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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Redneck Theologian


Just call me a redneck theologian. Posted by Picasa

I'm not famous. I don't pastor a megachurch. I'm just a regular guy who does hard work for a living. But I care about truth enough to say what I think. Of course, relationships and emotions are an important part of being human and a part of being Christian. However, part of being Christian and being human is having a mind and an intellect.

Too often these days we are told not to think but only to feel. It's as though the leaders of churches don't want us to question their authority or their reason for being. Reminds me of a line from an old Jethro Tull song called Thick As A Brick:

"...and your wise men don't know how it feels to be thick as a brick."

It's often assumed that lower class people don't know how to think. Anyone with a southern accent must be dumb or just slow. I associate with rednecks all day long on construction sites. Yes, the stereotype is partly true. Most of them have a high school education or less. Communicating with them can be difficult at times, since I have been trained in basic principles of logic and have a higher education. Surprisingly, though, many uneducated people can see through the veil. One elderly fellow, who is finishing up a prison sentence through a work release program called the Bridge, summed it up nicely. He said, "The ones in authority make the laws. Put me in charge and let me make the laws."

The trouble with Evangelicalism today is there is a shortage of self-examination. Are churches willing to critically examine their stances on social justice issues? Are they so middle class that they can't see the ways Evangelicalism contributes to social injustice and oppression?

Of course, the emphasis on individual responsibility is a much needed message. Often people leave the drug lifestyle and are successful in life and even attain a middle class lifestyle. But that isn't the norm. In fact, I am one of those for whom the American dream didn't come true. I quit smoking pot and went to an Assemblies of God college in 1988. I graduated and became a part-time minister making very little money with a new wife and a baby. Then I decided that further education would help me to be more successful in my calling to the ministry. So with my wife's blessing I went on to seminary and graduated in 1995 with a master of divinity.

After seminary I was a prison chaplain for almost four years until my divorce in 1996. My wife said she didn't love me anymore. So now I lost my wife and my daughter, whom I cannot see anymore. So much for the success story. I lost my ministry as a prison chaplain because of the divorce and other issues rising out of that.

Basically, let me just say that the so-called wealth and prosperity message is empty and a lie. A few success stories from mega-churches do not make a general principle that will work for everyone. There are far more people out there for whom the magic formula of hard work, education and dedication to God doesn't work. To show for my hard work and education I have a construction job. I started out six years ago making laborer's pay and after six years I'm almost a mason making decent pay. However, I don't have medical insurance. I am unable to save much money. I rent a room from my sister. And to top it all off, I can't declare bankruptcy on student loans. I owe tens of thousands of dollars in federal student loans, all of which must be repaid. So much for the American dream baptized by the health and wealth gospel.

It seems to me that often Evangelical colleges and seminaries are much like the world. Their focus is on student enrollment levels and the prosperity of their school. Nevermind that students wind up not having careers in the divine call to ministry. Nevermind that students wind up having to consolidate their loans to make the monthly payments. The similarity to barely legitimate colleges set up for beauty schools and other technological careers for businesses to make private profit off federal student loan monies is unmistakable.

Just call me a redneck theologian. Maybe I really am stupid? After all, I believed a lie. Education is the way out of poverty. Religion and faith in Jesus Christ guarantees success. Right?

What Happens To Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel?

What happens to those who have never heard the Gospel? (See CRI http://www.equip.org/free/CP0207.htm). Also implied in this question is, "What happened to those who were born before Jesus Christ came to the earth?" Another related question is, "What happens to children who die in infancy without being baptized?"

These are difficult questions to answer in brief so it will take a bit of discussion to cover them from my own Anglican perspective. Not all Anglicans are conservative or even Calvinistic, so I won't be speaking for the Anglican communion at large. However, I think I can say that I will be speaking for most who believe in infant baptism and in a Calvinistic or Reformed view of election, salvation, and evangelism.

I think the best place to begin is the beginning, if you will forgive the expression. Who were the first to hear the Gospel? Obviously, the answer is Adam and Eve, the first man and the first woman (cf. Genesis 3:15). But there was no need for the Gospel prior to the fall of mankind in Adam.

Let's make an aside here while we're on that point. Mankind is under condemnation because of the fall of Adam and not because of the fall of Eve. Adam represented all mankind as our federal head. Adam was created prior to the woman because God has placed the man in spiritual authority over the family, including his wife. Though Eve sinned, too, the curse upon mankind did not come when Eve ate the fruit but when Adam ate of it:

Romans 5:12 (NIV)12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—

Condemnation came upon all of Adam's descendants because of Adam's rebellion against God's command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That means that all of us are under God's wrath and curse from the moment of birth. Not only that but every single person who has been born since Adam's fall has been under God's curse and God's wrath. We are by nature objects of God's wrath (Ephesians 2:3). This is obvious because all who have been born since then have died physical deaths (Romans 5:12ff). Prior to the fall mankind would have lived immortal or deathless lives forever in paradise.

But there are those who would protest that it is unfair for God to condemn the entire human race from its source to the very last descendant at the end of time because of the first man's sin. But who are we to judge God? His ways are above ours and His thoughts are above ours. Imagine an omniscient being who knows everything there is to know from beginning to end.

Furthermore, even today we utilize the principle of federal headship. We live in a democracy but we have a federal government that is centralized and represents us all. We elect our officials, including the President of the United States. One of the executive powers granted to the President is the ability to utilize police powers and declare war. Technically, the President cannot declare war without the approval of Congress. However, when the United States goes to war the whole world holds us accountable as a nation, even though some of us disagree with the war. Nevertheless, the world holds us accountable as a nation for what our federal government does, including the President when he executes his authority to exercise police actions in other places in the world. In the same way, Adam, being the first man, was our federal representative and acted on behalf of all mankind when he rebelled against God and ate of the forbidden fruit.

God is completely just in His judgments. He knew that man's perfect human nature had been corrupted and that all mankind would be evil and rebellious. But God was longsuffering and patient until his patience ran out. Around the time of Noah God ran out of patience and decided to destroy mankind with a worldwide flood. The Scripture says that He saw that the thoughts of mankind were continually wicked and evil (Genesis 6:5, 11-12).

Noah preached to the sinful world and warned them of the coming flood. But Noah couldn't possibly have traveled the globe to warn everyone. Even if the flood were only a local flood, Noah most likely didn't preach to every individual person. So if God were just in destroying every living creature on earth in Noah's time--that would include men, women and children--then surely He would be just in condemning those who have never heard the Gospel.

The Apostle Paul argues that sinners don't glorify God even though they know from creation and from their own consciences that there is a God. They are unthankful and in rebellion against God. It's not that they don't know but that they won't serve God (Romans 1:18ff).

Baptism is for infants and adults just as circumcision in the Old Testament was for both infants and adults. Baptism is the New Testament sign of the covenant and is for both males and females, while the OT rite of circumcision was only for males. The promise is unto us and to our children (Acts 2:39). So we can become children of God by baptism from infancy just as the wicked go astray from infancy (cf. Psalm 58:3).

When we ask how God can be just in condemning those who haven't heard the Gospel, we're asking the wrong question. What we should be asking is how God can have mercy on any of us at all, because justice requires that justice be rendered. In fact, the Apostle Paul says that God declares the wicked innocent despite our guilt before him:

Romans 4:4-5 (NIV)4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.[1]
[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Too many Christians today are forsaking the doctrine of justification by faith alone. They act as if our justification is based on sanctification or some sort of infused righteousness. The Bible, however, plainly teaches that God makes a legal declaration of "not guilty" and does not hold the sins of Christians against them (Romans 4:7-8).

God would be totally just if he sent all Christians to hell. Why? Because we have sinned and have fallen short of God's glory. Even if we live upright and moral lives we STILL deserve to go to hell! Why? Because God's standards are perfect. Not only would we have to be born sinless (impossible since Adam's fall into rebellion), but we would also have to live an absolutely sinless life from beginning to end. Not once could we sin in this life or we deserve hell as much as any murderer or other pernicious person. Jesus Christ lived a perfectly sinless life and never even once sinned. We cannot say that.

It amazes me that Christians can be so full of pride and arrogance. Don't they know they aren't getting what they too deserve? Mercy is not getting justice! We don't want justice. What we all want is mercy. Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.

Finally, we should remember that God has called us to evangelize the earth. We are to carry the Gospel to every nation, tribe and people and we are to make disciples of all men and women and children. Matthew 28:18-19 and Acts 1:8 make it clear that evangelism and missions are commands from our Lord Jesus Christ. If the world were not lost, He would not have sent us to bring them Good News (Romans 10:12-15). If people have a chance to be saved apart from the Gospel, then we should not preach to them because if they reject the Gospel they are condemned. Why would Jesus die on the cross and be raised from the dead if His message is not necessary? Wouldn't God have mercy on men and women just from their ignorance of their guilt? May it never be said.

Ignorance is no excuse for wickedness or lawlessness. We all stand condemned without faith in Christ. He is the only way of salvation (John 14:6). May God have mercy on those who haven't heard by sending them preachers and missionaries! May God call us to be witnesses to His mercy and His grace. But for the grace of God we too would be without Christ and lost. God help us to trust Him to empower us as His witnesses (Acts 1:8ff).

Amen.

(See also: http://www.oneplace.com/Ministries/Bible_Answer_Man/Article.asp?article_id=1056)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Puritan's Mind


Please visit the website of Dr. Matthew McMahon, a friend of mine from college. He's studied Reformed theology extensively and is an expert in Puritan theology. The website is http://www.apuritansmind.com/.

Rich Christians In An Age Of Hunger: Moving From Affluence To Generosity

Somehow I've been reticent about reading Ron Sider's book, Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger: Moving From Affluence To Generosity. Originally published in 1977 it was re-released in 1997 as a twentieth year revision. I've had the book for over 4 years, sitting on my shelf. But recently I decided to risk being convicted and to read it carefully.

Like most Christians I've felt guilty about my relative wealth compared to the rest of the world. By American standards I'm barely middle class. But I have a roof over my head, a decent job, and plenty to eat. I have access to medical care should I really need it. But for the majority of the six billion people on earth life and basic necessities are a struggle.

Unfortunately, middle class Christians are much like the rest of affluent Americans: materialistic and uncaring. Much like watching the evening news about the war in Iraq, we emotionally detach ourselves because we're not there and we're not directly involved. And after all, didn't Jesus say that we would always have the poor with us?

Ron Sider destroys the myth that we can comfortably accommodate ourselves to materialistic American values without guilt. The basic hypocrisy of mainstream Evangelical churches is that they openly criticize mainline denominations and churches for accommodating to secular culture on issues like sexual immorality, premarital sex, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, etc., all the while Evangelicalism itself has accommodated itself to easy divorce, materialism/covetousness, opulent lifestyles, and a host of other worldly/secular values.

The church growth movement is a major symptom of this malaise among Evangelicals. Instead of prophetically speaking the truth as God has revealed it in Scripture, most Evangelical churches wish to "tickle the ears" of prospective church members. That is, in order to draw in the "unchurched", Evangelical churches will market the 'gospel' in a way that those who have never heard it before can accept. The question is whether this 'gospel' is the same gospel that Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul preached? Have we made the unchurched ten times more children of the devil by sugar coating what the Bible says? Have we sold them an expurgated version of Holy Scripture in hopes of duping them into becoming nominal members of a Christian church?

Perhaps greed and personal gain motivates the ministers whose only desire is to build the biggest churches and have the biggest television and radio audiences on earth? After all, don't salaries and benefits increase exponentially with the size of the congregation and listening audience? I wonder if Elijah would have accepted such opulence? Wasn't he the prophet who refused a fortune in return for healing Naaman (2 Kings 5:13-16)?

Even more disturbing is the suggestion of some proponents of the church growth movement that doctrine ought to be changed in order to accommodate those who are offended by church doctrine. For example, Dr. George G. Hunter III, the evangelism and church growth professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky, has suggested that we dispose of the satisfaction/ penal substitutionary theology of the Protestant Reformation and go back to Abelard's theory of moral influence. Because of Christ's example of love we too should model his life. Christ didn't really die on the cross to atone for our sins or to propitiate God's wrath against sinners. He only died there to show us He loves us and how we ought to live, too.

At any rate, the church growth movement seems to be rooted in pragmatic results, often compromising on moral/ethical issues like opulent living while ignoring the Scriptural imperative to love one's neighbor and take care of the needs of the poor, the widow, the orphan and the alien. Targeting only middle class people often gains great wealth for the local church and the denomination but is it ultimately pleasing to God?

As Mark Noll, Os Guiness and other critics of Evangelicalism have noted, Evangelicals have sold out to the culture every bit as much as mainstream liberal denomations have but they've done it in different ways. Some Evangelicals have for all practical purposes become liberal on doctrinal matters while emphasizing moralism. It's popular to object to abortion and homosexuality. It's also popular to ridicule so-called "heresy hunters" who actually care about what Holy Scripture says about protecting sound doctrine and apostolic teaching. The true church is not just moralistic but orthodox in doctrine and in practice.

The trouble is we've put on our American cultural blinders. We've baptized the American culture and borrowed biblical terms to make it sound religious and holy. The same pastors and churches which emphasize the laws on tithing and giving ignore the texts that require every third year that all the tithes go to the poor, the widow, the orphan and to supporting the priesthood. Ron Sider brings this point out eloquently in his book:

"Israel's laws on tithing and gleaning are part of God's provision for those who temporarily lack productive capital. The law calls for one tenth of all farm produce to be set aside as a tithe. 'At the end of every three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your produce in the same year; ... and the Levite ...and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled; that the Lord your God may bless you. ' (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; see also Leviticus 27:30-32; Deuternomy 26:12-15; Numbers 18:21-32)" [Page 74, Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger, 4th edition, Word Publishing, Dallas: 1997].

How many churches which emphasize the law of tithing follow the law's prescription for the use of those funds? I have yet to see a church that gives more than a token offering to help relieve the poor in their own church--if they even exist since most churches don't really want lower class people who might cause their target middle class audience not to show up. Most churches do give a token offering to community food banks and to emergency relief overseas in times of crisis like the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia last year. However, judging from the expensive buildings and the high salaries of the staff at most megachurches, this is but a small percentage of the total income into the general and special funds of said churches. Television evangelists are some of the worst offenders in this area. Benny Hinn, for example, takes in millions and millions of dollars and spends millions on his own comfort and luxury. His giving to the orphanages in India amounted to only a couple of hundred thousand dollars by comparison. Some of the privileged think they deserve to live a wealthy lifestyle but the Bible says that getting a rich man into heaven is harder that getting a camel through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25: Luke 18:25).

Evangelical churches for the most part have redefined the gospel to soothe their own consciences. Passages like these are seldom heard in church:

1 Timothy 6:9-11 (NIV)9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

James 1:10-11 (NIV)10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower.11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

James 2:5-6 (NIV)5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?6 But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?

James 5:1-5 (NIV)1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.[1]
[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

I'm sorry but preaching the full gospel would also require an adequate preaching of the law. Law and gospel go hand in hand. We cannot continue to preach edited versions of the Bible. We are either teaching and preaching the entire Bible or we are editing it to fit our preconceived doctrines.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NIV)1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.[1]
[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Where are the men who truly know the law and the gospel and preach both without compromise? How many Gehazis are in the pulpits of America, having sold out to the temptation of receiving a wealthy church office? Where are the prophets who preach the Word without an interest in personal gain? I grieve for the sheep who have hirelings instead of shepherds. May God send a revival through His true prophets!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

God's Existence

(Note: Kevin is a childhood friend whom I have known since 5th grade and through high school).

Hi, Kevin:

I thought the Episcopalian lady sidestepped the real issue: is there a God? (See http://www.npr.org/takingissue/20050803_takingissue_origins.html).
She simply assumes there is one and doesn't deal with it at all. I agree most with the Roman Catholic view as far as the issue of creation and evolution go but I sympathize with the Evangelical view because his essential point is that the way society does ethics is influenced either by godless materialism or it is guided by transcendent moral absolutes (as much as that is possible from a human perspective at least).

Our Jewish rabbi made one statement that I wholeheartedly agree with: "In fact, the only unacceptable position in this debate between the Intelligent Design folks and proponents of Darwin is the one that insists there is no room for both of these positions in our classrooms, homes, hearts and minds." The trouble with the idea that separation of church and state means religion cannot be discussed publicly is that it is a far cry from the original idea that there should be no church supported by state or federal taxes. We should be free to discuss whatever we want whenever we want, even if we happen to be public school teachers. Why is it that Christians and other religious folk are silenced by the government while homosexuals and atheists have free reign to push their ideas under the guise of "tolerance"? Translation: we won the propaganda war.

The fact is we do have brains, as our Jewish friend pointed out. As you so wisely pointed out, science cannot answer transcendental questions since it is limited to what can be observed or inferred from direct experiences from our five senses and the empirical method. This means that science cannot comment intelligently on the existence or non-existence of an ultimate, intelligent being we call God.

At the risk of seeming too disagreeable, let me just comment on your view of the possible existence of an intelligence in the universe. It seems to me that so far as we know the universe is limited in size, finitude, and space. There seems to be an end to space and time at some point or horizon or other. Your idea seems at first a plausible one. However, from a theological perspective an ultimate being by definition has no limitations. God would not be limited to one location no matter how vast that might be, including the universe. God by definition is omnipresent at every point in time and space and history. He in fact transcends space and time. God is also infinite in knowledge.

From a theological perspective, God cannot be one and the same with the material universe because by very essence God is pure spirit. He transcends mere materialism and in fact He created the material universe as we know it. In other words, history had a beginning which God infinitely precedes. When time ends, God will be neverending. To make God one with materialistic existence is to take the position known as "pantheism" or "panentheism (God is in everything)". Personally, I don't believe in "transcendental" experiences because by your own admission such experiences are ineffable and hence meaningless. And even those who do believe in such experiences wind up trying to relate their experience to us in words. So such experiences are not ineffable in an absolute sense at all.

So the real question is this: if there IS a God, how would we know it? Christianity answers that basic and fundamental question this way: God reveals Himself in general revelation and in special revelation. General revelation would be what we can observe in nature (read creation). Romans 1:19-20 says that God has made it plain to us that He exists because we are here and there is a universe we can observe (along with the invisible beings like angels and other invisible forces in nature).

Romans 1:19-20 (NIV)19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.[1]
[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

This brings me to the second way that God reveals Himself to us: special revelation. Not only does God just reveal Himself generally to everyone by way of the manifest universe but He also specifically reveals Himself to us by the apostles and prophets in writing. This means that God speaks plainly to some who were chosen as individuals who would communicate God's revealed will to the rest of us. Their words are recorded in a Book we call the Bible. Furthermore, the final revelation of God to man is the sending of His eternal Son who assumed a true human nature and form and literally became one of us, being born as a child and going through all the transitory changes of life that we experience, including physical death.

Maybe you find it hard to swallow the idea of special revelation. I'm not sure I understand it all that well either, even after studying formally in seminary. But just from a common sense point of view it follows that if there is a supreme being who is intellient and possesses the attributes of omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence, it would follow that such a God would reveal Himself to his creatures in a way they could comprehend Him. Man would seem to be the penultimate creature who is created with intelligence, sentience, morality, and emotion. The Bible says that we are created in God's own image and likeness. Since God has no physical body (other than when Christ became incarnated as one of us), the image and likeness has to include attributes that are analogous to God's own being. We are like God because that was what He intended. It follows that God would therefore communicate to us in baby talk (compared to His own infinite intelligence and intellectual knowledge). That baby talk we call Holy Scripture. All we know about God and His Son, Jesus Christ, is given to us in Holy Scripture.

I remember in high school reading a book by C.S. Lewis called "Mere Christianity." It's not a perfect book. However, I found it extremely appealing because Lewis offered a moral argument for God's existence. I found that particular argument compelling. If there is no God, there is no judgment. Atheists would say that morality itself is a human convention invented for practical reasons. But if we know that there is no God to whom all will ultimately answer, what is to restrain wicked men from doing terrible wickedness to masses of people? Genocide and war are basically neutral and only have moral implications if we accept there are moral absolutes and a God. Hitler, for example, didn't believe in God and could justify to himself the genocide of six million Jews based on the idea that there is no Judge.

Western civilization and modern democracy are in fact built on Christian ideas. John Locke's idea of a social contract comes from biblical ideas like the dignity of every individual human being and that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God. Without Christian theism totalitarianism is just around the corner.

I don't have a direct pipeline to heaven. I am not infallible. I could be wrong. But based on logic, reason, intuition, and both general and special revelation, I feel that I am rationally justified in believing there is a Creator and, furthermore, that Creator has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ and in Holy Scripture.

There are those who are determined not to examine the Christian view but I suppose that's what grace is about. God sometimes brings illumination to those of us who seem least likely to accept it. I recently heard that Anthony Flew, an atheist on the forefront of the atheist intellectual attack for the past couple of decades, became a theist (though not a Christian theist) after examining the argument for intelligent design of the universe. Flew has argued against the intelligent designer theory for years but I think, after reading and interacting with Michael Behe's theory of intelligent design, he became convinced that there is indeed a God.

I'm a terrible sinner, Kevin. I've failed God many times. In fact, I'm not all that intelligent. I have not figured it all out either. But I do think that I can have an informed faith that seeks further understanding without becoming a blind fideist or a dogmatic fundamentalist (even if I come off that way sometimes, hehe).

God bless you,

Charlie


----- Original Message -----
From: Kevin D. Marsh
To: Charlie Ray
Sent: Friday, August 19, 2005 10:27 PM
Subject: Emailing: 20050803_takingissue_origins
After reading them all I would say the Episcopal writer and the rabbi make the most sense to me. Collection of data, formulating a hypothesis from that data, devising the means to test that data, and a willingness to discard a faulty hypothesis for a better one is at the heart of the scientific method. While science has helped us understand much more of the history of the earth and the life on it, there are some questions we still do not know how to subject to scientific inquiry. Such as a belief in intelligent design and a belief in random chance. Both equally a matter of opinion to science for the simple reason that neither belief can be tested objectively.

Personally, I believe there is intelligence in the Universe. Maybe intelligence is the Universe. And I think this intelligence is expressed in matter. How is this done? Don't ask me, I just work here. See the Front Office for details. If there is anything to string theory then all that we consider real and solid is just so much gossamer anyway. Thoughts may be the most real artifacts of all. But it is just a belief of mine and I won't try to justify it nor convince anyone else to share it since I can't prove it. I suspect it is a lot like transcendent experience. Until you have one, you don't know. Once you do, words don't suffice. Trying to explain yours to someone who hasn't had one is like trying to explain rainbows to a man born blind.

I used to find the idea of a Spirit in the fabric of reality exhibiting intelligence and personality hard to swallow. Then I realized two things. First, If I can have intelligence and personality, why couldn't the larger world of which I am a part exhibit these qualities? Secondly, it occurred to me I don't even know what intelligence and personality really are. Despite the fact that psychologist devise tests to gauge these things, I have never heard a definition that seemed complete and meaningful. I finally decided to quit worrying. Maybe we aren't built to see the whole picture. But if we live long enough, I bet we will. What is "long enough"? I don't know. Ask me after this life. Or, check back in another 10,000 years and see what answers those people may have to questions we don't even know enough to ask.

Kevin

The message is ready to be sent with the following file or link attachments:Shortcut to: http://www.npr.org/takingissue/20050803_takingissue_origins.html

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Tithing, the Law and the Gospel

Someone please tell me truly? Have we forgotten what the Protestant Reformation was about? Someone once said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. There was a time when the semi-pelagian view dominated the western church (read Roman Catholic), hence doing penance and good works earned merits for you in the heavenly treasury established by the saints. While Jesus died for your sins, you were only initially charged up with righteousness or infused with a state of righteousness. Justification was not a legal declaration made for you before the ultimate Judge. Therefore, when you sinned the infused righteousness was depleted and you were obligated to merit forgiveness by doing penance, restitution, and doing extra time in purgatory, a place where Christians were punished and cleansed by fire before entering into heaven. So obviously Jesus only died for your past sins and not your future ones--or at least that's the implication. Any future sins must be covered by doing penance. Purgatory could be shortened by buying certificates of indulgence from the pope, which funds were used to build Saint Peter's Basilica.

Today's Evangelicals and Protestants do not do penance nor do they sell certificates of indulgence or relics of dead saints or bits of the cross. Instead, the charismatic branch sells anointing oil, prayer cloths, and asks for exorbitant offerings with the promise of seed faith for a future harvest. Those who do not tithe are out of God's will and cannot be properous, healthy or blessed in this life. In fact, they are ignoring God's law, so the argument goes. All the curses from Deuteronomy 28:15ff and Malachi 3:6ff are upon those who do not tithe and give above and beyond the tithe.

It is oftened argued that tithing precedes the law of Moses and therefore cannot be dispensed with as a civil law of the theocratic nation of Israel, since the patriarch Abram tithed to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20. However, this ignores the Reformers' view of the Law and Gospel. Essentially, any demand or command that Holy Scripture makes upon us is Law whether that occurs in the Old Testament or the New Testament. In fact, one of the earliest examples of Law in the Bible is God's command to Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But not all examples of Law are negative or prohibitionary. Some examples are prescriptive as in the command to Adam to be fruitful and multiply. Often we see Law and Gospel interposed and in parallel throughout the Bible both Old Testament and New Testament.

To place overemphasis on the law of tithing is to discredit one of the abiding principles of the Bible as the Reformers interpreted the Scriptures. That principle is called sola gratia or grace alone. We cannot earn or merit God's blessings, not even by tithing or going to the temple regularly. God shows us mercy and unmerited favor based solely upon what Christ did for us on the cross. In fact, Jesus said that God provides daily sustenance to both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). Remember the Pharisee and the tax collector who went into the temple to pray?

10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14, NIV)


Those who are saved will want to attend church regularly and to support the Lord's work with tithes and offerings and their time. This is not to say that such good works obligate God to us in anyway. Our attitude as Christians at all times should be like that of the tax collector who cried out, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Also, we should remember that in applying the text we have to consider the original audience and the intended recipients of the text. Deuteronomy 28 and Malachi 3 are both directed at the nation of Israel as a community of faith and not specifically to individuals. The Reformers and Westminster divines held that the civil laws of the nation of Israel passed away with that nation and are no longer binding upon the church per se. That means that tithing laws expressed in the law of Moses are not binding today. Those who cannot tithe for financial reasons are not lost as some preachers today would imply. To say this is tantamount to making salvation bought and paid for. Maybe we need a new Reformation?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Lutherans Vote Down Homosexual Clergy

I find it disturbing that homosexual clergy is even on the agenda in some denominations. Clearly the Scriptures and Christian tradition have always and forever forbidden sexual immorality, particularly homosexual behavior.

Even if we allow for reason it has yet to be established by modern science that homosexuality is genetically or biologically predetermined. The best the radical left can come up with is reflective thinking from the soft sciences like psychology. Psychological science is basically circular logic. Psychologists seem to assume that because many people have a similar problem and this problem is one they refuse to overcome or do not want to overcome, then it must not be dysfunctional or problematic. Redefining dysfunction as normal or normative does not make it so.

Even nature itself would show that human beings are both male and female and the race is perpetuated by intercourse between a male and a female. Scripture is revelation from God and God says that He intended for man and woman to exist in a state of holy matrimony so that there could be a stable family from which healthy and stable children can be nurtured to maturity.

I call Christians everywhere to stand for the truth as it is established forever in God's Word. God knows better than we do what is best for humanity.

(See also: http://www.churchsociety.org/press/2003/documents/PR_2003-07_Obsession.pdf)

Christian Blogger


This is my first entry as a Christian blogger. I'm uniquely qualified to present opinions and reasonable interactions with current events, theological trends, and political issues in the United States and the world.

I completed a master of divinity program at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky in 1995 and my college training was completed at Southeastern College, Lakeland, Florida in 1991. Though my current theology is Anglican and Reformed (Calvinistic), my prior experience was pentecostal/charismatic. I consider myself a "post" charismatic/pentecostal due to exposing my faith to a serious examination from a biblical standpoint and from a philosophical/theological standpoint. As Anselm said, faith seeks a greater understanding. All truth comes from God and therefore a lively faith is able to examine itself and seek greater understanding within the realm of Christian faith. This does not mean we are free to redefine Christianity any old way we see it, however.

I am unashamedly a conservative, Evangelical Christian who also happens to be catholic and Anglican. I believe in unity and catholicity in the Christian communion so long as the essentials of the Christian faith are upheld and established. The ecumenical creeds are one source of identity and catholicity that establishes a denomination or local parish as part of the Christian communion. These creeds are the apostles' creed, the nicene creed, the athanasian creed, and the definition of Chalcedon.

The Wesleyan quadrilateral or the Anglican trilateral are also helpful to establishing whether or not a denomination or parish is consistent with true Christianity. Holy Scripture is preeminent over tradition, reason, and experience. The Anglican trilateral would not include experience but pragmatically speaking most theologians and pastors and lay persons judge issues from their own personal experiences as well as utilizing Holy Scripture, tradition and reason. Traditions of the church are always to be examined and subjected to Holy Scripture as the final authority. The Protestant Reformers and the Anglican Reformers upheld the principle of sola scriptura in contrast to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox idea that holy tradition interprets Holy Scripture.

What is a true church? The Reformers would have answered this by saying that the true church is where the Gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered. The 39 Articles of Religion from the Anglican tradition says that there are only two sacraments, holy baptism and holy communion.

I might also mention the five solas of the Protestant Reformation. Sola scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and sola gloria deo (to God alone be the glory). Without giving a full exposition of these terms let me just say that Reformed Anglicanism is akin to Lutheranism and Prebyterianism in this respect, though Anglicanism retains an episcopal form of polity and a sacramental theology which includes the doctrine of real presence in eucharistic ministry at the Lord's table.

Finally, the purpose of this blog is to critically examine other Christian traditions and churches, the political climate, and to offer useful commentary to Christians seeking an informed foundation for their political and ecclesiastical decision making.

Sincerely in Christ,

Charlie

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