Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Canary in the Church Mine

We have heard the expression, "the canary in the mine."  Miners would carry these birds in cages down into the mines.  If an invisible gas in the shaft built up, such as carbon monoxide, and the birds clearly were suffering, the miners would leave the shafts quickly.

The canaries reacted to a force that the miners did not see.  The miners themselves had not yet reacted to the gas; but without the canaries' early warning, many men would have died, not even knowing how bad it was until it was too late.

The focus of many churches right now seems to be, how do we respond to the LGBTQ community?  Only a few years ago, churches had to navigate their position on gay marriage; now, it is how do the  churches respond to transgender people? 

In the early 70's, the Catholic church maintained its unwavering stand against abortion.  When Roe v. Wade hit the culture with the force of a tsunami, the Catholic church stood resolute.  The mainline Protestant churches were rather silent;  individuals has opinions, but Protestant protesters taking to the streets was not common as it would become later. In an interview with Andrew R. Lewis, whose book, Conservative Christian Politics: How Abortion Transformed the Culture Wars, (2018) says, 
It really was not until the end of the 1970s and early 1980s that conservative Christians moved decidedly in the pro-life direction. More popular groups like Baptists for Life and Christians for Life were created in the mid- to late-1970s, for example. I draw attention to Francis Schaeffer’s books and documentary films, which were popular among churches, pastors, and lay leaders. Schaeffer’s works also influenced Jerry Falwell, who helped elevate abortion activism on the national political stage. In 1980, the SBC passed an unequivocally pro-life resolution. 
He goes on to say,
So what has happened? Well over the past three decades the cultural influence of conservative Christianity has declined. In the process, conservative Christian politics has adapted its approach to public life. The Moral Majority is no longer. Instead, conservative Christians are a minority, and they often speak the language of pluralistic politics. This includes the language or rights and liberties with a heavy emphasis on the rights to free speech and the rights to religious freedom. In the process, the emphasis on biblical public reason has largely disappeared, replaced by a large measure of liberal, individual rights, pluralistic reasoning.  [emphasis mine] 
Well said. The bold type is exactly my thesis.  Somewhere along the way, the Bible lost the center stage as THE reason for our politics, our response to social issues and our worldview.  Somewhere along the way, the Bible was seen as what, outdated?  out of touch?  no longer a rock to build upon? 

When I was a young Christian in the 1970's, the Word was the only foundation we stood upon to face the world with and navigate the issues.  We were like the man who built his house upon the rock (Matt. 7:24-27) that Jesus indicated were Him and His very words.  The waters slammed into us, and we kept standing.  Issues such as gay rights, abortion, pre-marital sex, drug use and living together came roaring down the cultural wash and slammed into my church, and churches everywhere. The waters drove us deeper into the Word and made evangelism all the more important, because the Lord must change the heart before we can expect any changed behavior. 

I was concerned that our church wasn't handling the gay issue very well at that time, however.  Standing on the Word did not replace personally reaching out to gays who walked in the door of our church.  Perhaps the leadership didn't think there were any gay Christians.  Overall, I think the evangelical church was not really engaged in that issue in the 1970's. 

Sadly, this was an egregious error. 

What I now see, after many decades of seeker-friendly churches aimed at making people comfortable, and Jesus portrayed as a cosmic Life Coach, the Bible has been reduced to a few passages and must compete with videos, stories, skits, props, rockstar pastors and a rockin' worship team. 

Yup: the Bible isn't going to have much of an impact for changing lives, because it is not central to the preaching. 

The Word has not been central to preaching in a long time.  And it shows. How so?

Well, first off, let the Word of God define itself: "For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires." (Heb. 4:12)

The Word calls us out.  It shows God's standard and reveals His Son.  It shows where we are falling short; either out of ignorance, disobedience or both, it tells us the right path, promises the Holy Spirit to enable us to walk it and how to please the heart of God. 

Without the centrality of the Word, sola scriptura, then we can go down a path that seems right, but it leads to destruction.  (Prov. 14:12)

If the Bible is God's words to mankind, then it is enough to provide the only basis by which we navigate this world.

But in response to the abortion debate, the church in America became political, not more Biblically literate.  Christians took a political stance, and the Moral Majority, Ronald Reagan and to some extent, George Bush, became the answer.  The evangelical church was caught off guard, but seem to re-establish its footing. 

But did we?  Did this stance change hearts?  Save babies?  Show compassion to the women involved?  Political involvement is always subject to change, but Jesus brings eternal results: a changed heart. 

Over the decades, I have seen the number of abortions climb, the divorce rate skyrocketing and gays demanding equal rights. 

Did all that earlier political involvement make a more moral country? 

I do not see how it did. 

After decades of de-centralizing the Bible and chasing after fads, the church was hit with gay marriage.  That's when the canary keeled over and dropped dead in its cage.  This issue showed us how illiterate we were in Biblical teaching. 

We scrambled to come up with a position and trying to be tolerant and trying to maintain some kind of biblical position.  We came across as weak and ashamed of the Bible's unyielding stance. We    undermined the passages about how we are all born sinners and need a heart change; instead, we told people that they were "born that way" and need not change. 

Show me a scripture that supports that and I will withdraw my thesis.

Now, the churches are hit with the demands of the transgendered community.  Some pastors are standing tall; I am so glad that pastors like John MacArthur are not allowing the culture to decide identity, but standing on the Word's definition.

Abortion was not the problem.  Gay marriage was not the problem.  Transgendered people are not the problem.  The problem is the church's failure to deeply know the Word, deeply know the One who gave it, and to build the church upon that rock. 

The winds, rains and water have shown us how unwise and flimsy our stance is. 

The canary in the church mine is dead because we didn't uphold and stay well-grounded in His Word.  Peter puts it so well:
But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong! (1 Peter 3:14-17) 
Being gay, having an abortion, or being confused over personal identity are not unforgivable sins and do not automatically send someone to hell. 

What does?  Not knowing Christ, accepting Him into your heart, and being cleansed of your sin, that is the path to hell. 

God sent His Son to save us:  from ourselves, from sin, from death and from deception.  Let me end with this:
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Eph. 2:10)

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The 11th Commandment: Don't Get Caught

When Princess Diana went on television to discuss her marriage and Charles' infidelity, I remember a comment made by one of the royal experts:  "She violated the 11th Commandment.  She got caught."

The Royal Family has behaved less than sterling over the years; it isn't until years later that we find out about their infidelities and other sins.  Diana short-circuited that: she wanted the public to know how broken this family's behavior was, and some of them never forgave her for it.

But the Royal Family aren't the only folks that misbehave in the shadows and work hard not to be caught.  Our churches are filled with folks who live a double life.  Here are some grim statistics from Pure Desire's website:

"33% of all Americans seek out porn at least once a month"
"68% of Christian men struggle with unwanted sexual behavior"
"25% of Christian women struggle with sexual dependency issues"

How many of us come into church each week and sit next to someone who looks at porn?  Abuses their wife?  Has an alcohol problem?  Abuses children?  Uses an illegal substance?  Is angry, unforgiving and prideful?  Thinks the pastor is an idiot?  Condemns the worship team for being too loud and sends nasty text messages to the worship leader every Monday?  Gossips about the pastor?  Gossips about other people?  Is relentless in condemning the President?  Is having an adulterous affair?  

Whoa!  Hang on!  Abusing children is not the same as sending nasty texts or gossiping!  

If we are talking consequences, yes, you are right, but if we are talking about sin, then, sorry, sin is sin.

The above list has people doing their thing in the shadows.  They are hiding their sin at home, justifying it and then walking into church looking like everyone else--a God-fearing, Jesus-loving Christian.  They don't wear a scarlet letter on their shirt.  They smile, sing, shake hands, listen to the message and then go home, where the ruler of their heart takes precedence over God.

Maybe this describes us.  

But what about the gay person that walks into church?  The drug addict, whose appearance shouts aloud about their addiction?  The trans person who comes in and shakes your hand?

Their sin is obvious.  So we zero in on their sin because they can't or won't hide it.  We condemn such blatant sin and all the while, those who haven't broken the 11th Commandment--they haven't gotten caught--smile inside, knowing their blatant sin is hidden away.  

Paul has an interesting trajectory he plots in Romans 1-2.  In summary, despite the beautiful testimony of the creation about its glorious Creator, people were not grateful and glorified Him not; they grew foolish in their thinking and their darkened wisdom led them to create idols. Their truth was a lie and out of that, they engaged in shameful behavior, with sex being perverted way beyond God's holy design. 

Now, we, who attend church, upon seeing such egregious sin, would close the Word and say, "See!  Your orientation is not biblical!  Look at Romans 1!"  

OK.  But, open up that chapter once again, and keep reading:   

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (verses 28-32) 

Now that hits closer to home.  Paul could have ended with the behavior section, but he kept going, showing how ideas beget behavior and behavior beget ideas.

Now, if you were a good person, you would read Romans 1, and say, Well, I may occasionally slip here and there, but I am not like that!

Keep reading.  Go to Romans 2.  Paul launches into the good people:  his Jewish readers.  They probably (like us good folk) read the first part of Romans and thought, Of course the Gentiles--those disgusting and godless people--act like this.  They are not, well, us!  

OK.  So Paul takes us on: 

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness,forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Rom. 2:2-4)


Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: 'God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.' (verses 17-24) 


When Christians act as if they have it all, and then fall short and are caught in sin, why would the world take us seriously?  I believe there is a crisis in the church, and it's not gay people wanting or being granted full inclusion.  It is the failure of God's people to live lives that reflect Him.  Yes, we struggle.  Yes, we sin.  But we must view sin as something to move away from, and moving deeper towards God is our deepest desire.  We also must be willing to have full disclosure with the Lord and with each other:

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God. (John 3:17-21)

Why have Christians lost the battle, so to speak, with sin?  We condemn the big sins, but those change over time as cultural mores shift and more and more people no longer avoid the sin.

For example, back in the 1970's, when I was a new Christian, being divorced was the big sin.  Getting an abortion was the big sin.  Being a drug addict?  The church had compassion for those folks.  Alcoholics?  Well, they went to AA.  Gay folks?  Nope.  That big sin wasn't even on the radar.  

Today, divorce is not considered a sin; is it a moral failing?  Perhaps.  But with the huge numbers of pastors and Christians having experienced it, it no longer has any impact on how we see someone.  We now have programs to help people deal with it.  It is no longer an impediment to being in the pulpit.  

Abortion is still a big sin, but we are more compassionate towards those who have had one. 

Drug addicts and alcoholics have programs in the church to help them recover.

Gay people?  We are trying to sort this one out; is it a moral failing?  Born that way?  Recovery?  No judgement?  

Today, calling an attitude or behavior, "sin," just doesn't seem to have a moral impact on people.  Instead, they grow angry and storm off.  Others start the eye/plank/speck argument.  Repentance is a word that echoes at revivals and crusades; but in church, because we take a more therapeutic approach to a person's condition, that word is replaced with "recovery," "felt needs" or "support." 

Jesus becomes your Life Coach; Cosmic Buddy; Eternal Therapist who will help you live your best life; Your Wealth Manager, who blessings are waiting to drop all over you; Your Healer who will never let you suffer; the One who loves you as you are and doesn't judge you.  

I am on a journey here, trying to understand that as the church has redefined sin as a psychological missed opportunity that the church must remedy, we are no longer on our way to becoming holy people, set aside for God's use.  We are on our way of aligning with the world's values, and looking surprisingly like the world in how we conduct our lives and how we conduct church.  

More to follow.

Blessings, fellow travelers. 


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