Note: I wrote the piece with the above title as an expression of some very deeply held feelings.
I was direct, confrontational, and perhaps “hyperbolic.”
Believe me, it cuts both ways. I have been accused of no longer being a Christian simply because I believe God gave the role of spiritual leadership to men.
But quite frankly I am tired of having to defend my own feelings. I never should have hit the “publish” button.
I deleted the post.
A word about surrender. Surrender does not mean that you fight to the last drop of blood of the last man and then call it quits. That is called, “being defeated.” The only way surrender can actually be defined as surrender is when the person, or persons, doing the surrendering actually have the capacity to keep on fighting, and possibly of even overcoming, their enemy. Surrender is taking your entirely healthy team and walking off the field in the third quarter when you are only down by a field goal. Walking off the field when you are down by 7 touchdowns, there is only three seconds left in the game and you are down to 8 players is not surrender. Let’s be honest about our terms.
A word about apocalyptic. An apocalypse is a written account of a special vision given to a messenger of God relating to an explanation of the reality of human events as seen from heaven’s perspective. It also contains a message about future judgment – of reward for the obedient faithful and punishment for the rebellious guilty. Apocalypses were written to encourage the faithful to keep the faith, to look at things from heaven’s perspective and not from the perspective of the world. Apocalypses are ultimately about victory. God is in control, even death cannot change the eventual outcome of the game.
So, why speak of an apocalyptic surrender? Simply this – the only way to achieve victory from the point of view of heaven is to quit playing the game from the world’s point of view.
In other words, surrender whether it looks like you might still win or you are hopelessly overmatched. Because, ultimately, if you win according to the world’s rules you will lose according to God’s rules.
I think the church needs to learn this. I think the church needs to learn how to surrender. We need one huge, global act of apocalyptic surrender.
We need to quit playing the game according to the rules of the world. We need to quit trying to make the church more pleasant, more attractive, more relevant, more beneficial, more consumer friendly. The one who established the church died on a cross, for crying out loud. And we are trying to “attract” people by making that cross – more attractive??
We need to quit playing power games. The world will not be transformed by political machinations. We can legislate until we are blue in the face and all we will accomplish is a deeper shade of blue. Jesus surrendered every form of power except the power of selfless surrender. In other words, Jesus embodied apocalyptic surrender. He looked at victory from God’s point of view, and transformed the concept of power to the idea of submission.
We need to quit playing public relations games. We need to regain the moral capacity to call sin, sin. We need to realize, and confess, that we are sinners – every stinking wretched one of us. We cannot be forgiven until we are condemned, and we cannot be condemned if we have eliminated the concept of guilt. But, when we say that sin exists and that we are guilty of sins as well as every other person is guilty of sins we violate every principle of public relations. Public relations demands that we whitewash over our own sins (to create and maintain a healthy “self-esteem”) and to whitewash over the sins of others (to create and maintain healthy inter-personal relationships.)
Apocalyptic surrender demands that we have a complete reevaluation of our behavior. We, as disciples of Christ, need to change not only the way we act, but even the way we think. In apocalyptic thinking losing is winning and winning is losing. We become victorious through surrender. The Lion of the tribe of Judah is the Lamb who, though slain, stands as conqueror.
I must admit, I’m not exactly sure how to do this. I am far too much a creature of the modern world. I just know that I need to quit. I need to surrender.
And at the end of the journey
We shall bow down on bended knee,
And with the angels up in heaven
We’ll sing the song of victory.
(from the song, “We Shall Assemble”)
Occasionally I get a song stuck in my head. Sometimes it drives me batty – at others times I rather enjoy singing the song over and over again.
Today I have one of my favorite songs on endless loop. It is, “We Shall Assemble”
We shall assemble on the mountain
We shall assemble at the throne
With humble hearts into his presence
We bring an offering of song
Glory and honor and dominion
Unto the Lamb unto the King
Oh hallelujah, hallelujah
We sing the song of the redeemed
And at the end of the journey
We shall bow down on bended knee
and with the angels up in heaven
We’ll sing the song of victory
Glory and honor and dominion
Unto the Lamb unto the king
Oh hallelujah, hallelujah
We sing the song of the redeemed.
I’ve often said that we sing a much better theology than we preach, and I think this song is worthy of that praise. This is a true hymn, a song of praise and glory to God. So many modern “praise” songs are nothing but icky, narcissistic collections of lyrical drivel. It takes some forethought and some musical know-how to create a song that has both theological and musical punch. I think “We Shall Assemble” is just one of those songs, and if you are around me very much chances are you will hear me sing or hum it quite a bit.
I’m personally looking forward to singing that song of victory…
Today’s excursion in daily Bible reading brought me to 2 Timothy 2:1. As I am reading in this cycle through the God’s Word Translation, I came across this reading:
My Child, find your source of strength in the kindness of Christ Jesus.
Not remembering ever having heard this verse phrased this way my figurative ears were pricked immediately. The God’s Word Translation is more of a dynamic translation, meaning that the translators focused on translating the thought of each portion of the text rather than slavishly following a word-for-word translation, so I asked the questions, “Are they accurate here?” “Have they taken extreme liberties with the literal text?” “Why is this reading so different from some of the more formal, or word for word translations?”
I am far from a scholar of the Greek New Testament, but a little research brought me to a rather firm conviction: this translation of this verse is very appropriate, and very powerful.
To cut to the chase, the key word here in this verse is transliterated, endunamou. Both my Analytical Lexicon and my Parsing Guide identify this word as a 2nd person singular, imperative middle verb (I don’t truly trust my own parsing skills). So, in layman’s terms, this is an imperative, a command, but it is in a middle construction – that is it is an action that a person does to or for himself or herself. The basic meaning of the verb form from which this verb is derived is to make strong. Therefore, the command Paul gives Timothy is that he (Timothy) is to make himself strong.
But here is the kicker – how is Timothy supposed to make himself strong? The older (and many of the newer) translations translate the next important word as “grace.” So, for example, the RSV translates, “You, then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” That is basically how I remember this verse. There is certainly nothing wrong in that translation.
However, the force that the GWT brings out is that the verb is actually something that a person is to do, to engage in, to make oneself stronger. The RSV simply as a form of the English verb “to be.” It is one thing to say, “be strong” and another thing to say, “make yourself strong” or even “make yourself stronger.” And, the GWT adds a flavor to the word “grace” that, in my most humble opinion, really brings out the irony, or the paradox of the command Paul is giving Timothy. Paul is telling Timothy to “make himself strong” or to “strengthen himself” in the kindness of Jesus.
Now, one might quibble that the word kindness is borrowing too much from the concept of grace. But I would counter that “grace” has become such a loaded, and very often twisted, religious concept that sometimes a synonym is valuable, provided it is not too far afield of the word’s basic meaning. I happen to really like this phraseology – “Timothy, make yourself stronger by remembering and patterning your life on the kindness of Jesus” (Paul Smith paraphrase).
Americans have, perhaps to overgeneralize, a John Wayne theory of strength. Get the most people, arm yourself with the biggest guns, build the biggest bunker, obtain the most and the highest educational degrees, write the most books, attend the most conferences. Each of these makes you “stronger” than someone who has fewer people, smaller guns, a tar-paper shack, a high school education, who is illiterate, or who refuses to pay extortionist fees to attend conferences. How many times have you been encouraged to “make yourself stronger” by practicing kindness? Or grace, even?
This is why I love reading from different translations on a regular basis. We become comfortable with phrases that become set in our minds, and very often we skip over very important topics simply because our eyes, and our ears, become numb to the words we read or hear. A new translation causes us to hear the common in uncommon ways. Sometimes these translations are not so good, and sometimes they are very good.
I think we need to do more preaching about making ourselves stronger by lifting the weights of kindness. Not just any humanistic, “do-gooder” kindness, however. We must be limited to the “acts of kindness” or the “grace” that is in Christ Jesus. But that should give us enough to work on while we are on this earth.
I think that is a gym at which we all need to buy a membership.
A funny thing happened on the way to the blogosphere recently. It seems that a large number of religious bloggers have come down with traditio-phobia. This disease is the irrational fear and rejection of anything having to do with the spiritual tradition in which they were raised. Catholics fear and hate the papacy and all the related hierarchy, along with the traditional mandates of the Catholic church. Mainline protestants are disgusted with mainline Protestantism. The disease even afflicts non-denominational and non-aligned groups, as large numbers of members of the Churches of Christ have all but disavowed any relation to the tradition of the American Restoration Movement. The disease has strange symptoms, but perhaps one of the most revealing is the manner in which those who are afflicted attempt to “out hate” those from other groups who have come down with the same disease. For example, one person might say, “You don’t agree with the pope? Wow, that is big, but guess what – I don’t agree with the New Testament!” It forces everyone in the circle to come up with a bigger and badder enemy to disagree with.
Another symptom of the disease is the unity that is demonstrated among the traditio-phobic when confronted with someone who actually loves and appreciates their tradition. “Wow, dude, that is so cool that you diss the Pope. But watch out for Paul over there – man he is so in love with his traditions that he will try to give you a guilt trip. Why don’t you come over and hang with us for a while – we don’t like any traditions either, and you will be safe with us.”
Honestly, it is getting to the point that I actually appreciate talking to a Catholic that does not hate the Catholic church. I may disagree with their theology, but at least I can appreciate their devotion.
Why are we so traditio-phobic? And why are those who are traditio-phobic about one tradition so willing to accept, and even promote, the traditions of another group? And to add another wrinkle, why are they willing to accept the traditions of a group that is losing large numbers of their own traditio-phobic members because their traditions are deemed too repressive?
In the Churches of Christ we have a significant number of ministers who are openly disavowing long-held biblical doctrines because they are too culture-bound, or are too repressive, or too exclusive, or too something-or-other else. At the very same time I read blogs of others who are just now discovering (or are re-discovering) the importance of baptism, the beauty of acapella singing, the theological wisdom of male-centered spiritual leadership. It is enough to give a person spiritual whiplash.
I don’t claim to know any of the answers. I’m just a worn-out, sawed-off little munchin of a theologian who does his best to make sense of the this world so that I can talk about the next one. And when I am confused I don’t mind expressing that confusion. And right now I am confused.
I happen to love the tradition into which I was born, and into which I made a conscious decision to join. The American Restoration Movement was founded upon some of the loftiest and most divine concepts to ever flow from the pen of a theologian onto ordinary paper. Just use the Bible as the only sure guide to knowing God. Just be Christians only, not Christians plus something else. Use the adjective Christian or noun disciple exclusively. When you disagree on a matter of opinion, have the love in your heart to accept your brother or sister in peace.
Have we always lived up to those lofty goals? Hardly. But I would rather aim for the stars and come up short than to aim for the pigsty and hit my target. I would even suggest that learning about the failures of my spiritual forefathers has made me appreciate them more, not respect them less. I know they were human, and the fact that they might not have always lived up to their words does not diminish the value of the words they held up as their standard.
I’ve said it before a hundred times and I’ll probably say it again a hundred times – but I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I just don’t understand why a person has to hate their tradition just because someone who lived and died 100 years ago, or 1,000 years ago, stubbed his toe and fell down. I don’t worship my spiritual ancestors – that activity is reserved for God alone. But I can honor and respect those who blazed the trail on which I now walk by holding up the standard by which they walked and thereby carrying the torch just a little further. (Okay, perhaps a few too many mixed metaphors there, but I hope you get my drift – arrrrrrggh.)
I will offer this advice to those who are traditio-phobic – at least have the courage of your convictions to leave the people you have decided you no longer can honestly love. Don’t preach for a group you disagree with. If you no longer can hold to the teachings of the Catholic church, don’t try to pass yourself off as a Catholic. If you can no longer abide by the traditions of the Baptist church, stand up and say so.
And if the name Church of Christ is just so abhorrent to you that you grit your teeth every time someone says it or you have to park under the sign, then by all means do us all a favor and move somewhere else. I cannot judge you for your convictions (God is your judge, not me) but I am really growing weary of hearing, or reading, you bash something that I love very much.
If you listen to the pure theorists times could not be better for American education. Young people are learning more, are learning faster, and are entering the work place more prepared than at any other time in American history. They would point to the fact that many high school students are provided with the opportunity to earn college credit during high school. Many students enter college as second semester freshmen, or perhaps even at a sophomore level. Some states even allow high school graduates to earn both a high school diploma and an Associate degree from a nearby college. In the world of these theorists, everything has a distinctly rosy tint.
If you walk a mile in my moccasins, or talk to some of the fellow university instructors that I know, you would get the exact opposite reaction. College freshmen may come more highly credentialed than ever, but they also come with a corresponding inability to produce freshman level college work. Many cannot construct a coherent English sentence; do not even think about making them construct an entire coherent paragraph. Many do not know the difference between a noun, a verb, and a participle. They cannot spell. These students have been propped up and puffed up their entire educational career, and they expect that college and university instructors will continue the pattern of praise and adulation. Sadly, many do. It is difficult to tell a young man or young woman who is academically in their second, third or even fourth year of college that they are not even writing at a 12th grade level.
And, believe me – with the advent of on-line “miseducation” and the proliferation of on-line college degrees the level of incompetence in high school and even college graduates is simply going to explode.
What does this have to do with a blog on theology? Much, and I’m glad you asked.
Once upon a time (and it really was not that long ago), sermons and Bible classes were exercises in serious exegesis and discovery. Texts were painstakingly worked through. Forty-five minute sermons or lessons were the norm, not the exception. It was expected, even demanded, that the audience was capable of following lengthy, carefully constructed arguments, including an occasions side-track or two.
But then the technology revolution hit – especially television. The medium of television itself is not evil, but television producers, writers, actors and cameramen all needed to be paid, so along with television shows came television commercials. That meant that an hour long show was broken up into a number of smaller segments, demarcated with a couple of minutes of commercials. The attention span of the average American dropped.
Then, almost imperceptibly, hour-long shows became 30 minute shows – still broken up into shorter and shorter segments. The American attention span grew even shorter.
Today there is not only TV, but a myriad of other electronic media that demands our attention – computers and tablets and phones and digital music storage devices. We as Americans get bored faster and in spite of more stimulation than any other culture before us. And that head-long rush into lethargy is carried right over into our worship experiences.
It is no surprise to me that the very same generation that invented the “X Games,” a collection of high risk, extreme sporting events, is now demanding the same type of experiential high from their worship services. Apparently it is no longer enough to raise your voice in song; now there has to be ear- splitting, roof-rattling music and mind-bending special effects. Even in the more “sedate” religious groups the simple projection of words on a screen is no longer considered acceptable. No – now there must be multiple images as well as the introduction of other sensory stimuli in order to raise the level of spirituality in the increasingly more passive and yet technologically demanding audience.
Parallel with this movement toward a more “experiential” worship service there is a marked decline in the acceptance of a rigorous hermeneutic that demands a careful and extended study of the text of Scripture. Sermons must be 20 minutes (or less) and should be directed to today’s “felt needs” or in some other way “relevant” to our immediate culture. Long gone are the days in which the church was expected to shape culture – now the church must bend and twist and morph itself in order to comply with the demands of an ever-changing culture that also happens to be diametrically opposed to the message and mission of the church of Christ.
And, as technology becomes a mainstay even with pre-schoolers, I do not see any change in this intellectual/spiritual collapse any time soon.
When he was just a teenager, Dietrich Bonhoeffer had virtually every option open to him in regards to his life’s work. He was intelligent enough, and had the connections, to become a scientist, a legal scholar, or follow in his father’s footsteps in the field of medicine. He was talented enough musically to have become a professional musician. Instead, he shocked (and disappointed) his family when he announced that he would become a theologian. According to his friend Eberhard Bethge, his family tried to tell him that the church was a “… poor, feeble, boring, petty and bourgeois institution.” Bonhoeffer was undeterred. “In that case I shall reform it” he smugly responded. (Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography, p. 36)
The amazing thing is, he did! With the exception of his friend and mentor Karl Barth, no early 20th century theologian has had as deep and as lasting effect on the church as Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But he did not reform it by adding praise bands, or praise teams, or glorified visual presentations, or by adding bells or incense. Bonhoeffer reformed the church, and his writings continue to exert his influence, by a serious, deep and sustained return to the foundations of discipleship: prayer, Bible study, meditation, confession and Christian service.
Basic spiritual disciplines – what a concept!
May God raise up another Dietrich Bonhoeffer for this generation. Or, maybe 100.
To begin, the standard warnings: I am not a geneticist. I barely survived high school biology. Neither am I a sociologist, psychologist nor psychiatrist. I am a minister, and college instructor and as such you can call me a professional theologian, although the ivory tower types would certainly have room to look down their noses at me. I try to be as faithful to the text of Scripture as I can, knowing that I have certain biases and characteristics about my life that shape, whether consciously or unconsciously, my reading of Scripture. Also, I want to approach this subject in a pastoral context. The question to ask is not how do we condemn someone, or make their life miserable, but how do we bring every life (and we are all broken in some way) into the healing power of Jesus? I hope my comments are viewed as such.
The issue that I want to examine today involves the behavior of homosexuality, and in particular, what seems like a growing movement within Christian churches to view homosexuality as a God-given, inborn trait. This inborn reality and the behavior that follows must either be accepted and celebrated (the Anglican/Episcopal church, many churches within the Presbyterian Church USA, many Lutheran churches, etc) or at the very least acknowledged as real, yet overcome through self-denial or outright rejection. I want to challenge this growing acceptance of a theory that I believe is false at its very core, and therefore dangerous for Christians to promote.
As we begin, let us ask what advantage is being sought when a person says, “This is how God made me, I cannot change; therefore you must accept me for the way in which I am created by a loving and all-powerful God?” This person is laying a foundation that if someone chooses to disagree with him or her, the antagonist must be in disagreement with God. No self-respecting Christian wants to disagree with God, so the inclination is to surrender the first half of the statement while trying in some manner to overcome the second part. In my opinion that is an exercise in futility. The person who builds this foundation has done so intentionally to block the Christian into a corner. You either agree that God created this person with these traits, or you reject the creative power of God at the outset. Once you accept that God has created the trait it becomes an exercise in sophistry to attempt to label the behavior as sinful. For every argument that is made there is a ready-made defense. The Christian who argues in this matter becomes Sisyphus, forever doomed to pushing a boulder up a craggy hill.
So, for me the issue revolves around the question of the naturalness, or the normalcy, of the homosexual inclination. Are some people simply born with an irresistible need, and therefore desire, for sexual, psychological, and emotional support from a person of the same sex? If you answer “yes” to that question, how can you argue that the expression of that need can be considered as an abomination, a perversion, of God’s so-called “plan” for human sexuality? If God gave a person a need for sexual release with a person of the same sex, how can he condemn the practice of that release? In my opinion, this is an unanswerable question.
There are, make no mistake, abnormalities and genetic malfunctions of a myriad of types and variations within the human body. Some people are prone to obesity, some to diabetes, some to outbursts of anger and rage, some to the inability to process alcohol, and some even to kleptomania (the urge to steal). No one seriously would argue that these abnormalities or malfunctions should be accepted and celebrated. No one who is morbidly obese enjoys being unable to perform even the most basic of human activities. No one who is diabetic would glorify the issues that they must deal with. Certainly, most alcoholics would give anything to be rid of the problem that they struggle against on a daily basis. The issues are clear, and the response is virtually unanimous – we fight against these diseases and genetic problems only by first acknowledging that they are diseases and genetic malfunctions.
And so my question to those who argue that homosexuality is an inborn, genetic “gift” from God is this – would you accept and promote a search for the identification and “cure” of this genetic trait? If not every inborn, genetic trait is a positive, healthy, “natural” one, how can we argue that a “homosexual” gene is a positive, healthy, “natural” gene?
There are a couple of facts (as I see them) that even homosexuals cannot deny. One is that homosexuals cannot reproduce without either (a) a surrogate female to carry a baby for two homosexual men, or (b) a male to donate sperm to one or both females in a lesbian relationship. Homosexuality is, by that very definition, unnatural. If someday a genetic link is discovered that determines a person to be homosexual, then I would also suggest that link must be defined as abnormal, recessive, or defective in some way.
One other fact that I believe homosexuals must accept is that there are individuals who have lived a life practicing homosexuality and who have made the conscious decision to leave that lifestyle and live either in a heterosexual union with a husband or wife, or as a celibate single. If, as some suggest, homosexuality is a genetic trait, this would be impossible. Now, the public response from most homosexuals is that “these people were never really homosexuals to begin with, they were simply acting like homosexuals.” This is the old Calvinist response reworded. When someone who lived most of their life in the church suddenly disavowed anything having to do with Jesus it was argued – “This person was never really a Christian, so their rejection of Jesus just revealed that they were reprobate all along.” Never mind that during the person’s life of homosexuality, (or Christianity) neither they nor anyone even closely related to them would suspect that they were anything but homosexual or Christian. Once again, we return to pure sophistry. We try to prove a negative. Logic, and ultimately the revelation of Scripture, ceases to be applicable.
The inability, or the refusal, to confront someone actively involved in a sinful lifestyle is not compassion. It reveals the worst form of negligence. We cannot confuse acceptance of a sinful lifestyle with compassion. The most compassionate thing is sometimes the most painful. Jesus said, “Go and sin no more,” not “go with my sympathy.”
I want to close by saying that human sexuality is complex and mysterious. We will no doubt never understand the depths of what it means to be male and female. But, just as God has given us food to enjoy and to promote growth, and drink to enjoy and to promote growth, he has give us our sexual natures to enjoy and to reproduce the human race. God has also given us very strict limits as to how we exercise that sexual nature, just as he has given limits in terms of food (not to starve ourselves, and not to the point of gluttony) and drink (not to starve ourselves, but also not to the point of inebriation). We simply cannot redefine the terms of sexuality based on evolving, and some might say devolving, cultural standards.
We must also admit that the event of conversion is equally complex and mysterious. I cannot explain why one person would reject their homosexual lifestyle and another person says that such a process is impossible. I do reject the “impossible,” however. With God everything, is possible. Otherwise, none of us could leave our life of sin and become new creatures.
As always, I stand willing to be convinced otherwise if I am in error concerning any aspect of what I have written. I am certainly not omniscient in this or any regard. These are my conclusions, opinions and related questions as I stand at this time, and I invite others to join in the conversation.
In everything, may God be glorified, and may we seek to be shaped into the image of His Son.
Okay, I realize I am opening up myself to big time criticism here. But let’s be honest – if you are going to write about theology is the fog, there is no greater fog than the current pea-soup murkiness of the glorification of near death experiences (NDE) or back from the dead experiences.
Some time ago I read the book Heaven is for Real because I was requested to do so by a church member. I found the book cute in a way, but also deeply troubling. In fact, I found its cuteness to be the most disturbing facet of the book. It is so cute, and the protagonist so adorable, that the reader cannot see the dangerous message hidden in the book.
For those of you who have not read the book, the story involves a little boy, the son of a pastor, who experiences excruciating abdominal pain that is initially misdiagnosed. By the time the correct diagnosis is made the boy is virtually catatonic. An emergency surgery heals the boy, and some time later the little boy starts revealing to his (astonished!) father that he had died and gone to heaven, where, by the way, he meets God, Jesus, his long dead grandfather and a sister that he never knew he had. The story is so popular that a movie is now being made of the event.
The book is not exactly The Grapes of Wrath quality, but hey, if you include dead grandpas and sisters, how can you go wrong?
Well, let me explain. You can go wrong in a number of ways, some of which may be inconsequential, but some are spiritually lethal. Let me address the entire body of near-death and back-from-the-dead stories, and not simply focus on one mega-popular story.
Observation #1 – These stories always glorify the recipient of the “vision.” Notice the visions of God recorded in the Bible. The recipient is introduced, and then immediately fades into the background or falls to the ground in abject terror, or has to be purified from their sinfulness. The recipient always magnifies God, not the event nor himself or herself. In these modern near-death or post-death stories it is always the recipient (or his or her family) that receives the lion’s share of the press. To paraphrase, “I had this vision of God, but first a few chapters about ME!” It is crass commercialism. And, the fact that a number of young children are being used by adults (parents, ghost writers, publishers, movie makers, etc) makes the process even more repugnant.
Observation #2 – These stories are always couched in such loaded language/scenarios that anyone who challenges them is forced into a “why do you want to kill kittens and puppies” type of accusation. I have nothing against young children who claim to see God or Jesus. For all I know these young people are delightful, mischievous, insightful youngsters who genuinely believe that what they “saw” was real. Do I believe they went to “heaven?” Not for a minute. I have had enough experience with pain, anesthesia, pain medications, and even old age and dementia to know that such visions are all too common, and real, but yet are not true. I had a profound and very disturbing “vision” when I was a young man and suffering from an extremely high fever. Was my vision real? Absolutely! I will go to my grave believing with all my heart that I saw what I saw. Was it true? Not even close. There is a huge difference.
Observation #3 – These near-death and post-death revelations are so incredibly vapid – they are meaningless. Do you mean to tell me that God interrupts the space/time, life/death continuum to give someone a message that heaven is for real? Do you suggest that the God of creation would allow someone to visit His throne room to pass along a message that God loves us? What kind of kindergarten God do these people think we worship, anyway? Do you mean to tell me that Jesus’ death on the cross was not good enough to tell mankind that God loves us? Do you mean to suggest that, with all the words and parables that Jesus spoke on this earth, that we need a vision from the near-grave to tell us that heaven exists? Honestly, how illiterate do some people think non-Christians are? And why would God send his Son to die for us if a simple little near-death or post-death vision could solve all of our problems?
Which then leads me to my final, and most important point, Observation #4 – These near-death and post-death experiences, while undoubtedly very vivid and very real to the recipient, are specifically refuted by the words of Jesus! Read Luke 16:19-31. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus quotes Abraham as telling the rich man (who is in torment and who has begged Abraham to send Lazarus from Abraham’s side back to convert his 5 sinful brothers)
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’ Luke 16:29-31, RSV, emphasis mine.
People, brothers, sisters, those who love me and those who hate me – if Jesus himself tells a story that specifically eliminates the possibility of someone returning from the dead in order to preach to a skeptical public, why in the world would he send a little child, or a grown person for that matter, back from the shadows of death with such an anemic message such as “heaven is for real” or “God loves us and wants us to get along?”
That is not just taking liberty with a wonderful story. That is heresy bordering on blasphemy. I know those are harsh words. But Jesus warned about charlatans and false prophets who would tell fanciful stories and who would always be pointing to the heavens and announcing His coming. Jesus told us to be innocent as doves, to be sure. But he also told us to be wise as serpents.
I am not denying that these individuals had the experiences they relate. I am not denying that to these people these experiences were as real as the computer I am using right now. They may be valuable and beneficial to the recipient and to their immediate families. I am, however, flatly denying that God would contradict the words of His Son in order to propagate truths that have been clearly taught and even personified in His incarnate Son. We must discern the spirits.
This is one fog bank that really demands our clearest theological thinking and Spiritual wisdom to fly through. The stakes are simply too high.
(Note: upon some post-publishing review, a couple of phrases have been re-worded from my original rant)
Yesterday I received a compliment. This pat on the back came from someone I only have a professional relationship with, someone who I have spoken with on the phone, but have not met in person. The person is accomplished in their chosen field. This person also served as a mentor to me through a recent course of study. So, when I received his compliment I felt like I had been given a rare and priceless jewel. I cannot describe the feeling that came over me.
Isn’t it amazing the awesome power of a genuine compliment. Of course, we should understand this when we stop and think about the brutal destructive power of hateful words. The little children’s ditty – “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is just so flat out wrong. I have seen young children absolutely crushed by the destructive power of an unmerited criticism, or even the harsh condemnation of a very minor offense. I have to be reminded of this time and again as I react to my own daughter, especially in times when I am hurting, or tired, or frustrated with another issue. So often I lash out with harsh words when a gentle correction and helpful instruction would be so much more appropriate.
No deep theology or profound esoteric questions today. Just a deep, profound “thank-you” to a person who had such a huge impact on my life with just a few words.
May we all have the opportunity to build someone up with a genuine, heart-felt compliment, and may we never lose an opportunity to speak that kind word.
A few hours ago I posted a response to the Supreme Court Ruling overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and refusing to uphold Proposition 8 from the state of California. That post can be found here. While working out at the gym another thought occurred to me that this ruling might have a curious and unexpected consequences for soft-feminists within the church.
To begin, let me define my terms. I consider hard, or radical, feminists to be those who push, not only for equality for males and females, but for actual superiority of the female over the male. Modern day radical feminists would include any past, present, or future president of the National Organization of Women and Planned Parenthood. Males can be radical feminists as well. Anyone who argues that a female has the unrestricted right to murder her unborn child fits into this category. Some might be more radical than others. Radical feminists have little or nothing to do with the Bible; they view it as ancient and silly myth. Radical feminists tend to be radical secularists. And, to be more to the point, radical feminists have been in bed with the radical homosexual agenda for many years (pardon the pun).
Soft feminists, (often referred to as “egalitarians”) on the other hand, can and do claim an affinity for the Bible. It is a tenuous love affair, because they have to pare and trim certain texts that they find patriarchal and misogynistic. So, a large portion of the Old Testament is out, as are the passages in the letters of Paul and Peter that are viewed as being denigrating to females. However, certain other passages are held to be deeply formative for soft feminists – especially those in which Jesus speaks or acts favorably to females, and, interestingly enough, Galatians 3:27-28 written by the famed patriarchal misogynist the apostle Paul. This passage communicates to them their core belief: men and women, while biologically different, are ultimately equal in every respect. No soft feminist would argue that male and female have ceased to exist as different genders. The two have simply ceased to exist as different “persons” in the church.
Just so we are all on the same page, let us quote the passage in question:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (RSV)
Even though there is absolutely nothing in the letter to the Galatian Christians discussing church leadership or male/female roles or gifts within the church; even though there is absolutely nothing in the letter to indicate that Paul is addressing an issue that he very specifically dealt with in other letters (1 Cor. 14, 1 Tim. 2, 3; Titus 1; Ephesians 5); and even though the derived interpretation is directly opposed to those passages, the soft feminists see in Gal. 3:27-28 their ultimate “trump card” as it relates to male/female relationships, and especially male/female gifts and responsibilities vis a vis the church. In this interpretation Galatians 3:27-28 is the last, and most profound, statement in the Bible regarding the differences between the sexes, and that statement is that there is no difference spiritually speaking.
Ah, but, here is where it gets really interesting. Soft feminists, at least some of them, tend to be very literal and strict when the issue of homosexuality is addressed. (Males especially so.) Because they accept most of the Bible, especially the creation account of Genesis 1-3, they view marriage as sacred. Male and female join as one to create not only another physical child or children, but a special spiritual bond that is viewed as holy in the eyes of God. To many soft feminists the idea of homosexuality is abhorrent. And, interestingly enough, they refer to passages in the Old Testament and the New Testament (some written by the horrible patriarch and misogynist Paul) as evidence that homosexuality is a sin.
So, what do soft feminists do when radical feminists and the radical homosexual lobby quote Galatians 3:27-28 as further proof that God has fully accepted homosexual marriage – as the United States Supreme Court has just made clear in a secular sense?
Here is my question: If Galatians 3:27-28 is the “trump card” that overturns passages in the Old and New Testaments that specifically address the roles of male and female in regard to certain spiritual natures, how can you argue that Galatians 3:27-28 is not the “trump card” that overturns passages in the Old and New Testaments that are “homophobic” and no longer culturally acceptable?
Soft feminists cannot argue that gender is pre-determined and homosexuality is a choice. Homosexuals have argued for years that their behavior is just as ingrained in them as “male” and “female” is ingrained in our biology. (This, of course, raises serious issues with the bi-sexual and trans-gender crowd, but victimhood loves company, so minor and major differences of logic are often overlooked.) Soft feminists cannot argue that the apostle Paul is accepting “maleness” and “femaleness” or anatomical difference, but that he is only pointing to spiritual equality within specific gifts and roles in the church. Let us remind ourselves of the passage, “There is neither male nor female…” What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
You see, from a strictly logical point of view, the homosexual lobby has a stronger claim to Galatians 3:27-28 in the sense of the apostle Paul breaking down all previous beliefs than does the soft feminist (egalitarian) crowd. If Paul is clearly and unambiguously stating that there is “neither male nor female” then homosexual marriage is simply a non-issue. We are all one in Christ. In this interpretation bodies and gender do not matter. The only thing that counts is what is in our heart. In other words, if God called them to exercise their love through an emotional bond with someone of the same anatomical structure, who is the soft feminist-but strict heterosexual to object?
Obviously I reject this argumentation in toto. I reject the soft feminist (egalitarian) interpretation of Galatians 3:27-28 as well. That interpretation is bad theology built upon wretched exegesis.
But I must say I enjoy watching those who use Galatians 3:27-28 and argue that women should have the same roles as men in terms of church leadership squirm and try to argue around the use of Galatians 3:27-28 when used by someone who is arguing that homosexual marriages are blessed by God and should be blessed by the church.
If you take a passage out of context to win your argument, don’t be too surprised to find that someone else is using that same passage to win theirs.