Monday, February 20, 2006
"Keep selling truth in candy bars
on billboards and backs of cars;
Truth without context--
The favorite of all my crimes."
- Derek Webb/ excerpt from the song "A Ballad in Plain Red"
Some friends and I were walking through Wal-Mart yesterday, when we came across the item pictured above. It took a second or two for it to sink in; it just didn't seem real at the moment. In case you haven't figured out what it is, it's Easter candy:
Candy Crosses--in traditional milk and white chocolate!!!
This is insane. It's bad enough that Easter has been reduced to bunnies and Easter eggs. Now this; a complete bastardization of the truth behind Easter to push product. Welcome to the postmodern era, folks. Now some may say, "What's the big deal?" Well, here it is.
The Cross, for any true Christian is the ultimate reminder of the sacrifice that Christ made for the atonement of the sins of the world. It represents the punishment originally due to us, taken on by the One who knew no sin and became sin for us. As the hymn goes:
Seven times he spake seven words of love;
And all three hours his silence cried
For mercy on the souls of men
Jesus our Lord is crucified
O love of God! O sin of man!
In this dread act, your strength is tried;
and victory remains with love;
Jesus our Lord is crucified
I don't quite get this feeling when a look at a chocolate candy cross. But one shouldn't be too surprised to see this in our day and age. The calling card of postmodern thought is bastardization; to take anything it wishes, pluck it out of context to be used as representative for whatever your heart desires. Everything is relative. Nothing is sacred. Whatever you want it to mean is what it means. This is the age of the end of absolutes because objective truth has no meaning. Some may see this as a way to strike a blow against the Easter bunny, but it falls well short of doing that. It puts it on the same level. The cross is no longer set apart (especially in the minds of children), but rather now to be included in the pop culture and folk lore that has become so familiar to us. It's about as ridiculous as a church Easter egg hunt. Power is traded for product and glory for monetary gain. The lists of examples is long (both in Christian and non-Christian industry), but for brevity's sake I have chosen to stay holiday specific.
While this may seem to be a non-issue to some (probably most), this is a subtle symptom of a problem that is prevalent in our day. We should never underestimate the power of marketing. Images and words play a powerful role in shaping our worldview. Images and words outside of the proper context can be dangerous. It causes the paradigm to shift:
"Ring around the rosy
Pocket full of Posies
We all fall down"
What we have above is a simple little nursery rhyme that is recited by all children in modern day times. With no thought given to the words, it's harmless. But if we put it in it's proper context in history (Bubonic Plague of 1666, England), much more weight has to, as well as should be, given to it.
This is where we stand today as Christians; we must fight against the cultural standard and resist the temptation to reduce meaning of faith to mere product placement. Christ crucified is the pivotal point in the redemptive history of man. To contemplate the cross should not make us salivate; it should make us weep. As the holiday approaches, I urge those that are of the true Christian faith to look upon the cross more earnestly. After all, every Sunday is essentially an "Easter" celebration. As we meditate on the power and the purpose of the crucifixion, let us sing the words of Charles Wesley:
Amazing Love! How can it be; that thou, my God, should die for me!
"But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed." -Isaiah 53:5 (ESV)
Soli Deo Gloria,
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
So there I am--
I'm flipping through the stations, when I run across an Interview with Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen. Their topic of discussion was: "What does the Lord require of us?" They pointed out the fact that most Christians do not truly understand what it is that God requires from us. This was then followed up by a "man on the street interview" segment to further drive the point home. Yes, the answers given by those being questioned were bad. But what was even more troubling were the answers given by the ones who are allegedly shepherding the flock! When asked the same question by Meyer, Osteen replied that he believed that the most important thing was for us to "love other people" and to do "kind acts for others; this is what Jesus did and we should follow his example". Meyer echoes the sentiment and then she adds that it is equally important to "know that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives". While loving others is not a bad thing, when it comes to knowing what God requires, first things must come first. Loving your neighbor is not the first priority. There is a prerequisite that must be filled:
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." - Psalm 51:17 (ESV)
"For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." - Hosea 6:6 (ESV)
"'With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?' He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness [steadfast love], and to walk humbly with your God?" - Micah 6:6-8 (ESV)
As we can see from these passages of Scripture, we must love God first. The answers in which Osteen and Meyer give twists the order and causes the Christian Faith to become man-centered (works based) instead of God-centered (gift of God). This may seem like "doctrinal nit-picking" to some on my part, but if we look closely at what the Word of God says on the matter we will see that the order is of the utmost importance:
[And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."] - Mark 12:30-33 (ESV)
Once again, Jesus (and the scribe after him) affirms that we are to love God first. The love of God cannot be accomplished by us. Unfortunately this is what the ministers left out. Even to "realize that God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life" is not true if I am not born again (John 3:3, 5 ). The Bible makes it clear that we are not in and of ourselves righteous no matter how many good deeds and charitable acts I perform toward my fellow man. Without a proper assessment of where I stand with God outside faith in the Redeeming work of Christ crucified, I am no better for these things (Rom. 3:11-18, 20).
The ultimate prerequisite is in God's divine initiative. It is God who must reach out and change our hearts in order that we are able to love him:
"I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." - Ezekiel 36:25-26 (ESV)
"Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" - Acts 2:37-38 (ESV)
Once this has happened, it is then (and only then) that the word of God penetrates our hearts and we may repent of our sins against God as he bestows His grace upon us. After this, we will be able to walk in the commands of God. In fulfilling what the Lord requires in our steadfast love towards Him, we will then, as result of the forgiveness and compassion shown to us by God be able to properly show love towards our fellow man.
The true danger of the teaching disseminated by Osteen and Meyer is that of truth mingled with error. The doctrine is twisted and taken out of context; they can definitely show you where it says to love your fellow man in the Bible, however it will sadly not come in its proper order. This is a low-grade domesticated version of the Gospel message. If one falls into the trap of believing this way, it may set them up for a false sense of security in terms of their salvation. This is why it is important to know what God reveals about himself in Scripture, not to base it on our own whims and wishes. Loving your neighbor, apart from understanding the need to love God, only leads to self-love and doing "good" for our own glory.
"We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." - Isaiah 64:6 (ESV)
"Justification never results from good works; justification always results in good works." -John Blanchard
"Love God, and do what you please." - St. Augustine of Hippo
Soli Deo Gloria,
Monday, February 06, 2006
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."
- Galatians 1:6-9 (ESV)
Since I've started blogging, I've been getting a lot of strong reactions from friends and family. "Wow, we thought you liked being a Christian", or even better, "Don't you think that you're overreacting--it's really not that bad", they'll say.
Well, I would have to disagree (I know-- big shocker, right?). You have to understand that most people these days get their "theology" the same way they get all of there other "pertinent" information; through the television. While some do actually attend a church regularly, televangelist still play a heavy role in shaping most Christians' theological point of view, due to the simple fact that some have a hard time discerning what is actually sound theology. I've even seen a situation where a person belongs to a biblically based, doctrinally sound congregation, yet still cannot hear or see the difference between the message of their own Pastor and your everyday run of the mill "Televangelist huckster". So, in order to show that I'm not just paranoid or trying to turn molehills into mountains (I'm not the first to point these things out and I surely won't be the last), I have decided to to add a series of entries (to be done periodically) known as "Evangel Lies" to my blog space. I have to say right now, that not ALL televangelists (or ministers that come on television) are bad. I am simply doing this to show what some of the more prominent ministers, particularly from the Word Faith-Prosperity (aka "third wave") movement are saying, and the theology (or lack thereof) that lies behind the purpose of these ministries. It will also be used to discuss certain spurious trends of teaching and preaching in modern evangelicalism all together by examining these ministers in their own words when held up to the light of Scripture. Most of all, I want to use this segment, even more so than others, to encourage fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to search the scriptures to find out if these things are so, in order to be able to determine truth from error based on the Word of God alone. It is not my hatred for these men and women that compels me (as I hope that they will be convicted of their sin), but my love for Christ and His Church.
All that being said, on with the show...the first disscussion is on the way.
"Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them."
- Acts 20:28-30 (ESV)