Saturday, January 21, 2017

The First Anabaptist Baptism

While the Protestant world is consumed, and with justification, by the 500th anniversary of the accepted start of the Protestant Reformation on October 31st, 1517, this day, January 21st, marks another anniversary. 490 years ago on this date in 1527, the first Anabaptist baptisms took place. Conrad Grebel first baptized George Blaurock and the Blaurock baptized Grebel, Felix Manz and others. This action in defiance of the religious authorities of the day would set them on a path that would lead to Blaurock and Manz being martyred along with countless other Anabaptists for daring to following the Scriptures on the question of baptism and defying the perverse state-church unequal yoking that dominated the day.

Their legacy of courage in the face of persecution and death lives with us today in the historic Anabaptist groups and to an extent among the hundreds of millions of others who practice believers baptism and believe in religious liberty, even though they are not directly descended from the Anabaptists. May God continue to raise up men, especially in these days, who insist on obeying God rather than man (Acts 5:29).

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Thinking About Water And Taking Things For Granted

If you were to drive past our house right now and look at our pasture, you might that we raise ducks or rice or cranberries or even perhaps trout instead of having a couple of horses and cattle. Thanks to a rather mild winter thus far and huge (or YUGE) amounts of rain, we are underwater. It is just something to learn to live with in the Midwest, especially so near the "big lakes" of Michigan and Erie. We get lots and lots of rain. We have lakes, large and small, all around us and a couple of bigger rivers have their headwaters near us. Add in the innumerable ponds, drainage ditches and creeks and what you get is a pretty complex system and near constant presence of water that we need to drive over or around to get almost anywhere. It is also often a source of mild irritation for us. Basements get water in them, roads have huge puddles and of course there is our ubiquitous mud. Our 15 passenger van is technically dark red but right not is pretty much 85% brown thanks to driving on muddy roads. Water is something we take for granted.

That is not the case in a lot of places in the world where water is life or death, as it is everywhere of course, but where it is also terribly scarce. There are places that get less rainfall in a year than we received yesterday, where the annual rainfall is measured in fractions of an inch. There are even places in the U.S. where water is a big deal. Out West the issue of water rights is a constant struggle between competing parties and priorities. Will farmers get water to irrigate their crops so people in the North can have out of season fresh produce or will cities get that water or maybe suburbs so Northern transplants to arid regions can still have the green lawn they grew up with?

For people in the Midwest, water is so commonplace that it often is an annoyance. It doesn't really mean much to us, at least until something happens and we can't use the water out of our taps for a day for whatever reason. For a lot of people in other regions it is something they constantly have to worry about having enough of.

If there is something else we have in seemingly endless supply in the Midwest it is religion. Unlike places around the world and increasingly in places around this country in certain regions, we have churches everywhere. I can be to one of dozens of churches in less than 20 minutes, from small country churches like the one up the road to aspiring mega-churches. It is pretty rare to meet someone who is not at least nominally religious and around here that means "Christian". Although the houses are pretty spread out, I would bet that if I went to 100 of the houses closest to mine, 95 of them would have at least one Bible (even if it was in German).

It often seems to me, and I am speaking of myself as much as other people, that we take having the Bible and the liberty to worship as we see fit for granted in the Midwest just as we take water for granted. In every meaningful way the living water we read of via the Scriptures is more important to life than the water we find in streams and lakes but we sometimes seem almost as contemptuous of it. Getting people to actually read the Bibles that litter our homes like old catalogs is like pulling teeth. People who have been "churched" their entire lives, even older people who have been in church for half a century, are woefully ignorant of what the Bible teaches because for all of our protests to the contrary, the record of God's revelation to His people is just not all that important to us.

Just as water is precious to people around the world who have limited access to it, the Bible is even more precious to people who don't have ready access to God's Word. I would guess that someone in Saharan Africa would be shocked and probably more than a little angry to see how much water we waste in my home, filling a glass up with water, drinking half of it and pouring the rest down the drain or letting the faucet run because it is just too hard to turn the knob. After all, the water goes into my septic system and then back in the ground where my well pumps it back into the house so who cares? Can you imagine someone who doesn't have their own Bible in their own language being told that there are people who have half a dozen hard copy Bibles in their home, unlimited access to the Bible and study tools on the internet that theologians of the past couldn't even have dreamed of and even Bibles on their phone and yet they still can't summon the effort to actually bother reading it?

Familiarity breeds contempt and I fear that many of us in the Midwest are so used to having the Bible that we can only be described as being contemptuous of it. Do we use the same whining tone we take about it raining again when confronted with the need to read our Bibles to prepare to participate in Bible study or Sunday school? I have to read a whole chapter?! Do we have no problem making time to go to a sporting event but when we need to make time for a gathering to open and study God's Word with other Christians we never seem to find an opening in our schedules?

I wonder how people would react in the Midwest if our plentiful water was suddenly scarce? I would expect people would panic and probably be quite angry and scared like we saw a few years ago when Toledo, Ohio had a very brief water crisis. I also wonder how Christians in the Midwest would react, or more accurately will react, if/when having the Bible is not such a given and when meeting with the church to open those Bibles requires more sacrifice than simply skipping one of your favorite TV shows? I would imagine that all of a sudden those Bibles collecting dust on our shelves or strategically placed in a conspicuous place in our home to show how Christian we are would rather quickly become a lot more precious to us.

I am not wishing persecution on us or dreaming of a day when Bibles are scarce. I am just thinking about how often we take for granted the things that are life-giving and life-sustaining, physically and spiritually, when they are so easily accessed without significant effort or cost. What is easy, what is cheap or even "free" has little value because it has little cost. In this transitional period where we are inexorably heading down a darker road where the culture turns even more radically against us and in a time when many pious pseudo-intellectual religious "leaders" denigrate and diminish the Bible as a sign of how "nuanced" they are, we should be declaring loudly and boldly within the church that the Bible is one of our most precious assets and is almost without peer in sustaining and maturing the church. Some day the water we take for granted in the Midwest might be gone, pumped via pipeline to irrigate golf courses in Arizona and probably even more likely there may come a day when access to the Bible carries with it significant cost. One of the chief tasks of the church today to is start placing a premium on the Word of God now so that we don't end up losing it due to neglect or indifference.

Jesus said that the words He spoke to the disciples were spirit and life...

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)

His Words still are spirit and life. Let's treat those words as if we believe the One who gave them to us.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Non Resistance And MLK

I liked this article from Matt Landis and Mennonite Minute, Some Things You May Not Have Known about Martin Luther King. Matt makes several observations but the one that was pointed out on Facebook (HT: Dwight Gingrich) has to do with the difference between the historic Anabaptist position on non-resistance and the idea of "nonviolence" practiced by King and many "progressive" Christians today:

In “Stride Toward Freedom” [p335] MLK notes “Nonresistance leaves you in a state of stagnant passivity and deadly complacency.” A question for those of us who use the term nonresistance might be: Is our nonresistance actually more passivity than loving the enemy? Is what I call nonresistance  actually a complacent attitude?

As I have thought about the difference between King’s “nonviolence” and conservative Anabaptist “nonresistance” I think the difference is not “action” versus “passivity”. This seems well demonstrated by the stories we tell. The “action” of Dirk Willems actively rescuing his pursuer. Or the “action” of the Mennonite pastor who heard his roof being destroyed in the night by hoodlums and who welcomed the troublemakers in for a good breakfast, thereby “loving them” into appropriate behavior.

Neither is the difference a willingness or unwillingness to be involved in nonviolent civil disobedience. Anabaptists have continually shown themselves willing to “obey God rather than men”. From the subversive act of baptizing only believers in the 1500’s to a willingness to reject portions of the Pennsylvania Child Care Act in the 21st century because it is deemed to inappropriately place the State between brothers & sisters speaking truth to each other and is seen as compromising the structural integrity of an autonomous church, conservative Anabaptist’s are no stranger to “obeying God rather than men”.

The crucial difference between King’s nonviolence and conservative Anabaptist’s nonresistance seems to be who is being demanded to change. The conservative Anabaptist’s “protest for justice” includes demands only of themselves and to others only a offer and call to voluntarily join the Kingdom.

That is really crucial. King and many "social justice" religious types today have no issue with using the coercive power of Caesar to advance their agenda, an agenda which is sometimes well meaning but in my opinion usually way off the mark Biblically and economically. One can be active personally in the pursuit of justice without being unequally yoked with Caesar and unbelievers and when we try to use the coercive force of the state, it inevitably poisons and corrupts our witness. 

Too often non-resistance is reduced to a leftist pacifism coupled with social justice warrior rhetoric. What is taught in the Bible is not a recycled flower child, Vietnam era pacifism but a far deeper and more comprehensive life that seeks to live peaceably with all as far as it is up to us (Romans 12:18) and to esteem others more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). When we adopt the limited understanding of the world when it comes to non-violence/pacifism rather than the broad and robust Biblical surrender of non-resistance, we lose the true meaning of what Christ and the Apostles taught and demonstrated. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sometimes Being Succinct Makes Sense

Like this...

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Home Grown Elders

We were talking this morning about the practice of raising up elders in the church and how our normal process of hiring a "pastor" from outside of the church by luring him with a larger compensation package (we didn't exactly use those terms) contrasted with the practice of the New Testament where elders were appointed from within the local body instead of hired from outside of the local body. Anyway, a couple of days ago Eric Carpenter wrote on this topic in a post titled: "Come Be Our Pastor Even Though We Don't Know You and You Don't Know Us!". Eric made a similar point.

Local churches in the New Testament didn't put together search committees to look through a stack of resumes. Rather, they simply watched the lives of the men in the church. They then recognized men of high character for being what they already were: elders. After they were recognized, they didn't change what they were already doing.

Today's churches have this whole process upside down. It's no wonder that pastors come and go about as frequently as college football coaches do. The hired pastor doesn't know the people and they don't know him. It may work out, but it probably won't. He'll likely stay for 3-4 years, but then move on to "greener pastures."

This mess of a model doesn't work. Churches would be wise to look within. They should be mentoring young men through the years so that when they get older they can take over some of the eldering functions. More important, churches should foster high character from within. Looking outside only leads to the current sad situation we have in our country.

Elders must come from within.

Exactly. This reminds me of the same post I keep re-linking to over and over, not because it is especially good but because I think it touches, however clumsily, on an important point. Raising up elders is hard work, it is time consuming and often frustrating but just because our society values quick, easy and disposable it doesn't follow that the church should. Convenient and disposable is usually unhealthy when it comes to food and it is equally unhealthy when it comes to elders. Commit yourself to the hard work of raising up elders from within, the church will benefit far more than instead spending a lot of time and money in hiring a stranger who will break your heart in a few years when he gets "called" to a better job ministry.


This is an oldie but (I think) a goodie. I first posted this in April of 2009 when we were just starting to rethink the institutional church machine. I recalled it this morning because of a picture someone posted on Facebook, reproduced below:

My response to the picture was: 
This is pretty accurate although if the church is functioning as it should be there is no need for a "pastor search committee" because the church would be raising up men as elders from within the body.
That got me thinking back to this post. One of the most important and unfortunately often neglected purposes of elders is to equip the church for the work of ministry, and high on that list is the identifying and training of men to be future elders. The reality of churches looking for men to be their pastor/elder from outside of the church, a very common and almost ubiquitous practice, is a sign of a total failure on the part of the church to function as the church should. Let me state that another way. One of the most common and least questioned practices of the institutional church is at the same time one of the most searing indictments of that same model. Anyway read below why home cooking always is better than prepackaged foods.


I was looking over Dave Black’s page and I read through an interesting post called Returning Biblical Education to the Local Church. He brings up something I have mulled over for some time: the inherent problem with hiring men from outside of the local body to lead that local body. That is not the primary thrust of his post but it really got me thinking afresh and asking the question: Why do we seek men who are strangers to come to our local body and lead us? Would we not be better served with men who led us because they came from us? Is a professional, prepackaged minister a better and more importantly a more Biblical man to be an elder? Dave obviously doesn’t think so and neither do I…

“Clergy” becomes a whole way of living, an ecclesiastical subculture. The church, however, predates the seminary and will outlast it. The book of Acts reminds us that the earliest church leaders were homegrown nobodies. They were not parachuted in from the outside with all of the proper credentials. They were already full participants in their congregations – they had homes, they had jobs, and they had solid reputations. If at all possible, I think we too would do well to train people for leadership in our local churches, equipping them for evangelism and other ministries, thus complementing the work of our seminaries and Bible colleges. The early church knew that leadership is best learned by on-the-job training, not by sending our most promising leaders off to sit behind a desk.

I think this phenomena of professional ministers is a product in large part of two factors. First, we are a country that by and large draws its identity from Europe and with her state sponsored churches, professional clergy is part of the fabric of the society. Second, and more importantly, we are Americans. We live in a prepackaged, processed, microwave age. Sure home cooked meals from scratch taste better and are better for you, but it is such a hassle! I can spend an hour or two cooking up a nice meal for my family (and even that requires pre-cut meat, canned veggies, boxed side dishes) or I can get some pizzas. In my family we get pizzas or something similar pretty often and in families where both spouses work it is even more common. We want it quick, easy and disposable.

The church seems to think the same way. Training and raising a man up within the local body who can grow in knowledge and maturity until he is ready to lead as an elder takes a long time and is hard work. It may not always work out, he may move, he may lack the aptitude for it, he may turn out to not be a very good elder. It is a whole lot easier and faster to find someone who already is “qualified”, i.e. has a seminary degree, who we can interview and “call” to ministry. Of course he will probably have to move and so to entice him we need to pay him. If he were already a part of the congregation, he would have a job and a home and ties to the community. He would know and be known by the local body because he is a part of that body. They would know him and his wife and his kids, and that would make it possible to know if he meets the qualifications for an elder listed in the Bible instead of meeting the resume credentials that are often the entry level for being considered to be a pastor. It makes more sense and it is more faithful to the Bible to raise leaders up internally but that just takes too long. So instead, church after church hires strangers to come in to lead and love people they have likely never met. It only adds to the separation between the clergy and the laity to have a paid professional come on the scene. Hard to believe with that great set-up that so many men leave the ministry, that churches have such high turnover in pastors and the men who stay are often frustrated and burned-out. When you view the pastor as a paid professional, someone hired and brought in from the outside, why not get rid of them? Paid, professional clergy are employees and as such they are disposable. A church can always find someone else to pay to lead them. On the flip side, when ministry is your job you can understand why men leave church A with 100 members for church B with 250 members. If you are from within the congregation and not getting paid, why would you leave? It is not a job, it is truly a calling.

Just because we live in a quick, easy and disposable society doesn’t mean that is how the church should operate. It is certainly harder, more time consuming and more sacrificial to raise up leaders in the church but I believe (and I think the Bible supports) the idea that a primary responsibility of the local body is in the training and support of men from within that body to lead that body. Seminary may be a part of that training, but it is only one part of an integrated development of leaders, not an end in and of itself. Hiring pastors like an old western gunslinger to come in and clean up the town before moving on is an injustice to the local body, to those men and their families. We need to take the time to look around the cupboards, find the ingredients and whip up some home grown elders.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Breaking News! Sun Rises In The East, Water At Room Temperature Is Wet And Liberalism Kills Churches!

In the "easiest news story to write ever" category we have David Haskell writing for the Washington Post and breaking out some seriously stunning news:

Someone break out the smelling salts because I done just fainted right away from shock. For real.

According to Mr. Haskell, liberal churches tried following the John Shelby Spong method to save the church, i.e. denying everything about Christianity, and it shockingly didn't work....

But the liberal turn in mainline churches doesn’t appear to have solved their problem of decline. 

Over the last five years, my colleagues and I conducted a study of 22 mainline congregations in the province of Ontario. We compared those in the sample that were growing mainline congregations to those that were declining. After statistically analyzing the survey responses of over 2,200 congregants and the clergy members who serve them, we came to a counterintuitive discovery: Conservative Protestant theology, with its more literal view of the Bible, is a significant predictor of church growth while liberal theology leads to decline. The results were published this month in the peer-reviewed journal, Review of Religious Research.

"We came to a counter-intuitive discovery." What they seem to have found is that people who are staking their entire worldview and their eternal destiny want to actually believe in something. Weird, huh? Next thing you know he will tell us that people who vote in the primaries are usually more politically engaged than people who don't. That is some hard charging journalism.

In fairness to David, this probably does come as a surprise to a lot of people in academia, like he is, and in larger city journalism in general. As he points out specifics you start to see why this is the case and why "mainline" denominations are dying and yet are inexplicably constantly doubling-down on the exact reasons they are dying in the first place. Case in point:

For example, we found 93 percent of clergy members and 83 percent of worshipers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb.” This compared with 67 percent of worshipers and 56 percent of clergy members from declining churches.

So half of mainline clergy believe Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, the central claim of Christianity and a large percentage of their congregants are more likely to believe this than they are. If you don't think Jesus rose from the dead, it kind of defeats the purpose of Christianity. Paul said that if Jesus is not risen, we are wasting our time and in fact we should be pitied:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. ( 1 Cor 15:12-19)

It is hard to tell people that Paul wrote these words and yet have almost half of your clergy believing that Jesus did not in fact rise from the dead and still expect them to show up on Sunday to worship a Jewish guy who is still dead in a tomb somewhere. Then there is this:

For example, because of their conservative outlook, the growing church clergy members in our study took Jesus’ command to “Go make disciples” literally. Thus, they all held the conviction it’s “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians,” and thus likely put effort into converting non-Christians. Conversely, because of their liberal leanings, half the clergy members at the declining churches held the opposite conviction, believing it is not desirable to convert non-Christians. Some of them felt, for instance, that peddling their religion outside of their immediate faith community is culturally insensitive.

So when you combine a general disbelief in fundamentals of the faith leading to driving away your most committed members, a low birth rate, an aging congregant base and a reluctance and even a disdain toward evangelism, it is pretty obvious that you are going to be dying out and the United Methodists, the Episcopalians, the ELCA style Lutherans, MC-USA Mennonites, on and on are proof of this happening.

This sort of information is so widely available that it boggles the mind that people still think that the way to stem the decline of mainline Protestant churches is to keep embracing sexual perversion, keep peddling liberal social justice nonsense dressed up in religious language and generally denying everything that makes Christianity Christian.

What the church needs if it wants to thrive and grow with actual growth is not liberalism but it also is not fuzzy feel-good nonsense like Osteen teaches or the heresy "prosperity gospel" snake oil salesmen spew. It is an unapologetic embrace of the foundations of the faith, a deep and abiding faith in the authority of the Scriptures for faith and practice and the joyful spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In general you won't get that in liberal mainline congregations and that in turn explains why  they are dying while conservative congregations are not, or at least not at the same breakneck pace. I will close with Haskell's closing paragraph which is super snarky, whether he intended it that way or not.

While our research helps explains the dwindling ranks of liberal mainline congregations, it isn’t likely to bring much “joy to the world” of mainliners, especially those on the theological left. But, if it’s any consolation, when it comes to growth in mainline churches, Spong and other liberals are right to claim that Christianity must change or die. They just get the direction of the change wrong.


"Faith Leaders" Dear President Trump, You Are A Terrible Person And We Demand You Meet With Us So We Can Tell You That In Person

So a group of "interfaith" religious leaders and "moral activists" who seem to be notable mostly for their insistence on the pompous religious title of "Reverend Doctor" and wearing religious sashes penned an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump. Apparently these folks think they are some sort of prophets and authorities on morality. Here is a sample:

Since your election, our communities have been fractured by harassment and intimidation. People of color and religious minorities are afraid. Poor working people who you appealed to in your campaign are disappointed that you have attacked their union leaders while appointing Wall Street elites who use them to your Cabinet.

We are deeply concerned by the policy vision that your Cabinet selections suggest. After inviting Steve Bannon’s white nationalism into the Oval Office, you nominated Jeff Sessions to head the Justice Department—a man who did not receive Senate approval for a federal judgeship in 1986 because of his long history of racial discrimination in Alabama. If he maintains his past positions on civil rights and voting rights, he could overturn and undermine years of victories and protections secured and signed in the blood of the martyrs. Equally insulting to African-Americans is your nomination of Ben Carson, a black man with no experience in government or housing, to head HUD.

Except that this is not happening and the fake hate crimes proven to be hoaxes seem a whole lot more common than actual harassment and intimidation. Steve Bannon is not a white nationalist. Make no mistake, the perceived insult of nominating Ben Carson's is that he is the wrong kind of black man. I am guessing they had no problem supporting Barack Obama, a man who was a "community organizer" and in his very brief legislative career was known mostly for voting present as perfectly qualified to hold the highest office in the land. I think we can that, to use their phrase: "Our sacred text honored by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike" also speaks out against bearing false witness which is on display in their letter.

So what is prophetic, moral issues that they are concerned with?

Both this nation and the rest of the world desperately need your heart to grow into a source of courage, so you might work with all people of goodwill to uphold the most sacred moral principles of our faith and constitutional values, which are:

1. Protecting and expanding voting rights and ending voter suppression and unconstitutional  gerrymandering. We must also pursue women’s rights, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, labor rights, religious freedom rights, all with a commitment to the fundamental principle of equal protection under the law.

Since when did asking for ID before people vote to ensure they are actually eligible to vote and supporting the special treatment of homosexuals become a "sacred moral principle" of our faith and constitutional values? The rest of their demands is a predictable laundry list of liberal agenda items like the mythical "living wage", free college, unfettered "immigration", stealing from wage earners to benefit people who don't work "direct cash transfers and other support for all families struggling to get by", universal socialized health care, "protecting women's health" which is code for abortion on demand, without restriction and preferably paid for by the tax-payers.

Good stuff without a shred of support from the Scriptures, which makes sense since so many of the "pastors" are women which also has no support from Scripture. But wait, there is more! From the Christian Post:

A representative of Repairers of the Breach directed The Christian Post to a press release from Wednesday regarding the open letter, wherein Repairers of the Breach President The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II called the letter a response to the "the theological malpractice of the so-called white evangelicals and others who placed themselves as the moral support of Mr. Trump."

Can you imagine if Hillary had won and a group of conservative and mostly white evangelicals had demanded a meeting with her to harangue her about her slavish devotion to abortion "rights" and with the stated goal of counteracting the pernicious influence of black religious leaders? The media would go nuts and rightly so.

I am pretty sure Trump won't ever hear of this and won't go. Nor should he. This is an apparent empty gesture that probably in reality serves to make a public show to drive traffic to their website where you of course can donate to help them "fight Trump". It is always a good idea to follow the money.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Celebrating As Spectacle What Would Get You Arrested On The Street

I don't often read The Gospel Coalition for a lot of reasons, not least because they saw fit to delete comments I made that were pointed but not rude and blocked me from commenting on their webpage or Facebook. I am hardly along in having this experience, it seems to be their standard operating procedure to keep dissenting thought out of sight and therefore out of mind. However a recent article is getting a lot of attention because it dares to criticize women's involvement in so-called Mixed Martial Arts. Published under Justin Taylor's blog space, the piece titled How Should We Think About Watching Women Fight Women is written by Alastair Roberts and takes a decidedly counter-cultural approach to the question posed in the title.

Roberts does a pretty good job of explaining why women in MMA is unhealthy for Christians to support but as some others have pointed out I think he doesn't go quite far enough in condemning the general love for stylized violence in bloodsports that is so common in America and especially so in the church.

There is something disturbing that reflects the darker impulses of human nature that we enjoy the spectacle of bloodsports. As a culture we love football and we especially love football when it is at the highest level of raw violence. If a running back makes a nice cut and gains 7 yards on a carry instead of 2, no one is going to replay that over and over. But if a safety crushes a wide receiver making a catch in mid-field you can bet someone is going to turn that into a GIF in no time. Boxing and wrestling and other violent sports have as part of their essence physically overpowering your opponent and if that means hurting them (while perhaps not injuring them), all the better. Boxing can be a very artistic sport, deeply skilled and demanding physical and mental toughness but at the end of the day it is still two guys (or sadly two women) trying to hurt one another and bonus points if you hurt someone badly enough that they are unable to even stand up.

More generally speaking we as Christians in America love sports more than we love just about anything else and that often includes our families and our church. Women's sports are vastly less popular in general than men's sports but there are ways to draw in a male audience anyway. You probably would have a tough time getting men to pay to watch women's softball unless you had a school tie or family affinity for one of the players but get a couple of young women to pummel each other and the men can't get enough. Women's biathlon probably requires at least the same level of coordination, athleticism and  stamina that MMA requires but how many people watch that outside of Nordic countries? Not very many is my guess. Why is that? Could it be that a woman decked out in cold weather gear, wearing a hat and goggles and gloves is just not all that erotic and therefore not that interesting to a male audience? Nah, that can't possibly be it.

The violence of MMA in general and especially when featuring women is bad enough but when you note that the women involved are wearing sports bras and skin tight shorts, it sexualizes the event and makes it a little higher class version of strippers engaged in wrestling in mud or Jell-O at a strip club. This is not confined to women's MMA, in fact it infects a ton of women's sports and sex appeal of women athletes is a major marketing tool. Does anyone think that girls at the high school and college level have to wear skin tight shorts to play volleyball or that female Olympic beach volleyball players and runners need to dress in what is often less clothing than they would have on if they were in the underwear to compete? Or is it that audiences are more likely to tune in when a women's sporting event includes women dressed provocatively to appeal to lust of another kind? In the martial arts men and women alike wear full length pants and long sleeve jackets and somehow still manage to perform.

Some dismiss this sort of talk as a ghastly return to Puritanism or one step removed from demanding that women wear a burqa but issues of modesty are both incredibly important and simultaneously often dismissed out of hand because talking about modesty and immodesty sounds so old-fashioned and we desperately desire to not seem less than hip to our unbelieving friends. When we allow the unbelieving culture to dictate to the church which topics are off-limits we can never draw the line. If modesty if off-limits then you might as well add in every other moral admonition made to the church because the unbelieving world has no use for any of it.

Women in MMA is not just yet another tactic of the same sort of cultural revolution we see all  around us to diminish, deny and eventually destroy the very concept of the binary gender model that God created. It is also a crass appeal to two of our most base impulses as men, first violence as entertainment and second the sexual exploitation of women.

Would you as a Christian father want to see your daughter fighting, barely clothed, another woman, also barely clothed, seeking to hurt one another badly enough to knock them out or make them submit from pain, while men in the audience scream and cheer the spectacle of women fighting for their entertainment? What about your wife? I expect most Christian men would be appalled to see anyone hitting their wife or their daughter but when it is somebody else's wife or daughter, we feel OK paying to watch them get hurt because it is a "sport". Come on.

I don't expect pagan unbelieving men, especially in our culture, to have an issue with women in MMA/ Quite the opposite. It appeals to them sexually, it appeals to their love of violence and it has a deeper appeal to men who have suffered through decades of being degraded and blamed for every societal ill to see women hurting other women, giving them a vicarious thrill to see something done for spectacle that would get them arrested if they carried it out themselves. I am certainly not ascribing to every or even most men a deeply embedded desire to see women get hurt to soothe their male ego but you would have to be foolish and completely ignorant of the human condition to think that doesn't play a part. My point is that I don't expect anything different from unregenerate men than to act like unregenerate men.

But my brothers in the church? That is a different question entirely. We are supposed to have different passions, to desire different things than we did before. The Bible gives us a lot of attributes that the Christian is supposed to find praiseworthy in a woman, things like reverence, being loving, self-control, purity, kindness, submissiveness to husbands (Titus 2:3-5), they are to be modest and quiet and not drawing attention to themselves but rather adorning themselves with good works (1 Timothy 2:9-11). Physical prowess at sports, six pack abs, a killer right hook, an unbreakable headlock, a willingness to prance around immodestly dressed for the amusement of men? You will search in vain for those attributes to be seen as praiseworthy for a woman of God. Why are we entertained by something that runs contrary to what we are told is worthy of our praise?

I have never watched an MMA match before, male or female. I don't watch boxing and rarely did even years ago. I avoid sports today as much as possible, especially because I used to love them so much. I do understand why it can be thrilling to watch people fight one another, especially for men who get to watch scantily clad women beating each other up. Even still we are not called in the church to seek out that which is entertaining or that which is thrilling but rather to seek out what is honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). It is a tough case to make to suggest that women engaged in acts of violence against other women for the primal entertainment of men qualifies in even the most generous definition of any of those things.

Choosing The Good Portion

The church needs to get deep in the Word and that happens when individuals get alone with the Word of God.

The church should be a bunch of people who spent time on that mountaintop alone with God and then we gather together to talk about it...

- Francis Chan

What is more crucial than sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning from Him and learning of Him? Check out this video from Francis Chan where he references Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42...

I love what he says around the four minute mark about the entire church getting into the Word so they could talk about it when they get together instead of being starved all week and needing to hear a word from just one guy.

I can see it being easy for some people to hear this and think Chan is talking about a bunch of Christians reading the Bible in isolation but I think that is the complete opposite of what he is talking about. What he is talking about is the entire local body being engaged in the study of the Word and then taking that shared engagement and reflecting on it as the Body of Christ. That is what I am talking about when I talk about a community hermeneutic. Instead of one or a few "experts" telling a largely disengaged group of observers what to think about a passage, the people of God open the Word of God together and work through it together. That is hard for people like me who have a tough time listening to others because we are really waiting for our turn to talk but it is so important. You can tell people what to think over and over and they usually won't ever get it deep into their being but if you teach them to think the power can be overwhelming. I don't think heresy is enabled when the Body works through Scripture together, I think it is far more likely when the Body doesn't know how to think, how to interpret and apply, how to discern and are easily led astray by one guy with screwy ideas because no one knows the difference between truth and error.

This is also where elders come into play, not by telling people what to think, but rather by being proven as reliable and mature brothers who can act as guides for others, helping to keep them on the path without telling them what to think. It is a lot easier to just tell people what to think but elders should be in the equipping business, not the lecturing business. Certainly if someone is teaching contrary to Scripture and refuses correction, the elders should step in but generally they should be helping people to study and learn rather than being subcontracted to do the studying and learning for the rest of the church.

Good stuff from Chan. 

Happy Reformation Year And Why It Still Matters (And Matters Just As Much)

Happy Reformation Year!

2017 is the year which includes the date of the 500th anniversary of the "official" start of the Protestant Reformation on October 31st, 1517 with Martin Luther's nailing of the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. With that one seemingly innocous act, Martin Luther forever changed the course of Western and world civilization, in some ways for the worse but for the most part for the better. Those of us who cherish our salvation by faith through grace recognize the debt we owe to those God lifted up at great personal danger to shine the light of the truth through the oppressive spiritual darkness of the day.

While many Protestants and others celebrate or at least recognize October 31st as Reformation Day, this being the 500th anniversary year means a lot of additional attention will get paid throughout the year to Luther and what he started. It is of course worth noting that there were many other individual and group reformers who preceded Luther but they mostly ended up dead at the hands of the Roman leadership and their willing executioners and torturers in the state. Luther was notable in large measure because he managed to survive long enough to see the embers of reform burst into the flames, sometimes literally, of Reformation.

While I expect to talk a lot about the Reformation throughout the year, it seems fitting that my first post of the year focuses on the on-going need for Reformation. It is the erroneous belief in many parts of the evangelical/Protestant world that the need for Reformation is long past. We have moved beyond silly squabbles and instead have moved closer together, propelled by our common foe of secularism and our common defense of religious liberty against godless liberalism. When engaged in an existential fight like we are the enemy of my enemy is my friend. All well and good except the mission of the church is not to fight for religious liberty but to preach the Gospel, in season and out, when it is welcome and especially where it is not, making disciples and teaching them the commandments of Christ. We cannot do that with one hand while with the other we hold hands with those who deny that very Gospel.

I have friends and family who are Roman Catholic and this post, and all subsequent posts in 2017, are not intended to be an insult, simply a statement of what should be clear. I don't attend the Roman Mass not because it just isn't my cup of tea but because I believe what happens in the Mass and elsewhere in the Roman religious system runs counter to and is affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ we see in Scripture. The vast chasm between Rome and the Protestant world was always very apparent until recently and it is neither loving nor honest to anyone to pretend that those differences have faded with time or are no longer important.

Case in point, Jorge Bergoglio, aka "Pope Francis" tweeted out this message to ring in the new year:

Rather than putting together a response I am instead going to just reprint James White's response from a public Facebook post because he pretty much nails it (get it? nails it? 95 Theses?):

Why is the Reformation still important? Why is it proper for us to focus upon it this year in celebration of 500 years? Why do I pray that by the end of 2017 more and more of God's people will embrace the Reformation, and Reformed theology as a whole? Well, here is a tweet from the current Pope. He encourages Roman Catholics to "entrust the new year to Mary." Doing this, evidently, will result in "peace and mercy" growing throughout the world. And here I thought that could only happen as men and women bow the knee not to Mary, but to the Lord Jesus, in repentance and faith, trusting in His once-for-all work upon the cross as the perfect Savior. Rome's departure from the Gospel remains complete, and defiant. She continues to blaspheme the cross every time a man-made "priest" pretends to "re-present" the once-for-all sacrifice of Calvary upon a Roman altar. And she continues to enslave men with her endless gospel of sacraments and penances, which can never bring them peace. And in this tweet the Pope demonstrates once again the grossly idolatrous nature of modern Roman teaching concerning Mary.

How many non-Roman Catholics today understand why they do not bow the knee to Rome? In what is loosely called Evangelicalism, very few. One either has the wild-eyed bigotry of the Jack Chick variety anti-Catholicism, or the luke-warm "it's just a matter of taste" variety of synergistic Tiber-paddling that is so common today. May the number of those who knowingly, and out of a true commitment to sound biblical doctrine, reject Rome's pretensions, grow in this the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The fawning, fan-boy fascination many "progressive" evangelicals have for Jorge Bergoglio is not surprising while it is still troubling but many who would consider themselves "conservative" have no clue what the differences are between Roman teaching and Scripture. When so many in the church have no idea why they don't attend Mass instead of going to what are most often silly and vacuous "worship services", there is clearly a lot of work to be done. Likewise tens of millions of people are still caught up in the Roman system and have never even heard the Gospel presented clearly and these people are in the same need for hearing the Gospel as poor peasants in 1517 who had been taught that buying an indulgence with the money they could scrape together instead of buying food for their children would somehow purchase favor with God.

Do not for a second think the Reformation is unimportant in 2017 or that we have outgrown the need for what are considered petty theological squabbles or that winning political and cultural victories is critical enough that we ought to make common cause with enemies of the Gospel. As Jorge Bergoglio's tweet proves, Rome is still selling a false gospel that cannot save and only serves to obscure the true Gospel and preserve a corrupt religious system. I think that if Luther could see the church today he would marvel at many things but I also think he would desperately want someone to walk up to our own equivalent of the church door in Wittenberg, take out a hammer and a nail and declare boldly that the Gospel is the one place that we will not, that we cannot, compromise for the sake of any other issue. In the end, only the Gospel of Jesus Christ really matters.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The State Of The Church 2016

What a very odd year. It was odd in general and it was particularly odd for the church. It was a year that seemed to be the dawn of a new Dark Ages for the church, an era of spiritual darkness. Conservative Orthodox writer Rod Dreher wrote hundreds of essays about what he calls "The Benedict Option", a plan for religious conservatives to preserve the best of Western religious culture for a day in the future when things didn't suck so much, to the point of absurdity because he managed to insert the topic into every post he wrote. Other stories focused on the rise of the religiously unaffiliated, with collective hand-wringing over the rapid diminishing of religious affiliation and public practice in America. As it became apparent that Donald Trump, a man who sucked all of the oxygen out of the room/nation like a single person never has in my lifetime, was going to clinch the Republican nomination for President, it seemed also likely that the reprehensible Hillary Clinton would become the 45th President. For many "leaders" in the church that was an impending apocalypse that warranted what at the time seemed an awfully far-fetched Hail Mary pass by leaders of the Religious Right to throw their support behind Trump in the hope that he would somehow pull out a victory. Well as it turns out he did manage to win and suddenly the Religious Right and rank-and-file Christians alike were collectively like a man who had received a last second pardon from the Governor with the hangman's noose already around his neck. Visions of replacing Antonin Scalia not with a far left judge but instead with a reliable conservative danced in their imaginations and it wasn't long before people started to look at the ages of the remaining liberal justices and start to ponder, if not openly hope, what might happen if one or more of them were to retire or die. It does take a math genius or a Constitutional scholar to add two vacancies plus a Republican controlled Senate and come up with Roe v Wade being overturned along with Obergefell and other cultural shifting decisions. Given the emotional state of the church six months ago, we have seen a pretty serious about-face in optimism levels. For a lot of people, and I admit I have been far too active in this even as someone who didn't vote for Trump, what put the icing on the cake was the absolute meltdown by "progressives" especially among the coastal elites and special snowflake college students. Much of it was risible and deserving of scorn but a lot of it is also pretty ugly and has led to the end of friendships, rifts within families and a general sense that the acrimonious election never really ended and in fact promises to continue into 2017 and beyond. I need to constantly remind myself of the need to be a peacemaker while also being a voice calling attention to places attention needs to be paid.

What is missed in the post-election exuberance is that the same ills we bemoaned prior to Trump winning the election are still there. As far as American culture, many American cities are extremely violent, with Chicago on pace for 800 murders this year. Homosexual marriage is the law of the land and other sexually deviant behaviors are clamoring for their own acceptance. The participation of men in the workforce, especially men in prime working years, continues to plummet at the same time that more and more children are born out of wedlock and in many cases are the latest in a multigenerational pattern of children born out of wedlock and often the corresponding life of poverty. We have an unimaginable number of children and young adults who have no idea what a stable family looks like, and especially no clue what a home with both a mother and a father looks like. A record number of Americans are out of the workforce entirely, a statistic missed in the rosy announcements of a low "unemployment rate". In almost every possible way, American life is coarser than it has been in years past and this is especially unhealthy for children.

For the church in America, the malaise continues in spite of (partly because of?) the victory of Donald Trump. I think virtually every ill in the church in America can be attributed to one major and one related factors. The biggest issue is and continues to be the obscene level of general Biblical illiteracy in the church. It seems to me, just from personal observation, that many Christians in America grow up in the church, live their entire lives in the church as "good" church members and go to the grave with only the most rudimentary understanding of critical issues of the faith like justification and the new covenant. The related factor that goes along with this is that very few people in America, and not just in the secular media, really seem to understand what Christianity is, what the church is and who is or is not part of it. Like most nations with essentially no cost to public identification with Christianity, it is common for people to assume they are part of the church by virtue of occasional church attendance, baptism as a child or simply many years previously, coming from a family that identifies as Christian or just being a generally moral person who lives in America.  This is compounded by a lot of "pastors" who refuse to disabuse people of the false notion of their personal salvation as long as they keep showing up and "tithing". If there is one serious flaw in our discipleship that I want to see and to help overcome it is our tendency to focus on symptoms of Biblical illiteracy instead of the actual problem of Scriptural illiteracy itself.

From a more personal standpoint, since I have written about the church quite extensively for years, if I can sum up my feelings about the church right now it is this.

How the church should operate is rarely how the church does operate because how Christians really behave is rarely how they should behave because the way humans should be is rarely the way they actually are, even for those of us who are new creations in Christ.

I don't see what is commanded and modeled in Scripture as an unattainable Utopian ideal but I do see it is something we should strive for, as the church, together. My mistake has been seeking the ideal first. Others err in making the church form primary which, as I have said over and over, has led to a number of pretty sketchy teachers or even outright heretics getting favorable treatment because they do church "the right way" or at least talk as if they do. Church form is not the ultimate

That doesn't mean that church form is unimportant because it absolutely is and it also doesn't mean that many church forms that are most common are largely not only unhelpful to the mission of the church but actually harmful to the spiritual growth of Christians because they are. What I am saying is that when it comes to reforming and renewing a spiritually vibrant church, the form of the church and specifically the gathering is one of many factors of health. A highly institutional church where the people love one another and are equipped and the teaching is orthodox is superior in every way to a non-institutional church where the teaching is heterodox and the people are only equipped to preach a false gospel.

The church in 2016 here in America had all sorts of problems that are going to carry over into the new year: widespread biblical illiteracy, an unhealthy obsession with money and political power, denominational divisions that never cease, professional clergy that are more concerned with building their own little kingdoms and preserving their jobs than they are with shepherding the flock. We face many headwinds like an increasingly militant atheism and an correspondingly hostile culture.

On the other hand, the church is still the Bride of Christ. We still have the promises of God that we can rely on absolutely. The church in America is full of kind, loving, humble servants who don't seek personal acclaim but are content to serve in relative anonymity. We have more access in more ways to the Bible and a seemingly infinite number of resources, many that are free, to aid our Bible study. Compared to the church in the rest of the world and throughout all of history, we have more access to an embarrassment of riches when it comes to God's revealed and preserved written Word than our forefathers could even dream about.

So we have reason to be optimistic heading into 2017 even amid the concern. We know that God is faithful and that He is victorious even though the actual timing is shrouded from our sight. I am hopeful that 2017 can be a year when our witness is more clear and our discernment is even sharper but that it is in all ways more tempered by love and patience with those who are sincerely seeking the truth. If the church will let Scripture be our guide we can accomplish much for the Kingdom of God, indeed we have no excuse for anything else given the advantages we enjoy. So happy new year to you and yours. Keep your eyes open, your mind sharp and your heart open to the Spirit and let everything we do be done to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Masculaphobia: Fear Of Men

Remember when MTV was a legitimate news source? Me neither.
2016 will go down as a year when a lot of stuff happened, pretty much like every year in history. I have a more comprehensive post upcoming but I want to look at one issue specifically. Along with being a year when a seemingly unusual number of celebrities died, mostly either directly from drug abuse or as a result of drug/alcohol abuse (see 2016 Is Not Killing People) and there might have been an important election that got people riled up or something, it is also the year that should be remembered as the launch of the war on gender. Not the gender wars but the war on gender itself. It is a war that has been festering for a long time with the lead up in decades of feminism and the gradual embrace of homosexual behavior but in 2016 the simmering guerrilla war broke into all out war. National Geographic devoted a cover to a young boy who is being abused by his parents by being encouraged to act out on a confusion about gender. The University of Kansas is jumping on the pin wearing bandwagon and "will now offer students, staff and visitors the choice of wearing “gender inclusive” buttons identifying their preferred gender pronouns, in order to help promote a “welcoming environment” on campus". This is the reasoning....

The buttons, which read, “He/Him/His,” “She/Her/Hers” or “They/Them/Theirs” are part of a year-long effort on behalf of the KU library’s “You Belong Here” marketing campaign touting the school as warm, welcoming, and tolerant.

“Because gender is, itself, fluid and up to the individual, each person has the right to identify their own pronouns, and we encourage you to ask before assuming someone’s gender,” a sign in the library above the available buttons reads, according to local media.

The library signs go on to explain that “misgendering” someone “can be hurtful” and lead to emotional distress as that person contemplates their ultimate exclusion from modern society, or struggle with “invalidation” of their life choices.

Ah. Let me reassure the ladies at the University of Kansas that if I am on campus you will not a need a pin to identify which gender I "identify with". This sort of empty-headed nonsensical rhetoric is what passes for deep and nuanced intellectualism on America's campuses, which is a big reason why you should stay as far away from them as possible unless you have no other choice.

Gender, which is the most critical and fundamental biological fact that distinguished human beings and the most basic building block of human society, is now seen as a means of oppressing people. Let that sink in for a moment. Gender is not "fluid", in fact it is the least fluid thing there is outside of the basic reality of our shared humanity. My gender is not "up to me" anymore than being a human being or being white or who my parents are is up to me.

In his post Feathering the Frosting On With A Canoe Paddle, Doug Wilson makes an interesting observation amid a general discussion of the grotesque sin of encouraging children to change their genders. The whole thing is great but what I really liked was this comparison between the common Islamic fear of female sexuality and the Western fear of male sexuality, emphasis added:

But the secularist wants to protest right at the outset that what they are celebrating has to be distinguished from the genital mutilation that other cultures practice—you know, the backward kinds of culture. For example, in such backwater Muslim societies, girls are often forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). This has been done to upwards of 200 million people. The World Health Organization defines it as “the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

The emphasis there is mine, for the simple reason that “non-medical reasons” include the West’s fear of masculine sexuality, just as Islam fears feminine sexuality. Non-medical reasons would include our culture’s  current lunatic warp spasm.

That is actually pretty accurate. Islam is terrified of women. Theirs is not a simple recognition of the differences in role and biology of men and women but an actual fear and loathing of femininity combined with an all too often primitive and violent posture toward women. 

Our culture is terrified of men, at least men who look and act in ways that are traditionally understood to be masculine. While not as overt as the violence of "female circumcision", the attempt to emasculate and mutilate men to transform them into something less threatening is just as real. Whether it is the cultural effort to paint men, and especially dads, as imbeciles barely tolerated by their wives and children or the subtle but powerful ways men are pushed out of the workforce or the endless assault on men acting like men and preferring that women act like women, somehow men, at least white men, have been ironically painted as the enemy of civilization and a far greater danger to civil society than Islamic terrorists. All men are potential rapists and all notions of masculine sexuality contribute to the "rape culture".

Even in the church this is true. In many circles of the church the idea of masculine sexuality is seen as something to be avoided and there is nothing much more horrifying than the outdated notion that God intended men to be the leaders of home and church. Church pews are often dominated by women, increasingly without a man present, and the same is true in a lot of pulpits.

It is certainly true that in Western civilization a lot of bad stuff can be attributed to white males but it is just as true that all of the great stuff is also attributed to white males. For every Hitler there is a Beethoven, a DaVinci, a Michelangelo, a Shakespeare. Western civilization has been dominated by white men, for good and for ill, but I would argue that for all of the many faults and weaknesses of Western civilization it is still preferable by a wide margin to any other civilization that does or has existed on a large scale.

You don't need to be afraid of men. Most of us are just trying to get by, to care for our families and to maybe make our communities and country a little better place. We make mistakes but we also built the greatest civilization the world has known. So please stop trying to make us into something we are not. If you ask us nicely we might even pick up that heavy box for you.