Tag Archives: Culture

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 The article was retracted and cries went out for the dismissal of editors and peer reviewers.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.

The Back Door to Your Worldview

Imagine that your house was surrounded by robbers that desperately wanted to break in and pillage your belongings. Would you make every effort to secure the home? In addition to locking doors and windows, perhaps you would have an alarm installed, purchase surveillance cameras, and even look into a guard dog or two. Remember, this is a home in a sketchy neighborhood. Sure, there are some good people living on the street, but the number of those that are bent on destruction is far greater. Now, ask yourself if you would leave your back door unlocked and unguarded. My guess is that you would not, and for good reason.

When it comes to our worldview, however, this is what many of us, in fact, do. In most of our homes there is a large electronic device that projects sounds and images to a passive, and often unsuspecting, audience. I am talking about the television, of course. We study the Bible, we go to church, we try our best to live what we believe is a moral and good life, but then we sit in front of the television and feed our minds with the values of the prevailing culture.

In recent years the media has become more outspoken in their dismissal of things sacred. For instance, we now have shows on the major networks called Lucifer and Angel from Hell. In the one case, Satan is introduced to us as a not-so-bad guy after all, and in the other, we have a guardian angel that models ungodliness. But, these are just the shows with shocking titles.

The truth is that television shows have been modeling and presenting an alternative worldview for decades. Passive audiences have sat back and enjoyed television shows that slowly introduced different value systems. For instance, over the last twenty years we can see how homosexuality made its way into shows like Seinfeld, with their famous line, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”; King of Queens, with Deacon’s son’s obsession with makeup; Will & Grace, which, I believe was the first show to feature homosexuality prominently; and Modern Family, a show that has a gay male couple as one of the “modern families.”

But we can also ask ourselves about when a positive spin on Christianity was seen prominently on television. I can think of Seventh Heaven and Touched by an Angel, but these show left the air more than a decade ago and, as far as I am aware, did not go into any detail of the Christian worldview.

Furthermore, I am not suggesting that people should not have television shows that speak to their particular life. After all, I want to have shows that I can relate to and I do not want someone telling me that such entertainment should not be made available. Moreover, I am not of the opinion that we must shield our eyes from what is going on in the world. After all, we need to know something about the world if we are going to engage it. So, I am not upset with most of the shows I list, though I do not care for the sacrilege seen in shows like Lucifer and Angel from Hell. My angst against these shows is that they take aim directly at the Bible.

Now, if we go back to the protected house at the beginning of this blog, there are a few points I would like to make.

  • First, if we simply castle ourselves in, we can miss the joy of the world around us. So, take time to enjoy the creation that God has blessed us with.
  • Second, be aware of what you are letting in through the back door that is the television. Be an active viewer instead of a passive one. This means actively engaging the worldview that is presented in a television show. Talk about what you are watching with your family members and why you agree or disagree with a particular message. You don’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but it does help to use discernment.
  • Third, engage with the culture from a Biblical point of view. If you are worried about robbers outside of your home, then you can either hide inside or try to change their minds about being robbers. In the same way, we can either shut off the world, or we can try to transform the world through the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, to do this we must know something about our culture so that we can thoughtfully engage it.
  • Fourth, it may be worthwhile to try and shape the culture by increasing the number of Christian voices coming across the airwaves. If you allow more godly influences into your home, then you will simultaneously have less room for ungodly influences.

Until next time, I pray that God richly blesses you, wherever you are.

On claiming and being

Anybody can claim to be anything. Examples of this can readily be found on the internet. For instance, on occasion, men dressed as decorated war heroes are revealed to have never served in the military. While such behavior is problematic, I would say, that the trouble is even more pronounced in the realm of Christianity.

Jesus tells us in the Bible that the wheat and chaff will grow together and will not be separated until the harvest (Matt. 13:24-30. The chaff is recognizable to those who work the land, but it is easier to harvest everything together and then sift out what is undesirable. However, to someone who is less knowledgeable about farming, the wheat and chaff will appear rather similar. In the same way, there are scores of people claiming to be Christians who, quite simply, are not.

Now, before you go into spasms, contort your face, and call me judgmental, think carefully about my claim. Polls will tell you that more than 70% of Americans are Christians. But, seriously, as you look around to your left and right and across the spectrum of our society, do you sense that 7 out of 10 people are followers of Jesus Christ? Do 7 out of the 10 people you run into act and speak as if they have a relationship with Jesus Christ that informs the way they live. I am not talking about perfection, not at all. Indeed, followers of Christ stumble and fall all the time. Still, I do believe that a true follower of Christ, even in the midst of stumbling, has Christ as his or her goal and will continue to move in a Christ-oriented direction.

Remember, chaff and wheat are similar in appearance. However, only one is acceptable to the farmer. In the same way, a follower of Jesus Christ and someone who simply claims the title of Christian for the purpose of a survey will appear similar in many ways. But, I would say that there are differences that may be noticeable. After all, we should bear fruit according to what we believe.

Now, let me make certain one thing is clear: the laborers can notice that something is amiss, but it is only at the harvest that judgment takes place. In other words, I may have a hunch that a lot of people who claim to be Christian for cultural reasons are not, in fact, followers of Jesus Christ. But, Jesus says to let the wheat and chaff grow together until the time of harvest. There will indeed be a time of sifting at the judgment, but that is not for me.

So, why do I write this? Is this all just a rant? Possibly. I am certainly not above that. A nice rant feels good from time to time. But, I do not feel that this is a rant. Instead, this is a warning to all those in the body of Christ that take comfort in the idea that 70% or more of Americans are Christian. I believe that number has far more to do with people being “cultural Christians” than being any kind of a true indicator of the beliefs of our fellow Americans. As the “nones” and other religious or irreligious demographics grow, I feel that the 70% figure will begin to dramatically decrease. Simply put, nonreligious people that presently claim to be Christian will feel more comfortable identifying as such. Historically, when Constantine came to power over the Roman Empire, approximately 10% of the population was Christian (and I am quite convinced they were true believers). After Constantine made Christianity legal and identified himself with the faith, the number of Christians in the empire exploded. Suddenly, Christianity was culturally valuable. But, what happens when the tide turns? I believe that people will bail out and much of the chaff will voluntarily remove itself.

The consequence of this is that Christians should not sit around on their hands, but instead should actively engage the world around us. Invite folks to church, have a home Bible study and ask neighbors or friends if they would like to attend, get engaged in the religious upbringing of your children or grandchildren, the options are manifold. In short, as followers of Christ, we should be actively engaged in carrying out the great commission to preach the gospel to the world.