Thursday, April 23, 2015

Liberty to believe whatever I say you should

Albert Mohler, on his daily news analysis show, The Briefing, pointed out this editorial in the Guardian: The Guardian view on religious liberty: Christians in the west have nothing to fear. Mohler rightly pointed out the contradiction inherent in the article concerning religious liberty. Here is the quote he focused on and the one that really should make Christians...heck, anyone, pause:

"In the west we privilege conflicting but broadly liberal values. We no longer privilege the authority of the Bible. So, once we have determined that discrimination against homosexuals violates the principle of equality – and that is the settled position in both law and public opinion now – the fact that some people are compelled by their consciences to disagree does not exempt them from behaving as if it were true. There cannot be a special exemption for mistaken beliefs held on religious grounds when these harm others."

So while the Guardian is trying to reassure religious groups that their liberty remains intact, they say something like the above that makes it clear that that liberty is limited by [insert almost anything here].   In other words, you are free to follow your conscience provided it doesn't go against what the society around you determines is right or wrong.  I'm not sure which is scarier here.  That the Guardian has made it fairly clear that religious liberty is dead or that they don't see the ridiculousness of their claims that it isn't dead in the face of their re-definition of said liberty.  How can they not see that someone isn't really free to follow their conscience when they are told they must go against their conscience or suffer the consequences?

You are have liberty to preach from the Bible in your churches (provided you don't speak about politics and only preach what you are told).   So said Nazi Germany.  Brothers and sisters, beware of the parenthesis.  They'll get you every time if you aren't careful.  Eventually the parenthesis are removed.  Eventually they replace the entire sentence.

In fairness the Guardian article isn't promoting something as much as it is simply stating the obvious (at least for those who are paying attention).  True, they are being a bit silly about it, but saying you have liberty when in fact you don't feels a whole lot better than simply saying you haven't any liberty so get over it.  That is next.  But for now, as has been the case for many years, the Church, following society, is all about feelings and pragmatism and so this article may, for some, not raise any alarms.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tares and Wheat

An interesting  piece appeared on line Friday at the New York Times by Op-ed columnist Frank Bruni.  You can read the full article here. Bruni's piece very well written and honest.  I would encourage every believer to read it.

I really don't want to take the time out to go over the article here.  I only offer it as evidence of what some have been saying all along: the proponents of the current moral revolution will not be truly satisfied until every person, organization, business and religion fully agree with and approve of their lifestyle.  Period.  It won't stop at marriage or how Christians choose to run their businesses.   Homosexuality must be removed from "the sin list" and that means more than mere consent.  It means a complete redefinition of what it means to be Christian.  And don't think that being nice about it (and we should be nice) is going to help.  Saying something clever like, "Hey, we disagree but we can still love each other" is not going to fly in the coming days.  In their minds it would be the same as an avid member of the KKK saying to an African-American, "We disagree, but we can still be friends".   It really isn't the same thing.  Morale choice is not the same thing as race.  But no amount of logic or philosophizing will make a difference.  If you don't agree than you hate and you need to be forced to agree or punished.

I feel sorry for those denominations, churches and individual believers who have capitulated to demands of moral revolutionists.  I feel sorry because not only do they not see what they gave up, but they don't realize how much more they are going to be expected to give up in the future.  How much will they be expected to give up?  All of it.  In fact, I suspect that in the not to distant future even churches who approve of and participate in gay weddings will be persecuted right along side us conservatives.  Crazy, eh?

Genesis 3:1 tells us that Satan said to the woman, "Did God actually say...?".  This is where it began and nothing today has changed.  This is still Satan's temptation and lie.  This is where he attacks the church first and foremost.  If he can destroy confidence in God's Word than he has won.  Everything we see going on in the church today centers around this one attack.  In fact, most of the denominations which have changed their stance on homosexuality gave up on God's Word a long time ago.  Oh, it is still used and read from, but it ceased to be God's Word in any true sense a long time ago.  Instead of the infallible, inerrant, plenary, God breathed, Word, it because an inspirational, man written, book with some moral truths God wanted to inspire us with.  Sure it is full of mistakes and folklore, but God could still use it much as he could use the Sunday comics to inspire someone.  "Did God actually say...?"

I wonder what these churches will do when three men or three women show up and want to be married?  Or when one woman and three men want to be married to each other?  Will they stand their ground then?  If they do they will start the cycle all over again and if they refuse to capitulate they will be persecuted.   They've already questioned God's authority when it came to what the Bible says about homosexuality so how will they stand on any other moral/theological issue?  

The saddest part of this whole ordeal is that the churches who caved never saw what was happening for what it was.  Not a moral revolution but an attack from the enemy of our souls.  It wasn't even a fresh or particularly clever attack.  It was the same question he's been asking all along:  "Did God really say?".  

There is hope for believers who's hearts are grieved over the seeming victory Satan has scored.  But even though there is hope for the believers, I doubt there is for the denominations.  Those who truly are grieved over the sins committed by the capitulation of these denominations will need to chose whom they will serve.  For many, if not all, that will mean coming out from among them.  Leaving.  Normally I never recommend someone leaving their church or denomination.  However, when the decision boils down to choosing between being obedient to God as given us in his Word and following man, there is no real choice.  The true believer, the one who hears the voice of the Shepherd calling, must follow not man, but God.  In the words of a famous children's hymn:

"Though none go with me, still I will follow.  No turning back.  No turning back."

Friday, April 10, 2015

Where is Today's Amy?

 Soldier Silhouette At Sunset

I remembering reading stories about William Booth and the early days of the Salvation Army. Very few people realize how radical his ideas were for his day or how dangerous they were.  Several members of that early group were killed and it wasn't unusual to have rocks or even dead animals thrown at you (regardless of your gender) for being a part of this army of God. Ridicule was the order of the day.  And it wasn't just non-Christians who denounced his activities.  The church also struggled to come to grips with Booth's "unorthodox" methodologies.  A leader in the Church of England even denounced him as the Anti-Christ!

My prayer is that in these last days God will raise up men and women who will be so radical that they will offend even the Christians.  Not men and women of compromise and complacency; we have plenty of those.  But ones who will contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).  We no longer need just a revival but a total reformation in the Church today.

Here is a hymn written by booth that is just as apropos today as it was when he penned it:

Send the Fire

Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Thy blood-bought gift today we claim,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Look down and see this waiting host,
Give us the promised Holy Ghost;
We want another Pentecost,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

God of Elijah, hear our cry:
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To make us fit to live or die,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To burn up every trace of sin,
To bring the light and glory in,
The revolution now begin,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

’Tis fire we want, for fire we plead,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
The fire will meet our every need,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
For strength to ever do the right,
For grace to conquer in the fight,
For pow’r to walk the world in white,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

To make our weak hearts strong and brave,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
To live a dying world to save,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
Oh, see us on Thy altar lay
Our lives, our all, this very day;
To crown the off’ring now we pray,
Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Faded Tattoo Green Cross
I remember when there was a time that the thought of a  tattooed christian was on par with the thought of a christian drug dealer or christian sorcerer. It was simply unthinkable (those poor souls who got saved after ruining their lives, and skin, excepted).  Then there was a time when I would hear believers ask, "Do you think it is a sin to get a tattoo?".   Now it is not only common to see Christians with tattoos but even covered in them and no one seriously asks if it is a sin or not.  How times have changed.

But just because everyone is doing it certainly shouldn't keep us from asking serious questions about what we ought or ought not be doing.  This is especially true when it comes to cultural trends and how they effect the way we are looked at by the world and the Church.  This is true about much more than tattoos but tats make a great place to start.

 As odd as it may seem the Bible actually spoke to this subject over three thousand years ago:

    You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.

(Leviticus 19:28 ESV)

Wow! Who would have thought?  For many this verse will serve as confirmation that the Bible is simply a puritanical book who's sole purpose is to keep people from having fun.  But if we who call ourselves Christian are serious about following the Jewish carpenter from Nazareth we'll want to take a serious look at what God's Word says and not simply dismiss what makes us ask hard questions about what we think is right and wrong.

The difficulty with the above passage (the only one about tattoos in the Bible) is that there are several other verses  around it that both speak about things that are very relevant today and other things that aren't.  The immediate verses tell us things such as:
  • Not to eat flesh with blood in it
  • Not to sell our daughters into prostitution
  • Not to consult with witches and sorcerers
  • Keep the Sabbaths and honor the sanctuary
  • Respect the elderly
  • Not to trim the sides of your beard (presumably speaking to men, but I don't wish to discriminate here)
  • Don't wear clothes made of two different kinds of materials
  • Don't breed different kinds of cattle
  • Don't curse the deaf.
  • Don't steal or lie, etc.

No Christian would seriously argue with the prohibition against selling daughters into prostitution or consorting with witches and sorcerers (although perhaps that is a bit of an presumption on my part considering the state of the Church today).  But trimming the beard and eating blood seems to be more clearly directed at Israel in particular and few would give it a second thought if someone shaved their beard or ate rare meat.  So what is the believer to do?

The fact is, this passage was, in its entirety, written to ancient Israel and really has nothing to do with Christians at all, at least as far as religious observances goes.  In other words, we don't have to figure out what to obey or not obey in this case because it wasn't written to us.  But before you run out and get those sleeves you've been sitting on the fence about note that I said that it wasn't written TO us.  But they were certainly written FOR us.  When Paul was writing to the church concerning some things that happened to the Israelites  he wrote:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 1 Corinthians 10:11

He also wrote to the young leader of the first century church the following in 2 Timothy 3:16:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

What these passages clearly tell us is that because all of Scripture is God's Word and breathed out by Him (Literally the Bible is the breath of God) even when certain things are not written directly to us they are still, in some way, for us.  In other words, we aren't off the hook.

When Jesus in the New Testament tells a questioner what the greatest commandment is (Love God and love your neighbor) we have little difficulty knowing that we are expected to obey it, even though we don't always like it or practice it consistently.   Yet Jesus is actually quoting the Old Testament!

When Jesus came, although he came first to Israel, he also came to bring salvation to every nation.  So we understand that what he said he said for the benefit of everyone, even those who would come thousands of years later. So when we see Jesus or his apostles clearly telling us to obey a particular aspect of the Old Testament we do it.  When Scripture is silent then we are not bound by what is commanded under the Old Covenant.  The New Testament prohibits prostitution, fornication and commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Therefore selling people into prostitution is forbidden.  But it says nothing about tattoos or beards so we are free to follow our conscience.  Fairly simple, isn't it?   So getting a tattoo is not a sin...per se.

Why do I say "per se".  Because if we were to simply take a black and white approach to this question and run to the nearest ink parlor we would be missing two major points in this Levitical passage.  The first is the reasons it was written in the first place.  The very first verse of this chapter states:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

God was concerned that the Israelites would remain distinct and separate from the people of the lands around them.  This was what it meant to be called out as God's people.  In this respect there is little difference between the Israelites then and Christians today.  This isn't to say that some of these prohibitions didn't have reason beyond this.  Some of the things God prohibited he did so because they are contrary to his own nature.  In other words, they were to be holy because God is holy.  But some of these things were written because they were what God wanted his chosen people to do or not do in order to be demonstratively distinct from the heathen nations around them.

When we come across things in our lives that the world around us is doing and it doesn't appear from our study of Scripture that God directly forbids us as new Testament believers one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is: In doing this thing am I simply conforming to the culture around me?  In our day of inclusiveness and tolerance we may get the impression that distinctiveness is itself a sin.  It is not.  In fact, when it comes to practicing our faith, it is, in many cases, a virtue.

The second major point that we tend to miss is that God actually did forbid it.  Ok, so it was directed to the Israelites  three thousand years ago under a different covenant. Yet while God did say it TO them we must remember that he also said it FOR us.  That is, this passage tells us something about God's mind on remaining separate from the world.  And although getting a tattoo is not a sin in and of itself this isn't the same thing as saying that God doesn't care.  This should be a serious consideration for any believer thinking of getting himself or herself tattooed. God did care at one time and he hasn't said anything to the contrary since then.

There is another thing to consider here.  Tattoos cost money.  I remember working with someone who would frequently tell me of the difficulty she was having financially taking care of her children.  Yet every few months she would model her latest tattoo.  They were very high quality and rather large, so it was obvious they cost a fair amount of money.  Taking care of our family is important, but as Christians we have other concerns as well.  What about missions?  What about the Church?  Are we making wise choices with our finances?   It is true that some people get tattoos for very specific reasons, such as remembering a loved one and I'm not in a position to judge everyone's motives, but it must be asked if many of the tattoos people spend good money for aren't the final result of hubris and vanity.  We are going to have to answer for how we handled the money and resources God put us in charge of and a tattoo may be difficult to justify.   But again, that will be someone else's problem.  I have other things I'll have to give answer for. 

I mentioned earlier that this subject was really only one of many when it comes to walking this walk.  Whenever we do anything and we find ourselves trying very hard to justify what we are about to do or not do when it comes to conforming to our culture we should take that as a hint that perhaps something is not quite right.  Culture should be conforming to us (assuming we are following the teachings of Scripture) and not the other way around.  This is something every believer should keep in mind.  In respect to our separateness to the culture around us we really aren't that different from the ancient Israelites:

    But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
(1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)