Monday, March 31, 2008

Do We Know What We Believe? Does It Matter?

Today's Christians tend to fall into three camps (in my humble [but accurate] opinion ;~):

  • Those who say things like "No creed but Christ" and "Doctrine Divides" (but in fact do have a doctrine, they just don't like the word. Most churches have a "Statement of Faith" even if they don't use the term "doctrine.")

  • The "creedal" or "confessing" Christians" - such as the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, who say: "We are “confessing” because we warmly embrace the rich biblical teaching articulated in both great ecumenical creeds of the Church, and reformed confessions and catechisms. Further, we believe the Church must not only assent to her confessions but confess the gospel afresh in protest against the spirit of this age." Also see this link for ACWI's Statement of Faith and this one for samples of specific creeds, confessions and statements of faith.

  • Those who don't really know what they believe. This is, I believe, the majority of those who would call themselves "evangelical" or "born again." (Even the term "evangelical" has lost meaning in the last few years, but that's another topic.) They have a very vague understanding of elementary Christian doctrine, but have never attempted to apply it to their daily lives and have never considered "theology" of any importance or interest. Many have taken part in an altar call, walked down an aisle, or raised a hand to "receive Jesus". . . but far too few have ever gone beyond that. (See Stephen Prothero's op-ed piece in the LA times, We Live in the Land of Biblical Idiots [sorry - link is no longer available], where he says "U.S. citizens know almost nothing about the Bible. Although most regard it as the word of God, few read it anymore. Even evangelicals from the Bible Belt seem more focused on loving Jesus than on learning what he had to say." FYI: Prothero also states on his website that "Most Americans cannot name one of the four Gospels.")

In an article I wrote last fall for Faith Talk magazine, I referenced a 2003 study of self-identified "born-again Christians" who apparently have no clue what it means to be a Christian; 91% don't have a Biblical worldview (email me for the article and more info.). In other words, they have been more influenced by the culture than by the Bible and the church. (A friend often says "If the church doesn't disciple the culture, the culture will disciple the church.") They haven't applied Biblical principles to their daily lives. Many have yet to make any effort to grow in their faith.

The folks in this last group are the ones most likely to move toward the non-denominational church because they don't know their theological identity; they don't have a theological base, a place to call home. Even some who identify themselves as Baptist or Charismatic or Methodist or whatever wear the label simply because it's the church closest to their home - not because they believe that denomination's doctrine most accurately reflects Biblical truth. To make matters worse, they don't know what makes a Baptist different from a Methodist or a Charismatic or a Presbyterian - and don't really care!

In contrast, the other two groups have an understanding of their beliefs; their doctrine is important to them. If a family moves to a new community, they'll look for a new church in the same denomination, not just one where they feel comfortable or with a big youth group. Some (many?) will look first for the same denomination they came from because of a couple of reasons:
  1. doctrine
  2. it's familiar
  3. transfer of membership is easy (since some denominations are more restrictive than others about receiving new members as transfers from other denominations.)

I would suspect that if that denomination isn't available, they'll often look for something with a similar doctrine.

So. . . .what are your thoughts on the growth of non-denominational churches? Is it a good thing for the body of Christ? Do they help to unify believers? Or do they tend to "dumb down" the average Christian by ignoring denominational distinctives?

Let the conversation continue.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dr. Roger Nicole, Theologian

Psa 37:23 The pathes of man are directed by the Lord: for he loueth his way.
Psa 37:24 Though he fall, hee shall not be cast off: for the Lord putteth vnder his hand.
Geneva Bible

Dr. Roger Nicole is Swiss and a Baptist Reform Theologian. He is considered one of the great theologians of the 20th Century. He is a friend though our friendship has been stretched by time and location.

I never dare call him Roger in his presence (though I do not think he would be offended) when he visited my home or when I had a discussion with him. I respectfully admit I spent my time listening, though he invited response. I have been thinking about Roger lately, one of my family members visited him recently and informed me that Roger’s beloved wife Annette went to be with the Lord.

I met Roger in 1953 as he preached to the students at Gordon College. After that I had time to see him on occasion and as a Baptist Deacon was sure our Church offered him a preaching slot when available. Dr. James Boice invited Roger to be a speaker at the first Philadelphia Conference for Reformed Theology and he was invited back on several occasions.

My reformed Baptist theological thinking is consistently influenced by Roger. I just completed a book on his sermons and was refreshed in the Word he preached. (Our Sovereign Saviour, The Essence of Reformation Faith). Over the years he addressed many doctrinal and social subjects, such as judgment, inerrancy, revival, and biblical equality. He is considered an expert scholar on the thoughts of John Calvin.

I share some of Dr. Nicole’s quotes:
"The idea of judgment, far from distasteful, ought to be recognized by any right thinking woman or man as essential for the proper understanding of life and for a wholesome world-and-life view."
“We are called upon by the Lord to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3). That does not necessarily involve being contentious; but it involves avoiding compromise, standing forth for what we believe, stand­ing forth for the truth of God—without welching at any particular moment.” Read
“Do not pray as if everything depends on God. Pray because everything depends on God.”
“Truth is that firm conformity to reality that proves to be wholly reliable, so that those who accept a statement may depend on it that it will not turn out to be false or deceitful.” Read
“You will be yourself a Calvinist when you get to heaven, for I say who will deny or seek to restrict the sovereignty of God when appearing before His throne?”
“Those who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ are thus to be absolved from the guilt of all their sins and are adorned with the perfect righteousness of Christ Himself.” Read

I recommend the man and the reading connected with his ministry. I know him as a tender servant of our Lord Jesus Christ and he still teaches Bible study at 93 years of age. A recent biography has been published about Dr, Nicole SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE: Life & Legacy of Roger Nicole, by David W Baker (Author), James I Packer (Introduction) and this too precipitated my reflections and thoughts.

Friday, March 28, 2008

"And Now For Something Completely Different"

When comedy troupe Monty Python used those words so many years ago, I doubt they knew the full irony of the statement. For those who are not familiar with the Pythons, “and now for something completely different” is used to transition between one absurd comedy sketch to another. However, as a culture that encounters films that promotes sin, our Savior’s name has become a curse word and musicians the same lonely anthem, we live in an age where King Solomon's wise saying, "there is nothing new under the sun" is painfully true.

Solomon has a very accurate view of our world today, however there is something "completely different" that has changed the lives of people around the world and throughout history. It is a true story that has been called a fable. Some have tried to change the story to fit their own perceived wants and needs, while others have ignored it completely. However, it still holds the power to mends the heart of the broken and to humble the proud. It consoles us when we have bad days and also when we have good ones.

I find it sad that many people that I encounter talk about it but have lost sight of its true importance. By now the curtain has been lifted and we see a couple of pieces of lumber held together by steel nails. Upon further inspection there is a stain of what looks like blood. Behind the blood soaked lumber there is a tomb. Upon entering its chamber, we see a burial garment which at first glance resembles an unmade bed.

I know these images might not be new, and the story of God's Son taking on flesh and dying for sinners is one we have all heard before. Nevertheless, I am convinced that it impacts our lives on a daily basis, whether we are conscious of it or not. I realized this a couple of days before Easter when I went to the store to restock my pantry. Everywhere I looked there were chocolate bunnies, plastic eggs and over sized pastel baskets full of “stuff.” It further bothered me that some Christians have taken Christ and commercialized him into pop culture trinkets and cute “stuff.” If you need a reminder check this link out, While I don't think these are necessarily bad in and of themselves, I do think trouble arises when they cause us to forget the main source of what we're discussing or thinking about.

Our new life found in Christ affects everything we do and say. Yet, if we turn the gospel into a fairy tale or a ten step program for better living, we've changed the story that we were never the author of. We are all in need of a reminder, not just “the world,” because as Herman Melville put it, "...Presbyterians and Pagans alike - for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending." It's controversial and comforting to know that the only way to obtain salvation is through the Son of God who lived as a carpenter, who healed the sick, walked on water and when He died, He didn't stay dead. The implications of this are immense as we continue to live our lives in the light of Jesus' work our behalf.

Each and every day points us back to this as we may encounter things that are "completely different." Let us not forget that our faith is "something completely different" in the eyes of the world, though it is not out of place because everything that has happened, and will happen, on this earth revolves around Him dying and crushing the grave. We are the only religion where our founder and perfecter of our faith is alive and interceding for His people.

May our cry in this life be in agreement with the author of this prayer (the following is taken from a book called, The Valley of Vision, more information here:

The Life Look
"O God,
I bless thee for the happy moment when I first saw thy law fulfilled in Christ,
wrath appeased, death destroyed, sin forgiven, my soul saved,
Ever since, Thou hast been faithful to me,
daily I have proven the power of Jesus’ blood,
daily I have known the strength of the Spirit, my teacher, director, sanctifier.
I want no other rock to build upon than that I have,
desire no other hope than that of Gospel truth,
need no other look that that which gazes on the cross.
Forgive me if I have tried to add anything to the one foundation,
if I have unconsciously relied upon my self knowledge, experience, deeds, and not seen them as filthy rags,
if I have attempted to complete what is perfect in Christ;

May my cry be always, Only Jesus! only Jesus!
In him is freedom from condemnation,
fullness in his righteousness,
eternal vitality in his given life,
indissoluble union in fellowship with him;
In him I have all that I can hold;
enlarge me to take in more.
If I backslide, let me like Peter weep bitterly and return to him;
If I am tempted, and have no wit, give me strength enough to trust him;
If I am weak, may I faint upon the bosom of eternal love;
If in extremity, let me feel that he can deliver me;
If driven to the verge of hope and to the pit of despair, grant me grace to fall into his arms.
O God, hear me, do for me more than I ask, think, or dream.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Response to “The Death Amendment”

In his post titled “The Death Amendment” Eutychus paints a grim picture of gun violence in our society. I would agree with his assertion that gun violence is a substantial problem in our nation. I could not disagree more with his focus on guns as the source of the problem or his proposed solution. Were we living in a “Terminator” or “Matrix” type scenario in which non-human gun/machine creatures were engaged in the killing of human beings I would call for the eradication of these machines – in fact I would be actively engaged in the fight – but this is not the case. The evil that perpetuates violence through guns does not live in the wood, metal, and plastic of a firearm – it exists in the wicked hearts of men.

While I am sure that Eutychus is well intentioned, I will assert that attempting to quell gun violence through efforts to eradicate firearms is frankly harmful to the fight against violence in our culture. Why? For two reasons.

  • First, it diverts our attention from the real problem – it implies that the problem lies outside the hearts of men and in doing so it weakens our ability to attack the real problem. It diverts attention from the fact that as a nation we have lost, rather ejected, our moral core – our Judeo-Christian values system and replaced it with a secular-humanistic set of beliefs. It allows us to maintain the facade that gun violence is a result of the existence of guns and not a result of sin.
  • Second, it weakens the ability of good men to stand against this violence in their homes and communities as they protect their families through the use of firearms (when absolutely necessary). It is cliché but true that when it becomes criminal to own firearms only criminals will own firearms.
    Attempting to resolve the issue of gun violence in America by removing access to guns is a bit like a doctor treating a cancer patient with pain-killers. It may mask the symptoms for a period of time but it does nothing to deal with the disease, and without intervention the underlying problem will eventually kill the patient.

So on what grounds do I support the idea that law abiding citizens of this country should have the right to own firearms. There are a couple of different angles of approach. First a political argument and then something of a theological defense of the position.

Personal liberties (and the corresponding responsibilities) are at the foundation of our national identity. There is no denying history’s account of founding of this nation by those seeking personal and religious freedom. The 2nd amendment reads (as presented to the states for ratification) “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Now I hold no advanced degrees in English, and in fact I rather despised the topic in high school and college, but there is little to argue here. There are two statements here – one indicating that a well regulated militia is necessary to a free state, and the second that the rights of “the People” to keep and bear arms “shall not be infringed.” Lawyers for the anti-gun lobby would argue that the purpose of the peoples right was the maintenance of the militia, but history would tell us something else. When we look at the process through which this amendment was written we find that late in the course of tuning the wording of the amendment a proposal was made to add the text “For the common defence[sic]” to the second section of the statement. This would have led us to the conclusion that the intent of the people in the creation of this amendment was to ensure an armed citizenry for the more exclusive purpose of maintaining the militia (the position taken by most anti-gun lobbies). However, this proposal was defeated and that text was excluded from the amendment[1]. It is clear that those who wrote and approved the 2nd amendment did not intend it solely for the purpose of maintaining the militia. Unfortunately this truth is ignored by the anti-gun movement as it does not suit their argument.

It is worth noting that most of those who hold the position that the government should limit access to guns do not want to fight the fight by the rules – they prefer to warp the meaning of the original text in an attempt to make it fit their desire. We see this in issue after issue where rather that pursue the constitutional remedy (an additional amendment to the constitution) the left plays word games in an attempt to see the constitution support their position.

Second – a scriptural/theological response. Eutychus references Genesis 9 – this chapter deals with God’s covenant with Noah and I assume that verse 6 is the portion that he was considering in his post as it says:
"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.

He also references Exodus 20:13 – the sixth commandment:
“You shall not murder.”

Both of these verses are indictments of murder. A review of a number of commentaries found no substantial support for anything else – particularly there is no indication that either of these passages should be interpreted as a total prohibition on killing. So, insofar as the intent of his post was the condemning of murder - I stand with Eutychus – we should not murder. That said, we MUST differentiate between prohibiting murder and prohibiting all killing. In fact the Genesis passage is relatively clear in its position that the penalty for murder should be the death of the murderer. I would not use this to support vigilante justice, but it certainly stands opposed to the idea that there is no just taking of human life.

Beyond simply rejecting the idea that there is no righteous taking of human life, I will suggest that there is biblical support for the bearing of arms and while guns did not exist in the days when the bible was written the sword did and the bible references repeatedly the use of the sword to defend persons, property, and nations (references to be added this evening I hope). Beyond the references to taking up arms, the bible is filled with references to justice. I suggest that Micah 6:8 can be used to support the position that men arm themselves. When we are told that the lord REQUIRES us to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” are we constrained in the means by which we are to “do justice?” If a man with a sword had lined up a classroom of school children and was methodically killing them – would it be the “doing of justice” to stop him? Absolutely! By what means would I do this? How about my wife – how would she stop a large man with a knife intent on harming my daughter? There is a place in our society for guns the challenge is molding our society to one that uses them in a manner that is biblically consistent.

John Adams is quoted as saying “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” In this country our freedoms are such that if we do not self govern (control our behaviors at an individual and personal level), our nation will rapidly degrade into anarchy. I would suggest that we are well on our way to that place today. A free society can only remain free if the members of that society are willing and able to govern their own behavior. Beyond simply believing that that free citizens should be able to defend themselves, I believe strongly that EVEN REMOVING ALL GUNS FROM SOCIETY would not solve the problem of violence (youth or otherwise) that we are facing. This course ignores the fundamental problem; the loss of a biblical worldview in this nation and the related loss of the concept of the sanctity of human life. We are growing a nation of people that have been trained to believe that humanness is no longer special. This stems from teaching our children that they are the product of ooze and evolution not created in the image of the living God; from our abortion culture; from the lack of biblical fathers in so many homes; from the church’s abandoning culture and science. Guns are not the issue; respect for life is the issue, and secondarily a respect for the law.

If we truly want to see a decline in violence in our culture we need to change our culture. Removing one implement of violence from society will not drive this change and arguing that it will ignores the root of the problem. To reduce violence in our nation we need to redeem our culture and this is a change that must occur in hearts and minds of the American people. Failure to turn our society away from its current path will have much graver consequences than the statics presented by Eutychus. If we fail to turn our culture away from its current trends we will see our society decline towards anarchy (something that we can see happening today as people demand ultimate personal freedom without any overarching moral control) and then, as those that want order but deny biblical truth respond to anarchy, we will see a move towards tyrrany/facism as the state assumes more and more authority in it’s attempts to curb the evils of a Godless culture. History shows us that the move to remove guns from society is a step in this direction.

So what must we do? We must attack the disease not the symptom. Christians must work in all aspects of life to redeem our culture beginning with the defense of innocent life. We must live out Micah 6:8 and do so publically – not just within the walls of our church buildings, and we must pray for God’s supernatural intervention in our nation, to multiply what we are doing in obedience for the redemption of our nation.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Proper Role of Government

I was in a meeting last night where Congressman John Shadegg made a surprise appearance. After speaking a few minutes, he took questions from the floor.

One person asked about the government's bailout of Bear Stearns (and note this commentary from Britain).

Someone else asked about the curret housing market and foreclosures. Shadegg mentioned his concern over the plan, currently in discussion, for the federal government to bail out the thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of homeowners currently unable to pay their mortgages. He also commented on the Federal Reserve's recent lowering of interest rates to near-record lows.

What I wanted to ask the good Congressman - but didn't - was, "Is it the responsibility of government to manipulate the economy? What is the proper role of government?"

Whether we start with the U.S. Constitution or with Scripture (an even better place to start), I just don't see it. What I see in Scripture is pretty simple: punish evil and promote good. The government "is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom. 13: 4). Government is also supposed to reward those who do good - or at least give approval to them: ". . . do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good (Rom. 13:3-4). [Read it all in context here.]

Sure, there are more duties than these, but these two are foundational; the Constitution lists a few more specifics - but just a few.

So where do our elected officials and their minions get the idea that government's job is to manipulate the economy? Perhaps from FDR's example during the Great Depression? Yes, the New Deal put hundreds of thousands to work. Yes, the New Deal helped get the American economy back on its feet - but only helped! Those were extraordinary times, which called for extraordinary measures.

So I leave the questions with you: "Is it the responsibility of government to manipulate the economy? What is the proper role of government?"

Let the conversation continue.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Death Amendment

The headline is “Justices set to mull gun rights.” The Supreme Court of the United States is considering the 2nd Amendment, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” I call it the “Death Amendment.”

I thought the word “mull” might to be making light of the judicial proceeding. I assure you that in listening to the proceeding the justices were more than mulling. What was I listening for in their mulling? I was hoping that the justices, in making their points of law, would consider the protection of life.

In 1980 I had two gun incidents at the junior high school were I was assistant principal. 800 students were placed in danger. One of the handgun kids came within a second of death by a police officer. The same year an assistant principal was shot in the face by a student. That was 19 years before Columbine, 13 dead, 23 wounded and 2 suicides. I was assigned by the Court to be involved with the attorneys in the first gun in the school case after Columbine in the State of Arizona. I had to sort through the incident and make educational recommendations about what to do with the child. In another case a Phoenix Police Officer told me that a juvenile under my review had pointed an Uzi at him and pulled the trigger, the gun had jammed. A hard question I had to answer was given to me by a mother whose son was shot to death, “Sir, can you help me bury my son?” None of the children I had reason to be associated with were members of “A well regulated militia”, nor were any of the dead at Columbine nor the victims and survivors I knew or know members of a foreign or domestic army. And that is the truth!

Children and Gun Violence

  1. America is losing too many children to gun violence. Between 1979 and 2001, gunfire killed 90,000 children and teens in America. (Children's Defense Fund and National Center for Health Statistics)
  2. In one year, more children and teens died from gunfire than from cancer, pneumonia, influenza, asthma, and HIV/AIDS combined. (Children's Defense Fund)
  3. The rate of firearm deaths among kids under age 15 is almost 12 times higher in the United States than in 25 other industrialized countries combined. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
    Statistics cited at Children

I consider the 2nd Amendment a short lived right. Time and the developing of our governmental structure do not support the right. I believe some have extended the right into alien areas for alien purposes. Therefore, I believe the Supreme Court needs to consider this Amendment in the light of the hundreds of violent deaths, caused by a gun. The consideration should revolve around the sanctity of life. For me, as a Christian, that would begin within Genesis 9 and Exodus 20:13. For the Supreme Court, I thought it might begin with a review of the weakening of this arms right as there is no need for “the remote settler to defend himself and his family against hostile Indian tribes and outlaws, wolves and bears and grizzlies and things like that.” Justice Anthony Kennedy. Rather, the Court should move to a review of this right as a strong domestic protection against weapons and the needless slaughter of citizens. Ruling in favor of the latter would mean a ban on guns or gun control. I say, handguns and automatic weapons in all forms must be controlled.

Politically the 2nd Amendment stands as a political football. Proponents of an open gun decision stand to be appeased if the Court rules in favor of no ban. This is an election year and of course the In Party wants to avoid having gun control as a political issue. If the Supreme Court rules to a narrow opinion ( which I think they will), that is only consider the Amendment in light of the District of Columbia, then gun control will be on the market place floor for consideration and to gather votes for the In Party, who is for no gun control.

As the 2nd Amendment stands, it provides a right to kill. Gun manufactures have made it so you can be shot and killed in rose, pink, purple and green colored guns. To get killed by a black gun is not “in”.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Loss of a Service Culture

I spent a long hour on an airplane this morning taking a routine commuter flight between Phoenix and Burbank. I ignored the preflight instructions for the umpteenth time and waited till the last minute to stow my laptop. It is getting pretty routine. But this morning something caught my ear. The captain had announced: “The cabin crew are here principally for your safety.” I had heard it before but as I thought about it this time I was struck by the significance of the statement. Why is this important? Well not to discount the value of trained professionals should there be an emergency, but in the bigger picture it is an important indicator of a change in the prevailing culture in the America.

Let’s be honest – the cabin crew on a commercial flight are NOT there “principally for your safety.” If they were, they should sit quietly in the back of the plane waiting to respond to a crisis. But this is not what they do. In reality, they are there substantially for your comfort. They are there to serve refreshments, to bring a bundle of paper towels when you spill your coffee (like I did this morning), to help people to their seats, to bring a pillow on a long flight, and numerous other acts of service that make the passenger / customer more comfortable.

Why is it that the captain will not say “the cabin crew are here to serve you and ensure that you have the most comfortable flight possible?” The answer is that the majority of the population in our culture, including the majority of the airline cabin crew, would consider this demeaning. The idea of one’s vocation being that of a servant is distasteful, even repulsive, to most Americans. In this country we tend to aspire to positions that reward us WITH servants and service, not to positions in which we will be called to serve others. Service and labor have lost their dignity in our society.

Is this biblical? I think not. Remember the King that once said “I came not to be served, but to serve.” If we are committed to living a life that consistently honors God’s word, we need to consider our attitude toward service. As you go through your week – look for opportunities to truly thank those that serve you – to call out the value in their work and to show respect for their willingness to serve. Look for opportunities to serve others, and to think about what you can do to change the American perspective on service.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Just me-n-Jesus

Interesting review of Stephen Prothero's book, American Jesus, here:

'Sometime around the middle of the nineteenth century...preachers began to
respond to the new Babel of denominations by offering a simpler message. Instead
of marketing predestination of free will, the Bible or the Baptists, they began
to offer religious shoppers a new relationship with Jesus.”

“This relationship was personal, so preachers had to make Jesus into a person. And they did so with glee, disentangling him not only from the complex theologies of
Calvin but also from the complicated polities of the denominations. As
evangelicals placed more of their faith in him, Jesus became more human and less
divine. ...No longer a signpost in a vast theological system, Jesus
a living, breathing human being.'
"As a human being rather than a theological signpost, though, Jesus was no longer
as tied to Christianity as he once was. Between the evangelicals and more
liberal Christians, Jesus was made available to other religions as a figure of
wisdom and guidance. Jesus has been incorporated into the thinking of Buddhists,
Jews, Hindus, and more."

And this is part of the problem in today's postmodern world - where all religions are perceived as equally valid/equally true:
  • Jesus can be my homeboy
  • Jesus can be my Lord and Savior
  • Jesus can be a great moral teacher
  • Jesus can be a created being or an angel or a human who later became a god
  • or (according to those who don't bother to research history), Jesus is just a figment of my imagination since he never really existed. (See this poll which asks about people's beliefs about the historic Jesus)

The "relationship with Jesus" aspect is OK so long as we remember that it's just one aspect of Christian theology. It becomes a problem when the "relationship with Jesus" is the entirety of a person's theology - "just me-n-Jesus" - to the exclusion of the other two members of the Trinity . There also is a connection between this "personal relationship" theology and the anti-intellectualism the church s often accused of. I've heard folks say something like "As long as I have Jesus and the Bible, I don't need to study theology (or church history)."

Some churches out there pride themselves on claims like "No creed but Christ" and "Doctrine Divides" (thus the growth of non-denominational churches.) The problem is that those who say such things really do have a doctrine - just push them on some of the "hot-button" issues that churches disagree over, like baptism or predestination, and they'll tell you what they believe. They act like they don't even know the meaning of the word "doctrine." And since they don't know church history, they don't know why the historic creeds were written in the first place. They think that the creedal/confessional churches use the creeds as a substitute for Scripture and accuse the creedal folks of replacing God's Word with the words of man.

Of course, the key for all of us is to focus more on Scripture than on our creeds, or our systematic theology, or even well-known Christian authors/speakers.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ways To Respond to Limitations

The workplace controversy

My faith matters. What are our personal and religious limitations in the workplace? What did we accept when we choose the profession or trade skill or work task? We not only were called by God to our avocation, we were called also to minister in our avocation? It was Dirty Harry who said, "A man's got to know his limitations." (Magnum Force, 1973) How should we respond to limiting your beliefs?

“There are several ways a faithful Christian can respond when professional expectations limit the ability to apply Christian teachings.

  1. One option is to leave the profession. After all, when Jesus called his first disciples, they left their nets and followed him (Mark 1:16-20, Luke 14:26).
  2. Another option is to stay in the profession but ignore those professional guidelines that encroach on religious teachings. Indeed, the apostles preached the gospel despite strict orders from the Sanhedrin. Peter claimed, "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29).
  3. A parallel option is to stay in the profession but promote Christian teachings discreetly so as not to cause friction with supervisors who would disapprove if they knew
  4. Oh. Yes; stay in the profession and agree to practice according to its own guidelines and standards. A person in this role can look for opportunities to promote reconciliation between religious teachings and professional stipulations. (Romans 13:1).
    The best option will often vary according to circumstances.” Gordon College STILLPOINT, Fall 2007

When I arrived before my school superintendent and principal it was made clear, you will wear a jacket and tie, you will be on time and you will have a daily lesson plan. I was referred to by my colleagues as the “token Protestant’. But I was never told that I was restricted in mentioning “God” or “Scriptures” in the classroom. These were among the unsaid rules. There are many forms of “unsaid rules”, those of the administration, of the staff, of the student or client and the community. These are among the limitations.

Ephesians 2: 8-10 For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His work-manship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.

This verse, printed in my Baptismal Certificate booklet over sixty years ago, gives clear indication to me that I am saved to serve. It was not and will not be easy, nor will your choices be easy. Therefore, to say that my faith matters means that in the workplace I have a responsibility to minister with prayer, to provide social transformation and to evangelize. It is the greatest of places to come along side a person and minister. You can either claim Christ or defame Christ.

The truth “we are saved to serve.”

Be strong!
We are not here to play, to dream, to drift;
We have hard work to do and loads to lift;
Shun not the struggle, face it, ’tis God’s gift.
Be strong, be strong, be strong!

Malthie Babcock


Friday, March 14, 2008

Freedom From the Land of Make-Believe

When I was a child, one of my favorite pastimes was playing "make-believe." With my imagination, I could transport myself into historical or futuristic times. I could become anyone or anything, ranging from king of the realm to a crewmember on a spaceship. One of my favorite “make-believes” was to pretend to be the husband and father of a family. I had many enjoyable meals and family adventures with “Mrs. Beautiful Galusha-Luna,” and our two children, “David” and “Shaye.” As an adult looking back on those times of imagination and child-like wonder, it amazes me that I would assume these roles and responsibilities without fully understanding what they meant. Ironically, even as a twenty-two year old, I still play a kind of “make-believe” game called “labeling,” or as my professors call it, "stereotyping." In four years of college, my professors have said that stereotyping is a bad thing and to avoid it at all costs. Nevertheless, these same people are the ones who insist that there is no such thing as “absolute truth” and that those who hold onto convictions are “dogmatic” and “evil.”

I disagree with these statements, and yet it troubles me that I have grown comfortable passing judgment on certain kinds of people and certain parts of culture without knowing all there is to know about them.

A few weeks ago, a young man in my small group and I were discussing the heated presidential race running across our country. When asked what he thinks about Hillary, he enthusiastically stated that he "personally guarantees" that she is a homosexual. I agree that from an image-standpoint, Hillary Clinton bears little resemblance to the “June Cleaver” image of women from years past. However, hearing someone make such a bold statement causes me to stand back and examine my own heart in the many judgments I make on a daily basis. I think that all the women that I encounter who dress immodestly are non-Christians who are eager to jump in bed; I see mothers scolding their children at the supermarket as improper parents; youths wearing all black are suicidal in their thoughts, and so on. At various points in my life, I have passed judgment on genres of music: "I don’t like contemporary Christian music because it’s nothing but love songs to Jesus," or "all country music is about is ‘Your dog died, your truck is old and your woman left you for your friend.’"

The bad news is that this game of make-believe and stereotyping is not unique to the world [or “to the non-believer”]. We in the church are also guilty of such a mindset. In the name of Christ, there are those who wear signs and scream "God hates fags" or write books promoting self-esteem without speaking of the One who lived, died, and rose again for our sins. I would be a hypocrite if I said that I am free from this game, and I must examine my own heart before passing judgment on others. For sin is still found in the lives of men and women.

However, with all bad news there is good news as well. I take great comfort in the fact that my identity is no longer wrapped up and found in my sins. I think this is what Paul was addressing when he said, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11). It is freeing to know that the righteousness in me is from above and not my own, but comes from Jesus' sacrifice upon the cross for my sins. This is a tale I must remind my own heart before thinking too lowly or highly of my fellow men, because everything on this world revolves around the tale of Jesus dying for sinners. I may carry several labels in my tenure on this earth: “student,” “son,” “husband,” “father,” “employee,” etc., but when everything is stripped away and I stand before the Holy Judge of everything, what will remain? Nothing except Christ. That is the only label I am comfortable with. As it says in the Heidelberg Catechism's first question:

Question: What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My Bias

As I thought about a topic for this the first of what I hope to be a regular weekly note, I ran through all sorts of interesting and challenging topics but I struggled to settle on any one thing in particular. Should I choose a political topic? Theological? Social? Current event driven? Where to start… I thought about the reader – they have probably found this note some time after it is posted, and perhaps and perhaps they have read other posts that I have made since writing this piece and are wondering who I am. So – I am writing an introduction – providing you a context in which to understand my worldview – my perspective – my bias - and how it shapes what I write.

I shamelessly stole the title (and frankly a portion of the content for the post) from a similar self introduction given by my father in one of his books on worldview. I chose to use the title it because I think it is important to recognize that we all carry biases. We are programmed (in American culture) to assume that “bias” is a bad thing. As a result we tend to carry the notion that people should work to be “unbiased.” There is no such thing. Whether we like it or not we all carry biases – sets of ideas that form the “lens through which we see the world.” My intent here is to expose to you a couple of my more dominant biases as they will significantly shape what you will read from me in the future.

The second of these biases (yes - we will come to “first” in a minute) is a commitment to the idea that there is objective truth. I am a militant defender of the concept of “true truth.” Not relative truth, not the kinds of “truth” established in the courtroom or college classroom, not “your personal truth” but absolutes, objective truths, foundational notions about the reality of things that we can both observe and pursue through reasoned thought. At this point in the description I am less concerned with the nature of any particular truth than I am with the idea that we must militantly and honestly pursue “true truth.” I have come to the conclusion that the single greatest problem facing the American people in the 21st century is the question of the existence of any absolute truth.

There are many substantial issues that I hope to write about in the future; issues of great social importance that I would love to give top tier placement in this forum, but not one of them is as foundational, and therefore important, as the question of the existence of true truth. Our understanding of truth is the cornerstone on which all other intellectual arguments are built, and the lack of this foundation in today’s American culture has resulted in a nearly complete stalemate in any substantial debate on most important issues. People argue for a short period of time and then simply “agree to disagree” because their arguments are based in “different truths.” So, please understand that much of what I will write will include discussions of the assumed “truth” that undergirds each issue.

The first of these biases (see – I told you we would come to this) - I am a Christian. I place this after my “second” bias in this text because I want to explain it in the context of my preoccupation with truth, but in reality my relationship with God is the single greatest shaper of my bias and I couldn’t bring myself to give that relationship second billing. My bias is intentionally shaped by the ideas found in the Bible. This is not a “blind faith,” I do not believe what I read simply because I am told to believe it. I grapple with the ideas that I find in the Bible, I compare them to the reality that I see in the world, I look at the results of the ideas when implemented, and I find God’s word to be ultimately consistent with reality.

Many Christians withdraw from the intellectual; we are told that our “faith is personal” and that we should take our religious convictions “on faith.” I do not hold to this position. I advocate an active intellectual criticism of God’s word, not for the purpose of being argumentative, but for the strengthening of our understanding and growth of our faith. The intellectual and critical approach to scripture is part of an honest pursuit of truth. I have come to understand that there is nothing to fear in approaching the scripture this way. You see – true truth exists independent of our belief or understanding. God’s word will certainly withstand our criticism - and through that criticism we will and grow in our ability to defend our faith.

So – as you read what is to come in these pages, know that it is written by a Christian man who is passionate about the pursuit of truth and the exploration of every issue in the framework of the realities so perfectly described for us in the God’s word. I look forward to the dialogue to come.

Monday, March 10, 2008

In the Bivouac of Life

I recently came across a classic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) and was impressed with a wonderful turn of a phrase. Here are the fifth & sixth stanzas:

A Psalm of Life
What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

"The bivouac of life." What a great phrase! As a noun, bivouac refers to a military encampment made with tents or improvised shelters, usually without protection from enemy fire or such a site where a camp may be built. Originally, the term referred to a watch set up outside a fortified town to warn of approaching enemy armies.
What comparisons can we find to our lives as Christians today?
  • life is a battle
  • we encounter an enemy
  • in one sense, we have no protection from enemy fire (We do have the armor of God, but at the same time, Satan still attacks)
  • like a bivouac, our life here is a "temporary shelter"
  • the "enemy army" is always approaching, always attacking
  • we are called to "act in the Present," and in the final stanza of the poem, to "be up and doing. . . achieving. . . pursuing" - all under the watchful eye of "God o'erhead." The alternative would be lazy, lethargic, and passive.
So. . . what other comparisons can you find? [You can read the fulll text of the poem here]
Secondly, are there any poets out there today writing with such a simple, clear expression of the Christian life?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

“To be or not to be…”

“To be or not to be…” The workplace controversy

What does it mean to be a Christian in the workplace and to integrate faith and professional/work related activities? Should we separate our personal religious beliefs from public or professionals roles?

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine, and correspondence provokes a good look at what is being said and practiced in the “medical workplace controversy”.
In a survey of 1144 physicians three questions were asked on the issue of “whether health professionals may refuse to provide treatment to which they object on moral grounds”. The specific treatment areas intrinsic in the questions were the controversial issues of: terminal sedation, abortion for failed contraception, and prescription of birth control to adolescents without parental consent.
The questions in the survey:

  • Would it be ethical for the physician to plainly describe to the patient why he or she objects to the requested procedure?
  • Does the physician have an obligation to present all possible options to the patient, including information about obtaining the requested procedure?
  • Does the physician have an obligation to refer the patient to someone who does not object to the requested procedure?

The results from the physicians were a 63% yes on the first question, 86% yes on the second and 71% yes on the last.

Think about these results.
Do you believe that the patients have the right to receive information from physicians and to discuss the benefits, risks, and cost appropriate alternatives?
Should religious beliefs intrude in the way of “good sound medicine”? What ever that may be?
The study showed that those physicians with religious moral positions were less likely to report full disclosure on alternate objectionable procedures, such as terminal sedation.

Well, what am I supposed to do? The doctors know it all, what do I know? Should the doctors confuse me? Why should some doctor’s beliefs interfere with my treatment?
Get a life!!

“The last of human freedoms: the ability to choose one's attitude in a given set of circumstances.” Viktor E. Frankl