Saturday, June 21, 2008

the state of the flock in a localized region, considered from a highly fallible perspective

I'm at a church that I am glad to be a part of. But I am also ashamed of the church, too. I am glad to be a part of the church that has shared the Gospel with people but ashamed that sometimes that gospel seems to be the gospel of the leader's preference rather than Christ. I am glad to be part of a church that has drawn people together in, through, and for Christ, but ashamed that often this church seems to exist for itself. I am glad that the church has invested in the local region but am ashamed that it has often seemed to be with the intent to take over rather than to serve.

I am glad that my church encourages marriage and family because I have come from a broken home and want people to have those things I didn't have. But I am ashamed that the church has made marriage and reproduction a central point of the application of the Gospel. This is doubly ironic and troublesome in that one of the leaders at the church was critical of Dobson's endorsement of the family as the highest good. If nothing is more holy or sacred than a man seeing his wife hold their first child doesn't that give the game away? Doesn't it reveal that the highest point of the man's life is to be a father and husband? It is not as though I were imputing such a statement to the man without cause because the man said himself that there was no holier moment for him in his life than seeing his wife hold their first child. Why? As a gift from the Lord that is totally undeserved I could see that, but if the man jokes at some point that he doesn't know how single people even get through the day it may be a sign of idolatry creeping in once in a while. If there's a tendency to share stories about kids as much as stories from Scripture about Christ there's at least a risk.

I am ashamed of my church's history of legalistically transforming books like Ruth into a manual for how to get married, and yet I hardly begrudge them the idea of a singles ministry. It's just too bad that for years the church wanted to avoid being like every other church because the leaders and laity wanted to avoid that when the problems seem to have been that we needed to be more like other churches in precisely the areas where we seemed most proud of being different.

How can a church that has amassed so many blogs and websites and has its own knock-off of Facebook be so astonishingly poor at real communication? Not the sort of communication where information is disseminated from the top down to laity, but communication to find out what is going on. If a family conflict can go on with mutual misunderstanding for a year and leaders don't get involved or make the situation worse that's not a great thing. If the person asked to help ameliorate the situation makes things worse but during that time got a sterling job review then doesn't it seem to be at least possible that both the person being reviewed and the people reviewing were fundamentally overlooking aspects of what serving Christ might entail where peace-making is concerned?

I don't say any of this to suggest that I feel like I ought to leave this church but sometimes I wonder if in some sense the church has left me and other people behind. Since I have actively avoided having anything to do with formal positions or "leadership" in this church if the church decides to leave me behind, change the terms of the contract, and expect me to sign on for a "covenant" that isn't the same as the one I signed years ago then I don't know that I'm going to leave. I hope, by the Lord's help, to keep my word even if the other parties do not, and it becomes increasingly worrisom to me that it seems that they have not kept their word.

A capital campaign that raises money for a money that isn't even legally coded or licensed to be used is a disaster. Redistributng the money to a more practical cause and admitting it four years later has a certain modicum of honesty and accountability to it, but it's too little, too late. The accountability needed to happen before anyone started the capital campaign. To fail at such a task is to violate Jesus' teaching to not build a tower unless you have first counted the cost. I attend a church that does not count the cost and then asks its laity to pony up money for ambitions that are not based on discretion as often as they could have been.

This is not to say that there aren't good things happening at this church. The Lord redeems His people, the Lord sustains His people. But I have seen people adamantly claiming that wrongs have been done while willfuly overlooking wrongs that did not touch them at a personal level and therefore were not worth noting or didn't not mean anything to them at all. I am seeing people who are bitter because their friends got hurt, no bitterness about the lack of accountability they themselves brought to things.

I am ashamed that a church that once seeemed truly vibrant and growing with flawed leaders who held each other accountable seems to be dying. The spark is gone but not completely. The Lord watches over His people. It is strange to realize someone preached a sermon about people who hold on in dead and dying churches because there is more than one kind of dead church. There is the church that dies by shrinking away and the church that dies by ceasing to be what it was at first, ceasing to have its first love. A church that dies the former death has the better death because no one is left with the capacity for self-deception to say "This is the same thing it once was." It's true, but that's not where the self-deception really is. The self-deception is in whether it is really "all about Jesus". We have to ask, "Whose Jesus?" We are geniuses at reinventing Jesus in our own likeness.

That is what I think may have happened at my church and the trouble is that the people who are protesting most that this has happened are some of the worst perpetrators of the problem in the last four years. it's hard to describe how numb you can feel when you see people on either side and realize that the Lord spoke truly through the Scriptures. There is no one who is righteous, no, not even one. Every man did what was right in his own eyes. There is a way that seems right to a man but it's end is death. A man may be right in everything he does in his own eyes but it is the Lord who weighs the heart. I can't shake this nerve-wracking feeling that the Lord has weighed us all and found us wanting.

I can't shake the feeling that God allowed Satan to entice David to take a census as a way to punish His people. David took the census against the advice of some of his longest-standing advisors. He shot Joab down and Joab, in defeat and unable to speak against the king and his kingly surmise, went out and simply did what the king resolved. Once the census was done David realized he had sinned against the Lord but by then it was too late and the Lord spoke to David and asked him if he wanted three years of famine, three months of war or three days of plague. David chose three days of plague and tens of thousands of his people died.

Leaders can do more to destroy the lives of God's people with their dumbass ideas inspired by Satan, while thinking they are doing God's work, than most kinds of people. I can't shake the sinking feeling that something like that may have happened at the church I am part of. It's not because I think the people are bad people. They truly love the Lord and I have been blessed in ways that I can't begin to describe. I still have reason to believe the Lord wants me to be where I am at. But I get discouraged. Some would say that simply by attending I am promoting what is wrong ... but those people who have said that encouraged legalisms and didn't speak out at injustices that didn't affect them personally so, much as I love those people and respect them in most respects their hypocrisy is too painfully apparent. They aren't out for justice but revenge and since both belong to Christ it is not exactly my place to leave the place the Lord has led me to because some other man insists on binding my by his own conscious and sense of moral outrage fueled by personal affront.

After all, that's what the Pharisees and Sadducees and law experts did with Jesus, measured him by their own understanding of righteousness and found him wanting.

And, see, if you find you have been sinned against by people on both sides of the divide you find it that much harder to give a damn. If the one person who labors to ameliorate a problem that others (including you) have only made worse and works toward restoration and that person is on side B then what can the person on side A really say that means anything? The person on side A left in anger because he didn't get what he wanted and because, perhaps, the position in which he took so much pride became a stumbling block for him. He aspired to be in group B and didn't get there but felt free to speak as though he could speak with the same authority as people in group B. So, all in all, the hypocrisy on both sides is too much for me to claim to know how to deal with.

In this setting I don't blame anyone for deciding to leave even though I do not feel the Lord has released me yet. But I do find it blameworthy that people attempt to recruit soldiers for their causes as though those causes in themselves were the same as serving Christ. It's empire-building and not service and tthough I can't claim to know what a life of service really looks like I am at least coming to some understanding of what it isn't. If you consider others better than yourself it is easier to serve them. If people consider themselves better than those they serve they are no longer able to serve as they should, no longer able to love them as Christ loved us--Christ loved us more than His own status as God and emptied Himself to serve us.

So, to be very plain, I am sad. I have been sad for years but not quite like I have been sad lately. I am old enough to see how the lives of people I love will be affected by this and across more than one generation. I am afraid that people I care about a great deal will get sucked into the bitterness of their parents' generation and forget that serving Christ means turning your back on your family at times, though not in a way that hurts them if that can be helped.

I am debating whether or not anything i say or do could mean anything. I don't believe that if I blog or write that it will make a difference but I can't help feeling I need to start writing and speaking about some of these things more directly, even though nothing is likely to be gained by it.

faith healing and medical treatment--parents in Oregon charged with death of their child by a treatable condition

I am not in principle against praying for healing. I've done it, but I don't think it means people don't get the best medical hep they can. A child dying due to a treatable condition the parents did not get treated for religious reasons brings up the old problem of the tension between freedom of religion and what gets considered criminal activity. Is it against the law to let your kid die because you refuse to get them the medical help they need? If it isn't or shouldn't be then death-with-dignity advocacy suddenly seems more than just defensible, it may be the only ethical position. If parents can decide to withhold medical treatment and that is the free exercise of religion that leads to the death of their chid it's a lose/lose scenario because the alternative, the state deciding when and where the death of a child may be permitted, is hardly an improvement!

This is another case where what we suppose going into the situation may confront us about the limits of our reason and ethics. A teacher I once knew said that most people fail to understand the nature of the presidency in the United States. They think it should be a question of deciding whether or not people must die or be killed. Politics isn't like that, and foreign policy particularly isn't really that. The president has to decide HOW MANY people have to die in a particular cause, so to speak. Actually, where formal declarations of war go that's the job of Congress but Congress doesn't seem interested in framing the issue in those terms when they can let the Executive do what seems right at the time and then complains about executive abuse when they should consider their abdication of constitutionally granted powers.

What seems most absurd about liberals who oppose the military ventures we have overseas is that they oppose it for reasons that have nothing to do with constitutional separation of powers. That doesn't mean I exactly buy everything Ron Paul pitches but at least Paul opposed the war on grounds that I think are internally consistent and defensible. It's also a case study in that the further left or right you go on certain issues the more the two poles seem to converge.

In fact I often feel that the far left and right should just have a conference on how evil international Jewish bankers are behind everything because then they could make it official.

How does any of that apply to the situation where parents refused to get medical treatment for their child who then died? I don't know. It seems as though it can be easy to not consider the cost of decisions and then blame someone else. If I were any good at assessing those things would I be where I am today? Eh, probably. Counting the cost is something I've done at the expense of taking risks so it's not like I have much business saying people ought to do this or that.

Still, in my own life, I had a medical condition that was pretty serious and my parents took me to get prayed over and when I had been prayed over by some people at a house church my mom asked me how I felt and if my eyes were better. I told mom I needed to see an eye surgeon as soon as possible, the surgeon who diagnosed my macular detachment. Fortunately I had parents who took me to go see an eye surgeon and that's why I can read and write this blog entry.

If it were easy to discern when something is walking in faith and trusting in Christ and when something is walking in sight it would be walking by faith. Sometimes it seems as though knowing doctrines and going to prayer meetings where people who are allegedly annointed by God to heal seems like walking by sight rather than walking by faith. And yet a cessationist can easily say "an evil and unbelieving generation asks for a sign". At some point, though, the cessationist is essentially a deist who wears a fig leaf of orthodoxy to hide the fact that he doesn't believe miracles can really happen. What's more painful is to truly believe God can and is able to heal but withholds that healing.

The paradox is that no one was more familiar with this struggle than Christ Himself. He went into towns where he could only lay hands on a few sick and heal them and marvelled at their unbelief. Even Jesus was in a situation or two where he COULDN'T heal people. The Father didn't have that appointed for some and Jesus, as a man, had to trust the Father about that. That's hard to do.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Slate essay on culture war and sexual orientation.

Liberals are slow to see what's coming. They're still fighting the culture war. The Toronto Star, like other papers, finds a neuroscientist who thinks the new study "should erode the moral judgments often made against homosexual preferences and rebut any argument that it is a mere a lifestyle choice." Well, yes. But then what? The reduction of homosexuality to neurobiology doesn't mean your sexual orientation can't be controlled. It just means the person controlling it won't be you.

Conservatives may be equally slow to see what is coming, or both sides are potentially blind to what has already come. If it is possible to manipulate the direction of sexual orientation within the womb isn't this tampering with "nature"? Considering the battles about ethics and science we'll always have with us there seems to be a paradox or outright contradiction that can happen for both sides. If it isn't wrong to abort the fetus why would it be wrong to redesign the fetus in the womb so that it will have a sexual orientation the parents feel more comfortable with and is more congruent with their religious beliefs? Conversely, if aborting the fetus is wrong because it interferes with a process that should naturally run its course how do we justify using hormone or other treatments to change the sexual orientation of our babies in utero? I'm not saying a consistent position can't be arrived at, just that the alacrity with which either the liberal or conservative embrace one aspect and not the other can be discouraging because it seems that both sides are cherry-picking principles to arrive at particular conclusions.

I think the first principle would be to begin with Jesus' rhetorical question before He healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath? To save a life or to kill?" The man stretched out his hand and it was healed, and that became the basis for Jesus' enemies to seek a way to kill him from very early in the Gospel of Mark.

It is interesting what we may excuse in presidents and excoriate in ordinary people. A president is allowed the license to kill people we consider worthy of death or not worthy of life, yet we wouldn't permit someone to make such a decision for an individual. It's not that I don't appreciate that the need to make such decisions exists, just that I'm ruminating on how we seem to cherry-pick who gets to choose who lives and who dies. We would like to cherry-pick who can decide what tampering needs to be done in utero with the life of someone else.

The older I get and the more I consider what Scripture says and how people rationalize selective killing the more I can respect the position that opposing both abortion and the death penalty seems biblically defensible. If you oppose one and not the other you're not applying the principle of preserving life consistently, or so it seems to me. And arguing that fetuses ought to be able to be aborted but that parents should not then have the privilege of selecting or altering gender or orientation would be so fraught with problems I would advise liberals, for their own good, to not even go there. I would also suggest conservatives consider the arguments for why one form of pre-natal alteration is justified and the other isn't and to square that with the traditionally proposed argument that orientation is a lifestyle choice. If you concede that pre-natally altering the orientation of your child would be desirable isn't that admitting that there is a biological and pre-natal influence on orientation your child has no control over but that you, potentially, MAY have control over? DOes that mean parents are now going to be held responsible by God for the immorality of their children if they had it in their power to change junior's orientation to straight but didn't because they couldn't afford to make that sacrifice? I don't really know and I admit I'm just pondering things on a blog.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

This made me laugh

You have to be a certain sort of fan of guitar music and classical music to appreciate this humor. I actually still like to hear Aranjuez but I have to mention that I only listen to it once or twice a year at most and I prefer Concierto de Volos by Brouwer. Anyway, this is such an esoteric form of humor I should let it be.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Does Protestantism despise everything except the individual's encounter with God?

"What I ask myself is whether Bouyer (RC critic of Protestantism) is right when he says that Protestantism winds up despising everything except the individual’s encounter with God."

Interesting question. It's such a polemical statement to say that Protestantism winds up despising everything except the individual's encounter with God. Why? Because it seems that the polemic separates what can't be separated. Isn't our whole faith founded on an individual's encounter with God? Yeah, since Abraham anyway. But that's the rub, Abraham's individual encounter became an encounter that was shared with Sarah and Isaac.

And on down the line we find that both the individual and collective encounter with Christ grounds the faith. Paul grounds his apostolic status in two things, one that he received the Gospel that he understood to be consistent with what was received by the other apostles ... and yet considers his own individual encounter with Christ to be the foundation for his being an apostle. Protestants and Catholics seem to separate in their polemics what Paul does not separate. The Twelve certainly didn't have to separate the two, their personal and collective encounter with Christ.

It seems as though more nuanced polemics between Protestants and Catholics might say that the Protestant compromises understanding the collective encounter with Christ by focusing on individual justification, whereas Protestants might point out that collective experience of Christ has to start somewhere and that claims to infallibility for the Church don't necessarily ensure that individual manifestations don't lose their way on some issues. My own variation is that God let the kingdom of Israel be divided in the old covenant so I'm not surprised if there are divisions in the new covenant.

I was meaning to write more on this topic but don't really feel like it. I have had other things on my mind lately.

Monday, June 16, 2008

pastor threatens to stop preaching until 2009 if he discovers his church members don't attend when he's not preaching

Fascinating. I think my favorite part is the open letter the pastor wrote wherein he says:

Many leaders at CCV wonder if people chose not to come because you knew I was not speaking.

Please understand that if that turns out to be the case, honest to God you won’t hear me speak until 2009. I will hire first-year Bible college interns who can barely chew gum and talk at the same time to rotate the speaking responsibilities for the next 6.5 months.

I enjoyed reading this and think it's a threat that some pastors should not only take up but perhaps even pre-emptively act upon if they are aware that the likelihood of a cult of personality is high.

If attendence at your church nosedives because you're not preaching there that might be a sign that people are there for you and not Jesus.

it's British journalism on religion, so take it with a grain of salt

Rumors are circulating Bush might convert to Catholicism. Does this mean Westboro Baptist will claim Bush is the antichrist now or something like that? The Bush 2 administration has done enough stuff to force futurists to consider Bush a possible antichrist that I'm surprised I haven't heard more about this. After all, Bush's administration has promiosed to work toward a settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, and are attempting to export democracy to other nations. Some liberals have been saying for years Bush is an antichrist or the antichrist but if Bush converted to Catholicism there are a lot of fundamentalists or hard-core Protestants who would have to say Bush's faith is dubious at best if he converts or say that though the Catholic church is a false religion that Bush is nonetheless still a believer. That sort of exceptionalism might even work, though it would rquire one to supposed that plenty of people who profess to be born again aren't. Then again, that's precisely what some people have suspected to be true of the President, that he's not really as born again as is convenient to advertise during election years.

Still, British journalism about religion is what gave us (fromt eh TElegraph no less) specious reports that Gorby was a closet Christian. My hunch is that if the Telegraph reports it on religion it's probably NOT true.

What IS apparently true is that Bishop N. T. Wright will appear on the Colbert report.