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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Bad Sources

I'm sure you've seen this. Bob makes an argument to a group about how 2 + 2 = 4. Jim says, "Oh, yeah? Well, you know Bob divorced his wife last year, right?" So the idea is we're supposed to ignore Bob's argument because Bob's a bad person. It is a standard logical fallacy. In fact, it's one of the most popular. They call it "ad hominem" for short (although there are actually valid ad hominem arguments). The idea is to attack the character of the source rather than the content of the argument. You understand, I hope, what's wrong with this. Basically, it doesn't address the question.

I'm not entirely clear on why we do this. Oh, we all do. But why? It seems to come from a fundamentally flawed perspective: "If you do something wrong, you can never be right." We use it all the time. We assume that if that person has divorced, then they're bad, unreliable, unworthy. If this person came from a homosexual culture or criminal background, they are untrustworthy and suspect. Beyond that, if "that song" came from a group that is suspect, "that song" is bad without regard to what it says. If a false teacher makes a statement, the statement is wrong because this teacher is a false teacher, not because the statement is wrong. We use it all the time.

Maybe it's laziness on our part. I don't know. Maybe it's just too hard to examine the truth claims and evaluate the logic and the evidence and the reasoning and come to a conclusion. Maybe it's just easier to dismiss someone because of something wrong in their character or associations. But we do so at our own peril. You see, if the truth was told, we are all flawed (Psa 130:3).

How do I know for a fact that it's a mistake to dismiss out of hand truth claims that come from bad sources? Well, turn with me in your Bibles to ... every single book. Every one of them is written by fallen men. Look at so many of the Psalms written by David, the adulterer and murderer. Look at the books written by Solomon who pursued idolatry in his latter years. Look at the New Testament written largely by the self-professed killer, Paul. Look at the letters written by the disciple that denied even knowing Jesus. If all of that is true and all of it came from "bad sources", you can be quite sure that God's truth can be provided from sources that are not, in and of themselves, good sources.

I've seen it before. "Don't listen to that song; it comes from Hillsong and everyone knows they're heretical." "I'm not even going to listen to you if you cite C.S. Lewis because he was wrong in his theology." "You know, that pastor disgraced himself and his church when he fell into sin. Don't listen to anything he says." Perhaps it is laziness ... at best. I suspect it is more often self-righteous arrogance. We should be better than that. Paul said, "Brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil 4:8) Even if the sources are not perfect. They used to say, "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day." If God could use a donkey to speak the truth to Balaam, surely there might be truth in other poor sources as well.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Judging Rightly

If there's one thing we all know, Jesus did not judge. I mean, He said so, right? Wasn't it Jesus who said, "Judge not"? Wasn't it Jesus who said, "I came not to judge the world, but to save the world"? Wasn't it Jesus who said, "Neither do I condemn you"? Clearly, Jesus didn't have a judging bone in His body. The only people He had anything judgmental to say about anyone were the Pharisees. Am I right?

So why is it that we run into totally off-the-wall instructions like this one from the end of James's epistle?
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
Isn't that precisely what we're supposed to avoid? To not be correcting others' mistakes is exactly the kind of thing "Judge not" is intended to convey, isn't it? So, hold on here. Do we have James contradicting Jesus? Let's see.

1) It is quite clear that Jesus's harshest words were to the hypocritical religious leaders of His day (Matt 23:13-39). This is only exacerbated when you realize that the Hebrew concept of "woe" is a curse. Jesus was pronouncing curses on the scribes and Pharisees and lawyers (Luke 11:52). But it wasn't only the religious leaders. He used the same phrase against Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum (Matt 11:21-24), entire cities of Israel. He used the same term for the rich (Luke 6:24) and even for one of His disciples (Luke 22:22). This is much more than religious hypocrites. This encompasses all who do not repent (Luke 13:1-4).

2) In Matthew's Gospel, the first teachings from Jesus's ministry were, originally, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17), followed by the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus didn't narrow definitions of sin, but expanded them (Matt 5:17-48). Listing expanded ways to be evil doesn't qualify as "nonjudgmental".

3) In the famous "Neither do I condemn you" line from the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), Jesus followed the line with "Go, and from now on sin no more." (John 8:11) Clearly "sin no more" means "You've been sinning; stop it!" This is not "I'm ignoring any sin you might have."

4) There is the account of when Jesus threw out the confusing, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you." (John 6:53) It upset people. John specifies that it upset "many of His disciples" (John 6:60). To His disciples He said, "But there are some of you who do not believe." (John 6:64) Now, that is judgmental. "Wait ... are you saying I don't believe? Who are you to tell me if I believe or not?" And, of course, add to that Jesus's own words, "Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:18) I don't know of any standard of "judgmental" that would say "You're damned" is not classified as "judgmental".

We know that there is a righteous judge (Gen 18:25). We know that judgment is necessary and right. And we know that Jesus said, "If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world." (John 12:47) On matters of judgment He also said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." (John 7:24), "As I hear, I judge, and My judgment is just, because I seek not My own will but the will of Him who sent Me." (John 5:30), and "You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, My judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent Me." (John 8:15-16) So, either Jesus is contradicting Himself ... or we're failing to grasp what He is saying when we say, "Judge not means never judge." We can be quite certain it is not that Jesus was crazy, so we're going to have to go with the second option. Jesus said, "As the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself. And He has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man." (John 5:26-27) Jesus is the judge, the righteous judge, the Judge of all the earth. As such He does judge. He wasn't doing it during His lifetime -- that kind of judgment that metes out final condemnation or release. He was judging during His lifetime the kind of judgment that identifies right and wrong, sin or not sin, and calls for repentance. And He was doing it rightly.

And we are called to do the same. That's what the James passage tells us. Further, the James passage says that it is an act of kindness. It saves people from death and covers sins. No, not eternal salvation -- only Jesus does that -- but it is a participation on the process that God uses to complete the good work that He began (Phil 1:6), to "keep you from stumbling" (Jude 1:24). And these are good things.

Quickly, then, if Christ was doing it rightly, how are we to do it rightly? First and foremost, Jesus said that His Word is the judge (John 12:48). We don't get to make stuff up; it has to be biblical. Beyond that, however, there are a couple of key ingredients that must be included. We find one set of components when Paul says, "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal 6:1-2) The aim is restoration, not retribution, punishment, or anything else. It is part of bearing one another's burdens. And, most importantly, it must be in "a spirit of gentleness". Gently, not with "righteous indignation" or some sort of moral superiority. You could be next. (That's what Paul says; "Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.") Finally, we read, "Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:15-16) Love is the key. Love is critical. Love is absolutely necessary. Love is the primary motive for doing it at all. It is love for the person, love for the Body, love for Christ.

The world (and many Christians) wants to tell us, "Only God can judge me" (by which they generally mean "And I don't expect He will") and "You're not supposed to judge." Why? "Jesus said so." Be careful. Given Jesus as our example and the rest of Scripture as our instruction, don't accept a simplistic, word-modified version of "Don't judge". Use the biblical version, the version that Jesus practiced, the one that is because of love rather than opposed to it like today's "Don't tell me what to do while I descend into more God-declared problems." That's just a lie.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

It Can Get Under Your Skin

Meet Euhaplorchis californiensis. This little bug is a parasite that lives in salt-water marshes in southern California. It is a strange little bug.

This thing, as it turns out, lives in three different hosts. Try to follow this. The eggs of this parasite arrive in pools of water in shorebird (host #1) droppings. In these pools of water there is a water snail called a horn snail (host #2) that consumes these eggs. The thing is, these parasites don't like to live in horn snails. I mean, who would? So they hatch in larva form in the horn snails. They use the snail's digestive system to asexually produce clonal forms called rediae. These radiae become a new form called cercariae that can swim. Thousands of these things exit the snail a day. In the water, where they find killifish (host #3). When they find this fish, they bore into the sides of the fish and work their way into the killifish's brain where they excrete a substance that forms a shell around the parasite and then alter the brain function of the host. These killifish start acting erratically in ways that will naturally call attention to themselves from ... you got it ... shorebirds. Since it is in the shorebird gut that they can reproduce, this is their final aim. The shorebird sees these "crazy fish", consumes them, and puts the parasites into its intestinal tract so they can lay eggs and restart the cycle. By accident. All as a matter of Evolution. Trust me.

"Oh, that's weird," I can hear you say already. "A parasite that manipulates the behavior of one host in order to end up in another? Really?" Yeah. Really. And there is more than one.

Meet Toxoplasma gondii. Estimates are that 11% of Americans are infected with this single-celled organism ... and possibly half of all people worldwide. How is this parasite so successful? It functions similar to the shorebird/snail/fish one. Get this. This little thing likes to live in cats. Go figure. According to the CDC, "The only known definitive hosts for Toxoplasma gondii are members of family Felidae (domestic cats and their relatives)." So this parasite only reproduces in the digestive tracts of cats and its spores reside in cat feces. Problem: How to get into more cats? Well, their spores get into the soil or water or on plants which are then consumed by rats. Getting a connection here? I mean, cats love rats. So ... but wait ... how does this help? Well, once in these rats, they make their way to the rat brains. Once there they alter their behavior. They make the rat react to cat urine so that, instead of fleeing the danger, they become aggressive ... against cats. They will charge them and attack. This, of course, is not a winning strategy. It simply makes them more easily eaten ... by cats. They become zombie rats, in essence, and the cats eat it up ... literally. So, given the ubiquity of rats and cats, it is easily possible for these parasites to get into humans as well. Now, humans are not a good host for these things and typically there are no effects, no symptoms, no problems. However, some scientists have wondered if this might be one contributor to schizophrenia? Probably not, but you have to admit that "This all happens from a natural, Evolutionary process" seems really far-fetched.

I ran into these two (who are not, by the way, alone in their bizarre stories) recently in a couple of scientific reports. It was interesting. I showed the information to a couple of my colleagues who are, by no means, Christians. Both had identical responses. "Wow, that kind of makes 'natural selection' look nigh unto impossible." One said, "I can't believe I'm saying that, but it sure looks like the only possible answer is Intelligent Design." Yes ... yes it does.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mawwiage

(For those who don't get the reference in the title, it is from The Princess Bride.)

Steven Landsburg wrote, "Marriage is a contract." The article, The Marriage Contract, is subtitled, "Divorce is just a breakdown in negotiations." I get it. When my first wife told me she was leaving, I tried this idea out. I sought out a lawyer -- any lawyer -- who would help me sue her for "breach of contract". After all, she had promised before God and witnesses "'til death do us part" and, as far as I knew, we were both still alive, so how was that not breach of contract? I didn't want compensation; I just wanted to get the law to hold her to her agreement. (No, no lawyer would try it.) (Doesn't that suggest it isn't really a contract?)

The article in Slate, however, was about a change (back in 1997) in Louisiana marriage law. They were changing from one "marriage contract" to two types. One was the standard "no-fault" contract like every other state. The second was called "covenant marriage" and made divorce much, much harder. It was the first "covenant marriage" law in the U.S. Landsburg observes, "Even if you never divorce, your choice among contracts can affect the entire course of your marriage." How? Well, if you have the possibility of divorce, it will affect your motivation to keep your spouse happy. That is, "If I cannot get out of this marriage, I had better make it the best I possibly can." Actually makes sense.

We understand marriage as a contract. "If you do X, I will do Y. If you don't do X, I am not obligated to do Y." So, "If you will love me for the rest of your life, I will love you for the rest of my life. If you don't ..." We get that. And some have modified their language to something like "'til love do us part." What, then, is a covenant marriage. Well, contracts are characterized as limited in time, requiring specifics of each in the contract, based on an "if/then" kind of thinking, and motivated primarily by "What will I get out of this?" Covenants ... are not. Covenants are aimed at the benefit of the other and, as such, contain promises for rather than from the other. In a marriage covenant, love becomes a choice as much as an emotion, where you can practice it even when you don't feel it. That is, "I promise to love you for the rest of my life" is not a promise to "feel warmly toward you", but to "always seek your best." A covenant is not intended to be temporary. More importantly, a marriage contract is a conditional promise to each other; a marriage covenant is an promise to God regarding each other. As such, a covenant marriage would be a marriage first and foremost aimed at glorifying God and, before anything else, seeking to give to the other all that is for his or her best. Not quite the same as a contract.

A website on the topic explains the difference between contract and covenant marriage this way.
Contract: I take thee for me.
Covenant: I give myself to thee.

Contract: You had better do it!
Covenant: How may I serve you?

Contract: What do I get?
Covenant: What can I give?

Contract: I'll meet you halfway.
Covenant: I'll give you 100%.

Contract: I have to
Covenant: I want to
When I argued that marriage has for all time meant "the union of a man and a woman for purposes of mutual support and for procreation", they fired back, "Don't force your definition on us" and "It won't change your marriage if you give same-sex couples marriage, too." This, of course, isn't true. It has changed marriage in general. Certainly not solely because of same-sex marriage, but because that is the end of an arc, a "ballistic missile" launched back in the '60's that has impacted all of society ... and not for the better.

In a few short months my wife and I will celebrate our 25th anniversary. It is often traditional to renew vows at milestones like these, so my wife and I plan to renew our vows and switch our "standard" marriage in the eyes of the law to a "covenant marriage" in the eyes of the law. "Till death do us part." For real. As God intended. Will it fix the current degeneration of marriage in America? Of course not. But it will be a clear message for those in our sphere of influence, and that's all we can do. The rest, as always, is in God's hands.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Be There

It was an adorable video. She was maybe 3 years old. She sat in front of a laptop with a video playing. She held a guitar about 4 sizes too big for her and she strummed that guitar for all she was worth (without, you know, actually playing it) and sang to the video loudly. "How wonderful! How marvelous! And my song shall ever be. How wonderful! How marvelous is my Savior's love for me." Really cute.

But ... you know ... she was three. I was pretty sure that she didn't know what "marvelous" meant. She didn't really get all the words in the right places. She was mimicking, not worshiping. And that's fine. But it got me to thinking. Do we do that? As adults?

I can't tell you how many young people I've sat down with who listened to their "favorite tunes" and I've asked them, "Do you know what it's saying?" "No," they tell me, "I just like the tune." Some tell me, "Sure", but they don't really. I remember an interaction with a pastor who was saying how much he liked Olivia Newton John's I Honestly Love You. I said, "Have you actually looked at those lyrics?" "Yeah, sure," he said. And then I pointed to the last verse. There it is revealed that the singer and the one to whom it is sung are both married ... to someone else. This was an adulterous love. "Are you sure you like that song?" He pulled it from his list. But that's often what we do. We get inculcated. We get sucked into the music. We get hypnotized in a sense. We're no longer noticing words; we're more into the music. If we know the words, they're coming out robotically, not from the heart. Maybe we're even swaying to the music (or whatever body language would fit). But we're not in the song; we're ... unconscious -- unaware of exactly what is being said.

When we go to church on Sundays, we tend to think of the singing time as "worship". Fine. I mean, worship is much larger than that, but the singing would be included in "worship". So if the intent is to glorify God, to praise God, to lift our hearts to Him, wouldn't it be good to do it consciously? Wouldn't it be wise to do it intentionally? Shouldn't we be there when we worship God rather than being cute and mimicking like that little 3-year-old with the guitar? I mean, sure, it's adorable ... but is it worship? We've always heard, "God doesn't want robots." Maybe not. I'm pretty sure He's not impressed with mindless worship. Let's give Him our best.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

News Weakly - 9/16/2017

Like Jesus Said
Recent research has found that Protestants are not Protestant. "What??!" Well, according to the report, less than half (46%) of American Protestants believe that faith alone is required for salvation. More than half (52%) argue that good deeds are needed to get to heaven. Less than half believe that the Bible is the sole source on matters of faith and practice. That same number hold that the Bible, the church's official teachings, and tradition form the source for matters of faith and practice, the specific position opposed by the Protestants. Combining the two questions, one third of Protestants affirm both sola fide and sola scriptura. Another 36% believe in neither of the two.

We need new designations. "Catholic" and "Protestant" are merging again. "Evangelical", once a division of "Protestant" that held firmly to biblical theology, has shifted closer to "Liberal". What category do we have now that refers to a Bible-believing follower of Christ? I'd like to say "Christian", but only if Jesus (Matt 13:24-30) and Paul (Gal 1:6-9; 2 Tim 3:16-17) were right.

Case Closed
Finally, the case is settled. Perhaps you've seen the monkey selfie, a picture taken when some crested macaques commandeered a nature photographer's camera and took pictures of themselves. Well, PETA sued on behalf of the monkeys, claiming that they took the pictures and, therefore, they had the rights to the copyright and to the financial control of the pictures. PETA was pushing toward "expanding legal rights for non-human animals." You can't make this stuff up, folks. The photographer retained his rights to the photos and agreed to donate 25% of the proceeds to charities dedicated to protecting the macaques in Indonesia. But this is the irrefutable logic of Evolution if you ignore ... you know ... Scripture, science, and reason. "Animals are people, too, you know!" No ... no, they're not.

News or Not News
The story was released this week that Hillary Clinton is convinced that "associates of candidate Donald Trump helped Russia meddle in the 2016 presidential election." Is that news? She has been saying all along that it was someone else to blame than her and her campaign. But, look, here's what occurs to me. Granting that the information that got out that slewed some at the last moment to vote for Trump instead of Clinton came from Russian sources, there is an interesting sideshow here. Hillary (and the rest) are convinced that Russia did it and the Trump camp colluded. Okay. But what no one is saying is that the information released from the DNC emails was wrong. It seems to me to be a tacit admission that the information was accurate. So, the complaint is, "They gave out the truth and it allowed Americans to vote on more truth than they should have had." Now that sounds like news.

Kind of like ESPN's Jemele Hill. You know her. She claimed publicly that Trump is a white supremacist and "His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period." She offered her apology that said, "I'm sorry I suggested that ESPN was painted in an unfair light." Not "I'm sorry for my comment." Not "I'm sorry I painted all Trump supporters as white supremacists." Like Hillary, it's "The negative information is true; I'm just unhappy with the outcome."

Unclear on the Concept
Senator Bernie Sanders is introducing a bill aimed at replacing the Affordable Care Act with what he calls "Medicare for All". It's a single-payer health system similar to the one in the UK where we all pay a significant tax increase (currently about 10% across the board in the UK) in order to pay for everyone to have free healthcare. He tried it in 2013 and it failed miserably, but he's hoping to "stand with the people and take on the special interests that dominate health care."

I don't think Bernie gets it. If we're all paying exorbitant taxes for a single-payer system, it's not free. (Or perhaps you don't think another 10% tax on your income as "exorbitant".) (Hint: My current payout for health insurance is less than 4% of my pay.) Further, for most of America our concern is not to assist "special interests". It is to avoid paying huge amounts ourselves. And we're concerned about the quality. (For instance, in the UK, there is a shortage of GPs by half of what is needed and getting routine testing can take months.) Bernie believes universal healthcare is a right (by a source I don't know) and the "enemy" of his plan is "special interests", not us. He doesn't seem to understand that someone is going to pay for his plan and it's not him; it's us.

Who's the Problem?
The LA Times said, "Hundreds of law enforcement officers, many in riot gear, prepared for violence and seized potential weapons." Nine protesters were arrested and some carried weapons. One attacked a police officer. The report is that the security for the event cost $600,000. Just before the event the local police chief successfully lobbied the city council to adjust the ban on the use of pepper spray. What horrific event was this? Who produces such venom, such hate, such antipathy? "We don't want your racist hate" was scrawled on sidewalks. Who's this racist? Ben Shapiro came by invitation to speak at Berkley. A traditionally liberal school in a left-leaning community, they keep proving themselves anything but generous, open-minded, or concerned about freedom. Shapiro was part of something they called "Free Speech Week". A junior at the school said, "I guess there is a limit to free speech." Yes. That would be "when they disagree with us."

The Story Not Told
Here's a story you literally will not hear. The Australian 60 Minutes program was set to present a story about a mother who, believing her son had been diagnosed as transgender, was feeding him estrogen tablets from the age of 12 to help him transition to a female. At 14 the boy said, "Mom, I don't think I'm a girl." The damage was done. He had developed breasts. He would undergo surgery to have them removed. There is the danger of liver damage and blood clots and the legal questions about giving sex hormones to kids under 16.

Well, the "detransitioned" boy story didn't air. It doesn't fit with the current narrative. Besides, Australia was having a national survey on same-sex marriage. Although these two aren't directly related, they are certainly connected in the minds of most people. So that was right out. There are some stories that don't line up with the "accepted thinking" that should just not be told ... right?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Biblical Interpretation

I've been thinking about the different ways people interpret Scripture. No, I'm not going to give you a course in hermeneutics. I'm just going to outline the various approaches.

There is the basic approach. "The Bible says X and means X." This is a simple and mostly effective approach. It works most of the time. It makes good sense. If Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God," (John 3:3), it seems like a pretty sure bet that one who is not born again cannot see the kingdom of God.

Similar to the basic approach but a little more nuanced, you might find "The Bible says X and means X'." These two approaches are not mutually exclusive. This second one simply takes into account other factors -- content, context, original language, other Scripture elsewhere, that sort of thing. So, yes, the text means what it says, but in a fuller, more encompassing sense. For instance, Paul wrote, "Abstain from all appearance of evil." (1 Thess 5:22) Now if you think about that, it is practically impossible. That is, just about everything appears to someone as "evil". The Pharisees thought the disciples were doing "evil" by spreading the Gospel. It "appeared evil" to them. So there must be some nuance here. And there is. The original language doesn't intend "appearance" but "form", and newer translations write it as, "Abstain from every form of evil." Okay, so what was in question here was what exactly "X" was in the text, and now that we're clearer on the actual word used, we're clearer on the interpretation -- X'.

There is the woodenly literal approach. "The Bible says X and means two diagonal crossed lines." This idea sometimes works, but often misses the point. Sure, Jesus said, "I am the door" (John 10:9), but if you limit that to "He has a doorknob and hinges because He said 'I am the door' and I take my Bible literally", I think you're missing what Jesus was attempting to say. This view fails to take into account figures of speech, modes of communication and the like.

There is the left-leaning approach. "The Bible says X and means Y." "Yes, sure, the Bible says, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth', but, look, everyone knows that this just isn't so. Evolution created the heavens and the earth. Chance and the Big Bang created the heavens and the earth. No, no, it says that 'God created the heavens and the earth', but that's just an allegory, a legend, a myth." They will tell us that the whole story comes from ancient Mesopotamian mythology and is as real as the "world on the back of the turtle" kind of claims of other religions. This is just a stylized account of God (in general) figuratively bringing order out of chaos ... you know ... by means of natural Evolution. Now, try as you might, claim what you want, this is clearly a case of "The Bible says that God created the heavens and the earth, but He did not." That is "X" and "Y", where X does not equal Y in any real sense.

Just before His arrest and execution, Jesus promised His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit who would "guide you into all truth." (John 16:13) In the very next chapter, just before heading to the Garden, He prayed for His disciples.
Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth. (John 17:17)
If God's Word is truth, then it is important. If the Holy Spirit will lead God's people into all truth, then it is understandable. So Paul told Timothy, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Tim 2:15) We have the same commission. God's Word is truth. We need to rightly handle it with the confidence that the Spirit has been and will continue to guide His people into the truth. Some approaches to biblical interpretation, then, are valid and helpful. Some are not. And claiming that "God's Word says X so it means X" (or even "X'") does not constitute a "hunch"1, a mere opinion, a "speaking for God." It is simply taking God at His Word. We should not be ashamed of doing just that. Martin Luther said, "Let the man who would hear God speak, read holy Scripture." I agree.
________
1 There is a serious misunderstanding about "hunches", about opinion on biblical interpretation. While it is true that lots of people can have their own ideas on this stuff, whether you call it a "hunch" or an opinion or even an educated guess, it is not true that all of these are valid. Using the Genesis 1 example, one person says, "It means what it says" and another says, "It's myth, a reflection of a completely different reality." Both are interpretations; both are opinions. This is true. But both are not true. They cannot both be true. While it is possible for lots of people to have lots of opinions about what the Bible means, this does not mean that all of them are true. The Bible is not a book that bends to the will of the post-modern thinking that says that truth is whatever we think it is and words mean whatever we want them to. The question, then, is not "Is that your hunch?", but "Is that true?"

Thursday, September 14, 2017

What Is Truth?

That was the famous question from Pilate (John 18:38). He walked away when he asked it, so I don't think it was an actual question, but it is certainly one worth asking.

Anyone who has followed my stuff here knows that I'm often about words, definitions, meanings, that sort of thing. And it wouldn't be far fetched to think that I might want to pursue the definition of "truth" as a word or concept. But, this time, that's not my aim. Let's just go with the basic understanding. "Truth" is simply that which corresponds to reality. I don't think that would be too controversial. The question, though, beyond the definition is actually quite large. What is reality? More to the point, who gets to determine what reality -- truth -- is?

In the Modern Age the determiner of truth was Science. Unfortunately (or not), philosophers discovered that Science was a poor god. Science, by definition, is knowledge gained by study, practice, experimentation ... that kind of thing. Thus, as it turns out, the knowledge is always changing. "The Earth is flat." "No, it's round." "The Sun revolves around the Earth." "No, actually, the solar system is heliocentric." "Coffee is bad for you." "No, coffee is good for you." "No it's not." "Yes it is." And on and on. Enter Post-modernism. Truth is relative. Truth is whatever you think it is. There is no absolute truth, no objective truth. Now, of course, that can only go so far. I mean, an airplane built with a post-modern designer would not likely be very safe. You wouldn't want a post-modern banker. So today we're in the Age of Empathy. Similar to the post-modern view, truth now is determined by how we feel. "I feel like a girl even though I have all male parts." "Oh, well, then it's true! You are whatever you feel you are." "Reality" today is defined by how individuals feel and it is wrong, offensive, hostile, even "hate" to argue otherwise.

What do we do? If our definitions of how to define truth change all the time, we're left without any solid ground. We're back to the original question. Who gets to determine what reality -- truth -- is? Now, of course, it's not something we get to vote on -- truth is reality and doesn't really care what your opinion is -- but I would vote in favor of the Creator. I would say that the Maker of all things should be the one that is gets to define what Truth really is. It is ludicrous to make the Creator dependent on the creature to decide what reality is and is not. It seems only reasonable and even prudent to me to let the Author of All Things determine what the reality of all things is.

What would that look like? That would mean that if God said, "Women are inferior and worth less than men", no amount of Feminism would be able to change that reality and no amount of culture wars would alter the fact. Notice I said if, because it's not in there. So if God said, "All people are of equal worth because they are made in My image" (Gen 9:6) and "women are fellow heirs of the grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7), then the male chauvinist that urges that women are chattel is urging for that which is not real, not true. That is, in every case, whatever it is, what God says as Maker of All defines what is true -- what is real -- and our job is not to correct Him, but to correspond to His judgment on the matter. We are to "think God's thoughts after Him", not make them up ourselves and insist that He not "lose the culture war" or "don't be on the wrong side of history".

The creature, the culture, the world does not get to determine what is true. The Maker of Heaven and Earth does. How we feel, how we think, how we wish things should be or think they are all are irrelevant unless they are in line with His version. Everything else is just ... a lie. And we know who the father of lies is. What is truth? Whatever God says it is.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Follow the Money

In most of the TV detective shows, the rule of thumb for solving the crime is "follow the money". Now, of course, it doesn't always have to be money. It is just "Who will profit?" and "Who will lose out?" The basic idea is there must be a reason for people to commit crimes. Who has the reason?

In life, as it turns out, this is generally true. We have to have a reason to do what we do, think what we think, and so on. Sometimes the reasons are clear and obvious. Sometimes not so much. Sometimes we ourselves aren't even aware of the reasons for what we do. But they're there. Generally, it is "hope for gain" or "fear of loss". Even when we don't see the gain or loss clearly, we sense it and it drives us.

I've been told that I'm wrong for pointing to Scripture and saying, "This is a sin and you need Christ." Most often the "this" is, of course, things like homosexual behavior (Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9-10) and "same-sex marriage" (Matt 19:4-6) kinds of issues, issues where the public at large and the left-leaning self-proclaimed Christians disagree with the plain statements of Scripture. Okay, so what we have here are two events. On one hand, I'm saying, "This is a sin and you need Christ." On the other they're saying, "That's evil and hateful." So let's "follow the money."

Assuming I'm wrong -- I've committed "the crime" -- what is my motivation? What am I trying to gain or afraid to lose? I can't figure it out. It makes no difference (at least so far) if that person is "gay", homosexual, attracted to the same gender. It doesn't make me do anything or cost me anything. I don't have to "become gay" or give up my beliefs or anything like it. There are some who argue that it's about loss of power. What power? What does it matter to my life if that person is homosexual or transgender or ...? I can't see what they think my motivation is.

Assuming they're wrong, that they've committed "the crime". Why would they do it? Well, obviously, if I'm right they have to change. They have to stop doing what they want to do and, let's face it, no one wants to have to do that, from the kid with his hands in the cookie jar to the junkie. We all want to do what we want to do. And, let's be honest, none of us wants to admit we're wrong. In this case, the "wrong" would be "worthy of God's wrath" and "not inheriting the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10). Real consequences.

If you're "following the money", I think it looks like I have no motive and they do. But I've also said that we don't do anything without a reason. So if I have no fear of loss or hope for gain in this matter, why do I bother? Why would I stick my neck out? There is only one reason that I would do so, given the current level of animosity from both anti-Christians and left-leaning self-proclaimed Christians toward people like me. Well, to be more precise, two reasons. One is that I'm commanded to "preach the gospel". Gotta do it. The Master has told me to. But that command isn't merely by way of rules. That command is by way of love. The only human reason I would bother telling someone that their behavior is sin and they need Jesus is that I don't want them to fall under God's wrath. Love.

Now, I know, the whole group that constitutes the left-leaning self-proclaimed Christians are quite certain that there is another reason somewhere that people like me would choose to put my welfare and reputation and comfort on the line to maintain a stand that they consider "out of touch", "a losing proposition", "on the wrong side of history", and, yes, even hateful. I can't imagine what that would be because, I'll be honest, I like my welfare, reputation, and comfort. So if you "follow the money", you might come to a different conclusion about why I do it than they do.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Know When to Hold 'Em

We live in a fractured Christendom, where Christianity around the world is often as much at war with itself as it is with the world. The well-known term, "Evangelicals", is a term intended to fragment. "Those churches are headed into the oblivion of liberalism, so we will separate ourselves from them and remain true to the truth." And that's a single example. Much of denominationalism is largely a matter of preference, I think, but a significant portion is due to serious differences. I, for instance, wasn't allowed to join a church that held to infant baptism unless I changed my theology, and another church offered to change my thinking for me on the purpose of the church as God's tool for building the saints rather than evangelizing the neighborhood because my thinking was wrong. The Eastern Orthodox church is sure that the Baptists are wrong and the Baptists are sure that the Lutherans are wrong and the Lutherans are positive that the Methodists are wrong and they're all pretty sure the Roman Catholics are wrong, and by "wrong" I don't mean "misguided", but "possibly not even Christian at all".

As a result, there is a large and growing number of voices that cry, "Can't we all just get along?" They decry the fact that doctrine divides and want all Christians everywhere of any stripe to just be nice and play well together. "Let's agree to disagree, set aside our differences, and sing Kumbaya." Seems like it should be simple to just settle for the lowest common denominator ... which is very little truth.

Post-modernism had its day in our society, leaving behind a loss of meaning, a destruction of clarity, the demise of certainty, and, of course, rampant relativism. Many in our society and even in our churches believe that "all beliefs are valid" (and will argue with you about how wrong yours are if you don't agree). This, of course, makes no sense. As an obvious example, a theist and an anti-theists cannot both be right. Simple logic. So there is truth and that which is not truth is falsehood. The question, then, is how far we should go in defending the truth? Because the question is how sure we are that we have the truth.

Instead of "going along to get along", we need to be more careful. There are various questions and positions that carry different weight. Dr. Al Mohler lists them in orders of magnitude, so to speak. He lists three orders.
- First order - Fundamental truths of the Christian faith, the denial of which eliminates Christianity.
- Second order - Believing Christians may disagree without denying the faith but causing significant disagreement (e.g., meaning and mode of baptism, women as pastors).
- Third order - Believing Christians disagree, but can remain in fellowship (e.g., eschatology).
I would add a fourth category, one that is called "adiaphora" -- that which is debatable and spiritually neutral (Rom 14:1). (e.g., identity of the two witnesses (Rev 11), dancing, men and women swimming in public). (Seriously, you can find those who argue that males and females should not swim together in public.)

With these in mind, you can begin to see the levels of agreement and disagreement. You can see that there are places where we need to hold our ground, to not give in, to stand firm. "Agree to disagree" is not sufficient for these, because if we disagree on these, Christianity is ended. What would these be? Well, easily, these five:

1. The Trinity: God is one "What" and three "Whos" with each "Who" possessing all the attributes of Deity and personality.
2. The Person of Jesus Christ: Jesus is 100% God and 100% man for all eternity.
3. The Second Coming: Jesus Christ is coming bodily to earth to rule and judge.
4. Salvation: It is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
5. The Scripture: It is entirely inerrant and sufficient for all Christian life.

Based on Scripture, I would certainly add the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:3-8,13-19). And the universality of sin is basic to Christianity, given that salvation is basic to Christianity (we need to be saved from something). But it's not a really long list.

I think that too often we "get fuzzy", trying to get along, trying to avoid disputes, trying to avoid division. I think that too often we gear up for war where it's not needed, trying to defend "key doctrines" like whether or not Christians can drink alcohol. There are times that we need to stand firm. There are times when we don't. We need to know which is which.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Bad Interpretation

Have you ever noticed how so many are so often so bad at interpreting Scripture? No, not just "them"; us.

Take, for instance, the ever-popular story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). A woman "caught in adultery" (I question the truthfulness of the Pharisees' accusation because if she was caught "in the very act", there should have, by law, been a man there, too.) is brought to Jesus for judgment. Jesus says His famous, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." They left, and Jesus told her, "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more." Now, that's all pretty clear, but the most popular understanding of that text these days is "Jesus didn't care about sin (and you shouldn't either)." That is, they ignore completely the "Go and sin no more" and hang on the "I do not condemn you," as if that was the whole point. They ignore all the other texts where Jesus condemns sin and see this one as proof that we should all just hug the sinner and embrace the sin. Bad interpretation.

Take, for instance, Paul's "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Rom 10:4)
Did you know that there are those who argue (often angrily) that this means there are no more rules, no more laws, no more thought at all regarding how we should act. "You have Christ?" they ask. "Well, that's all you need. You can sin all you want." The theologians call it "antinomianism", the view that Christians are released by grace from the obligation of observing the moral law. Now, much of Scripture speaks of how we ought to live. James even says that faith without works is dead. But these folks ignore that and interpret the text as proof of their position.

I'm always amused at this one. Well, this approach. An example would be "The Lord loves a cheerful giver." (2 Cor 9:7) The take-away for many is, "Well, I'm not happy about giving, so God does not want me to give." That's a long way from "The Lord wants you to give and loves it when you're cheerful about it." But it's a common approach.
Scripture: "No one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:12)
Interpreter: "Well, I know lots of people who do good, so this must not mean what it says. We know that lots of people do good." (rendering the text meaningless)
Scripture: "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)
Interpreter: "That means I should ignore what any authority tells me and do what I feel like God wants me to do."
Scripture: "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13)
Interpreter: "I want to live my dream, so God will strengthen me to do it."
These are examples of people who look at the texts, yank it out of context, twist it to mean what they really want it to mean, and put it back down on the page as if it's God's Word.

There are lots of ways to misinterpret Scripture and all of us suffer from it at times. Lack of knowledge, lack of understanding, lack of information ... these and more. The bad interpretation we should not be guilty of is the "Did God really say?" kind. It's the kind that was in all the examples I gave. The primary goal of the interpreter was "How can I get it to say what I want it to say?" It is likely an unspoken goal and maybe even not a conscious goal, but in all the examples I gave the faulty interpretations did not let Scripture say what Scripture was trying to say; they made it say what they wanted it to. In Paul's words, "Let God be true, and every man a liar." (Rom 3:4) If you find God's Word always saying what you like, you may be failing to properly interpret God's Word. (Hint: If it is God's Word and God is "not a man" (1 Sam 15:29; Job 9:32), but an infinite God, it should be pointed, difficult to take, and surprising at times.) James says we should be "be swift to hear, slow to speak." (James 1:19) I think that should include how we read and understand the Word. Let God speak for Himself rather than superimposing our preferences. I think there is enough imposing of preferences in our world these days.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Self-Deception

Fictional character Stuart Smalley (from Saturday Night Live) started this phrase: "I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me." It was part of a self-help spoof. The sentiment, though, is no spoof. Most of us think something very much like that. Most of us think of themselves, in the words of Paul, "more highly than he ought to think." (Rom 12:3) And that can get us into trouble.

I'm Good Enough

We buy this, for the most part. We do it at different levels. "Oh, maybe I'm not good enough to be a professional baseball player or singer -- that's one stage -- but you know I'm not as bad as ..." and we'll fill in the name that corresponds with the "good enough" we're aiming for. "I'm not as bad as those liberals" (or "conservatives", depending on your standard of measurement) politically. "I'm not as bad as Hitler" morally. "I'm not as bad as those rich people" economically. "I'm not as bad as that fat oaf over there" athletically. You get the idea. So "not as bad as" becomes "good enough". Sure, we may seek to improve ourselves. We may wish to improve our economic standing or our athletic skill set or whatever, but that's just to be better, not to stop being "not good enough". Because we are "good enough".

The Bible disagrees. That is, God's opinion differs from our own.

Scripture says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) Paul writes, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-12) That doesn't say "No one does good all the time." It says, "No one does good" and emphasizes, "not even one." Good enough? The biblical verdict is "Not good at all." The biblical verdict is not even "sin-sick"; it is "dead trespasses and sin" (Eph 2:1-3).

I'm Smart Enough

This one is ambiguous, thanks to our current post-modern language where words are ambiguous. What is "smart"? Is it "as measured by an IQ test" or is it "as indicated by my ability to think straight"? Or something else? Again, it's a matter of standards, isn't it? What standard do we use to say we're "smart enough"? There are always those who are lower than us on the IQ scale, but, frankly, most of us aren't thinking IQ when we think (feel?) "I'm smart enough." No, we're thinking, "I can think straight." At least, straight enough. We believe we are rational, thinking beings who can see straight, figure straight, think logically step by step to the right conclusion. That's "smart enough". And, in general, we all figure we are, even those of us who don't think we're particularly smart.

The Bible disagrees. God's opinion differs from our own.

Scripture says, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot." (Rom 8:7) That's "cannot", not merely "does not." Elsewhere we read, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14) That's "not able", not "does not." Smart enough to get by? Rational enough to think straight? The biblical position is that human beings are "blinded by the god of this world" (2 Cor 4:4) and suffer from a defective heart (Jer 17:9), broken at the core.

I'm Liked Enough

Whether it's people or God, we're pretty sure we're okay in this category as well. Most people believe that they're liked ... at least liked enough. They're pretty sure that God likes them. I mean, after all, haven't we been told repeatedly that "God loves you"? And we all know that "love" is stronger than "like". So we are liked enough by people and by God, right?

The Bible disagrees. God's opinion differs from our own.

We certainly do have the wonderful assurances that "God loved the world" (John 3:16), but it isn't an unqualified love. More often than "God loves you" we read things like "You hate all evildoers" (Psa 5:5), "The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence" (Psa 11:5), and, among the things that God specifically hates (Prov 6:16-19), "a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers." We know that God said, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (Rom 9:13) We like to think God is warm and fuzzy and pats us on the head while we spit in His face. The truth is that God hates sin and those who do it. He opts to place His saving love on those He chooses to save, but we cannot count, in our natural condition, on a kinder, gentler God who will embrace all our rebellion and assume "I'm liked enough by God." It's not a biblical position.

The bottom-line problem, then, is a radical self-deception. We tell ourselves we're okay. We're not. Even as believers who know enough to say, "No, I'm not good enough", we still tend toward the lie. It is deceiving ourselves. We all do it.

The truth, then, sounds harsh. We are not good enough, not smart enough, and God has no obligation to like us at all. When we arrive at this biblical place, then, the sweetness of the good news can comes full force. Christ died for sinners (Rom 5:8), not saints. He didn't come to save the healthy, but the lost (Mark 2:17; Luke 19:10). When we begin to grasp the magnitude of the problem -- the problem that we are -- we can begin to appreciate the magnitude of God's grace who rightly judges but out of His perfect love shows mercy to some. In Jesus's words, "He who is forgiven little loves little." (Luke 7:47) When we think of ourselves as good enough, smart enough, and worthy of God's affection, we sell Him short. When we recognize the truth, God is magnified.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

News Weakly - 9/9/2017

Unclear on the Concept
Before you read this story, understand that "unclear on the concept" refers to me, not those involved in the story.

So, Trump has declared that in 6 months DACA will be rescinded. He gave Congress 6 months to replace the Obama program with a real one. The media is reporting that this puts "800,000 youth at risk of deportation", and my heart breaks. Except that it's not quite accurate. The average age of those in DACA is 26. That's not quite "youth" in the normal use of the word. And one has to wonder why none of these mostly adults have bothered to seek legal immigrant status.

Still, former president Obama has slammed Trump for rescinding his program. It is "cruel", "self-defeating", and "wrong." I have to wonder, given the former president's outrage, why he did it in the first place. No, not why he did it; why he did it temporarily. Right or wrong, good or bad, Trump has thrown this issue into the laps of those who should have taken care of it before -- Congress. If Obama considers it cruel and wrong to deport these kids, why didn't he take a more permanent approach than a temporary executive order. Is that less cruel and wrong than Trump's approach? DACA was already temporary, per Obama's edict. Whoever took over after him would have to deal with this. Trump is wrong for doing so? As I said, I'm unclear on the concept.

We Can Just Put THAT To Rest
Another one bites the dust. Two stained glass windows in the Washington National Cathedral are being removed. One depicted Robert E. Lee reading a Bible. The other was of "Stonewall" Jackson kneeling. Installed in 1953, they are no longer deemed "an appropriate part of the sacred fabric of a spiritual home for the nation." (I don't actually know in what possible sense the cathedral serves as "a spiritual home for the nation.") Docents who gave tours (up until now) would tell visitors that the inclusion of the figures "underscores the building's role as a repository of American memory, carrying the very wounds of war within its walls." The cathedrals' website on the topic calls it "Proclaiming Peace" and calls for "persistence and prayer", affirming that "war is difficult" and quoting Lincoln's famous line from his second inaugural address, "With malice toward none." Well, no more of that. No more persistence. No more peace. Absolutely no more prayer. Oh, and lots and lots of malice.

The Numbers are Out
The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) has completed a report on the 2016 American Values. You know, things like how white Christians constitute less than half of the public (that's news?) and something like 27% either don't know/refuse to answer or classify themselves as unaffiliated to any religion. Combined, non-Christian groups are on the rise, but constitute less than 10% of the nation. A few interesting points. "White Evangelicals" make up 17% of the nation (but still, apparently, put Trump in office). Politically, the Democratic Party has fewer than 30% white Christians. (A decade earlier it was 50%.) The Republicans, on the other hand, are 73% white Christian including 35% white Evangelicals. Oh, and I noticed that there was no category for "black Evangelicals". Is that because no black people agree with the Evangelical perspective, or is it because the PRRI doesn't believe in black Evangelicals? (I ask because I can find nothing in the definition of "Evangelical" that includes "white".) I offer this as a news item, not a claim to accuracy or reality (Are they really Christians? Really Evangelicals? Is the reporting accurate? Is it really true that the Democratic Party has lost most of their Christian base? That kind of thing).

Read It On the Internet
Yeah, it's the Babylon Bee, so it's humor, but clearly I am not the only one who saw it this way. Referring to the ChristiansUnited Statement, their headline reads "Liberal Christians Figure They'll Go Ahead And Accept Polygamy As Well". And at this point it's not particularly humorous, is it?

Friday, September 08, 2017

Who Are You Going to Trust?

I've seen this in a few places and I've had to think this through a bit because, in all honesty, it runs contrary to normal human thinking. And I'm not sure that's bad.

In Job, you'll find places where Job makes some totally bizarre statements. After losing his belongings and his children, he tore his robes and declared, "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:21) After losing his health and his loving wife tells him, "Curse God and die" (thanks, honey), he answers, "Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:9-10) Notice what Job is saying here. He is saying, "God is doing 'bad' things to me." Not moral evil. I get that. We know that God does not cause moral evil (James 1:13-15). But Job is claiming that God gives and takes away, that God gives good and calamity. And Job is saying "That's alright." No, Job is declaring it as good.

You might think it's an oddity or just Job's mistaken idea, but turn in your Bibles to Psalm 42. It's a psalm from "the sons of Korah" which starts with the famous, "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God." (Psa 42:1) Part of this psalm is a complaint of sorts. People are taunting him, saying "Where is your God?" (Psa 42:3) He complains that God has forgotten him (Psa 42:9). If you read it, he actually complains that because God has forgotten him, he is oppressed by enemies (Psa 42:9-10) In other words, in some sense, God is behind the genuine hardships the psalmist is facing, even if God is not actually causing them. And yet, read what he says. "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God." (Psa 42:11) Again, the psalmist, like Job, is saying on one hand that God is somewhat to blame for his difficulties and that God is doing the right thing and is to be trusted.

Another fluke? How about this one? We all know Lamentations 3. We know it because of the wonderful statement of hope.
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in Him." The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. (Lam 3:22-26)
Oh, yeah, such good stuff. Real confidence builder. The certainty of the steadfast love of the Lord, His mercy, His faithfulness, a reason to hope in Him, His goodness. Marvelous! But ... did you look at the context? Read through the first 20 verses of that chapter and you will find a stunning perspective on God. It starts with being "under the rod of His wrath" (Lam 3:1) through "He has broken my bones" (Lam 3:4) and "He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy." (Lam 3:7) The prophet, Jeremiah, claims that God has made him His target (Lam 3:12-13). "My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, 'My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.'" (Lam 3:17-18) Those first 20 verses offer nothing pleasant about God. And it doesn't look like it is God's "judgment" in some sense, as if Jeremiah is being disciplined for what he has done wrong. It's just what God is doing. For whatever reason He is doing it. There is no mitigation, no reason offered. God is just doing it. And yet, he concludes, "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope" (Lam 3:21) and tells us all that God is loving, merciful, faithful, good. "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will hope in Him."

You remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were the three Jewish boys who refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar's image and were given the option to bow or burn to death. They were the ones who said, "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (Dan 3:17-18) "If not." Whether God does the pleasant, the comfortable, the "good" things or He does not, these three guys followed Job and the psalmist and Jeremiah in their thinking. God actually allows and even causes some very unpleasant things. It's not all "fun and games" with God. He isn't our therapist, our butler, our healer, our play friend. Sometimes God can make things very, very uncomfortable. The point is it doesn't matter. The point is that God is always right. Whether He is making things more tolerable or less, He is loving and faithful. Whether He is removing pain or bringing it, He is merciful and good. Whether or not we are comfortable, God is always reliable. Jeremiah remembered that God was at the base of all his suffering and simply knowing God was sufficient to cause hope and comfort.

Yes, it is contrary to normal human thinking. That doesn't make it wrong. It's certainly biblical. As for me, my prayer is, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief."

Thursday, September 07, 2017

A Statement in a Vacuum

So, now there is an alternative statement in response to the Nashville Statement. It is simply called "The Statement". It is, for reasons I don't fully understand, put out by something called "Christians United". I say that I don't fully understand because 1) it certainly does not include a large bulk of Christians -- those who currently still believe and trust their Bibles as well as all others before the last 10 years or so. The idea is "Christians who are united in agreement with our position for the last 10 years in complete opposition to all other Christians for all time." And 2) it certainly does nothing to unite Christians. But, hey, who am I to quibble over names?

Looking at the signatories, the first three are a bishop and two reverends ... who are female. That's good to know. The essence here is "No, we do not accept the biblical understanding of things. We are 'progressive' and understand that God changes His mind over time to keep up with culture." Got it. That's a good thing to keep in mind.

The Statement begins its preamble with "As followers of Jesus Christ" (so, I suppose, that's where they get the idea of "Christians United" ... "Hey, we said, 'Jesus'. That makes us Christians, right?") and go on to explain how things change. Basically, the Spirit leads. He leads wherever He will. Maybe it's biblical; maybe it's not. Who knows? Our job is just to follow. Right now it is "a renewed understanding of Christian teaching on sexuality and gender identity that includes, affirms, and embraces the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary, queer community as created and fully blessed by God and welcomed in to the life of the Church and society just as they are, without a need to conform to the heteronormative, patriarchal, binary sexuality and gender paradigm that Christianity has come to promote and embrace." Where did they get that? Nowhere. They're just speaking for God -- for the Spirit who is leading them. They're boldly moving away from "dogmas and traditions", from 2,000 years of history and common understanding of the texts to a new and improved version. Yeah, yeah, it took the Spirit 2,000 years to get to this point, but now we've arrived. Finally. (I think it took 2,000 years to come up with the terms the Spirit would need to use, like "heteronormative" and "binary sexuality".)

There are 10 Articles, affirming "unique sexualities and gender identities", "self-realization", and the entire concept of "LGBT+ Christians". (I suppose the "+" is the acknowledgment that "We don't actually know where this will end, so we're adding an indefinite factor there.") and denying "one man and one woman" definition of marriage, limitation of romantic relationships to one man and one woman, the reasonableness of forcing gender to match biology, and any validity to the attempt to either call homosexual behavior or gender fluidity sin or to offer treatment for it. (Obviously that's a brief list. I mean, that's 10 articles, each with an affirmation and a denial.)

Reading through it, a few things struck me.

There was no suggestion that any of this is based on Scripture, but, rather, a new interpretation based on some new movement of the Spirit. There is no reason given for the complete absence of the Spirit in times past on this subject nor any validation of this new "moving of the Spirit".

As in so many of these things, there seems to be the need to counteract an attack that was never launched. The Nashville Statement affirmed the "intersex individuals" as having "dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers" (Article 6). The Nashville Statement denies that "ambiguities related to a person's biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ." That is, those who have a physical gender ambiguity are not sinning in it. The "ChristiansUnited" statement still felt the need to disagree ... by agreeing.

I was also amazed at their "WE DENY that God intended human romantic relationships to be limited to one man and one woman" statement. (That was a quote, copied and pasted from their page, expressly on the topic of the definition of marriage.) Based on this denial, there is no room for united Christians to deny polygamy, polyamory, or the like. In fact, since we're (consciously, "by the leading of the Spirit") redefining marriage, gender, and sexual relations, the whole "heteronormative sexual paradigm" including what the Bible terms "sexual immorality" is out the window.

Bottom line. The Statement is a statement standing firmly in midair. It is based on the "leading of the Spirit" without Scripture, without history, without tradition. It is a denial of the power of God to properly express His original intent and the power of the Spirit to properly guide His own into the truth. At stake here is not "homosexuality" or "transgender" or even marriage. What is at stake is whether or not any one of us can have any confidence whatsoever that God and His Word can be trusted. The answer appears to be, firmly, "No!" From "Christians United".

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

No Know How

There is a passage of Scripture that is popularly used by the Charismatic and Pentecostal groups to argue for what they call "a prayer language". They see it as a part of "speaking in tongues" (although I can find no biblical examples of anyone who ever spoke in "a prayer language"). Here's the "proof text":
For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom 8:24-27)
I suspect if you're not familiar with the "prayer language" argument you might be scratching your head right now. "What did Paul say that argued for a prayer language?" Well, it says that "the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." See?

Okay, I think that anyone who is thinking clearly about this would have to admit that this could only vaguely argue for anything like a "speaking-in-tongues prayer language" concept, and only if you start with the premise that the modern Pentecostal "speaking in tongues" thing exists at all. The truth is the text is talking about the Spirit interceding for us and a "prayer language" is too oblique to be considered the point of the passage.

Still, I find the text startling at first glance. Did you see what Paul claimed? "We do not know how to pray as we should." Now, wait. What? What do you mean, "We do not know how to pray as we should"? In what sense? We know how to pray just fine. I mean, we have the Lord's Prayer and Jesus's High Priestly Prayer and we have biblical prayers and we pray on a regular basis. We surely know what we want and what we need and we are certainly commanded to pray ... with consistency (e.g., 1 Thess 5:17, etc.) and persistence (e.g., Luke 18:1-8; Luke 11:5-10, etc.). Come on! We know how to pray. So it has to be a bit confusing when Paul says we don't.

Note that Paul doesn't offer us an out, a "mediated version". He does not say, "Sometimes we don't know how to pray." There are no "weasel words" here. It is a cold, solid, "We do not know how to pray as we should." So while we are commanded to pray without ceasing and to pray persistently and to make our requests known (Phil 4:6) and we are told to be confident that He answers, we can be equally sure that we don't know how to pray as we ought.

Thus, it serves as a real relief that we have the Holy Spirit at work in us interceding for us "according to the will of God". Because we can be sure "that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us." (1 John 5:14) God anwers our prayers even when we don't know how to pray because the Spirit is interceding for us. We don't know how to pray because of our weakness (Rom 8:26). We do not know how to pray because we don't know the will of God (Rom 8:27). Weak and blinded, we can still have the confidence that the Spirit is on our side in prayer.

I think, if you think about it, you'd have to see it's true. We pray, "Lord, please heal this person" and God intends to take them home, which is better (Phil 1:23). We plead with God to take away our pain when He's using it as discipline (Heb 12:5-11). We ask God to do or not do all sorts of things that, as it turns out, would, if He did other than we prayed, work out for the best. We just don't know. It shouldn't really come as a shock. It does.

So it is a good thing that the Spirit intercedes for us. I think it's a good thing that He does so "behind the scenes" ... in terms that are "too deep for words". It is a good thing to be so utterly dependent on God that we even depend on Him to pray on our behalf ... to Him. It's a humbling thing to know that we do not know how to pray as we ought. It's a joy to know He has taken care of it.

I would like to point out, as an afterthought, that if we do not know how to pray as we ought, we might also recognize that we don't likely know perfectly what we need, what is best, what is good for us. Trusting the Spirit to intercede on our behalf according to the will of God is comforting. Trusting God to work all things -- even the unpleasant and bad things -- together for good should be equally comforting for the very same reasons.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Anti-Bible

After my foray into the Nashville Statement discussion, a reader contacted me and suggested I needed to see how wrong I was from a counter statement. Now, I do not intend to take on the author in this, but any serious follower of Christ will need to be able to consider the propositions offered and the conclusions reached, because this kind of thinking isn't "the author"; it's everywhere. So, come, let us reason together.

The first premise is simple. People are complex and God is more so, so no one is a spokesman for God. You understand the idea, right? It's another version of "Only God can judge me", another form of "You cannot know ..." It affirms that the Bible is not a sufficiently reliable or understandable source for anything along these lines. We cannot know what God says. For instance, Scripture says things like, "And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers" (Eph 4:11), where "apostle" refers to messengers (and since He gave them, they would be messengers from God) and "prophet" refers to those who "tell forth"; that is, they tell forth what God wants them to say. Spokesmen for God. But that is an argument from Scripture and this kind of thinking begins by negating the possibility of knowing with any real certainty what God says, even in the Bible. It is nothing more than "Did God say?"

How do we tell, then? This kind of thinking makes it clear. We know what is right and wrong, true and false, by our own proper thinking and not by any ambiguous biblical text. You can see this in the second premise. Love is good and hate is bad. Anyone who takes away rights and choice and liberty from others is not acting in the common good. Now, does that make sense to you? I get fouled up on this from multiple directions. First, what definition will we use for "love" and "hate"? You'd think it would be straightforward, but it's not. They think that trying to save people headed into serious trouble is "hate", so we've got a problem of definition. Next, is it actually true that taking away rights, choices, or liberty is always bad? Does not the law do just this? "No, you can't kill." "No, you can't steal." Well, now, isn't that removing some of my choices and liberty? Do we not almost universally agree that removing threats to the safety and security of a community by putting them in jail is a good thing? But this line of thinking removes that possibility. The next problem for me is to the extent that it is aimed at the Nashville Statement. The statement says "God says this is sin." It says, "We should love everyone." It says, "Everyone needs Jesus." Now, I'm looking ... I'm looking ... nope! I find nothing in the statement aimed at taking away rights, choice, or liberty. It simply says, "Scripture says these choices are sin." You're still free to sin. Finally, what we see in this claim is what is commonly believed to be true. The ultimate good is individual rights and choice and liberty. By no means should they be impinged. Now, how this doesn't argue for a "no rules", "anything goes" kind of lifestyle and society eludes me. It does certainly place Man at the top of the hierarchy. The Bible refers to that as "idolatry".

The third claim is that "women, gay folk, transgender folk and, well, folk in general are wonderful." It denies that "seeking to disempower and marginalize people for being who they are is a good thing." Since nothing in the statement seeks to "disempower" or "marginalize" anyone, I'm unclear on the point. Indeed, this statement includes an aim to protect women, a topic that didn't come up at all in the Nashville Statement. But, you see, we're back at that "how do you define?" problem. Is it love or hate to encourage someone headed to a disaster to avoid that disaster? Is it "disempowering" and "marginalizing" to call sin sin? If so, I suppose God -- all three persons -- are guilty. Is it evil to claim that this behavior is wrong and that is right? Is that "disempowering" and "marginalizing"? That is what the left is saying about Christians who claim the Word as their guide -- "What you're doing is wrong!"

Now, I would like to point out that none of this has provided any defense of the Nashville Statement. Mind you, I (obviously) agree with it. It is, after all, biblical. And, of course, therein lies my problem. This line of thinking that I've been addressing is premised on "You cannot know what God thinks", translated, "You cannot know what the Bible says and, therefore, you're on your own." (Oddly enough, those who say these things are pretty sure they know what God thinks and that you're quite wrong if you disagree.) (You understand the difference between my side and theirs, right? I say, "We can know what God thinks because it's in His Word. Therefore, we can say with certainty that those who think otherwise are wrong." That is not a double standard. "We cannot know, but we know you're wrong" is a double standard.) So I draw my conclusions from Scripture and they from their own rationale, but mine is wrong and theirs is right.

If I was to engage the author in any of this, I'd have to question his accusations of "anti-gay" and "anti-women". I explained that wasn't the case. If I were to engage him on this, I'd point out that "what the majority concludes" doesn't define truth or right. If I wanted to discuss it with him, I'd have to point out that God is not on the wrong side of history, that God doesn't care about culture wars, and that, just because our society has determined that 2000 years of Church history and biblical understanding means nothing, it doesn't mean that the culture is right. If he is, it speaks very poorly of 2,000 years of Christians and the work of the Holy Spirit. But I'm not engaging him. Just the premises, positions, and conclusions.

There is one part of that article with which I mostly agree. He said, "Within a generation or two, ... the matter won't be broached any more in 99% of churches." I don't know if you hear, in that, the echoes of Jesus's own words. Jesus spoke of tares among the wheat (Matt 13:24-30). False believers will abound. Jesus said, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Matt 7:13-14) I don't know if "few" is defined as "the last 1%" or not (What percentage of God's chosen people do you suppose 7,000 constituted (1 Kings 19:18) in Elijah's day?), but it is not "the majority". Jesus said, "when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8) The implication is, "Yes, He will, but it won't be easy to find." He said 99% of churches wouldn't care. Maybe it's not 1% that are genuine, but certainly "few". That's what Jesus said.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Labor

I was going to write another piece about work for Labor Day. Then I ran into a problem. The origin of Labor Day is, as it turns out, a celebration not of workers, but of unions. Labor Day started from those in New York's Central Labor Union, designed to celebrate the "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations". You see, not all workers; just those in the unions. So, while I certainly celebrate those who work (as Scripture does), I think I'll pass up celebrating labor unions. How about something else on work?

We know that as believers we are not saved by works. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ. We know that. The sense we get from that, however, is often that works are, therefore, of little consequence. We're not saved by them. And it's wrong to do them for the reward. And once we're saved, we're always saved. So why get upset over it? Just let it go. If you work, you work. If not, you'll still end up in the same place. Some Christians even get miffed when you bring up works. It upsets them. "We're not saved by works!" they'll practically shout and urge you to stop harking on the subject.

Well, excuse me, but it's not me; it's the Bible.

We know, from the start, that works were an issue in the Bible. I mean, how much of the first five books is about laws and rules and regulations? God had a standard of behavior that He wanted followed. I've been told that there are 613 laws in the Old Testament for God's people to follow. Regardless of what you conclude about them, I think it's pretty clear that God is concerned about how we act, live, relate to one another, and how we relate to Him. Works are important.

But, we are not saved by works.

The emphasis on works did not stop in the Old Testament. Jesus hit on it the first thing in His Sermon on the Mount. He said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matt 5:16) See your what? That's right; "good works". The theme carries on through. Every book has instructions on living, commands, rules, if you will. We are supposed to live a certain way. There is no denying it. There are rewards for works (Matt 25:31-46). James says faith without works is dead (James 2:17). While asserting in the clearest possible way that "by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph 2:8-9), Paul goes on to say, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Eph 2:10) See that? "For". Follow it through. We are saved by grace through faith apart from works because we are His workmanship and, in that workmanship, we were created for good works.

But, we are not saved by works.

There is no getting around it. We are not saved by works. We are saved by faith. Faith, however, is only demonstrated in works. Genuine, saving faith must produce works. As Jesus put it, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15) Not "may". Not "should". You will.

Work is important. Our work of faith is important. It demonstrates living faith. It glorifies the Father. It is the aim of salvation. It is what God wants. I'd say, then, that it's a good thing that when we're commanded to work (Phil 2:12) it is on the basis of God working in us (Phil 2:13). The work of the Spirit in us that powers and encourages us to serve God is valuable, necessary, and largely the point of what we're supposed to be doing here on earth. Something to celebrate.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Good vs Evil

In Larry Niven's book, Ringworld, we meet a girl named Teela Brown. As the book unfolds, it turns out that Teela Brown has been selected out of all human beings to go on a mission to explore the Ringworld. Why was she selected? Because the ones that started the expedition believed that she was bred to be lucky. Most of the rest of the expeditionary group doubts the possibility, including Teela. Well, as it turns out, they crash on the Ringworld, putting to rest the notion that Teela is lucky. But then they experience something that precisely proves otherwise. Teela survives a certain death by passing out and hitting the right buttons that save her. Pure luck. So the group mulls over how it is that she could be both lucky and stranded on this Ringworld. And they conclude that it is lucky for Teela to be here, apparently, even if it isn't lucky for anyone else. That is, whatever happens to Teela, whether or not it looks good, turns out to be good. Because she is lucky.

Nice story ... and vaguely biblical. We read, "We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose." (Rom 8:28) In case you missed it, that's essentially the same thing. Although not all things that occur are pleasant and obvious, for those who love God He causes all things to work together for good. No, not because we're lucky; because He has a purpose.

There is this constant struggle in the world of skeptics that bleeds into the world of believers about how there can be a good God if there is evil. They think, somehow, that this negates God. We struggle with it as believers. They don't appear to notice that if there is no God, "good" is irrelevant. "Evil" becomes purely relative and personally defined. Purpose, hope, meaning ... all vanish in the same poof of logic that took God out of the equation. "No God" means no good at all in the final analysis. (This eliminates the original question, right? There is no answer to the question of evil because evil doesn't exist.) But even believers scratch their heads about this whole "How can a good God allow evil?" question.

And, yet, even a Larry Niven can see it. We know that all that glitters isn't gold. We can surely also see that all that is unpleasant isn't certainly bad. That is, it is entirely within the realm of reason to be able to use the unpleasant, even the awful, as a tool to produce good. And it is obvious that an Omnipotent God would be capable of it. Paul says God does it. Joseph was sure of it (Gen 50:20). Scripture affirms that the worst event of history -- the murder of the Son of God -- was predestined by God (Luke 22:22; Acts 2:22-24; Acts 4:24-28), producing the ultimate good for humans -- salvation.

We see that the Bible routinely holds Man's culpability for sin in one hand and God's Sovereignty for good in the other. Well, then, so should we. Excusing bad is not the point. Even finding meaning for it is not the point. What we can do is trust God. We can believe -- because He says it's so -- that God works all things together for good. And we can set our minds and hearts on that solid rock. When the unpleasant occurs, we can either be shaken or we can rest confidently on God at work. When death and pain and evil rear their ugly heads around us, we can be toppled or we can stand on God's faithfulness to do good out of whatever happens. Note, in this, that not only does it turn all the bad stuff into something useful, but also purposeful. Not only can God make use it for good, He does. There is purpose to every blessing and every sorrow and it is good to and for the glory of God.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

News Weakly - 9/2/2017

First and Foremost
Continue to pray for and help in any way possible those who have endured and are enduring the onslaught of Hurricane Harvey.

End Hate
Why is it that it appears that many have concluded that the way to end hate is to beat on the people that do it? At least, that's how it looked in Berkeley last weekend. "Anarchists" and "antifa" pummeled peaceful demonstrators, forcing the police to rescue Joey Gibson, the much unloved leader of Patriot Prayer. And I can't quite figure out the aim. Is it possible, in the minds of some, to "stamp out hate" by means of hate and force and laws? Nope ... not getting it. I'm opposed to hating people. I'm against racism ... probably more than most. (We're made in the image of God; racism is an assault on God.) But this "beat them 'til they're gone" idea doesn't seem like the way to get there.

Gone with the Whine
I once saw a comic strip where a scientist was walking into a cancer research center reading the results of a test. "According to this," he says, "everything causes cancer." Well, according to this, everything causes racial tension. "A Tennessee theater has canceled a long-running screening of 'Gone With the Wind' because of racially insensitive content in the classic 1939 film." The story says, "This is the 34th straight year it has screened at the theater." Apparently "a 'social media storm' played a role in the decision." It's all over, folks. You can go home now. Nothing is not a problem. And nothing that offends anyone at any time in any sense should be available for anyone ever. The "social media" crowd will see to that.

By way of evidence, see the story about the Catholic school in California removing Catholic images of Jesus and Mary and such, Catholic cirriculum, and Catholic appearances to avoid offending students. In other words, those who choose to go to a Catholic school might be offended by Catholicism, so the school has to change.

(Hint: The Gospel is an offense (Rom 9:33; 1 Cor 1:20-25). Can you guess who is next to go?)

No Win
See? This is why many people are saying, "There is nothing Donald Trump can do that would be regarded as positive by most of the media and the left." They complained in Charlottesville that he said too little too late and then too much. Now they're complaining that he went to survey Texas too soon. "Oh, and his stupid wife wasn't dressed appropriately. Losers." What's the next headline ... "Trump continued breathing; that needs to stop"? Actually, that may not be too much of an exaggeration.

On the Nashville Statement
Ever with the sarcasm, this is actually a pretty good piece from the Babylon Bee titled The Bee Explains: What Is The Nashville Statement? Once more cutting close to the bone with humor.

Friday, September 01, 2017

I Disagree

There has always been division in the Church. Always. Much of what Paul wrote that is now Scripture was written to resolve already-present error -- licentiousness in Corinth, legalism in Galatia, gnosticism in Colossae ... that sort of thing. Correction was needed then and still is today. There have been long debates over key issues. You might think of the Trinity or the Atonement. You might recall the debates over the very content of what makes up God's Word, the Bible.

Many of the things "settled" at one point surface again and again in Church history. Arius assured us that Jesus was not God, but simply a created being. The Church gathered around, examined the facts, and rejected the Arian heresy. And, yet, the Jehovah's Witnesses and others still bring it up. Marcion put together his own "Bible" and the Church met and determined "this is God's Word and that is not" and the subject was ended ... except it wasn't. Today the Roman Catholic church uses additional books and modern Christianity denies the reliability of Scripture entirely. They range from "It contains the Word of God" to "It's a nice book, but don't rely too heavily on it; it's purely man-made." Paul laid "saved by works" to rest forcefully in several of his letters. No question. And still today a large number of self-professed Christians argue that we are saved by works -- at least faith plus works. David declared unequivocally, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psa 51:5). Pelagius assured them that everyone is capable of being good enough to get to heaven ... that sin did not affect all mankind. The Church shot down that heresy, but it continued. Charles Finney made his mark on the same position. Pelagianism in a variety of forms exists to this day. (Think, for instance, the Latter Day Saints.) There have been many heresies that have arisen throughout Church history, been addressed and ended, only to find them coming up again.

Beyond the heresies, there have been disagreements among genuine believers about various points. Real, Bible-believing, serious Christians still disagree about whether baptism is necessary for salvation or is a symbol. They disagree about infant baptism versus believers baptism. Does God choose us or do we choose God? Does God provide faith or is faith something we muster up? Is salvation certain or contingent? On and on.

It's not surprising. Some of it comes from preconceptions, some worldly and biblically and otherwise. Some of it comes from translation or interpretation difficulties. "What exactly did this author mean when he wrote ...?" Peter, for instance, wrote, "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you ..." (1 Peter 3:21) So, does baptism save or did he intend something else? (Feel free to debate that among yourselves.) Paul wrote, "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men." (Rom 5:18) There are those who argue that this clearly declares universal salvation. Serious Christians taking the Bible seriously disagree. John MacArthur disagrees with his good friend, R.C. Sproul, who disagrees with his good friend, John Piper, who disagrees ... well, you get the idea. It isn't all "skeptical atheists" and "progressive Christianity" problems.

And, yet ... given all the disagreements and heresies of all of Christendom and given that it has always been so and that we would expect it to be so, it still amazes me that today we have self-identifying Christians who are declaring with absolute certainty that the Church has always been on the "wrong side of history" on matters in which the Church has never disagreed. They have debated the nature of the Trinity and the importance of baptism. They have argued about the content of Scripture. They have disagreed on modes and methods of baptism and the existence of Original Sin. They have argued about a lot. But never in the entire history of the Church did anyone disagree that marriage was the lifelong union of a man and a woman for purposes of procreation and mutual support as an image of Christ and the Church. Today they do. Never did anyone in the Church suggest that when Scripture said God made them "male and female" and that male and female are supplied different strengths and weaknesses with which to complement and support different roles God assigned, He actually meant "Gender is fluid and there is no substantive difference between the genders." At no point in Church history did one voice take the Church to task in favor of rewriting biblical sexual morality to include same-sex sexual relationships (or any other sexual immorality). At no point until our time.

There have always been things on which we disagreed. There always will. You would think, though, that on some points or another there would actually be agreement among believers. There always has been on some, but it looks like Satan is going to dig into all of them. And it looks like the tares are going to help. Today the argument is that God Himself is on "the wrong side of history". You go with that. Just don't call it "Christian".