Sunday, June 30, 2013

McLaren’s Rejection of Hell and All Other Distasteful Aspects of God


Often, we are accused of creating God in our own image or according to current fashions.  In contrast to this, Emergent Church Guru Brian McLaren criticizes the Christian faith for not going along with the current fashions:

  • "For many Christians, their faith is primarily about what happens to people after they die. That distracts them from seeking justice and living in a compassionate way while we're still alive in this life. We need to go back and take another look at Jesus' teachings about hell. For so many people, the conventional teaching about hell makes God seem vicious. That's not something we should let stand." (Beliefnet Interview Online)

Because the biblical revelation about eternal judgment “makes God seem vicious” for “so many people,” McLaren is determined that “That's not something we should let stand." But why should truth be a product of our tastes? What should be more important or more authoritative – our preferences or God’s? Should our preferences dictate God or should God dictate our preferences? Should our theology be man-centered or God-centered?
As obvious as these answers should be, they have become a central issue of our culture wars. What is to determine the nature of our society? Many have criticized the church for not keeping pace with society. Theistic evolutionist, Karl Giberson, gloats that theology has advanced. He remarked that no one believes in a “genocidal Old Testament deity” anymore apart from flat-earthers.

Truly, a God of eternal judgment is out of fashion today, but should he be? Do we have any rational or Biblical reasons to discount the existence of a punitive, righteous, and judgmental God? Here are some considerations in favor of such a God:

To deny that God is vengeful is to deny the entirety of the Bible and to surrender any claim to be a follower of Jesus, who talked more about hell than anyone else.

We judge. We judge our children, our subordinates, our students and our criminals. We have courts, police and prisons. To judge the God of judgment when we ourselves judge is hypocritical.

Love requires judgment. If we love, we will protect, even if it means sequestering those who represent a threat to society. Also, punishment is a way of loving the wayward. Without painful consequences, people often learn anti-social behaviors. If we spare the rod, we spoil the child and the student. There has to be accountability.

Without the threat of eternal judgment, moral conduct will lose a significant negative motivator. Studies have confirmed that in societies where this is not a consideration, morality suffers. Humanity requires, not only positive reinforcement, but also negative. Without this, life is deprived of much of its meaning! Being good then becomes a fool’s vocation. Similarly, if all students receive an “A+,” why bother working?

Without the reality of eternal judgment, the reality of mercy and grace is undermined. If we don’t rightly deserve eternal judgment, then there is little justification for mercy, grace and forgiveness. The logic of salvation suggests that we have been saved from a horrible fate.

The absence of eternal judgment – the universality of salvation – might encourage an entitlement mentality. We therefore might begin to think that we are entitled to eternal life. It also conveys the erroneous idea that our behavior really doesn’t matter that much. And if God is unconcerned about ultimate justice, why then should we!

The reality of such deadly consequences induces us to be compassionate. If there are no ultimate consequences, there is no sufficient reason to be concerned about the welfare of others. After all, everyone will be fine in the end!

Knowing that God is the ultimate arbiter of justice frees us up to love others. Because we trust that He will avenge, we need not avenge the wrongs ourselves (Romans 12:14 – 13:4).  With this obligation off of our shoulders, we are liberated so that we can attend to the needs of others.

God’s very nature requires justice! Judgment and justice often transcend pragmatic considerations. We cannot find rest until the wrongdoer is brought to justice. The imposition of justice is often necessary for a family or a community to move on. If there isn’t a justice system in place, we naturally seek revenge, something that, if it is allowed to proceed unchecked, will undo society. If we are this way, and we have been created in the image of God, what is wrong if God also requires justice?

It is possible that heaven could not be heaven without justice. As the cancer must be removed for health, perhaps the unrepentant must be removed in order for the rest of humanity to enjoy the bliss of heaven.

Whenever a Christian argues that God must accomplish His loving purposes in a certain  way, the skeptic will counter:

  • Well, if God is good and He is omnipotent, then He can accomplish His purposes without suffering or…..
However, this objection fails to understand God’s omnipotence. Against the skeptics’ challenge, God cannot do anything. There is much He cannot do. He cannot sin; He cannot go against His nature or His promises. Perhaps also, He cannot go against logic. This means that God can accomplish anything He wants to accomplish but not in any manner. Perhaps, therefore, hell is necessary for reasons that transcend our understanding.

We have a very limited understanding of God’s entire program and the constraints He imposes upon it. Why are the skies blue instead of green? Why is the grass green and not blue? We cannot answer these basic questions. Why does God not save everyone if He could save undeserving me? I cannot answer this.

Maturity requires that we live with some degree of cognitive tension. I cannot understand everything that the Bible communicates. Sometimes, I am left in a state of perplexity. However, if we are honest, we must admit that science also leaves us perplexed. We don’t even understand the basics – the nature of light, time, space and matter. Many of science’s findings even seem to be contradictory. Does this mean that we reject science? Of course not! Science has validated itself in so many ways that we are willing to tolerate its “absurdities.”

Do we reject the biblical God because we cannot get our mind around His entire revelation? Of course not! If we are willing to accept the science about the creation--and the creation is less profound that its Cause--we should not be so quick to reject the biblical revelation of the Creator, simply because we cannot fully understand Him. The god we can fully comprehend is a god of our own creation, one unworthy of our worship.

McLaren wants a God that will conform to his lifestyle and understanding rather than truth. It is tantamount to saying, “I will only receive the findings of science that I can get my mind around. I will reject any findings that violate my sensibilities.”

This, however, is no way to do science. It is also no way to do theology.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Government that Fails to Respect Religion Fails to Respect its People

More than 60 lawsuits have been filed against the Affordable Care Act. ObamaCare requires most employers to provide contraception at no cost to employees, even if it violates their religious convictions and also the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. According to the Religion News Service, the administration is making few concessions:

  • The Obama administration on Friday (June 28) issued final rules for religious groups for its controversial contraception mandate, maintaining its position on who qualifies for religious exemption and allowing no carve-outs for [religious] private business owners.
According to Gregory S. Baylor, a lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom:

  • “The Obama administration insists on waging war on religious freedom, and the final rule issued today confirms that…On multiple levels, the president is articulating what is arguably the most narrow view of religious freedom ever expressed by an administration in this nation’s history.”
It would be one thing if the administration could demonstrate that it has a prevailing interest in limiting religious freedom in this regard. Certainly, if any religion required the sexual molestation or the sacrifice of their children to the gods, the administration would have a prevailing interest to step in.

However, the refusal of a religious employer to bankroll their employees’ sexual behavior does not seem to represent a prevailing state interest. At least, no one has tried to make such a case. Nevertheless, this deficiency did not prevent Sarah Lipton-Lubet, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, to applaud this administration’s continuing pressure on religious employers to provide insurance for procedures they regard as religiously offensive:

  • “With this rule, the administration continues to stand by women and our families and refuses to let employers use religion to discriminate.”
What does it mean to “use religion to discriminate?” This saying is no more than a mindless mantra used to deaden thinking. After all, doesn’t every law discriminate? Doesn’t the 60 mph speed limit discriminate against those who wish to drive beyond this limit? Isn’t every judgment predicated upon values/religious judgments? Cannot this charge – using “religion to discriminate” - also be brought against the secularist? Aren’t the religion, worldview, philosophy and values of this administration being used to discriminate against those who believe it is immoral to be coerced into providing services that violate their conscience? If Christianity is vilified because it makes religious value judgments, why can’t this administration also be vilified for the same reason? Requiring the provision of birth control pills is no less religious that resisting this provision.

Isn’t it therefore hypocritical to charge Christians for “discriminating,” when it is this administration that is discriminating against Christians, especially in light of the protections granted by the Constitution? How can the ACLU charge that Christians are discriminating by simply refusing to pay for someone else’s birth control pills? Who is discriminating against whom? It is like putting a gun to the head of Christian employers and threatening to shoot if they don’t provide them with birth control pills.

This is not a difficult issue to resolve, as one attorney observed:

  • “The easy way to resolve this would have been to exempt sincere religious employers completely, as the Constitution requires…Instead, this issue will have to be decided in court.”
Interestingly, our government has never been so coercive. Traditionally, the nation has respected diversity. The Supreme Court approved the classification of “conscientious objector” for those who could demonstrate a sincere religious conviction against warfare, even though this ruling negatively impacted the others who would then have to fill the gap. The Court allowed Jehovah’s Witnesses the right to not Pledge Allegiance. However, this historical respect for religious diversity is quickly disappearing in this administration’s mad quest for moral uniformity.

Meanwhile, Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, claims that people of faith must conform to the times:

  • “The government has already bent over backwards to accommodate these groups…These churches are out of step with the times, and it’s time for the government to stop bending.”
Why must the church fall into “step with the times?” Must everyone jump on the bandwagon of today’s social fashions? According to Lynn, religion must be no more than an advocate of the status quo, a mindless, blind mirror of the times. Consequently, in the thinking of many, it is illegitimate for religion to claim a transcendent inspiration that can possibly trump the prevailing moral order.

Has Lynn considered the implications of his reasoning? If there is nothing transcendent to trump our social whims, then there is no way to contest Hitler’s program. He too argued that Germans had to be in “step with the times.”

It is ironic to find liberals, who had understandably been mistrustful of power and police states, now advocating “for the government to stop bending,” but instead for everyone else to bend in the direction of power. Why?  Simply because the churches will not conform to “the times!” And why should we?

The requirement that religious employers bankroll the sexual behaviors of their employees is frivolous. If our rights can so easily be trampled by such frivolity, this sets a dangerous precedent that whenever the interest of the government clashes for the free exercise of religion, the government wins! Lynn should not be so myopic. He should instead be concerned that the next administration might trample down his rights!

Perhaps even more troubling, if the administration succeeds in coercing Christian employers to compromise their faith, the slippery slope becomes an unavoidable reality:

  • Well, I compromised on this mandate. No big deal! I can also compromise on paying taxes, lying, or satisfying my own sexual, extra-marital needs.
To capitulate is to harden our conscience. Once we capitulate and fail to repent, we open the door for further compromises. If we then see what has happened to us and repent, we will either be forced out of business by these mandates or go to jail. It’s that serious!

As the Fed grows bigger, we grow smaller. Conformity becomes compulsory! We become an empty shell, too small to resist the indoctrinating voices swirling around us and too shamed by our compromises to exercise our own voice.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Has Education Argued the Church out of Existence?

Ever since Karl Marx had famously declared that “religion is the opiate of the [uneducated] masses,” secularists have been nodding approval. The secularist claims that as a population becomes more educated, the less they will fall for religion.

However, Mary Eberstadt, Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. has brought forth a competing explanation. She claims that the waning of Christianity is not the result of more education but of less family. She assembles an impressive collection of studies to demonstrate that church-goers are not primarily made up of the uneducated:

  1. British historian Hugh McLeod concluded that “the poorest districts of [1870-1914 England] thus tended to have the lowest rates of [church] attendance, [and] those with large upper-middle-class and upper-class populations the highest.”
  1. Historian Callum Brown also concluded that, “the [English] working class were irreligious, and that the middle classes were the churchgoing bastions of civil morality.” 
  1. Putnam and Campbell concluded that, “This trend is clearly contrary to any idea that religion is nowadays providing solace to the disinherited and dispossessed, or that higher education subverts religion.”
  1. Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox concluded that “Americans with college degrees are more likely than those with high school diplomas alone to attend church on Sunday. Moreover, the statistical likelihood of attending church varies inversely with the social ladder from bottom to top.”
Meanwhile, Eberstadt claims that:

  • Social science has roundly established that vibrant families and vibrant religion go hand in hand. Conversely, not living in a family means that a given individual is less likely to be found in church.
Likewise, Wilcox concluded:

  • The recent history of American religion illuminates what amounts to a sociological law: The fortunes of American religion rise with the fortunes of the intact, married family. (Christian Research Journal, Vol. 36, #03, 22).
However, Eberstadt’s conclusions seem to defy a massive amount of anecdotal evidence coming from evangelists and missionaries who have concluded that it is the downtrodden who are most receptive to the Gospel. Besides, Scripture also seems to agree:

  • Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)
It therefore would seem that we should find the least accomplished and educated in our churches. Is there any way to reconcile Eberstadt’s findings with these other considerations?

I think that there is. Initially, the church is comprised of the downtrodden - society’s rejects. However, they don’t remain rejects. By the next generation, their children are entering college.

This is what we find when we examine the older, mainline churches. Their members have become accomplished and educated. Meanwhile, their satisfied and well-fed children fail to see the relevance of God to well-being and have been leaving the mainline churches in droves.

In contrast, the newer churches – and these are more Bible-centered – appeal to the less accomplished. However, it is in these churches that the drug addict, alcoholic, and wife-beater can best find healing.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Our Struggles and How to Deal with them

There are some aches and pains – some heaviness of spirit – that are simply prayer- resistant. No matter how many people we have praying for us or the depth of our own faith, some infirmities will doggedly remain. Why? While sometimes, it is God’s will to deliver us, there are times when this is not part of His will.

For example, take Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” After Paul had prayed numerous times for God to remove it, God’s answer was “no!” Without this infirmity, Paul would have become insufferably proud to his own detriment, as God’s servant. Instead, this thorn would make him weak so that he would become and remain strong in the Lord (2 Cor. 12:7-11).

On other occasions, God did deliver him from painful trials, but first he had to learn a necessary lesson:

·        We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:8-9)

There is no secret to getting God to remove the yoke of trials. If anyone claims that there is one, just show him these verses:

·        We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Cor. 4:10-11)

Trials have been ordained as part of our daily diet – our daily bread. We require them! If we are going to manifest Jesus in our lives, the old self must continually be put to death. No pain, no gain!

Meanwhile, how do we deal these trials? I must admit that I have been struggling lately with numerous afflictions. Perhaps the Lord will remove them, and perhaps He won’t. I continue to pray and have others join with me in prayer, but I also look for the joy to carry me through them. This continually turns me back to the Scriptures. Hebrews informs us of how Jesus appropriated this joy:

·        Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. (Hebrews 12:1-3; NKJV – all others are NIV as usual)

How are we to resist discouragement and the temptation to sin? Hebrews doesn’t say that if we just pray long enough and hard enough, the pains will disappear. Instead, we are to endure by looking to Jesus’ example! He took His eyes off the temporal – the expectation of the Cross – and set them upon the eternal ((2 Cor. 4:16-18). He was able to endure because of the “joy that was set before Him” – His glorious return to the Father.

How are we to do this? I think that our focus must be heavenward. We have to meditate day and night (Psalm 1) on those verses that illuminate our ultimate hope (Phil. 4:8-9).

Jude completes his doom and gloom epistle with an admonition about this hope:

·        To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—(Jude 24)

Despite the apostasy Jude had detailed, he promised that God was not only able to keep us but also to present us “before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” Clearly, the promise of “great joy” transcends this world. Instead, we are admonished to look towards the fulfillment of this hope in the next world.

Hebrews informs us that Abraham didn’t live in a palace but in a tent. His hopes were therefore invested in another place:

·        For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10)

We are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13), and our hope is in another world – the very thing that our Lord wants:

·        Instead, they [people of faith] were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:16)

Our hope has to be invested in the Promised Land, and trials will enable us to have this hope:

·        Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

Peter reasons that without the “painful trial,” we will not be overjoyed when our Lord is revealed. Instead, we will be too comfortable here and probably tell Him, “Lord, great to see you, but could you just postpone for a couple of months. We have an awards dinner coming up and a trip to the Bahamas. And then there’s the new Chronicles of Narnia movie!”

It’s not easy to envision heaven. However, John assures us that we will be just like Him:

·        Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

This hope has to be primary for us. It is also transformational. John suggests that, before all else, heaven will be a matter of being with Him and like Him. However, he does not help us to envision what this will look like. However, other verses give us an inkling:

1.      We will be immortal (1 Cor. 15:53-54).
2.      We will be perfect in knowledge (1 Cor. 13:12).
3.      We will shine like the sun (Mat. 13:43).
4.      There will be no tears or curse (Isa. 25:7-8; Rev. 21:4)
5.      We will judge the world (1 Cor. 6:2-3) and minister to the nations (Rev. 22:1-5).

I want my focus to be heavenward. I intend to memorize Revelation 22:1-17 to keep me focused there. However, Hebrews also gives us another hardball admonition about dealing with life’s hardships. It’s one that I need – one that unmasks my self-pity. We mustn’t be tempted to think that our problems are so much greater than those of others:

·        In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." (Proverbs 3:11-12) Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:4-11)

Others have shed blood and have experienced horrible forms of victimization. I haven’t. In comparison, my suffering is minimal. Besides, we must never forget that these afflictions are a sign of God’s love. Hebrews also reminds us that it’s going to be painful. We shouldn’t expect to be able deny the pain away, but there’s a reason for this – spiritual growth.

Our eyes do not tell us everything we’d like to know. Neither does the Bible, but it does tell us what we need to know. It may not be a GPS, but it is a trustworthy roadmap. It may not tell us everything about our sojourn, but it does give us the final chapter, and this hope will win over our thoughts and dreams.

AN ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: Although prayer may not get us everything we want, it can give us what we really need - the peace of God:

  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philip. 4:6-7)
This is His promise to us! 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Honest Interpretation, the Episcopal Church, and Apostasy


Often, when mainline church leaders are challenged about their liberal interpretation of the Scriptures, they defend themselves by saying:

  • Well, we also believe that all Scripture is God-breathed. We just interpret it differently than you.
However, I wonder whether our differences are a matter of honest interpretation or our prior commitment to a particular philosophy, which we impose upon Scripture, coercing Scripture to agree with us. Here’s an interesting example. Luke wrote:

  • One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. (Acts 16:16-19) 
Frankly, I can’t say with any assurance why Paul was “very much annoyed.” This spirit-possessed slave girl was evidently speaking Gospel-truth. Perhaps she said it in a disruptive or mocking manner? We don’t know. However, Paul reached a point where he had had enough and cast the spirit (demon) out of her. Consequently, she was no longer able to reveal hidden knowledge and make money for her owners.

However, according to BishopJefferts Schori, head of the Episcopal Church, USA, “Paul was guilty of failing to value diversity, to see the slave girl’s beautiful difference”:

  • “Paul is annoyed at the slave girl…She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves. But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness. Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.”
However amusing Schori’s imaginative interpretation might be, it was clearly miles away from what Luke had intended to convey. Luke never gave his readers the slightest hint that Paul ever attempted to deprive anyone of God’s gift! Schori’s idea that Paul sought to deprive “her of her gift of spiritual awareness” flies in the face of everything we know about Paul – a man who consistently sacrificed his life to build up the church.

Furthermore, if a holy spirit from God had been cast out by Paul, there is absolutely no precedent for such a thing anywhere in Scripture. It would mean that God Himself was casting out His own servants – an unthinkable impossibility! Instead, Luke identifies the resulting problem for Paul as the fact that the owners were now deprived of their income, not that Paul had done anything unrighteous or that he didn’t “honor diversity.”

Why does Schori resort to such an impossible interpretation? Evidently, she has a commitment to an alternative philosophy of life – one that will not restrict her or others to certain sexual norms. How will such a pre-commitment affect interpretation? It will relativise it. In other words, Paul’s teachings and behavior are no longer the product of the Holy Spirit, but rather his own limitations – personal and societal. It also means that we are now free to take the teachings in any manner we so choose in order to justify our lifestyle!

Clearly, despite her protestations otherwise, Schori doesn’t believe that Scripture is God-breathed. How then do such people rise to the head of our churches? Can say for sure, but it certainly was prophesied. When Paul addressed his beloved Ephesian elders for the last time, he revealed his pain:

  • I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:29-32)
“Savage wolves” will arise from the midst of the church and tear it down by distorting the truth. His prime concern was never the plague, invading armies, or even the Romans, but the distortion of the Bible. What was Paul’s answer? Unwavering alertness and discernment! From where would this come? From God and the “word of his grace!” As the distortion would tear the church down, it is Scripture that would “build you up and give you an inheritance.”

It is therefore my prayer that my own agenda or philosophy will never interfere with my understanding or the teaching of His Word. Above all else, I want to honor Him! This is life and truth! This must also become the prayer of us all!

Alan Chambers, Exodus, and Making Judgments

I think it’s always important to revisit our understanding of salvation in light of the biblical teaching. There are just too many appealing counterfeits!

Just recently, Alan Manning Chambers, the president of Exodus International, a ministry designed to help gays exit that lifestyle announced that it would close its doors. He apologized to the gay community for whatever offense Exodus might have caused, saying:

·         “From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.”

Yes, we are all prodigals. We had all rejected God, slamming our door in His face (Rom. 3:10-18). Therefore, none of us deserve anything good from Him. Consequently, we all stand naked before Him in need of His mercy.

However, Chambers insists that “Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to…make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom.” Of course, none of us are worthy of the Kingdom. We all agree that inclusion must be a matter of His grace.

But does this mean that the church is never to “make [any] judgments?” Clearly, Jesus taught that the church must make judgments about sin, however distasteful this teaching has become today:

·         “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever [sins] you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mat.18:15-18)

There are several judgments involved here. The offended party judges that a wrong has been done. He then confronts the alleged transgressor with his sin. Finally, the church will exercise the ultimate judgment of dis-fellowship if the offender remains unrepentant. If the offender refuses to repent (“listen”), the church will bind his sin. This communicates to the unrepentant that he is still in his sin before God, who has given the church the authority to express His own judgment.

After the risen Lord visited His fearful disciples locked behind closed doors, He commissioned them to make judgments:

·         If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:23)

Although I don’t think that God has given us the power to forgive sins – only He can forgive sins – He has given the church the authority to declare when sins are forgiven and when they are retained – to make judgments. Jesus has also given the church the authority to restore the repentant sinner:

·         “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.  Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:3-4)

Following the example of our Lord, we must pray for the unrepentant. However, we should not receive him back into fellowship unless he first repents. This is a matter of making judgments.

In contrast, Chambers declared:

·         We’re not going to tell them how they should live…you are not the Holy Spirit. [Instead] We are called upon to proclaim the truth of who God is.

Clearly, “we are called upon to proclaim the truth of who God is.” However, in contrast with Chambers’ position, this includes an understanding of what God thinks about sin, confession and repentance. And rather than leaving these concerns to the Holy Spirit, we are required to be His ambassadors, bearing His message of reconciliation – a message that includes the requirement of repentance.

Chambers had previously stated that he doesn’t believe that repentance is a necessary condition for either salvation or fellowship. Instead, he believes that the church must “welcome everyone” into fellowship, regardless of whether or not they are repentant. For Chambers, setting aside this requirement represents “love unhindered.” Love, therefore, is a matter of accepting the unrepentant gay into the household of God, even if they refuse to repent of their lifestyle. Also, his stance against “making judgments” represents a complete rejection of any church discipline. (Ironically, Chambers was very critical of the church and also what Exodus had become!)

Well, isn’t it unloving to require the sinner to repent? Shouldn’t the church instead practice unconditional love by removing any barrier to salvation and fellowship? Not according to the Apostle Paul.  He was very explicit about the need to make judgments:

·         I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.  But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. (1 Cor. 9-11)

To our ears, this sounds unduly harsh. Yet Paul reasoned that this action, in the long run, is an expression of love. On many occasions he argued that if the church allows flagrant unrepented sin in its midst, it is calling for its own demise:

·         You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough”The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. (Gal. 5:7-10)

Allowing a little sin would corrupt the church. He compared it to a little bit of yeast affecting the entire loaf of bread.

Paul also argued that allowing the unrepentant to go without correction could incur negative eternal consequences if he is allowed to continue uncorrected (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim.1:20).

To not judge was to not love! James also taught that the church needed to correct those caught in sin:

·         My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

Contrary to the logic of our age, judging is actually loving. Calling the sinner to repentance might be the greatest gift we can give. Perhaps Chambers and Exodus hadn’t been loving towards gays. Chambers confessed that he hadn’t been honest about his own feelings. Such a confession is commendable. However, there is nothing commendable about substituting the logic of this age for Scripture by not calling our friends to repentance.

Repentance is relationally healing. It’s restorative! There is nothing that will restore my wife and I quicker than an honest and complete confession of sin! And sometimes we need to be confronted about sin before this healing can take place. The same pertains to the church. Sin spreads like a cancer. It must be identified and addressed. If we care, we will sometimes confront.

In the Book of Revelation, God confronted each of seven churches. This was followed by His demand that they repent of their sins, lest He would fight against them (2:16; 3:3) or bring great tribulation (2:22). God makes judgments; so must we!

In opposition to the spirit of this age, the two churches which judged its members were commended (2:2; 2:14), while the one church which failed to judge was condemned (2:20). Consequently, when we fail to address the sins of others, we are culpable before God.

Instead, Chambers chafes that the church has become “an institution of rules.” Although rules can become oppressive and discriminatory, following God’s “rules” is a matter of faithfulness when performed graciously. In fact, every institution needs rules; every encounter is based upon shared understandings and respect for certain boundaries – whether explicit or implicit. We must also respect God’s boundaries.

Repentance is not only necessary for salvation, as so many verses assert, the fruits of repentance are inseparable from a true and living faith. The Apostle John provided the church with a number of ways they could know whether they were saved or whether they needed to confess and repent:

·         If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7)

Walking in darkness is not an option. If we hope to be purified from sin, we must have a biblical trust in Christ – one that honors Him with our lives. If we are unwilling to honor Him, then we are simply unwilling to trust. Our behavior and our faith can no more be separated than removing our head from our body.

If I trust my doctor, I will do what he tells me to do. If I refuse, then I don’t really trust Him. If a gay trusts in Christ, he will attempt to do what Christ wants him to do. If he fails – and we all fail – he can confess his sins and be confident that he is forgiven and cleansed (1 John 1:9). If he refuses to sincerely confess, then he shows that he doesn’t trust in the Lord. Instead, he has placed his trust in his own judgments.

We are deluding ourselves if we claim that we have a relationship with Him while we refuse to obey Him:

·         Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.  But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

If we refuse to live as Jesus did, we refuse Him! To truly love a gay person means to confront them humbly and patiently about their refusal, in hope that they will see the light and come to repentance. It’s our duty:

·         And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

The sinner must come to repentance. This is the only way to be saved! To receive the sinner when the Lord does not receive him is to give him a false hope and to cheat him of the one true hope. Enabling the gay person is not love. Similarly, enabling the heroin addict is not love. Both require straight talk.

Faithfulness to our Lord will not win us friends. He never promised that it would:

·         “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”

The one who loves is often the one who is hated. That’s the lesson of the Cross.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Dialogue with Two Muslim Apologists

Many will disagree with the way I interact with Muslims, but I thought it might be profitable to publish this exchange and hear your responses. I will begin the exchange with the final and perhaps best response by one of the Muslim apologists:

MUSLIM APOLOGIST: In the end of the day you have the same narrow-mindedness as the extremists and terrorists you condemn. Just like they see things twisted and black and white and ignore the vast Scholastic tradition of Islam, so do you. This is counter-productive to your "goal." Your aim is to defeat radicalism and terrorism right? So is mine. Yet you legitimise the extremists and help them establish their corruption as the true version of Islam, like they think themselves. Isn't that ironic? Why don't you help us Traditionalists to further marginalise the extremists? Isn't it a better and more palatable version of Islam and more conducive to peace? Why do you reject us and open your arms to the extremist and corrupt version of Islam? Oy vey!


ME: I want you to know that I did appreciate your response. My heart even goes out to your invitation to oppose extremism together. I also want you to know that, as a Christian, I have a deep regard for those who have placed God above everything else in their lives.

However, I have deep doubts that Muslims can live together peaceably and equally with others (even with other Islamic sects). Here are my doubts:

  1. Even though I find many Muslims highly likeable, I never know if I can trust them because of their doctrine of Taqiyya which authorizes them to lie to the infidel (kufr) to promote Islam. 
  1. Along with this are the various Koranic verses that forbid a Muslim to befriend a Christian for any other reason than Dawa (making converts).
  1. Even though there are genuine disagreements between the “extremists” and Muslims like yourself, it seems that the disagreements are peripheral – disagreements about strategy and not fundamentals. It is apparent that the vast majority of Muslims (even Western Muslims) still want to impose Shariah Law on the rest of us forcing us to live in submission to Islam. This is what the surveys show!
  1. Although I agree with you that there have been other, more liberal Islamic interpretive traditions, I question how significant they are or will be. They seem to have little influence. All Muslim countries seem to hold to the doctrine of Abrogation (even if not formally) in which Allah has substituted the later more violent verses for the earlier more peaceful ones. Consequently, in all Islamic nations, the religious minorities must live in fear and subjection to Islam. I can see little hope that this situation will be different in the West if Islam prevails.
  1. Indeed, when you and Ismaeel have resorted to personally attacking me, even though I have been perfectly honest with the both of you, it tells me that you are still part of the Islam that refuses any criticism and consequently any real dialogue. If I am wrong, please prove me so!
  1. Dhimmitude has been a painful reality throughout Islamic history and it continues to be so.
If you are serious about unmasking the “Islam” of the extremists, then challenge them to a public debate in English about the real Islam. (And I’m sure that they would jump at such an opportunity!) Go on record publicly about your true beliefs. Perhaps then some degree of trust can be established.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Adult Pigs, Abortion and Richard Dawkins

Generally, I feel psychologically quite safe and secure. This is because my security, significance and identity does not depend upon my performance, comparative abilities or deteriorating physical condition. It depends on one thing alone – the omnipotent, immutable God who loves me and gave His life for me. In fact, His Word assures me that He loves me with a love that goes beyond anything I can conceive (Eph. 3:16-20).

I didn’t always feel this way, but rather the opposite. I would feel creepy and self-conscious around others, because my self-concept depended upon me and their assessment of me. In Transactional Analysis terms, they were OK but I wasn’t. I was always on probation.

This is the materialistic, earth-bound, people-bound perspective. Being human requires that we have a self-concept as much as it does that we have a name. However, when this self-concept is defined materialistically and socially, our psychological well-being is always in the balance. Consequently, we value ourselves in the way we perceive society values us. Without God, this is inevitable!

The evolutionist Richard Dawkins is a materialist. Value must consequently be derived socially and not Transcendentally. Recently, he tweeted:

  • With respect to the meanings of “human” that are relevant to the morality of abortion, any fetus is less human than an adult pig.
From where does Dawkins derive the criteria by which he can make such an assessment? He also tweeted:

  • Human features relevant to the morality of abortion include ability to feel pain, fear etc. & to be mourned by others. (Salvo, Summer 2013, 45)
In other words, we are worth more than a pig because we experience more pain, fear and mourning than do pigs. Consequently, if we are fetuses and don’t have these feelings to the same extent that adults have them, we are worth less – less than adult pigs.

We are left wondering how Dawkins can possibly know that humans suffer, fear, and are mourned more than adult pigs. Dawkins’ proposal also raises many questions:

  1. Would sufferers from PTSD therefore have more value than those who don’t since they are experiencing more fear?
  2. Are we of less value when we are sleeping, since we experience these feelings less intensely? (Dawkins can avoid this dilemma by tweaking his ideas by talking about the potential of experiencing these feelings. However, if he did that, he would undermine his case in favor of abortion!)
  3. As we age and our mental and emotional capacities begin to fail us, do we then become as expendable as pigs?
  4. If the fetus doesn’t have the value of an adult pig, why then the elderly? Should we just get rid of them because they are wasting scarce resources?
These are only a few of the many troubling questions that can be raised if society becomes supreme in assigning human worth. Such thinking is opening the door to a fearful “New World,” one in which the “golden years” may turn tragically into the bloody years.

I am surprised that Dawkins didn’t mention “education, productivity and intelligence,” as others have suggested, as criteria for assigning value. I would guess that he is silent about these because they are rightly associated with repugnant elitism. They suggest that the elite have more of a reason to live than do others, who are consequently more expendable.

However, whichever set of criteria society might adopt, it still remains that society assigns our value according to their own needs and whims. Therefore, if you are deemed to be one for whom others will mourn, you have more value than one who is less popular.

Such ideas can only engender distrust and insecurity and perhaps even the breakdown of society. If the adult pig is more valuable than the fetus or the infirmed or mentally ill, then our laws should be adjusted to protect the more valuable members.

What a horror – extending more rights to those socially deemed to be more valuable! Talk about co-dependency! Such ideas will reduce us to mere dependents upon the Big Brother Society, which not only can then hurt us physically but also deprive us of our sense of self. If this reconfiguration doesn’t engender bitterness, it will certainly make us fearful.

With the proliferation of such materialistic thinking, the elderly are now afraid to go to the hospital in certain Western countries, fearful lest their doctor or hospital deems them unworthy of life. Even worse, our grandmother will wonder whether we value her enough to keep her around.

Our Lord gives us something incalculably necessary for a robust human existence – His love and gracious valuation. Before Him, we are sacred and require, not only legal protection, but also the highest regards. We therefore can bask in the assurance of His estimation, no matter what others might think of us.

Interestingly, this assurance frees us up to sincerely love others. When we don’t need their opinions and valuation of us, we are then free to take our eyes off of our dependent self and to place them upon their needs!

Does Dawkins have any idea of this new world that he is inviting in? I think that he does. However, he needs to be consistent with his materialistic model, even if it leads to a hell on earth. As the Bible promises, we reap the fruit of our own doing. When we reject God, we also reject life!