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Monday, January 30, 2006

Coram Deo, Contra Mundum (Before the Face of God, Against the World)

"Controversy is only dreaded by the advocates of error." -Benjamin Rush

My friends all think that I'm a controversialist. They're right. I don't mind being in opposition against other ideas and opinions. After all, someone's going to have to be the bad guy at some point. This may not come off very well to some, but there is a method to the madness; I'm not just trying to be a jerk for being a jerk's sake. I believe that we need to be challenged in order to get to the heart of things - to discover the truth of the matter. It has been said that no great accomplishment has ever come about without controversy. I believe this to be true. What can possibly be gained from agreeing to disagree? At times it may be necessary (at least in terms of non-essentials), but in our day, it has really gone too far. Someone's got to be right and someone's got to be wrong. It's a really trendy thing to say, "Let it go; what does it matter?" But the underlying sentiment of the statement is that if it's not worth finding out, it doesn't matter at all.

The Church is overrun with this sort of language and ideal. The "whatever works for you" plan of salvation is the prevailing method of the day, even in some churches that consider themselves to be staunchly "evangelical". The reason this is happening is quite simple: As goes the academy, so goes the church. We are indoctrinated with this kind of speak that passes itself off as "tolerance". If one is to take too firm a stance on any given position in the academic (as well as the religious) arena, they are considered to be "narrow-minded" or "hateful". God forbid, you try and actually integrate religious ideals into academia. Here's an example: The "theory of evolution", we are told, should be taught wholesale in public schools, but to teach "creation science" as a worldview would be ludicrous because it is based on religious beliefs and has no scientific foundation whatsoever. This shouldn't even be a controversy. The argument makes no sense (*see note below). But instead of Christians entering the fray, the majority backs down or withdraws altogether. Some even go as far as to try to accommodate their theology to accommodate for the apathy, both in spirituality and in scholarship, on this issue. As I stated, this is just one example. The list just keeps on going. No one wants to look too hard because it might all start to make sense. If one side starts to make more sense than the other, something has to change. Change is admitting that you were wrong. Nobody wants to admit that. So it's back to square one: "None of it really matters all that much". For Christians it becomes all about "advancing the Kingdom", so issues such as this don't matter in the long run. I beg to differ. Without controversy on such relevant issues, how can you be sure of which kingdom it is that you're actually advancing? Tolerance is the Trojan horse of the modern day era.

Too many times, we as the Church compromise to the point that our voice never to be heard. A lot of this comes from a lack of confidence (or a lack of knowledge) in the Word of God. We cheat ourselves, as well as the world, by our "relaxed" approach toward the Bible as the rule of our life. God left the church in the world, not to become a part of it, but to call people out of it; not to submit to its way of thinking but to have dominion by bringing every thought captive to the word of God. However, if one does hold to this view, they are not only seen as dogmatic and intolerant by the rest of the world, but in many cases, by the church as well! A Christian that stands on the word of God alone (sola scriptura) should never shy away from controversy. In fact, you should welcome it. We must learn to embrace the opportunity to have our faith "fire tested". Quick overviews of the Bible and history more than prove to us that God not only sustains the Church through controversy, but also causes it to thrive within the conflict as well. From Jesus v. Pharisees, Paul v. the Judaizers, John v. the Docetists, Jude v. the false teachers, up through the ages with men like Augustine, Anastasias, Luther, Calvin, and Knox as they fought against the erroneous teachings of the Roman Catholic Church itself. As we continue on, we see the likes of Edwards against spurious forms of revival; this was once again repeated by Ashael Nettleton as he stood against Finney's "revivalism". George Whitefield, for the sake of the authenticity of the Gospel was willing to put his friendship on the line up and against John Wesley's theology of grace. Spurgeon, in his day, spoke out against the creeping presence of liberalism that was making its way into the churches during what was known as "The Downgrade Controversy". Even into more present times, the likes of Machen, Schaffer (who coined it the 'Great Evangelical Disaster' in one of his books), and other great men of faith have given their all to contend for the faith that was delivered once for all to the saints. Believe me; the current status of the church is not free from strife. Sometimes we just like to think that we are by ignoring the elephants in the room. All of these controversies have one thing in common; the church beginning to allow carnality to walk through the front door and take its place behind our pulpits, in the name of getting a place at the table of the "acceptable" worldviews. We try to burr the edges of the Sword of the Spirit - the word of God, as to make less offensive and less capable of doing what it is meant to do.

The Word is supposed to cut to the heart and convict us of the folly of our own self-sufficiency. It should not matter whether or not it is accepted by the rest of the world or seen as intolerant. The priority of the Church is to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, not our own. We need to be more controversial in terms of this matter especially among our own congregations. We need to stir each other up with the truths of Scripture, not by the standards of worldly criteria. In order to stand before the face of God, we must rely on His word alone. If we do this, we are by default against the ways of the world (as we should be). No one will take Christians seriously until we first, individually and collectively, begin to take ourselves seriously enough to want to stand up and be counted as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven; not through the means of government, not through the means of culture, but solely on the doctrines as they are taught by Christ and the apostles in the Bible as a means in and of itself.

Contend for the faith. Recover your Confession.

Soli Deo Gloria,

*note: the reason that the argument against Creation Science doesn't make sense is because it has a blatant atheistic slant. Evolution is itself still a theory, because it to is unproven. It then has to work both ways. To consider Creation Science an unproven based on religious beliefs puts it in the same category as the Theory of Evolution, because it is also based on religious beliefs (atheism is to be counted as such due to the fact that it is just as faith based in the negative sense). Therefore, all things being equal, why shouldn't Creation Science be taught along side Darwinism, if Creationism opponents are as tolerant as they claim to be? All "theories" should be taught as equal until the controversy between them is resolved.

"For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized." - 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 (ESV)

"For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete." - 2 Corinthians 10: 4-6 (ESV)

"But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." - 1 Peter 3:15-16 (ESV)

"Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." - Jude 3-4 (ESV)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I'm not American...I'm Kuyperian!?!

"Do not bury our glorious orthodoxy in the pit of spurious conservatism." ~ Abraham Kuyper (Dutch Theologian, Statesman, Journalist and Prime Minister of The Netherlands)

Jesus Christ is not running for office in 2008. Regardless, of what the conservative religious right might lead you to believe, it just won't happen.

There is an ever-persistent trend of late by many conservative Church congregations to try and "politicize" the Gospel. That is to say, that if we can censure and monitor every aspect of our society under the auspices of Christian principles (or as the "fundamentalists" like to call it, "returning to our roots"), then America would be a better place - and don't forget to vote Republican. This, as one writer put it, is a two-thousand year old Galatian error.

I can't tell you how many times I've recently had conversations with people who believe this way. They are thoroughly convinced that if we put prayer back in schools and keep the ten commandments in front of the courthouses, viola--problems solved. These are noble intentions, but there are far-reaching consequences of this sort of logic that are not being considered by those that hold this view. So, I want to pose the same question that I asked of a friend of mine who happens to be in this school of thought:

If the Law of God couldn't make the Israelites any better, then what makes you think that making the Bible the "Law" in America would make us as a nation any less corrupt?

And here in lies the controversy of this movement known as Christian Reconstruction. But as it has been stated before, religion and politics don't mix. Never more clearly can it be seen than when one takes a long hard look at the misguided (although, well-meaning) plan of "reconstruction". If carried out to fruition, this movement would only subvert and distort the truth of the Gospel. The reasons can be seen in the following conclusions:

1. The Church stops focusing on evangelism (the salvation of souls) and begins to focus on political hot-button issues and agendas.

It has become a trendy thing to turn Sunday Morning sermons into political rallies. I'm not saying that certain societal woes should not be dealt with on Sundays, but it needs to remain in its context. Pastors should be about the business of shepherding the flock; teaching the congregation in accordance to the Word of God is the way to help them keep in step with the Holy Spirit. Inviting your favorite politician to give a speech on how and who to vote for will only cause a tension (unnecessarily, I might add) between the Church and the rest of the world. It becomes "us" against "them". But isn't it "them" that we are seeking to save? There is also the lingering danger of seriously dividing the Body of Christ over non-essential issues. I have seen it time and again; if a fellow brother or sister in the Church doesn't vote on the right side of the political party line, he or she is considered a heretic! This is the same sort of muddle-headed thinking that brought about the Salem witch hunts. If sound doctrine is in place, discernment will follow.

2. The separation of Church and State is perilously blurred.

By this, I mean that the Church seeks to usurp the power of the government and strong-arm people in to "right living". This is not evangelism, it's nothing more than behavior modification. We are never to force anyone to believe what the Church believes. We are simply to proclaim the Gospel of Christ and allow the Spirit to change the hearts and minds of those that hear. Trying to force the issue will bring about ghastly consequences. For example, most people want to have prayer put back in schools. Okay, fine. But if you're a Christian, what is stopping you from praying? It is a right that no one can take away from you. Why would you want to force someone to pray who may not even worship in the same manner as yourself? That's false worship. God finds no glory in it. I expect the non-believer to not want to see the Ten Commandments in front of the courthouses, I expect atheists to want to take "God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Abortion will be accepted, Gay marriage will pass, etc., etc. The light of the truth is not in them. Christianity as a federal law will ultimately fail, due to the fact that it skews the purpose of the Gospel. The Church becomes the Pharisaic and intrusive. How exactly does one legislate policies against the Sin? The heart of man is the heart of the problem. Christians obey the law of God because they have been given a "new heart". We live the way we do because the love of Christ compels us. Trying to force those who have yet to be (or who never will be) quickened by the the grace of God through the spirit would be the equivalent to Jesus grabbing the rich young ruler in a headlock and forcing him to follow. There's no love in it. No true Christian is ever saved in this manner, so why would we expect anyone else to be any different?

My major concern in all of this is the enthusiasm and fervency with which some fellow Christians hold to this view (in reformed and non-reformed circles). If carried out, this sort of mindset snuffs out the great commission. Christians do not conquer through military or political might, but through the love and sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Anything else makes for sloppy evangelism until it all eventually boils down to elephants and asses: Christians becoming fat and lazy in their spiritual lives hiding behind the guise of "political correctness" and "conservatism" while holding grudges against those who aren't like them, forgetting that we too used to be stubborn mules lost in the darkness. Much like fascism and communism, two bad ideologies on opposite ends of the spectrum come full circle to make an even worse situation than the one that you had before. The truths of our religious beliefs are tainted and have become a leveraging tool for election strategies. A vivid illustration of this could be seen in the comment that a political analyst made after the democratic party lost the last election: "the democrats need to get 'born again'". This statement turns the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in to a farce.

It is time for Christians to check their allegiances. Christ shows no partiality to any man, political party, or country. In the imitation of our Lord and Savior, we should do likewise. That being said, none of this is written to discourage individual Christians from taking up political causes or even hold political offices. By all means, if God permits, we should take the opportunity. However, I think that the Church trying to become an empirical legislative branch of the government is a grave error. It is trading away the liberties that we are granted as individual living stones which are free to go out into the world and seek the lost, for becoming a solid concrete entity which will eventually stunt the growth of the Church altogether. It also causes us to run the risk of being at odds with scripture on the way we should view the civil magistrates and government officials of our country. We are to submit to them, because they have been ordained by God's providential hand (regardless of how we may feel about them personally). They are there for our protection and we should pay them the respect and honor due to the office in which they hold - whether we voted for them or not!!! When they overstep their boundaries and begin to rule willingly up and against the Kingdom of Heaven, Christian citizens may rightly come together and make their voice heard as is our right. We must learn to use separation of Church and State for its proper purpose and advantage, not to our own undoing. The church and the state alike both have an obligation to wield their respective swords responsibly (the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God in the church and the sword of wrath in government) .

I don't see Christians as conservative or liberal. I definitely don't see them as republicans or democrats. We are either biblical or unbiblical - discerning or indiscretion - in the world or of the world. These are the lines in the sand that must be drawn. Any neutrality in these areas, or granting priority to party or politician, is a vote against Christ.

As J.I. Packer summarizes:

"The Church's sphere of authority relates to the civil gorvernment at the level of morality. The church has the responsibility to comment on the morality of governments and their policies on the basis of God's word, but should not appropriate to itself the power to set such policies. Whereas these assessments may foster political action among Christians, they should act in their capacity as citizens rather than as a representatives of the church. In this way the gospel works through moral persuasion and the working of God's grace among citizens."

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." ~Romans 13:1-10 (ESV)

"Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor." ~1 Peter 2:13-17 (ESV)

Soli Deo Gloria,

Monday, January 16, 2006

Truly Overcoming: Putting Grace Before Race

'Twas mercy that brought me from my pagan land
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew
Some view our race with scornful eye,
'Their color is a diabolical dye'
Remember, Christians; Negros, black as Cain
May be refined and join th' angelic train.

~On Being Brought from Africa to America, by Phyllis Wheatley (America's First Black Poet)

In light of our current holiday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) and with Black History month speedily approaching, there's no better time than the present to reflect upon the struggles and accomplishments of African-American people in this country, right? However, in our reflections, sometimes perspective gets lost in the spirit of the chase. We tend to take mantras such as "We Shall Overcome" and "Free At Last" and we rob them of their glory by our shortsightedness. This is why I find it appropriate to reflect on Ms. Wheatley's 'On Being Brought from Africa'. This poem's primary focus is on the overarching sovereignty and purposefulness of God in all of life.

Wheatley says that it was 'mercy' that brought her from her 'pagan' land. She was kidnapped and brought to America on a slave ship when she was about seven years old. Yet, she calls it mercy. Today, this statement may be seen, even in the so-called "Christian community", as controversial. Yet to Wheatley, this is a good thing because it brought her to salvation, despite the means that were used to attain it. After all, as she states, it was by this act that her 'benighted' soul was taught 'that there's a God and a Saviour too'. In her biography it states that she was bought by a Boston family that took her in as one of their own and taught how to read and write (greek and latin as well), and even more particularly taught her in the way of Scripture. Wheatley, in her reflection upon the events of her life, clearly connects the dots for us. She is well aware that if not for the Hand of Providence putting her on that ship to America, she never comes in contact with the Wheatley family. If she never meets the Wheatleys, she never hears of God or Jesus Christ. This theme of sovereign mercy is unrelenting even as it turns to the social tensions of her day. Many saw blacks as being sub-human and evil because of their native ways and skin tone. Wheatley does not shy away from this at all as she recalls:

"Some view our race with scornful eye, 'Their color is a diabolical dye'."

Now, take note of her admonition in the final stanzas:

"Remember, Christians; Negros, black as Cain, may be refined and join th' angelic train."

Notice that the petition is not to all of "white" America or even to the government. Her appeal is to the christians. Wheatley's primary concern for her fellow africans is not emancipation, but evangelization. Wheatley understands that the only way for them to be truly free is through the redemptive work of Christ on the Cross. Even as she herself was freed by her family, in the legal sense, all other forms of freedom are subordinate and secondary when it comes to the liberation of the soul through the Gospel. The reference to Cain helps to drive this point home. Cain was "marked" and "blackened" as punishment for the murder of his brother, Abel. Yet, while this was a curse, it was also God's way of showing mercy towards Cain, as it would protect him from the same fate that he had dealt to his brother. If anyone is to murder Cain their punishment will be sevenfold. The color of his skin gives him a chance for redemption; to repent of his sins and find peace with God, with whom, at the moment, he is at enmity (sadly, he does not). Wheatly, being a student of the Bible, is well aware of what this imagery will conjur up with the Christian family. She is appealing not just to the blackness of Cain's skin, but to the "greater blackness" of his heart, which is the way of all men who have never encountered Christ. While true that africans had been "marked" for slavery by the whites due to the color of their skin, behind the horrific history of the slave trade is a glorious history of redemption that is to be unfolded. This is the urgency in Wheatley's message. Seeing the work of Salvation through Christ in her own life has prompted her to seek true liberation of her enslaved people; a liberation by which no government can deliver. So, she restricts her message to the Body of Christ, urging them to remember the darkness that they once knew; calling to remembrance that while they were still in sin, darkened in their understanding, God reached out and saved them by washing them clean in the blood of Christ. Sin is the ultimate "slavemaster" from which she wishes to free her countrymen; once freed from sin, they will be free to be the bondservants of Christ.

This is my favorite poem of all time. Though short, it is pregnant with imagery and insight. The summation of it all is this: Even as we look back today, we cannot deny that much of this sentiment has been lost. I believe that Phyllis Wheatley gives us an accurate model of how we should see all the atrocities of our world from a Christian perspective, be it racism or any other forms of social injustice. Although they exist, we must understand that Providence is at work behind every action, though we may not understand or see it at that moment. Also, we must not lose sight of the fact that all of the wrongs of this world, are brought on by our own inherent sinful natures. We are all 'black as Cain' and 'benighted in our souls' apart from the redeeming work of Christ, regardless of our status or position in the world. It is the church's job as those who have been called out of the darkness, to take the light of Christ back into the darkness, understanding that Christ, and only Christ, is the answer to changing of the hearts and minds of men. Putting grace before race is the only way liberate all men and restore human dignity among the various peoples of the world. No matter what advancements are gained by any group of people or individual-- without Christ, they are still in bondage.

In the words of former slave trader turned Christian hymn writer, John Newton:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils and snares,

I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,

His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,

The sun forbear to shine;
But God, Who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we've been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we'd first begun.

-Amazing Grace, by John Newton

"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." - Genesis 50:20 (ESV)

"Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." -John 8:34-36 (ESV)

"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." -John 12:32 (ESV)

"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" - Philippians 3:7-9 (ESV)

Soli Deo Gloria,


Friday, January 13, 2006

Johnny Cash and "Living" Faith

I am a huuuuge Johnny Cash fan. The other day, while I was working, I was listening to some old Cash tunes. For some reason or another, one of the songs in particular jumped out and grabbed me. It was called The Man in Black. I had heard the song a thousand times, but I have to admit, I hadn't really given much thought to what it was saying. That all changed on that day:

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.

Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.

Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black.

Suddenly, I was challenged by these words. I began to think about how inconsistent the Christian witness in the world can be, more often than not. We will talk a big game, but when push comes to shove, we step aside. Even worse still, when we do decide to "act" on our faith, it usually comes with a price; judge first--help second. For instance, I can't tell you how many times I've heard a fellow christian so easily pass "divine" judgement on the whole state of Louisiana after the Katrina disaster. Louisiana is no different than any other state when it comes to having problems with sin. An even more recent example would be Pat Robertson (yet again) suggesting that Israel Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, was being taught a lesson by God via massive stroke. All this being said, I am not saying that God doesn't visit people with divine wrath, be it hurricane or stroke. What I am saying is that it is not our place to make that call when God has not made it known to us. The work of the church is not to pass judgement; that's God's business. Our duty is to lift up the the downtrodden and broken-hearted by sharing the love of Christ with them and also by showing a consistent ethic for all human life by caring not only for the spiritual, but the physical needs as well, due to the fact that all mankind (saved and unsaved) are made in the image of God.

We have a tendancy to develop "spiritual amnesia". We forget the depths from which we have been lifted up. Nothing that we have accomplished in the faith is wrought by our own hands. Nothing. It is all due to the loving mercy and the grace of God from beginning to end. In an age of "What would Jesus Do?", we are so quick to forget exactly what it is that Jesus did. It was Jesus that "wore our black". Christ came down from His throne, becoming human, taking on our sin (of which he had no part), and sympathizing with our condition so that we sinners, those who were spiritually destitute, crippled, blind and dumb to the things of God, could partake and be imputed with His perfect righteousness. He paid the sacrafice with His life, in our place so that we can stand blameless before the Father. Further still, he continues to intercede on our behalf before God as our eternal High Priest. It is this love that should compel us. In remembering what God has done for us through Christ, we should be compelled to act toward our fellow man, christians and non-christians alike. We should not look on the lost and the downtrodden with contempt, believing that they are getting what they rightfully deserve. Instead of saying, "Better them than me", we should be saying, "If not for the grace of God, that would definitely be me". It is the latter sentiment that has launched some of the greatest missionary campaigns, revivals and christian charity organizations that the world has ever known. As the Church of Christ, we know the way to make things better. It is time that we started fleshing out that faith, showing the works that faith produces. It is about time that we recover from the amnesiatic state, remebmering that while we are justified by faith in Christ alone, that faith is not alone. The love of Christ must be actively shown in and through us to the rest of the world. In the words of songwriter Aaron Tate:

"May the Bread on your toungue leave a trail of crumbs to lead the hungry back to the place where you are from."***

And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
-Luke 13:2-3 (ESV)

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich."
-2 Corinthians 8:9 (ESV)

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
-Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

"though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life."
-1 Timothy 1:13-16 (ESV)

"If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead...You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;"
-James 2:15-17,22 (ESV)

"We love because he first loved us."
-1 John 4:19 (ESV)

***From the song, "Take to the World" by A. Tate

Soli Deo Gloria,

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

THE END IS NEAR...again?

"If the world were to end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree."
-Martin Luther

It never fails. Something catastrophic happens, particularly in the Middle East, and some prophecy "expert" comes running out of the woodwork screaming "Bloody Armageddon". The reason that history seems to be repeating is because people don't pay attention to it. The present generation of the time always has an air of arrogance about itself; they want to believe with all their might that they are way more corrupt than the previous generations. "Those guys were amateurs, but we are the real deal! Rotten to the core!" This may sound like a ludicrous sentiment, but this is really what it amounts to (of course, it is phrased a little differently).

Look, every generation has had it's share of catastrophes; bad ones, too. They happen all over the world. However, we in the west seem to have a particular "itis" for this kind of thing; Apocalys-itis, if you will. The danger of becoming too consumed with "The End" is roughly two fold:

1. Falling into the trap of clock watching and date setting.

This is inevitable. Have you ever stopped to watch a clock for one minute ? That minute seems like an eternity. And when that minute comes and goes, what do you have to show for it? A minute lost. Nothing is gained in that minute because you stopped to watch it go by. You'll never get it back again. The same thing happens when we stop to watch the "prophetic clock" as well. Yes, we are supposed to be watchful, but this is pushing it far beyond its rational conclusion. We are also to be sober-minded.

This is the first step into our second and most apalling error:

2. Forgetting to spread the Gospel !!

Instead of being productive by being about the business of spreading the Gospel (which is the purpose of the Church in the world), we withdraw into ourselves waiting to make a "great escape"; To hell with everyone else - literally. Knowing the end could come at any moment should further strengthen our resolve to share Christ with the lost, not cause us to abandon our post.

Don't get me wrong, I anxiously await the return of the Lord as much as any christian. But as long as we are on this earth, first and foremost, we should be engaged in fufilling the Great Commision. It's not our job to concern ourselves with how and when the end will come. God has graciously given us plenty to keep us occupied. But just in case you do start to feel a little jittery, here's what you can do to take your mind off your worries:

Share Christ with someone. Then, go plant an apple tree.

"While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease."
-Genesis 8:22 (ESV)

"When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him."
-Deuteronomy 19:22 (ESV)

"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of the law."
-Deuteronomy 29:29 (ESV)

"But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but the Father only...Therefore you also must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."
-Matthew 24:36,44 (ESV)

Soli Deo Gloria,

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Identity Crisis

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

-George Orwell

Last sentence from his book, Animal Farm

I have always found the quote above to be an interesting one. I think it would be safe to say that it is my favorite quote from any piece of literature outside of the Bible. As it stares back at me from the wall where it hangs in my work space, I ponder the question: Is this what the 21st Century Church looks like before the watching world? Are we as the "called out ones" properly representing the truth claims of the gospel?

No one taking an earnest assesment could overlook the fact that the church is having a serious problem finding relevance in the postmodern world. This is definitely understandable. After all, the mission of the church is to proclaim the objective truths of the gospel up and against a society that says that there are no such claims. In the postmodern worldview, truth is subjective. So, as we can see, this does present us with a dilemma and sets us up for ridicule by worldly standards. However, it is how you respond to the adversity that shows what you are made of. Unfortunately, in many cases, the modern day church has opted to go for "If you can't be 'em, join 'em" strategy. We feel that the way to be relevant is to be accepted. Instead of being true to ourselves we try to become someone else. We trade the "foolishness of God"(1 Cor. 1:25) for the folly of the world. "How?", you might ask. We turn worship into entertainment. We're always seeking a better medium for the message, failing to realize that the message is the medium. While we should be about the business of saving souls, we have turned saving souls into a business. What should be the Church of Christ has become the Church of Christ, Inc. We have traded in the Law of God, which should lead us to the Cross of Christ and repentance unto life, for a softer "law" of behavior modification and political activism. In short, we have settled for being a mere sub-culture oddity rather than being the counter-cultural entity of times past that has radically changed the world by changing hearts and minds through faithful proclamation of the Gospel. Sadly, we are forgetting our first love. The more that we seek relevance with the world, we become more and more irrelevant. We are to be in the world, not of it; to redeem the culture through faithful witness, not give in to the pressures of the society. Ours is surely going in the way of Orwell's model. When the world looks at the church standing alongside the rest of the culture of the west it is becoming increasingly harder to see a real difference. The question then is: If no difference can be seen, then really, what difference does it make?

If we truly seek to reverse this problem, we as the body of Christ need to return to the paths of old and reclaim the gospel as it is taught to us by Jesus and the Apostles. Granted, God can and does still use the church for his good purpose, even as we struggle. But, this does not relieve us as the church of making our election and calling sure and of working out our faith with fear and trembling. My prayer is that the church will be convicted of its sin and neglect and will once again return to the Word of God which is the only way for her to keep her light and doctrine pure. We must once again realize that salvation is from God, not by the work of our own hands. The only way we can make a difference is to be different.

"You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."
-James 4:3-4 (ESV)

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

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world-- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. "
-1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)

"But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent."
-Revelation 2:4,5 (ESV)

Soli Deo Gloria,
Shon White

Sunday, January 08, 2006

On the Relativism of Truth

Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" --John 18:37-38 (ESV)

In declaring that “truth is relative”, we are making a truth claim. However, it is one’s definition of the words themselves that will be deciding factor of whether the statement can be validated as authentic or dismissed as nonsensical. Let’s first take time to do a word study starting with the word truth:

a (1): the state of being the case :
FACT (2) : the body of real things, events, and facts : ACTUALITY (3) often capitalized : a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality b : a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true
c: the body of true statements and propositions.

And now relative:

RELEVANT, PERTINENT 3: not absolute or independent: COMPARATIVE .

As we can see from the definitions above, when we speak of truth, we are stating the facts. If we wanted to put it another way, we are declaring the proposition that upholds the standard. In short, truth is. Truth, by its definition, is passionless. Regardless of how I feel, negatively or positively, truth will stand. In this definition, we have no problem. It is only when we begin to attach the word "relative" to truth that we begin to see a shift or change in what the word actually means. Our key word, truth, now becomes dependent on which definition of relative we choose.
As we look at the definitions of our second word (relative), we can see how this would cause conflict in terms of our definition of truth. The first definition will further affirm or solidify truth’s absoluteness. To say it simply, truth [is] relative based on the fact that it is relates to everyone and everything. As the definition states plainly- it is relevant and pertinent to our understanding. Truth being relative in this case would mean that everyone and everything is accountable to its propositions. Without truth, we cannot relate and furthermore, no truth claim would be relevant. This leads us right into the second definition of the word relative, which states that truth is [relative]. Here there is an emphasis change. The emphasis is no longer on truth’s being relative, as in our first definition, but rather on what relationship a particular truth has to us. To be sure, truth is independently relevant based upon an individual’s views and passions, not on the facts and propositions that it may actually present. The absoluteness of truth in the latter is in the eyes of the beholder. It is with the greatest of conviction that we must affirm the former (first) definition and vehemently deny the latter (second).
This case can confidently be made upon us further looking at the nonsensical “claims” of the second definition of what would more commonly be know as Relativism. The purpose of said movement is to do away with the objectivity of truth. We can here it echoed in statements such as, “Your truth is not my truth”, or better, “It’s true if it works for him/her”. In the first remark we can see that by the very definition of the word truth itself, such a ludicrous idea falls under its own weight. While it is true that both truth claims could be wrong, it cannot, by nature of truth, be true that both claims stand as true. If someone tells me that the sky is blue and I say it is green, by the claims of the previous statements I would be right! Relativism is based not out of objective propositions of truth (in this case, all that we know about color and the names given), but on the feeble shoulders of my subjective whims and wishes. In short, we have crossed the wires of our understanding so that [relativity] is truth. The relationship defines the reality. If I be it out of ignorance or out of volition, don’t relate, then it is truth that must bend and become accountable to me. I, as the independent, decide its relevance (a truth unto myself). This ideology is the folly of wishful thinking. If followed to its rational conclusion, it would not take long for one to see that in a world of truth based on relativism and the subjective nature of individuals, "true truth" (as Francis Schaffer would put it) becomes extinct. Even the beloved credo of “Your truth is not my truth” dies by its own hand, for the only absolute in this arena is [no] truth. A truth cannot be “true” and “not true” at the same time.

[ As I stated earlier, the only way to keep the definition of truth in tact is to affirm the first definition of relative in regards to truth. This is the only way that one can state the “relativity of truth” without robbing it of its glory. “Truth is relative” has meaning because truth is. For example, The law of gravity is not an illusion or a state of mind. It is a matter of FACT. If I do not “relate” to this truth and choose to jump from the top of the Empire State Building, believing that if I flap my arms with all conviction I will begin to glide and soar, I will be more than a little disappointed. Barring some grand act of God, I will in fact, be dead. And no one will say, “Wow, I don’t know what happened. His belief was so strong”. More than likely, it will be said by all (who are not institutionalized), “What could he have been thinking? That’s plain suicide”. In saying so, they would be correct. Regardless of the gap in my ability to relate or comprehend, gravity is real. I am still held accountable to it whether I acknowledge this or not. Gravity, being real, will do its job, no matter how feeble or stubborn my understanding of it may be. It won’t, better yet; it cannot accommodate my fool heartedness. To do that, it would have to cease to be. Gravity would have to become “not gravity”. Gravity is what it is.]

And so it is with all truth claims. They must be objective. For a claim to be considered true it must stand alone based on the evidence and propositions given and must not be given over to the soft pillow of subjectivism which has been placed over the sleeping face rationality of our present day. It is because of this prevailing trend that words, such as truth, have no real meaning (or have lost their meaning) and are therefore left to be defined at the convenience of the individual. This will eventually bring us all under subject to convoluted absolutes and no clear answers to some extremely relevant and pertinent questions. Things such as law, crime, love, hate, right, wrong, good, bad, etc. are left up for grabs in such a society, as the lines become ever more increasingly blurred between them. This will only lead to the greatest of tragedies. People will eventually stop searching for objective truth, becoming satisfied with their own inclinations of what these things mean, from situation to situation, judging these crises only by what pleases them at the moment. Such a way will have an overarching effect on all parts of our life and academia. Ultimately, much liken to our illustration of gravity, this would lead to intellectual suicide which will most assuredly avalanche toward drastic moral decline and the detriment of mankind. We must say with tears, these are signposts that can so prevalently be seen in our culture today, yet continue to go unheeded.

It is under the influence of the current relativistic view of the truth that ultimate truth, God's word, has come under attack. Sadly, this is not only in the secular realm, but in the evangelical realm as well. It is time for confessing Christians to take a stand on the Bible as the inerrant, infallible word of God in order for the Church to regain it's identify, purpose and focus in this world.

"If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free; So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."
-John 8:31-32,36 (ESV)

**"Sanctify them in the Truth; Your Word is Truth."
-John 17:17 (ESV)

**Jesus does not pray for the temporal well-being of the disciples, but for their sanctification. He wishes above all that they be holy. "Truth" is the means by which holiness is attained. Error and deception are basic to evil, and truth is basic to godliness. - notes on John 17:17 from the Reformation Study Bible

"If there is no absolute by which to judge society, society is absolute."
-Francis A. Schaffer
(pictured above)

Soli Deo Gloria,

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