officials that come after Christians who dare wish to stand for their beliefs in the market place, all of these people were put into power by us. For whatever reason, we, the voting public, put them in power. And, power they now have. What will they do with this power? I think we can already see that the hand has been shown and we are starting to see the fulfillment of President Woodrow Wilson’s statement that, “Conformity will be the only virtue. And every man who refuses to conform will have to pay the penalty.”

 

 

 

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.

The Shocker in St. Louis

I did not think it would happen, but it did: the UMC took a conservative stance on a social issue at a General Conference. Much to my surprise, the Special General Conference passed the Traditional Plan – the one I had hoped they would. With the bishops throwing their weight behind the One Church Plan, and throwing in a big name like Adam Hamilton to speak on their behalf, it looked like the fix was in. But, thankfully, many brothers and sisters in Christ took a stand and upheld what the United Methodist Church already stated in its Discipline. Yes, you read that right. Despite some out there claiming that something new and sinister was passed at the General Conference in St. Louis, the truth is that the church voted to affirm and actually enforce what is already codified in The Book of Discipline. So, when you read a news story like the one produced by a Florida news station, just know that there may be a spin and more investigation is warranted.

It should be pointed out that the plan still has to go before the Judicial Council, which meets in April. However, there is certainly reason for traditionalists in the United Methodist Church to celebrate. The Church should be about the business of transforming culture, not being transformed by it. The UMC took a stand. Praise be to God.