Tag Archives: Culture

A Denomination’s Descent Into Irrelevance

I have been a staunch defender of my denomination (The United Methodist Church) throughout my life as a Christian.  However, that being said, I have also been a witness to that very same denomination’s continuous descent into irrelevance.  I get daily emails from our News Service detailing all the trendy projects that we have gotten involved with or how we have joined in with issues that are celebrity causes.

I am saddened by what has happened, but I cannot say that I am surprised.  What, you might ask, has led this descent into irrelevance?  In my humble estimation there is no clearer answer than that the church has become obsessed with being culturally relevant.

What do I mean by this?  To me, it’s simple.  The church has chosen to alter or set aside it doctrines and discipline in an effort to be more acceptable to the mainstream culture.  While this sounds all well and good there are some serious difficulties that accompany such a strategy.

  1. The church was never supposed to conform to the culture.  From its inception, the church was countercultural.  The membership of the body of Christ is to “seek ye first the kingdom of God,” (Matt. 6:33 KJV) not to seek approval of the prevailing culture.  The church is to be in pursuit of holiness.
  2. By pulling up its theological anchor and allowing itself to be blown about by the winds of worldly culture, the denomination has diminished its identity and become just another unstable institution in an unstable world.  There is a longing out there for something that is consistent, steady, and willing to stand against the currents of our world.  The church has always been a rock that people could stand on during turbulent times.  But when the church seeks to appease the world by forsaking its doctrinal integrity, what you are left with is something built on shifting sands.
  3. Cultural appeasement is a slippery slope.  If we acquiesce to the whims of worldly culture at points A, B, and C, is there a point at which the process can, and will, stop?  Looking at other examples from mainstream Protestantism the answer appears to be, no.

This is something of a gripe session and it is late in the evening here, but it hurts me to see the way we have become obsessed with chasing after all the latest trendy projects while never looking back to make certain that we have not lost our way.

In the pursuit of relevance, we are becoming increasingly irrelevant.  Let us return to our roots and consider our theological foundations that we may be better equipped to engage a hurting world.  After all, if we lose our identity by tossing to the side our doctrine and discipline, then we are just another social group.  And that is not what we have been called to be.

When all else fails, call’em names!

Before going too far, I should note that my blogging production will decrease in the future.  If you are one of the ten-or-so people that read this blog, then you will have noticed already that the once a week pattern has recently been abandoned.  For, you see, when I started this blog I was on vacation from work, and that is a period of time ripe for the Good Idea Fairy to strike.    Since then, things like work, family, and my interests in other stuff have made this blog a rather low priority in my life.  Still, I thought I would jot down a few words about a sad trend in person-to-person communication.

It seems that many of us have lost the ability to dialog.  Whether in politics, religion, entertainment, or just about anything else, there is no willingness to show respect for those we disagree with.  A conversation, especially on the internet, between two people who disagree on something can easily go like this:

Person A: “I like pork and beans.”

Person B: “Well, that’s because you’re an idiot.  Pork and beans are only for slobs and lazy people without an education.  Is that what you are?  A lazy, uneducated slob?”

Fortunately, in recent months, I have found a weekly radio program out of the UK called Unbelievable? to be a breath of fresh air.  It is a radio program that aims to bring together a Christian and non-Christian each week (there are exceptions) to discuss points of difference.  There is a moderator, which is certainly necessary, but the guests as a whole are respectful of one another.  Sadly, the exceptions to the civil discussions on this show almost exclusively come from people from the States, which is disappointing to say the least.  But, I digress.

The point of this rambling post is just to say that we, as a people, should strive to be better at addressing arguments instead of attacking people.  The ad hominem fallacy is so widespread today that it is seen as acceptable in many quarters.  This is a shame, and it will ultimately lead to a dumbing down of our society by silencing voices.

Beauty and Identity

I have been intrigued with how we as a people have become more and more expressive through the use of accessories.  We color our hair, we tattoo our skin, we pierce our bodies in various and sundry places, and so forth.  While there is nothing necessarily wrong with these things, I am surprised by how often people identify more with the accessory than what is underneath it.

What intrigues me is that people will often add things to themselves and then say, “This is who I am.”  Now, it may be true that some sort of accessory may express what is happening inside.  However, I like to think that the person is the person.  If you pierce your eyelid, then it is you with a pierced eyelid.  If you color your hair purple, it is you with purple hair – an alteration of your actual hair color.

I suppose that I should also say that I have no objection to a person accessorizing (sp?) as they see fit.  I do, however, find it troubling that we can start to associate beauty more with the accessory than with the actual person.  So, a woman may feel that she needs to pierce herself or modify her body in some other way not because of any desire that comes naturally from within her, but from outside pressures that tell her she must do x and y in order to be beautiful.  As a father, this breaks my heart.

From where I sit, on my couch on a Saturday afternoon, I like to think that beauty comes from the Creator.  As humans, we all bear the image of God and have intrinsic beauty.  It is good and healthy for us to maintain our health, but there should be no need for us to feel compelled to transform ourselves into the mold that that someone else has made for us.

Have a great weekend!

God is not a court jester

Have you ever heard or read someone lamenting that there is simply not enough evidence to suggest that God exists? Or, that if He does exist, then He should make it obvious? I have, and I have always wondered what kind of evidence exactly these folks are looking for.

What evidence would be enough to demonstrate to another person that God exists? For some, the thought is that we should expect to see God write “I am real!” in the clouds. However, I am convinced that even this would not convince most unbelievers. To be quite plain, the evidence for God is all around us in creation. Sure, there are materialistic ways to explain most of what we see, but I do not see how this explains away God. After all, you could stumble into my kitchen on a Saturday morning, find a pot of cheese grits on the stove, explain there existence through various laws of physics, and defiantly claim that no grit-maker exists because everything could be explained materialistically. The problem with this, however, is that I do exist.

So, lets consider the evidence that God could provide us, and how He has fared in providing it:

  • He could write something to us. Check – Bible.
  • He could speak to us in some way. Check – prophets.
  • He could physically come into the world and dwell with us. Check – Jesus.
  • He could make the created order look like something designed by an intelligent creator. Check – the created order certainly appears to have design.
  • He could make us naturally inclined to believe in Him. Check – we do have natural biases towards seeing design in nature and desiring the supernatural.

This is a small list off the top of my head illustrating that God has given us plenty of evidence for His existence. But, as you may be aware, those who do not believe will typically scoff at the items on this list. So, the real issue is not that God has failed to give us evidence. Indeed, it appears that the real issue is that God is not capable of being manipulated. People want God to be a court jester and not the sovereign ruler and creator of all that is.

A court jester can be told what to do, when to do it, and how it should be done. If God were a court jester, we could demand services from Him and expect them to be done in the way we want at the time we want. And, at the end of the day, it seems that this is what skeptical people are after. But, if God were a court jester, he would not be worth worshiping. The one true God, however, is worthy of our worship and He is not a court jester but is indeed the King of kings and Lord of lords.

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)

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.

Is it true that you don’t need to go to church if you believe?

You may have heard someone say that believing in Jesus is “enough,” and that there is no need to attend church. You may, in fact, feel that way yourself. But, the question, however, is whether or not the statement is true. And, it is my contention that the statement is false. So, let me explain.

Now, to be fair, I must confess that belief (the concept of putting trust into something or someone) in Jesus is sufficient for salvation. But, there is more to the equation than most people probably think. You see, many people approach faith in Jesus Christ like an End User License Agreement (EULA). They know they need to check the box in order to enjoy the product, so they do so without reading or understanding anything of what they have signed. Similarly, there are numerous people who have heard that faith in Jesus the Son is necessary for eternal life with God the Father, and check the faith box without having any idea what they have just signed up for.

So, the question now becomes: Does this person have “faith” or “belief in” Jesus Christ for salvation? I believe they do not. Jesus tells His followers to count the cost of being a disciple (Luke 14:28-35). But there can be no counting of the cost for someone who simply checks the block. So, whatever kind of faith a block checker has, it does not seem to line up with what Jesus expects of His followers.  I should also lay my cards on the table and confess that I am on the Arminian side of the house theologically.  So, I do believe that a person can lose their salvation.  And, something tells me a block checker would lose faith, if they ever truly had it, far faster than someone who counted the cost.

But, let’s approach the question of whether or not a Christian should attend church or not more directly. To begin, throughout Scripture faith is seen as both private, something that defines you when alone, as well as public, something that is done in a group setting. In the Old Testament, we see true faith being expressed in the central place of worship, whether the tabernacle or the temple. We see idolatry being practiced away from these central places of worship. In the intertestamental the the development of synagogues takes place worship takes place there. Once we reach the New Testament, we see the Christian community meeting in groups for instruction, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42).

Continuing on, Hebrews 10:24-25 states, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (NIV). The point here is that the church, the faithful body of believers, is to continue meeting together, and not be like those that have given up the practice of gathering with fellow Christians. Part of the benefit of such meetings is the mutual support and encouragement found within the faith community.

So, it is clear from Scripture that we should meet together in community with fellow believers. Now, let me wrap this post up with a few closing points. Attending church provides the following, at the very least:

Conservation of Orthodoxy: Trained clergy and the accountability provided by a congregation of fellow believers helps to protect right belief. Though there are many examples of churches, and even denominations, that have gone astray, these are generally recognized as heterodox by the larger church.

Support for Missions: Groups of believers can typically do more to support local and global missions than individuals. Thus, being part of a church body can help us fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20).

Support and Encouragement: Church provides a place for believers to find mutual support and encouragement to help navigate the struggles and hardships of life, as well as a place to share joys and blessings with others.

Sacraments: The sacraments are done in community, and there seems to be no way around this. Despite what may have been seen on television, or in a movie, there is no indication in Scripture that a person can baptize his or herself. Nor can you serve the Lord’s Supper to yourself. It just doesn’t work that way.

I could continue to go on, but I will stop this post here – I am not writing a paper, after all. One page on the Word Processor is enough for a blog post.

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.