Monday, July 6, 2015

A Word About the Confederate Battle Flag from an American Christian Living in the South

Politics in a vacuum has little interest for me. However, when politics intersects with Christianity I take note.

Lately the Confederate Battle Flag has been one of the top stories in the news. I'm a transplanted northerner living in the American South. I love much about residing in Savannah, Georgia. One of the few things I do not like is the Confederate Battle Flag. I wrote about this almost two years ago, and I feel the same way about it today as I did back then. Click here to read my post. Agree or disagree?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Million Times NO to This Picture!

On July 4th I feel compelled to remind the church that our hope is not in politics. The last thing the people of Christ need is the cross wrapped in the American flag. Even less do we need to place hope in the Republican Party (or any other political party for that matter).

Our hope is in Jesus Christ and him alone. As Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20, "Our citizenship is in heaven." Peter reminds us in the first verse of I Peter that we are "exiles." This is not our home.

To place any hope in politics is to play the fool. It is pointless. Even worse is to somehow try to combine the church with secular politics. The two do not mesh. Whenever the church and state come together, it is well-known that the church becomes the whore of the state. The church does not purify the state; rather, the state contaminates the church.

I say a million times NO! to the above picture. Nations, including the good ole' USA, rise and fall. America is no different. It is the Kingdom of God that will last forever. It is there that we are citizens. It is also there where we must place our trust.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why Are So Many Pastors Paid Salaries?

This is a question I had to wrestle with when I was a professional pastor. I resigned because I came to the conclusion that the bible does not support the practice of pastors receiving salaries. Why, then, do so many churches continue this practice? (This question comes from my prior post Sorry, But I Can't Stop Asking Questions).

Five reasons stand out to me as to why this keeps happening:

1. Church history. Roman Catholic priests received payment of various sorts. The Reformers kept this practice, as they did many other Roman aspects of church life.

2. Misinterpretation of scripture. Nowhere in the New Testament is it said that pastors should receive regular salaries. The I Corinthians 9 passage refers to traveling evangelists, not pastors. As for I Timothy 5, "double honor" may or may not be talking about money. However, if it is then it's referring to love gifts after the fact as opposed to salaries given beforehand.

3. People think they need an "expert." The folks in the pews want a person to come in from the outside who has attended seminary. He's given a salary to preach, administer, and coordinate the worship ceremonies.

4. Pastors like it. I can say from experience that it is nice to receive a paycheck for studying the bible and reading theological books much of the time. Why would pastors ever speak against this? Instead, what they do is perpetuate it.

5. "It's what we've always done." Churches have been paying salaries to pastors for so long that many people cannot imagine any alternative.

The above five reasons are not exhaustive. Churches have their combination of reasons for handing out salaries to pastors. The big problem is that they have no scriptural support for doing so.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Why Are We Surprised When We Suffer for Christ?

I am no expert in suffering. Quite frankly, I do not know that I have ever truly suffered for Jesus Christ. While many brothers and sisters in Christ suffer overseas in places like North Korea and the Middle East, I live in the relative freedom of the USA. I do not know why this is the case; it's just where God decided that I would be born.

It both fascinates and saddens me that so many Christians act surprised when we are actually called upon to suffer for the cause of Christ. I'm mainly referring here to American Christians (I cannot speak with knowledge about this topic as it relates to other countries). When Christians are treated in the USA with even a little bit of contempt the response is predictable. Christians will basically say, "How dare they?" and act stunned that anyone would ever act in such a manner.

(This post stems from an earlier one entitled Sorry, But I Can't Stop Asking Questions.)

This type of reaction by Christians toward suffering tells us two things. First, and most troubling, it shows us that these Christians either do not know what the bible says about this issue or they simply do not believe what it says.

Romans 8:16-17, "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him."

Philippians 1:29, "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake."

I Peter 2:21, "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps."

The list of bible verses goes on and on.

The second thing Christians being surprised by suffering shows us is that they are confusing cultural conservatism with living for Christ. While the Republican Party says we should stand up for our rights, the kingdom of Christ is about sacrificing our rights. The culture warriors insist on self-defense while Jesus calls us to lives of non-violence.

In the end, I believe the main reason American Christians are shocked at having to suffer even a little bit is because we are addicted to comfort. We are used to living lives of relative ease. We get bothered when our smart phones don't work just right. We are indignant when the drive-thru is too slow. We think we are going to die if the air conditioning goes out.

We need to take scripture seriously. Jesus has called us to lives of suffering. This does not mean that we seek it out, but rather that we accept it when it comes upon us. Instead of being surprised, we must understand that this is what it is to walk in our Lord's footsteps.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why Do Many Christians Segregate by Age?

God has given parents a massive joy and duty: care of their children. In light of this why do many Christians segregate by age when the church gets together? (This post comes from Sorry, But I Can't Stop Asking Questions.)

Most institutional churches have age segregated Sunday School classes. Then, during worship services, the kids depart for Children's Church. In many other churches the kids don't even enter the worship services at all; they simply go from Sunday School straight to an entirely kid-directed worship time. Regardless of specifics, most Christian parents depend upon other adults to influence their children during church gatherings. Why is this the case?

My guess is that answers vary to my question. Some parents are just going with the flow of tradition. It is simply a matter of copying the secular school system in this country. Other parents probably do it because they want a break from their kids. Other parents actually believe that age segregation benefits the children. Still others are happy that their children will enjoy "kid appropriate" lessons. The list goes on.

The fact is that young people are departing from the church institution at a frightening rate. Thus, something is wrong. Could that thing be a failure on the part of parents to properly evangelize and disciple their children? Could this have anything to do with parents handing their kids off to others during church meetings?

Age segregation goes largely unchallenged within institutional Christianity. This is so much the case that, for example, family-integrated Sunday School classes are frequently looked upon with suspicion. I'm not joking. This is because so many parents have bought into the faulty idea that splitting up by age grouping is a good thing. They believe this despite all evidence to the contrary.

So, why do many Christians segregate by age? The primary answer is, "Because we've always done it that way."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Why Are Christians in the Military?

It's that time of year again - the season for patriotic fervor and pro-military attitudes. We're past Memorial Day and the 4th of July is just around the corner. Flag Day is sometime in June (I can never remember the exact date). These holidays are almost always accompanied by military events of various types. When this occurs, the church in this country never fails to be one of the biggest cheerleaders for both the flag and the military.

One question: why are followers of the Prince of Peace in the military?

(This post stems from an earlier one entitled Sorry, But I Can't Stop Asking Questions.)

Jesus Christ expects his followers to turn the other cheek and love their enemies. Our Lord makes this exceedingly clear in the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus also left an example of non-violence for his disciples to follow. When he was arrested, tortured, and crucified he could have struck back and been justified in doing so. However, Christ instead took the beatings not only to pay for our sin but also to show us how to respond when attacked.

Since this is both what Jesus taught and showed us, how can any of his followers be part of the military? In particular, how can any Christians take part in combat where they may be called upon to kill other human beings on behalf of a secular state?

I used to have no problem with Christians being in the military. After studying scripture I have changed my mind. Christ's teachings simply do not allow for His people to act violently toward others. Jesus offers no loopholes. He never tells his followers that in certain circumstances acting violently is acceptable.

In light of this, why are Christians in the military? In response to this question I've heard some believers say that they are in the military to defend others. This may at first sound like a good answer, but Christ never even implies that we should use violence to defend other people. Additionally, in the military it is not God but government who is giving the orders.

In the end I'm still left with the question: why are Christians in the military?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Linking: 12 Reasons America Doesn’t Win Its Wars

I don't link too often to articles that mostly focus on politics, but this one is too good to pass by without sharing:

12 Reasons America Doesn’t Win Its Wars

(Thanks to Arthur Sido for pointing this out.)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

I Want to be Presbyterian, But the Bible Won't Let Me

This may sound odd coming from me, but I'd really like to be Presbyterian. Specifically, I'd like to be a member of a local body of believers that are part of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Just to avoid any confusion, please take note that the PCA is far different from the PC(USA), which is a far-leftward leaning denomination that has basically given up on the biblical gospel altogether.

I like the PCA for several reasons. First, Presbyterians tend to take the bible seriously. Second, they believe the gospel as presented in scripture. Third, they tend to be Christ-focused rather than man-focused when it comes to their gatherings. Fourth, they care about church history. Fifth, they sing the great hymns of the faith.

I realize that the above paragraph is full of generalizations. It's also based on some of my own subjective likes (hymns). So be it.

Although I like a great about this particular denomination, I just can't be a part of it (in the sense of traditional church membership). Why can I not? The reason is that the bible won't let me. Simply put, too many things about the PCA do not line up with what I read in scripture.

Five aspects of the PCA are huge roadblocks for me. They are, in no particular order:

1. Emphasizing institutional-style preaching
2. Practicing infant baptism
3. Holding to a strict, detailed statement of faith
4. Carrying out extra-biblical, local church membership
5. Governing through a multi-leveled, nonbiblical system

Of course, at least some of the above five apply to almost all denominations, so the PCA is hardly alone. And the PCA is one of the few that I actually like!

My main point in this post is that institutional-based denominations have far too many nonbiblical and blatantly unbiblical practices in place for me to consider being a part of any of them. Although they vary somewhat, almost all still maintain the institutional trio of professional pastor, "worship" ceremony, and expensive building.

As it has been for the past five years for me, so it will continue: no denominations. I'll continue to walk in the church wilderness to one degree or another, and will do so happily. I know it is the same for many of you. It can be lonely at times, but I'd rather follow God's plan for his church than man's.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Why Is the Lord's Supper More Often Like a Funeral Than a Celebration?

Almost all of us have been through it before: the institutional Lord's Supper / Communion / Eucharist.

We know how it goes. Most of the folks sit somberly in pews. One person in the front leads a ceremony that feels like a funeral. Everybody is instructed to focus upon their sins and upon Christ's death. No one except the leader speaks. Everyone eats a small cracker or bite of bread. Everybody sips wine or juice. No fun is had.

The above, with small variations, occurs in almost all churches in the USA throughout the year. This would be fine if it was based in scripture. The problem is that it is not. Nothing like what I've described exists in the bible, especially not in the New Testament. If you search the New Covenant people to see what their Lord's Suppers looked like, you will find large family celebrations with full meals. Now that sounds like fun.

So how did we get to this point? Why would the church trade in a family celebration for a funeral-like ceremony?

(This post stems from an earlier piece entitled Sorry, But I Can't Stop Asking Questions.)

To answer these questions we must turn back the clock of church history.

As with much that is wrong with the church, the Constantinian change played a large role. When Emperor Constantine made Christianity the preferred religion of the Roman Empire (in the early 300's A.D.), many pagans flocked into the church institution. They brought their pagan sacrifices with them. In order to keep some semblance of these practices in place, the Mass was developed. Thus we have the "re-sacrificing of Christ" each time the Mass takes place.

In order for a sacrifice to happen, a priest has to be involved. Additionally, the people present must be somber in nature. After all, you cannot celebrate when someone is being sacrificed. The Roman church knew that the bread and wine had to be involved; therefore, they kept them as part of the sacrifice.

When the Reformers came along they did some things to change this. They got rid of the Mass and the priest. However, they put the sermon and the pastor in those spots. Additionally, they kept the funeral-like atmosphere. Ugh. They did not do what they should have: reverted back to the family celebrations we read about in the New Testament.

When we realize that church history and not scripture has led to the current situation, we see what we must do. Scripture must trump tradition. Family celebrations it is!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why Is Modesty a Dirty Word in the Church?

I'm sad to report that modesty is not a popular topic within the American church. In fact, it is so unpopular that it borders on scandalous. It has become what amounts to a dirty word. Why is this?

(This question comes from a prior post of mine entitled Sorry, But I Can't Stop Asking Questions.)

Modesty has become a dirty word because the church in general in this country has adopted cultural norms for almost everything. This includes dress. Additionally, we live in a culture that tells everyone, especially young people, to do whatever they want whenever they want. This is the most "me-first", individualistic culture in the history of the world. To challenge this line of thinking is to be labeled a bigot.

Another problem related to modesty is that it is often portrayed as a stereotype of what it is. Those who want to wear whatever, whenever often talk as if modest dress is the same thing as wearing a burka. This is absurd, but I've had people use this "argument" with me. When I've dared to suggest that Christian women should not wear bikinis, I have had people say to me, "What? Do you expect them to wear burkas?" I'm not joking.

Please let me be clear: modesty extends to more than dress, and it applies to both men and women. Modesty ought to impact, for example, the way we speak and the way we eat. Any aspect of our lives that is out of control is problematic.

What I've talked about so far in this post are actually symptoms. The most important thing is having a heart for God. Part of that is placing our own desires below His. We hope, over time, that our desires will in fact come in line with His. Those in the church who don't really care what God thinks have bigger problems than simply not wearing enough clothing.

In the end we must all ask ourselves whether or not we are willing to sacrifice our own desires for the betterment of others. In our me-first culture this is not a popular thing. In the largely me-first church this is also not a popular thing. However, if we are willing to seek God's desires and look out for the good of our brothers and sisters in Christ, then we will live modest lifestyles. While this certainly includes how we dress, it extends to much more than that.

Let's be modest in all areas of life. One exception: let's be liberal in how much we love God and our neighbors.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Wonderful Wedding

On Saturday Alice's and my daughter Caroline was married. It was a wonderful occasion. I thank the Lord for blessing the entire day. The ceremony was beautiful; I'm thankful to my brother-in-law Tony, who performed the wedding, for keeping things Christ-centered. As for the reception, it was a lot of fun. We kept things fairly simple, and just enjoyed eating while talking with family and friends. It was a great day.

Pictured above, from left to right, are my wife Alice, myself, our daughter Caroline, her new husband Shane, our son Bobby, and our daughter Mary.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Our Daughter Is Getting Married Tomorrow! Yikes!

Alice's and my daughter Caroline is getting married tomorrow. Although this has been coming for some time it still seems surreal. Everything appears to be going well are far as preparations are concerned, but I'm still a little nervous. After all, I've never been through this before (the Father-of-the-Bride part).

In all seriousness, Alice and I are both excited and pleased. Caroline is marrying a nice young man named Shane. He and his parents lived nearby; they are a great family. As a bonus, Shane and Caroline will be living only a few minutes away (so we can bother them a lot). It is a good situation all around.

Although I hope the wedding goes well, the much more important thing is the marriage. I pray that God will bless them with many, many years together. After salvation, being married may be God's greatest gift to humanity. I've been married to Alice for almost 25 years now. I wouldn't trade any of it for anything.

Ultimately, marriage is picture to us of Christ's love for His church. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband (Ephesians 5:25-33).

Now, I just have to remember my one line for the wedding. It's something like, "Her mother and I do."

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why Do Many Christians Allow the Secular Government to Educate Their Children?

Now this is a question that gets some folks riled up. It's right up there with the issues of non-violence and modesty when it comes to making Christians angry. "How dare you question the way I choose to educate my children?" Well, I'll question it if it involves letting secularists have day-long access to your kids' minds during their formative years.

God has given all parents, regardless of their beliefs, a tremendous gift and responsibility. We are caretakers over our children. He has made us stewards for a few years over their minds. We also have a massive impact upon their souls. Children do not simply reside in a house with parents. Every aspect of their lives is, to some extent, the responsibility of the parents.

That said, why would Christian parents depend on government school to educate their children? (This question comes from the post "Sorry, But I Can't Stop Asking Questions").

Full disclosure: I worked in the public school system for six years as a school psychologist. Also, we have been home educating our kids for the past thirteen years.

Back to the question. Five reasons come to mind as to why Christians send their kids to government-based schools:

1. The parents still trust the schools, thinking that they are largely similar to the way they were many years ago.
2. The parents want two incomes to support a certain standard of living.
3. The parents do not believe they have the skills to adequately educate their kids.
4. The parents want their children to get "socialized" in public school.
5. The parents are simply doing "what has always been done."

My response to all of the above reasons is that none of them are valid. None. All are pragmatic to one degree or another. None are based in theological reasoning whatsoever. My challenge to all parents of kids in public school is to ask whether or not they truly know what their kids are being taught and exposed to in that setting.

I realize that some parents want to homeschool but are in a situation where they simply cannot do so (such as some single parents). That is a different situation from what I'm discussing in this post. In this article I'm questioning the reasoning behind the decision to send kids to public schools when parents are in a position to home educate.

I've never heard a solid theological argument in favor of public school. I'm still waiting.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Linking: A Ridiculous Post and a Reasoned Response

Click here to read a recent ridiculous and dangerous post that promotes many of the false assumptions about church that hinder vibrant life in Christ.

Click here to read a reasoned, measured, and biblical response to the above nonsense.

(Thanks to Arthur for pointing these out).

Monday, June 1, 2015

Why Do We Largely Ignore the Poor and Needy?

This question stems from my prior post "Sorry, But I Can't Stop Asking Questions."

This question is also one that many of us, including myself, do not want to deal with. It is inconvenient. It causes us at least a little guilt. We know the biblical writers said quite a bit about caring for the poor and needy, but we just wish the issue would go away. Why is this?

I believe three primary reasons exist for our general attitude. First, we've been raised in a culture that tells us to "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps." We may think of the poor as just a bunch of lazy people who need to get a job. The close relationship between the Republican Party and the church in America only perpetuates this stereotype. Second, we are busy. We just don't want to deal with it. Third, we are selfish and want to hold on to "our money."

We do well to remember passages such as Galatians 2:9-10. We read the following, "...and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do."

We cannot ignore the poor and needy. Jesus Christ won't allow it.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Why Do So Many Christians Gather for "Worship"?

If you ask most Christians why they gather together (usually on Sundays), they will tell you that it's for worship. If you then ask them why they get together for the purpose of worship you will likely receive a blank stare. This is because most Christians have never pondered this before. It's also because the bible gives no indication that the body of Christ comes together for worship.

In the New Testament we see the church meet for a different purpose: edification. I Corinthians 14:26 says, "How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." The point of the gathering was the building up of the members. No confusion there.

However, there is plenty of confusion today. How did we get into this mess? In order to find out we must look back at church history (in fact, we'll find many of the answers to these fifteen church-related questions by searching through church history).

Not long after the first century a clergy system began to form. Specialists emerged who did the bulk of the stuff as the church gathered. This gradually morphed into the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church. The priests led the Mass, which became the primary gathering of the people of God.

Enter the Reformers. Men like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc. rejected the Mass for the heresy that it was (and still is). They recognized that when churches came together something other than "another sacrifice of Christ" must occur. The Reformers did a good thing by jettisoning the Mass. However, they failed to follow the biblical model when they replaced it. The Reformation saw the rise of preaching as the center point of body meetings.

Fast forward to today. The Catholic Church still performs its Mass. Protestant churches focus their gatherings on music (now known to many as "worship") and preaching. Neither group gathers specifically for edification. Over the years the Protestant versions have become known as "worship services." This is fascinating because the worship is poorly defined and no actual service takes place. Regardless, because the gatherings are known as worship services, many of the people think that they gather for worship.

The biggest problem with this situation is that it leaves the church largely unedified and spiritually immature. Gatherings are supposed to build up the body. However, in worship service ceremonies very little communication occurs or is encouraged among the people present. Edification happens mainly through the carrying out of the one anothers; this cannot happen during a ceremony. Thus, the body does not grow spiritually.

Many, many Christians think they gather for worship because they know little else. It's what they have always done. It does not stem from scriptural teachings, but rather church history. The church suffers because of it.

We do well to challenge this way of thinking.

Let's tell and show our brothers and sisters in Christ that edification occurs best in simple gatherings.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Answering Fifteen Important Church-Related Questions

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post entitled "Sorry, But I Can't Stop Asking Questions." My purpose behind that piece was to encourage all of us to continue inquiring about why things are as they are (I recently put together a related post entitled "Beware the Status Quo").

Although it makes many people uncomfortable, we must continue to ask, ask, and ask some more. This is one of the few ways that change comes about. In my post about asking questions I listed fifteen examples of important questions that should be asked of the church. The questions are wide-ranging, hitting on a variety of topics.

Over the next several weeks I'm going to be answering those questions one by one. You may agree with me or not. However, if you do not please comment. I appreciate opposing viewpoints (feel free to comment even when you agree).

The first question should be a fun one: Why do so many Christians gather for "worship"?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Linking: "Textual Criticism and Bible Translation"

Most everyone who reads this blog also enjoys reading the bible. This is because through scriptural content we can grow closer to Christ.

Many of us do not know much about the original language texts that our English translations stem from. We should both know about and care about this issue. While we do not need to be experts in textual criticism, we ought to at least know what it is about. E. Ray Clendenen has written a short, helpful piece entitled "Textual Criticism and Bible Translation" that recently appeared on Tim Challies' blog. I encourage you to read it. Although it is a sponsored post for the HCSB translation, you can simply ignore that aspect of it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Linking: "Atheism’s Foundation for Morality Is Built on Culture’s Shifting Sands"

Randy Alcorn has written an excellent piece entitled "Atheism’s Foundation for Morality Is Built on Culture’s Shifting Sands." It is short, well-reasoned, and to the point. Alcorn shows that atheists have no concrete basis for their moral decision making.