Sunday, May 31, 2009

Son of the Jailbreaker: An Officer and a Gentleman

Occasionally I reserve the right to indulge in some gloating on behalf of my particular Air Force calling. This time I will do so on behalf of my friend, brother and blogging colleague, the Jailbreaker, whose son Billy just graduated from the Air Force Academy, and was commissioned a second lieutenant!

Jailbreaker Jr. spent nearly his entire childhood in Japan, following his parents' calling to minister the gospel of Jesus Christ there. He attended Japanese schools and speaks the language fluently. Mr. and Mrs. Jailbreaker had to work very hard, therefore, to ensure he and his lovely sisters, Anna and Carolyn, received additional American instruction so that they would be able to integrate back into our society when the time came. All three have done marvelously, and are a tribute to their own hard work as well as their parents' dedication to Christ and to their children. I am supremely proud to call them all my friends.

Oh, and as long as we're on the Air Force topic, my change of command is fast approaching. It will take place at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington DC at 10:00 AM. For those interested in attending, the invitation is open. (Note: If you use Firefox, it may give you a security warning when you click the link ... please be assured the site is perfectly safe and secure).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Isn't That Special?" -- Demise of the Church Lady

Whatever became of the Church Lady?
In 1986, [Dana] Carvey became a household name when he joined the cast of NBC's Saturday Night Live ... His breakout character was The Church Lady, the uptight, smug, and pious host of "Church Chat." Carvey said he based the character on women he knew from his church growing up, who would keep track of his and others' attendance.
Carvey's character was both funny and tragic because she was a caricature. During the height of the Moral Majority political movement, the frumpy, pharisaic Church Lady was just identifiable enough to be almost plausible. The character "worked" because she represented an over-the-top rendition of the church's worst, most sanctimonious impulses. Everyone loved to hate the Church Lady!

Over two decades later, the bit probably wouldn't work quite as well, as the stereotypical Church Lady's church has receded. American Christianity has become increasingly diffuse and diverse, and the old church buildings are gradually emptying. "Good!" you say, "Leave that garbage behind!" But what is replacing it?

George Barna recently calculated that 66% of the American population is made up of what he calls "Casual Christians", which he describes as "minimally active born again Christians and moderately active but theologically nominal Christians". It won't come as a surprise that this squishy group vastly outnumbers Barna's "Captive Christians", who compose just 16% of the population:
The lives of Captive Christians are defined by their faith; their worldview is built around their core spiritual beliefs and resultant values. Casual Christians are defined by the desire to please God, family, and other people while extracting as much enjoyment and comfort from the world as possible. The big difference between these two tribes is how they define a successful life. For Captives, success is obedience to God, as demonstrated by consistently serving Christ and carrying out His commands and principles. For Casuals, success is balancing everything just right so that they are able to maximize their opportunities and joys in life without undermining their perceived relationship with God and others. Stated differently, Casuals are about moderation in all things while Captives are about extreme devotion to their God regardless of the worldly consequences.
So there you have it: we are a nominally Christian nation inhabited by comparatively few true believers. So what of the church as an institution--is it time to blow it up and start over?

Unfortunately, it's much easier to dismantle the old than it is to build up the new from the ashes. We all pine for a 21st Century version of the Acts 2 church, but in 2,000 years, how often has that actually happened? Does the evidence not suggest that instead of a fresh and spontaneous spirituality, the demise of the American church will bring about a future that resembles today's post-Christian (and increasingly Muslim) western Europe?

Faced with such a prospect, should our impulse be to join in celebration of the wretched institutional church's demise? Perhaps we ought to instead redirect our energy toward re-energizing and refocusing the faithful, many of whom may still be found laboring faithfully away in the obsolete buildings with the quaint little steeples.

Sanctimony travels in both directions, and while there are still many Church Ladies (and Men) polluting the landscape, judgmentalism may also be found among the "enlightened" among us. Rather than trashing and abandoning the church, I recommend we use our energy to heed our Lord's command to the "dead" church at Sardis: "Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die ... what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent".

Monday, May 25, 2009

Don't Judge Me Dude!

An earlier post on the topic of judging others brought to the surface the tension between the clear Scriptural prohibition against this practice, and our equally clear responsibility to correct and rebuke one another when our theology or our behavior merits it. Many excellent points were made during the ensuing discussion, but it's clear that there's lots of confusion at the juncture between these two concepts.

It may be said that Jesus' charge to "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged" is the sinner's favorite verse, as it appears to provide a club to use against any legitimate critique of his behavior. You can almost imagine David protesting to Nathan: "Hey, dude, don't judge me!"

Now, we need to take this command seriously, of course, but we need also to take it in context, and in light of Scripture's other clear direction on the topic. In particular, Scripture very much makes me my brother's keeper, and responsible to "correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction."

So where does the line lie between a godly rebuke, such as Nathan's, and ungodly judgment such as that condemned by Jesus and Paul? I recommend looking at three things:
  1. The attitude of your heart. The ungodly, hypocritical judge holds an attitude of self-righteous arrogance. The godly rebuke comes from a heart of humble authority: Such a heart has the humility of one who knows he is himself a sinner, but also has the authority of one who isn't himself guilty and unrepentant of the same sin of which he is charging his brother.
  2. The intent of your actions. The ungodly judge intends to tear down his brother (and to thereby build himself up in comparison). The godly man corrects and rebukes in order to build up or restore his brother.
  3. The subject matter. Paul makes clear that there is nothing to be gained by judging one another about peripheral matters, such as (in his example) observance of "special days" or "food and drink". Yet when it came to Peter's public shunning of the Gentiles and tacit endorsement of Jewish customs, Paul recognized that a public rebuke was called for, as the consequences of letting this matter slide would have been catastrophic to the fledgling church at Antioch.
It is quite easy to be intimidated by the prospect of rebuking a brother or sister gone astray. Certainly we need to be humble, careful, and gracious at all times. Yet a proper rebuke is not merely excusable, it is the required, loving course when we see a believer in open, unrepentant sin or heresy, and we are in a position to speak.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

American Idol Kris Allen Leads Worship

I'm not a big American Idol fan, but it's still nice to see the latest winner, Kris Allen, performing "Greater Things" with such enthusiasm and reverence!

Hat tip: The Gypsy Road

Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day

This is Memorial Day weekend. For most of us, this means an extra day off. For some, it means what it was intended to mean. May our God bless and comfort the families of those who have paid the ultimate price for our nation, and may our nation never forget why they did it.

The United States Military Code of Conduct:

I. I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

II. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.

III. If I am captured, I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.

IV. If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me, and will back them up in every way.

V. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give only my name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.

VI. I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Come Out From Them ... and Secede?

I suppose in a country of 300+ million people, it is possible to find a group of people who will believe almost anything. Even so, it is very troubling to think that there are people who think God wants His people to do this: was founded in November of 2003 in response to the moral degeneration of American culture, and the rampant corruption among the powers that be. The initial goal was to move thousands of Christian constitutionalists to South Carolina to accelerate the return to self-government based upon Christian principles at the local and State level. This project continues to this day, with the ultimate goal of forming an independent Christian nation that will survive after the decline and fall of the financially and morally bankrupt American empire.
It is of some comfort, I suppose, that they've thus far failed to gain sufficient traction to pull this off:
We have learned, however; that the chains of our slavery and dependence upon godless government have more of a hold on us than can be broken by simply moving to another State.
This context is helpful in evaluating what they now want us to do now:
As many like-minded Christian activists pursue independent Christian living without relocating, the scope has expanded to promote "personal secession" [through] many and various tracks, wherever they can be implemented. The long process of disentanglement from idolatrous dependencies includes such practices of moving towards a home-centered economy, with intentional community, home-schooling, home-gardening, house churches, health-cost sharing, private exchange, unlicenced ministry, and any other way in which we might live free and godly lives in Christ Jesus, without prostrating ourselves to eat from the hand of the imperial magistrate.
This is a "come out from them and be separate" call. It sounds biblical in many ways, and yet what do we do with the "go into all the world" mandate? And how will we do this ...
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Pet 2:12)
... if we no longer live our lives among the pagans? Does "being separate" imply "personal secession"? More to the point for most of us, where does the balance lie between separation for purity's sake and integration for the gospel's sake?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What Did Jesus DO and WHY? Whom to Ask?

"These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." (John 14:25-26)

Earlier this month (May 8), Anonymous commented on "Holy Ostracism," and a good part of his comment can be summed up in one question he asked: "I am wondering why Paul has any say in the matter at all? Why don't we seek Jesus and what he said and did as an example for all of us?" It seemed to Jailer and me that it might be profitable to begin a series of posts in response on subjects suggested by this. This post is intended to be part of that. (The portrait to the left is El Greco's of Paul.)

If we survey the Synoptic Gospels, one fact that should jump out at us is the emphasis they all place on our Lord's final journey to Jerusalem and what happened there: Mark's Gospel being the one that is the most "action-oriented", it's often used as the starting point for attempts to organize a narrative of events. This Gospel has 16 chapters. Chapter 10, verse 1 reads, "And he left there [Capernaum] and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan." As one continues in this chapter, it's clear that this is the final journey. (Verse 32 begins, "And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, ....") In Matthew's Gospel, which has 28 chapters, it's Chapter 19 where the final journey begins in verse 1, "Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan." Luke's Gospel has 24 chapters and Chapter 18 is clearly parallel to Mark 10. By Chapter 19, it's explicit that the final journey is in view. Summing up then, we can say that, in Mark's Gospel, the final journey and its aftermath occupies 7 of 16 chapters, in Matthew's Gospel, 10 of 28 chapters, and in Luke's Gospel, 7 of 24. (Much material having to do with His final journey in Luke's Gospel can actually be found in Chapter 9. But it seems best not to overstate things by saying that 16 of the 24 chapters are focused on the end of Our Lord's ministry here.)

John's Gospel is very different in tone from the others and it can be hard to match parts of it up with a narrative thread. (In the Eastern Church, John is referred to as "The Theologian".) Nonetheless, the account of the raising of Lazarus in Chapter 11 is clearly just before the final events in Jerusalem, and, by Chapter 12, we are explicitly in Jerusalem for the last time. So 11 of the 21 chapters are concerned with the end.

Why did He go? What did He come to do? He first announced this explicitly to his disciples shortly before the final journey. This announcement came immediately after Peter's confession of Him as the Christ (Mt. 16:13-20; Mk. 8:27-30; Lk. 9:18-21). In response, He taught them "... that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly." (Mk. 8:31,32a) THIS is why He went. THIS is why He came: "... the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mk. 10:45)

What was the response of the disciples? In response to this first announcement, "... Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him." (Mk. 8:32b) And how did Our Lord respond to that? "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." (Mk. 8:33b) The impression one gets here about the understanding of the disciples is reinforced by their response to two further announcements: In the first, just after His Transfiguration and before He began His final journey, the response of the disciples was shortly thereafter to get into an argument over which of them was the greatest. (Mk. 9:30-37) In the second, just before Jericho on the final journey, the response of the disciples was chagrin over a request by James and John to sit at His right hand in His Kingdom. (Mk. 10:32-45) So, taking all this together, it seems hardly unfair to the disciples to say that, "They just didn't get it at all!"

So Our Lord told His disciples WHAT He had come to do and, briefly, WHY. But, to put it mildly, His students were nowhere near being ready to receive extended teaching on the subject. That would have to wait until after Pentecost, and He explicitly told them what that event would do for their understanding: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, ...." (John 16:13a)

Consider the difference that Pentecost would make: Just a short while before, after first hearing that Our Lord "must" go to Jerusalem and die, Peter had rebuked Him. Then, on the eve of Our Lord's death, Peter denied Him. (Mk. 14:66-72) But, on the day of Pentecost, he was able to proclaim, "This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you are seeing and hearing." (Acts 2:32,33) As for the effect that the passage of time, and the teaching of the Spirit would have on Peter's understanding, one has only to read his two letters in the New Testament to see that.

Paul, of course, was a special case: He not only "didn't get it", he had been "a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent." (1 Tim. 1:13a) How he was changed from that to a disciple of Christ is described in Acts 9, and most of us are probably familiar with what happened on "the road to Damascus". We may not be as familiar with what followed that: "For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." (Gal. 1:11,12) And Paul's progress in instruction by Christ's Spirit was not an overnight matter: "I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas ...." (Gal. 1:16b-18a)

What these men were able to do through the preaching of the gospel and the work of Christ's Spirit was a wonderful fulfillment of His promise to His disciples just before His death: "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. .... And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever." (John 14:12, 16). The writings they left behind are a priceless treasure. We should view what we see there as Our Lord's post-Penteconstal message to us. At the beginning of Luke's "Acts of the Apostles", he told Theophilus that his Gospel had "dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach" (1:1b). The inference is that the Book of Acts has to do with what He continued to do and teach through His apostles.

Some of us may have heard Augustine's dictum in regard to the Old and New Testaments that, "The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed". I'd like to suggest an expansion of that to the relationship between what we find in the Gospels, especially the Synoptic Gospels, and what we find in the Apostolic writings of the New Testament: The full meaning of what Christ came to do is, for the most part, concealed in the Gospels, because His church was not yet empowered by His Spirit to understand it. It was left to the teaching of His Apostles after Pentecost to fully reveal it. That's pretty much the opposite of the view that was proposed by Anonymous, but I think it's the right one.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Let Us Put Away Childish Things

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech ... (1 Timothy 4:12)

I may have nightmares about this for weeks.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

For Thou Shalt Heap Coals of Fire upon his Head

The year was 1988. I was a young enlisted troop at my first duty assignment in the Philippines. Widely known as the religious guy who didn't party, I would later be awarded the "Goody-Two Shoes" trophy at our unit Christmas party.

Milt sat across the aisle from me, and was among the most openly hedonistic and crass people I would ever meet. From his mouth poured an endless stream of profanity- and obscenity-laced filth. His audacity seemed to have no limits, as one day he boldly asked me if he could borrow my car so that he could go downtown and pick up a prostitute (the area off base was essentially a red-light district, and Milt was a frequent customer). This didn't seem to be a good use for my car, so I refused.

I had mostly learned to tune Milt out, but for whatever reason, one day turned out a little differently. That day, he was in rare form ... especially loud and obnoxious. Then, for no particular reason, he turned to me and called me a "bastard." As usual, I ignored him.

Jeff was Milt's buddy, but he was also his supervisor, and this one day he felt compelled to speak as such: "Hey, man, you shouldn't talk that way to him. He doesn't like it."

If this turn of events was odd to me, it was downright stunning to Milt, who immediately began arguing with Jeff. They went at it for about a minute, until Milt finally decided that Jeff really was his supervisor. Trying to save face, Milt looked over his shoulder at me, grinned sarcastically and mockingly, and said, "If I offended you, man, I apologize."

The entire scene was surreal, and I hardly knew what to say, so I said the first thing that came into my head: "Thank you, Milt, I appreciate that."

Milt was dumbstruck. He stared at me with his mouth open, but before he could say another word, Jeff erupted: "See man, I told you! You listen to me! I'm the only one keeping you out of trouble ..."

Milt turned back to his terminal sullenly: "Shut up, man. Don't talk to me."
If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat;
and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:
For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head,
and the LORD shall reward thee.

Little did I know that my "reward" on that day would be a few precious minutes of silence from that side of the aisle.

* NOTE:  Something about the idea of heaping coals of fire on someone's head makes me gravitate toward the King James translation ...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Lonely Defense of the Indefensible

I was recently engaged in a running conversation with a sincere and godly friend who'd expressed her frustration with "organized religion". I found myself in the odd place of defending the concept:
I am certainly conflicted about the topic of "organized religion". I feel like the term is almost indefensible ...
I say "indefensible" because, while many people are willing to defend their own church or denomination, seldom do we use the term "organized religion" in a sentence unless it's in the pejorative. Still ...

Almost as soon as Jesus rose from the grave, the apostles set about "organizing their religion". Norms took form, overseers were appointed, money was collected, etc. So it would seem there's something defensible in organizing--or perhaps the word is inevitable.
I noted that some of the offenses ascribed to "organized religion" are actually the sins of the congregants within the context of the organization, not the organization itself. As I told my friend:
Much of what you described sounds like Christians (real or nominal) behaving badly. Sadly, sinners are going to sin against one another. This is true inside and outside of the organized church, and among real and nominal Christians. Perhaps this is why Jesus had to command us to love one another. We're really just not that lovable.
Let me emphasize: I don't believe the visible church is above criticism. I think she deserves plenty. All I'm saying is that there is much good that occurs within her bosom:
I do know that there are wonderful people like Allen and Miriam ... who have given their lives in service to this dysfunctional family known as the "church". I remember a church-man named Dave who gently closed his wife's eyes after nursing her through terminal cancer. When asked how he did it, he said, "It was the promise I made when I married her." I recall how a dozen ladies from the church I'm in now lay on the floor of [fellow congregant] Maria's room on the night she lost her battle with cancer. I think of all of these things, and am unwilling to declare that "organized religion" is as worthless as some would proclaim.
As I've said before, I truly believe the church needs reform, sometimes radically and urgently. I'll also agree that much of the church's problems can be attributed to the tendency to organize the Holy Spirit out of our midst, so that we trust more in our processes than we do in God's power. And yet ...
For all her warts, she is the visible expression of the body of Christ in the world, and there are yet people saved, encouraged, comforted, strengthened, and honoring our Lord within her. May God have mercy on her and on us.
UPDATE: My friend writes in, and I thought her comment ought to be included here, so I have "promoted" it from below the fold, so to speak ...
Thanks for the sincere and godly compliment. To continue our discussion...

"that we trust more in our processes than we do in God's power"

I think you hit the nail on the head here. The main problem with what I view as "organized religion" is that people often hold on so tight to their rules and regulations, their favorite verses, and doctrinal theseses, that God becomes secondary. In many ways it reminds me of the Jews in Jesus's time who had become so wrapped up in God's laws that they forgot about God himself.

I am not against organized religion, I think it is necessary, and good when done correctly. Unfortunately I feel like we are living in a time where the religion in many cases has become more important than the faith.

You left out an important part of our conversation that I think your readers should hear. You said, "I tend to think that the phenomenon that gives our natural judgmentalism fuel is the fact that we live in the light of a once-ascendant Christianity. We find it easy to be fractious and judgmental because we are free to do so. For us, "persecution" is when we can't put a creche at town hall or when our office mates don't invite us to dinner parties. We have the blessing and the curse of our ease, and therefore the luxury of easy religion."

I think there is a lot to this argument. With no one to really argue with, we argue among ourselves instead. It is almost as though we NEED to be persecuted and the differences between doctrines becomes the catalyst. I guess my problem is that the very people persecuting me are people I feel are brothers and sisters in Christ. I don't have the desire for a fight so I simply take the quiet way out and leave.

I would love to hear what your other readers have to say in regard to this issue as it is one I continue to struggle with and ponder.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Love With Me on Mothers Day

Mrs. Jailer is an incredible wife, friend, lover and mom. Today is a great day to reprise a portion of the speech I gave publicly during my last change of command ceremony (with the Air Force) in 2007. It took place in a deployed environment, so that she was unable to attend:
And yet there is another, who is not here, who has earned great honor. She is my wife Richelyn, who stepped up to the challenge of running the Powell house solo over the past year. I could be focused here, because of the confidence I had in her there. The Old Testament book of Proverbs describes the wife of noble character as being worth more than rubies … strong, industrious, generous, wise, dignified. She is all these things and more. It says, “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her … give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” I’m here today to tell you that she has earned that praise at this gate. She is my great joy and treasure.
I am truly the most blessed of men. This song was sung at our wedding (not by Jason Lon Jacobs, though he does it exceptionally well), and still tugs at my heart strings today:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Segregated Church

My family and I currently attend an "ethnic" church, populated largely by Filipinos. This is a new circumstance for me, and I haven't altogether come to a conclusion of what to think about it.

In past conversations, Presbyter has expressed discomfort with this arrangement on the basis of Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Moreover, a pastor friend of mine has told me, "I have great trouble with a church planting endeavor that makes race a uniting principle." I don't disagree with any of this ... hence my discomfort.

Many of us have been uncomfortable with the notion that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. I come from a pretty racially diverse family: my younger brother and sister are black (adopted by my parents when we were very young), my wife's family is Filipino, and my brother's wife is Hispanic. The kids show all the various mixtures. When we get together for family occasions, we look like a UN meeting. So this is personal to me.

On the other hand, our church seems to be successful at reaching Filipinos for Christ in a unique way, and there is another part of me that sees our cultural appeal as the way God has equipped us for this particular ministry.

I recall being stationed at an Air Force base a few years back that had a large, mostly African-American chapel service each Sunday. For a while this caused me some angst and frustration, as we couldn't seem to pull the communities together. As I came to know them better, however, I realized that God was using them to reach out to other African-Americans on base, and that they were doing great work. They were specially equipped for that mission.

My best attempt to justify this "Sunday segregation" comes from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
I know that segregation is a loaded word, and I use it deliberately. We do segregate ourselves on Sunday, not de jure (by law) but de facto (by practice). In so doing, we must confess that sacrifice our unity.

Do we perhaps gain some advantage in becoming a Jew to the Jews to win the Jews ... or a Filipino to the Filiponos, to win the Filipinos ... etc.? This is my fond hope, or it is my vain rationalization. I haven't entirely decided which.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Unholy Alliances or Shrewd Coalitions?

Back in October, I wrote about a situation in which I forged a working arrangement with a non-Christian military chaplain:
Now for the hard part ... our chaplain, I soon learned, was a member of a non-Christian cult, but classified and assigned to us as "Protestant" by the military. What to do? After all, Christ said, "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters." (Luke 11:23) How could I work alongside one who is working against my Lord?

I did so, in short, by turning back two chapters in Luke: "... whoever is not against you is for you." (Luke 9:50b) Notice the contrast--one may be against Christ, but not against you--he or she may in fact be a useful ally in your mission! This chaplain was a bearer of a false gospel, but he was also providing me the avenue by which I could minister the true gospel to my fellow trainees.
I've been thinking about this in light of a couple of recent developments in our country and in the life of this blog.

Last week Senator Arlen Specter changed his party affiliation Democrat, after it became clear that his constant wandering off the Republican reservation had cost him the backing of his erstwhile allies:
In the Washington Examiner, Timothy Carney suggested that Specter's defection was prompted by the intention of Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina to back Specter's challenger, which DeMint had confided to Specter about five days before Specter switched. DeMint expressed no regrets: "I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don't have a set of beliefs," he said. The fact that 30 senators cannot make policy didn't deter him at all.
Meanwhile, our favorite Evangelical Catholic, Rich, bid us a public farewell:
I like to think this kind of cross-cultural dialogue gives the Holy Spirit room to break down the walls that divide us, to show us we really are more alike than we are different.

But, for the most part, things continue as they have for centuries. Few listen to each other. Fewer still are willing to consider Catholics are not fallen, and Protestants are not schismatics.

Frankly, I am weary of it all.
Now the political differences between movement conservatives and Arlen Specter are large and a source of great angst. There is a temptation for Republicans to say "good riddance", especially when Specter's defection was so blatantly unprincipled and self-serving. Yet uneasy coalitions are the stuff of successful political parties.

The theological differences between Protestants and Catholics are likewise real and important, and can't merely be waved away by glib appeals to unity. Yet there are times where we need to draw different lines. In the defense of the public defense of marriage and the unborn, for example, Evangelicals are wise to join together in a "coalition of the willing" with Catholics, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, etc.

Likewise, in World War II, faithful Christians were more interested in defending the human rights of the Jews than in "being separate" from them. Among the most memorable was recounted by Corrie Ten Boom in her landmark book, The Hiding Place:
She tells of an incident in which she asked a pastor who was visiting their home to help shield a mother and newborn infant. He replied, "No definitely not. We could lose our lives for that Jewish child." She went on to say, "Unseen by either of us, Father had appeared in the doorway. 'Give the child to me, Corrie,' he said. Father held the baby close, his white beard brushing its cheek, looking into the little face with eyes as blue and innocent as the baby's . 'You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family'".
For the purpose of defending innocent lives against Nazi atrocities, Corrie's father had more in common with his Jewish allies than with this pastor, who was at least nominally his brother in Christ.

So where is the line between shrewd coalitions and unequal yokes? When should we accept help from the like-minded and when do we need to "come out from them and be separate"? In general, it seems to me that the line lies at the place where those we are allied with (yoked to) begin to pull us away from a right relationship with God.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Eight Propositions Regarding Homosexuality

Last week's post on this topic generated some intense discussion. So, being a glutton for punishment, I decided to come back for more. Here's what's on my mind:
  1. A Christian's primary responsibility toward homosexuals is to love them and to minister Christ to them. Period dot.
  2. The Bible clearly defines homosexual acts as sinful. In fact, it defines all extramarital sexual activity as sinful. It defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman, as established by God and representative of the union between Christ and the church. We need to be clear on this point.
  3. It is impossible to be "born gay". Homosexuality is not a genetic condition, though one person may be more susceptible to homosexual sin than others. As the son of an alcoholic (recovered, thank God), I am aware that I may be more prone to alcoholism than others. That does not make me "born alcoholic" and doesn't make alcoholism "natural" to me. It means that I potentially have a weakness I need to mitigate (which I do by avoiding alcohol altogether).
  4. A homosexual's core problem is the same as a heterosexual's core problem: he is a sinner in need of grace. If he stops sinning sexually but doesn't come to know Christ, he is still lost and spiritually dead. A Christian's chief concern for the homosexual is that he be saved, not that he be straight.
  5. Christians are rightly concerned about the growing acceptance of homosexual behavior within the church. Christians need to "hate what is evil", and the church's track record of absorbing the prevailing culture's values is not encouraging. Exhibit A: God hates divorce, but divorce has become as prevalent within the church as it is in the world. Where's our outrage over this?
  6. American Christians are understandably jealous for our country's culture and for our families' place within it. As an American, I'm frightened by the aggressive homosexual proselytization, and I don't want to see our families undermined by the widespread acceptance of same-sex marriages. On the other hand, I can't allow my concern for my country's culture to undermine my obedience to God's command to love and reach the lost for Christ.
  7. This homosexual threat to our culture may seem existential now, but may eventually appear quaint and temporary over the long run. Recall my previous post about the Muslim population explosion in the UK, where in some places Sharia law has become accepted practice. Imagine a day, for example, in which Western Christians are persecuted alongside homosexuals by a dominant and repressive Muslim majority. Several things would likely follow: there would be far fewer homosexuals (because it would be much less pleasant to be identified as one); there would be fewer professing Christians (same reason); and those Christians who remain would become much more serious about why we're here--to glorify God by ministering Christ in and to a lost and dying world at all costs.
  8. Ultimately Christians need to hate all sin, and to love all sinners. It's cliche to say, but that doesn't make it less true.
Let's discuss ...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Something Lighter for the Weekend

This may be the best commercial I've ever seen.

There's probably some deep theological angle to this ... chime in with your ideas.