Category Archives: Current Events

California, Proposition 8, and Democracy turned upside-down

Today is a red-letter date in American History.  It is not, however, a good thing.  Today, a federal judge, Vaughn R. Walker, declared California’s Proposition 8–defining marriage as between one man and one woman–to be unconstitutional.  This is huge.

Since I am not a lawyer, I will be discussing this issue in non-legalese common sense.  Having said that, there are a few things to explore:

1.  The text of Proposition 8 is as follows:

This initiative measure is submitted to the people in accordance with the provisions of Article II, Section 8, of the California Constitution.

This initiative measure expressly amends the California Constitution by adding a section thereto; therefore, new provisions proposed to be added are printed in italic type to indicate that they are new.

SECTION 1.    Title
This measure shall be known and may be cited as the “California Marriage Protection Act.”

SECTION 2.    Section 7.5 is added to Article I of the California Constitution, to read:
SEC. 7.5.    Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. (source)

Notice, this is not a “law,” per se.  This is a constitutional amendment.  As such, by definition, it cannot be declared “unconstitutional.”

2.  The judge, Vaughn R. Walker, is himself a homosexual. (see here)  Since he is a gay man living in the state where this amendment is being challenged and since he would be directly impacted–in some way–by his own decision and because he is prejudiced toward the side of those seeking to overturn this amendment, he should have simply recused himself.   There can be no clearer demonstration of a conflict of interest.

3.  That the Proposition 8 amendment made it on the ballot, presupposes that due process was given to the proponents of the amendment and it also presupposes that the proponents did everything required by the California constitution to get Proposition 8 onto the ballot.  Furthermore, 52% of those voting in the November 2008 election decided to make an amendment to the California constitution recognizing as valid only those marriages between a man and a woman.

So, Then, What Is Going On Here?

What we are witnessing here is the end of the democratic republic.  I know that sounds alarmist, but it is true.

Let’s remember that, in California, homosexual couples have every right that every heterosexual couple has.  California has established the same rights in its civil-union law.  So, it is not about “equality” because in the eyes of California law homosexual civil unions and heterosexual marriages are identical in rights afforded to the parties involved.  The only “thing” missing is the title “marriage.”  So, this is not about equal rights; that is a red-herring, strawman argument.

Secondly, the Constitution of a state is not amendable by a court…that would be tyranny.  The Constitution of the State of California is amendable by simple majority of voters, not by judicial fiat.

What we have here, then, is the tyranny of one man who, because he is himself homosexual and therefore has a vested interest in the outcome of the case, should have recused himself.

What is more, the precedent set here is outrageous.  The State of California has proved today that it is most certainly not a government “of, by, and for the people.”  The people spoke in November of 2008.  The government of California is anything but democratic.

Why Does This Matter?

This matters precisely because this will inevitably give homosexual couples special rights.  No pastor will be able to preach against homosexuality without fear of imprisonment, churches may very well be forced to hire homosexuals against their own consciences, and every person’s right to “freedom of speech” will be taken away…simply because a minority of people do not like what the majority has to say.

The day may come when “gay marriage” is legal in all 50 states.  Truly, we (collectively) legalize gay marriage to our own peril–I know the Bible and I know that God will not long put up with this clear repudiation of and rebellion against Himself.  But, if this does indeed happen it must be done through the legislative process–which includes the ability of the people to amend the constitution.  It cannot be done through the judiciary–which, constitutionally, has no authority to make laws.  Had the anti-Proposition 8 group undertaken to re-amend the constitution of California to strike section 7.5, I would be disappointed, but understanding and far less apoplectic.  They would have to petition to get the measure on the ballot and a majority of voters would have to approve it.  Obviously, that didn’t happen; that would have been proper.  Nothing about this decision is proper.

In the California decision, there is something much more subtle at stake–whether a government (state and/or federal) is a government “of, by, and for the people.”  We are now discovering that we are no longer a nation of laws–a representative republic.  We can clearly see that we–actually, our government–have left the democratic haven that our forefathers left us and have slipped down the slippery slope to the place where the government dictates how we will live and what we will think.  George Orwell was right.

For a further discussion of this topic, read The California Supreme Court and Our Diet of Worms

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Group Rights vs. Individual Rights and How Freedom of Religion Hangs in the Balance

Fox News recently published an article about a lady being removed from a Southwest Airlines flight.  Why was she removed?  Because another passenger needed two seats.  (article here)

I remember when Southwest removed an overweight passenger…because they were overweight and the airline didn’t have enough seats available to give this person two seats.  At that time, I began to warn my friends about the legal ramifications of this.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recognizes morbid obesity as a disability and, therefore, prevents discrimination against persons who are morbidly obese (at least in the hiring of employees).  Since obese persons (like persons requiring two seats in an airplane) are in some manner covered by the ADA, it becomes a very sticky situation when a person is removed from an airline or required to purchase two seats.

The Options for the Airline

In either of these cases, the airline has, as I see it, two options:

1.) Require the obese person to purchase two tickets.  The problem is that it would cost a disabled person twice the amount of a non-obese person to fly anywhere on an airline.  The slippery slope here is that you cannot charge a disabled person twice the amount of a non-disabled person.  Even though an obese person is inhabiting two seats (which would justify the double payment), that would be discriminatory.

2.) Remove persons to make way for the obese person.  The problem here is that it discriminates against non-disabled persons.  Non-disabled persons would be, in effect, required to accept random discrimination against themselves because he or she is not obese.  Non-obese persons would have their travel plans turned upside-down for no other reason than being less-than-obese.

The Root Problem

The root problem with this is based in the idea of “Group rights” versus “Individual rights.”  When groups of persons have what can only be described as special rights, individuals no longer have any rights.

Think of it this way:  When parents want to take an infant or a toddler child on an airline, they have to do one of two things: 1) hold that child on his or her lap or 2) pay for an extra seat.  The principle at work here is that you pay for the space you take up.

As the Fox News article states, the woman removed from the flight was flying standby.  However, she had already been awarded the seat and she had already paid for the seat she would be flying in.  But, when it was determined the obese person required two seats, it no longer mattered that she had been awarded and paid for a seat on the plane.  It is clear, in this instance, that group rights had trumped individual rights.

Why This Matters

The perpetuation of group rights over and against individual rights is frighting.  Already homosexuality has been granted “protected” status.  So it is not far from reality that a Christian pastor preaching against homosexuality could be fined, sued, imprisoned, etc. because he is speaking against a protected group of persons.  In this case, the homosexual would, in effect, be granted special rights that trump the Christian pastor’s individual rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The Constitution of the United States, specifically the Bill of Rights, establishes, primarily, the rights of individuals.  Individuals have the right to the free exercise of religion; individuals have the right to not incriminate themselves; individuals have the right to keep and bear arms; individuals have the right to trial by jury.  When groups are awarded rights that may deny individuals of their constitutional rights these group rights can only be considered “special rights.”  These special rights, by definition, deny the rights of the individual.

As a person who is an American, I have the right to say whatever I please.  As a person who is a pastor and an American citizen, I have the right to preach whatever I please…at least for now.  Mark these words:  The day is coming when the individual rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religion will be done away with because certain “groups” do not like to hear what people have to say.  This has already happened in other countries and it will not be long before the shadows of this come into daylight.

I firmly believe in the so-called Market Place of Ideas where anyone can discus anything with anyone.  Because, as Voltaire said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Also, we must realize that liberty requires the freedom of speech.  George Orwell makes this point very clearly when he says, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

I have no problem with Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons coming to my door and trying to convert me.  I have no problems with Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists proselytizing as long as my right to proselytize is not taken away from me.

Stand up for your individual rights and the individual rights of others.  Our freedom hangs in the balance.

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Morris Chapman and a Fundamental Misunderstanding of Calvinism

During the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, Morris Chapman–president of the Executive Committee of the Convention–gave an address in which he managed to tick-off every person with who holds to reformed theology or even those who lean towards reformed theology (see the report here).  Some of my best friends and most respected friends whom I know from attending Southern Seminary were spittin’ mad at the end of Dr. Chapman’s so-called report.  Recently, Dr. Chapman has issued an eratta sheet of sorts, seeking to clarify what he meant to say (see the “clarification” here).

Unfortunately, Dr. Chapman’s most recent statement does little to clarify and, in fact, does even more to infuriate those of us who hold to reformed theology.  I think Dr. Chapman does not understand Calvinism…or if he does, he is intentionally misrepresenting our position.  What is more, he has relegated so-called “Calvinists” to the status of second-class citizen in the Southern Baptist Convention.

First, Chapman describes how a person becomes a Christian:

The background of my comments comes from a lifetime of ministry among Southern Baptists.  Most Southern Baptists with whom I have had contact have embraced the following model of salvation – God initiates conversion through the convincing/convicting power of the Holy Spirit.  Through this conviction of sin, the human heart responds in repentance and faith.  A lost individual becomes a child of God by faith and is adopted into God’s family as a redeemed saint.

No Calvinist I know would disagree with this.  However, the devil is in the details.  We would say that God does, in fact, initiate His work of salvation through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.  We believe the Holy Spirit must give a new heart (a heart of flesh to replace the heart of stone) and that is what brings conviction of sin.  When, through the regeneration brought by the Holy Spirit, someone has a new heart, that person necessarily sees God for who He is in all of His majesty, glory, and perfection.  Consequently, that same person also sees himself or herself for what he or she really is–a dirty, depraved sinner with no hope of attaining to the perfection of God.  Then, and only then, does the person throw himself or herself on God’s mercy and plead for His grace.  And there we have salvation–regeneration preceding redemption.  Or, as someone else (I think Piper) has put it–redemption is a fruit of the Holy Spirit having first regenerated someone.

Second, Chapman goes through Ephesians 2:8:

More recently, I have heard and read with increasing frequency of the belief that passages such as Ephesians 2:8 teach that “faith” itself is a gift of God – hence, even the response of faith is given by God and is not the free response of the human heart to the saving initiative of God.

The whole part of the original bears reading.  To summarize: Chapman goes into a multi-paragraph exegesis of this passage trying to explain what is the “gift” of Ephesians 2:8–is the gift “grace” or “faith?”  Now there are some pretty strong arguments for grace bring the gift (although the grammar, rightly noted by Chapman won’t support this) and faith being the gift (again, unsupported by the grammar and rightly noted by Chapman).  Chapman prefers to see the entirety of salvation as the “gift.”

The problem with this is that it completely and (perhaps) intentionally ignores the entire context of Ephesians 2 (and that is what most of the current generations of Calvinists have a major problem with…but that is blog for another time).

Ephesians 2 begins: 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Now, that paints a bleak, bleak picture of our sad state.

Dead.  Dead in our trespasses and sins.  Following the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience (ie. non-believers).  Living in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of our flesh (basically, being self-idolaters).  And, here’s the killer: We were by nature children of wrath…like the rest of mankind.

With all due respect to Dr. Chapman and the scholars and grammarians he quotes, it cannot be that faith is not also a gift.  If we are “dead” and “by nature children of wrath” who are, apparently of our own free will, following the “prince of the power of the air,” then there is nothing we have to contribute to the salvation process.  We are told in Romans 3:11 “no one seeks for God.”  Since we, in our natural state, do not seek God, something must change.  That is why Calvinists believe that regeneration must precede redemption.  Something, namely the Holy Spirit, has to change our natural state; we must be regenerated, which is giving life into a previously dead heart.

So while the two Ephesian elements of salvation are “grace” and “faith” it must logically follow that they are both involved in the whole process of salvation.  Ephesians 2:1-3 shows where our natural, inherent faith lead us: to follow the prince of the power of the air.  Therefore, it must be the case that both grace and faith are given as part of the salvation process.  In other words, faith cannot be that thing which we contribute.

Chapman further states:

Had I spoken with greater technical precision in my report, my words may be expanded this way, “The Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing a resurgence in the belief that divine sovereignty alone is at work in salvation in which even the faith response on the part of man is not a response of free human agency, but is a sovereign act of God.  Some are given to explain away the ‘whosoever will’ of John 3:16. How can a Christian come to such a place when Ephesians says, ‘For by grace are you saved through faith’ (Eph. 2:8)?” (emphasis Chapman’s)

As I mentioned above, free human agency can do nothing–except follow the prince of the power of the air–apart from God’s regenerating work.  Now, after we are regenerated, we can and certainly do choose to follow God.  The problem here is that Chapman seems to think humans are, by nature, neutral and can go either way–good or bad.  This does not account for the pronouncement in Ephesians that we are “dead” and it doesn’t account for our need to have a new nature (because our default position is “Children of Wrath” and that being by nature).

Two examples:  First, R.C. Sproul in his book Chosen by God mentions a dead man and asks the important question: Can a dead man ever do anything for himself?  Of course the answer is no.  Every motion of a dead body has to be performed by an outside source.  Second, I have 3 cats.  All of them “meow.”  Their meowing does not make them cats.  They are, by nature, cats and therefore meow.  If they were “required” to be a dog they would need to be, by nature, a dog.  Even if I could teach them to bark like a dog it would not make them a dog by nature.  The meow of a cat and the bark of a dog are individual fruits of their nature.  After all, when my 22-month-old daughter says “woof-woof,” that doesn’t make her a dog.

So, we, the dead, must receive a new nature.  Even if it is said that saving faith is a result of that new nature, that faith is still a gift.

I’m afraid Dr. Chapman doesn’t understand the total and radical change that must take place for someone to be a Christian.  Maybe that’s why our churches are in decline and our baptisms are dwindling?

Chapman concludes his article with a few quotes from a 2007 interview.  I find these particularly infuriating or disengenous.

“The resurgence of Calvinism is largely a reaction against the shallowness of Baptist doctrinal instruction during the era of moderate-led seminaries coupled with a strong interconnection of the principle of sola scriptura (“scripture alone”) with Reformed doctrine during the Protestant Reformation. Since the principle of sola scriptura resurfaced during the inerrancy debates of the Conservative Resurgence, it is only logical that its relationship with Reformed doctrine would also emerge. An additional reason for the resurgence of Calvinism is that a wide-open Arminianism under the guise of Open Theism must be refuted. Generally, where a heresy surfaces its closest theological polar opposites will appear and gain a relatively wide following.

The rise of reformed theolgy is not a reaction against open theism.  Also, it is not a reaction against shallow Baptist doctrine of the moderate era.  Rather, the rise in reformed theology is based on the recovery of true, Biblical theolgy as we (as a denomination) seek to shake off the destructive ideals of non-lordship salvation, easy-believism, decision-making mentality (as opposed to disciple making), and the outright heresy of Finney-style theology and worship.

Chapman really shows his stripes here:

“One danger is that pastors are tempted to accept church pastorates in churches that are not Calvinistic, and then strive to drive them into the Calvinistic camp, thereby destroying an otherwise strong and healthy church. Another danger is that the truly warm-hearted, ‘evangelical’ Calvinists often are misunderstood by second-generation successors, potentially resulting in a decline in evangelism and missions. As long as the conversations can remain cordial and warm-hearted, we always have been able to work together for the missionary, educational, and benevolent needs of the Convention and the world.

Here we can see that the Calvinists will always be the “red-headed step-children,” at least in Chapman’s mind.  He clearly states a non-Calvinist church is strong and healthy.  Given, that may be so.  Arminian-leaning churches can, by the grace of God, be strong and healthy.  But, he assumes that a Calvinist pastor will destroy that peace and tranquility.  In many of the discussions I’ve heard, it is always the Arminian-types that refuse (most absolutely refuse) to work with Calvinists.  All of the Calvinists I know are more than happy to work with Arminians (and that without exception).  So, it is not the Calvinists that are damaging the convention.

Also, Chapman suggests that Evangelical Calvinists are leading to a decline in missions and evangelism.  WRONG! No Calvinist I know downplays missions or evangelism.  In fact, churches like Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC, Bethelem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN, and Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL go above and beyond in their pursuit of both missions and evangelism.

Lastly, Chapman says “As long as the conversations can remain cordial and warm-hearted, we always have been able to work together for the missionary, educational, and benevolent needs of the Convention and the world.”  I’ve got three words: Pot. Kettle. Black.

If Chapman really believed this we should have expected his address at the SBC 2009 to be a clarion call to link arms–Calvinists and Arminians both–for the purposes of spreading the Gospel.  Of course, that didn’t happen.  Rather than follow his own advice, Dr. Chapman said:

The belief that sovereignty alone is at work in salvation is not what has emboldened our witness and elevated our concern for evangelism and missions through the ages. This is not the doctrine that Southern Baptists have embraced in their desire to reach the world for Christ.

If there is any doctrine of grace that drives men to argue and debate more than it drives them to pursue lost souls and persuade ALL MEN to be reconciled to God – then it is no doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Dr. Chapman apparently doesn’t believe what he said about being warm-hearted and cordial.  Rather than using his Presidental Address as a cooperative moment, he used it as a bully pulpit against Calvinists.  After hearing his address to the SBC and his subsequent “explanation” it is clear to this Southern Baptist that Chapman thinks only the Calvinists need to be cordial in addressing the Armininas.  His bitter speech did nothing to foster cordial and warm-hearted feelings.  In fact, he managed to step on the feet of every Calvinist.

I am continually frustrated by chronic mis-characterizations (bordering on character assasination) from non-Calvinists.  It’s one thing when it is a pastor.  It is entirely a different matter when it is the head of an agency with many faithful and devoted pastors (and congregants) who are Calvinists (or at least Calvinistic).

Speaking for myself, my confidence in his leadership has waned.

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Pro-Abortion: An Impossible Position

I have not written about abortion, until now. I will admit I am a bit bothered. I have had a rough week–one of my Seminary professors (Carl Stam) has had a recurrence of lymphoma; I just found out one of my favorite teachers of all time–from High School–Dr. Buck Offutt has had a stroke; and a gifted young musician, Coleman Mellett–we played in the same groups in High School–was killed in the Buffalo, NY plane crash. So, why does that prompt me to write on abortion?

Abortion is murder. Pure and simple. The end of a life without due process of law and without extraordinary, accidental circumstances is nothing more than murder.

Many have sought to quote scripture, which is extremely relevant, when writing on this topic. Admittedly, there are some who will dismiss the Bible out-of-hand. Therefore, I will make logical arguments.

Argument One:

If an embryo is not a life, why then are the embryos of endangered species protected by law?

The proponents of Abortion run into an impossible conundrum here: Why are animal embryos considered different and treated different from a human embryo? The Bald Eagle is a magnificent creature. According to the Endangered Species Act, to take a Bald Eagle egg from a nest will get you a fine of not more than $1,000 and not more than one year in jail. (source)  Yet, you can walk into an abortion clinic and pay someone to end a life (or what will become a life–in keeping with the egg of a Bald Eagle) and you and the person doing the abortion get off scott-free.  In fact, both parties will probably be congratulated on their progressiveness and how they exercise their rights.

This is especially damning to the pro-abortion position when you consider that many people will believe in the evolutionary process (which I whole-heartedly reject) and, therefore, have every reason to believe that humans and animals are, in fact, different versions of the same stuff–just differences in evolution.

So…the conundrum:  How are potential Bald Eagles different from potential Humans?  According to the animal rights and pro-abortion philosophies, they are not.  The pro-abortion proponents hold to a logically indefensible position.

Argument Two:

How can an anti-death penalty person also be a pro-abortion person?

Many of the anti-death penalty people I’ve heard stick to the party-line and they tend to be pro-abortion too.  They claim life is too valuable to be ended, even for some of the most heinous crimes.  All too often, the pro-death penalty, anti-abortion people (like me) are accused of a hypocritical position.  Here’s the pro-abortion, anti-death penalty problem:

If you believe that life is too precious to be taken, even in the face of a heinous crime, how can you believe it is OK to snuff out what will become a life (assuming for argument sake that an embryo is not a life)?

Let’s examine a progression.  If someone is sentenced to death, it means they have been tried by a jury of their peers and have been duly convicted beyond a reasonable doubt.  In addition to this burden of proof, there has been a long and thorough appeal process.

To abort an embryo, you are denying a person of this right to due process.  The embryo is being aborted when the person has done neither good nor bad (in the eyes of the law).

So, the pro-abortion, anti-death penalty people fail this test.  It is a position which cannot be logically argued.

Now, to answer the undoubted rebuttal:

How can someone who values the life of an embryo not value the life of someone sentenced to die for a crime?

Simple.  If you value life, it is impossible to require anything less than death for the most heinous crimes.  Why?  Your life is the most valuable thing you have; it is the one thing that, if you lose it, you have lost everything.  If life is not that valuable, why do the families of victims of plane crashes file lawsuits against the carrier for wrongful death?

Of course many families do file and win lawful death suits–showing that life is indeed valuable, far beyond anything else.

So how do you exact payment for a heinous crime of pre-meditated, first-degree (to be redundant) murder?  You require the life of the perpetrator.  To require less is to de-value the person who was killed and that de-values all life.

Argument Three:

How is the pro-abortion position not linked to the billion dollar abortion industry?

Planned Parenthood says that it prefers to distribute contraception and to engage in sexual education.  Their records (available here) show that 38% of their activities are related to contraception while 3% of activities are related to abortion.  However, when you look at the financial activities, there is a gross disparity.  According to teenwire.com, the average cost of a Planned Parenthood abortion is between $275 and $700. (source)  Of course, condoms don’t cost much.  So, when Planned Parenthood reported their “Health Center Income” to be 356.9 million dollars, I began to wonder if they were being honest.

According to their own records, Planned Parenthood performed 289,750 abortions in 2006.  If we assume the average cost of a Planned Parenthood abortion to be $487.50, they would have made $141,253,125.

The numbers simply do not add up.

What is more, and perhaps more insidious, the pro-abortion lobby seeks to eliminate any “choice” from the abortion decision making process.  The so-called “pro-choice” proponents always scream the loudest when the hint of requiring that a person contemplating abortion be given the other alternatives like adoption.

Why would the pro-choice crowd not want choice?

Because abortion has never been about “choice” it has been about money.  Abortion is an industry and the pro-abortion lobbyists have done everything in their power to give themselves a monopoly in their business.

So, how can a pro-choice person be against giving all the options?  Again, this is a logically indefensible position.

Surely there could be more examples.  Sadly, the pro-choice, pro-abortion (they are synonyms) crowd will undoubtedly reap the whirlwind which they have sown.  May God change their hearts and save their souls.

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Thoughts on Thanksgiving

One of the books I’ve read lately is Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be.  The authors Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck mention that in Hollywood, it is popular to be searching for God…it just isn’t good when you find Him.  Similarly, it is chic to be thankful.  However, when you mention Who you are thankful to, well, that crosses the line.

I am afraid that many Christians in America today are just that: “Thankful.”  Thankful, that’s it–No mention of the One to whom we should be thankful.

One of my Favorite Hymns in the Baptist Hymnal (1991) is Let All Things Now Living.  It is widely regarded as a Thanksgiving Hymn (whole text here).  I find the first section of verse two to be most helpful to me:

His law he enforces, the stars in their courses
And sun in its orbit obediently shine;

You know, there are many people who are thankful for the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars.  Yet they are not thankful to God for the Sun, Moon, and Stars.

This is superficial, not true, thankfulness.

To be truly thankful, you must be thankful to the One who gives you that for which you are thankful.

1 Timothy 6:13, Romans 4:17, Job 12:10, James 1:7, and Acts 17:25 tells us that it is God is the One who gives life.  So, whether it is admitted around the turkey or not, we must be thankful to God.  If we are not thankful to God, we are not truly thankful.

It is my hope that Christians will realize this and will start to be more thankful people, but in the right way.  All Christians must actively thank God.

If you woke up this morning, if you’ve returned from the “Black Friday” shopping safely, if you have a wonderful family–all of that is God’s doing.  You did not do that yourself; God blessed you.  Therefore, He is the One to whom we must all be thankful.

Thankfully,

The Archangel

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Alcohol and the Southern Baptist Convention

You’re probably thinking: Not another alcohol post!!!! I myself have tired of reading them too. Much has already been said–some good and some bad. So, then, why another post on alcohol? I think there is something that has not been said and I will try, perhaps feebly at times, to explain.

THE ISSUE

For many years now, the people of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have long been known as teetotalers. Many churches use church covenants containing an anti-alcohol phrase like “We will abstain from the use and sale of alcohol as an intoxicating drink.” So, by tradition, the people of the SBC do not drink. Traditionally, Southern Baptists did not attend carnivals or play cards. It didn’t matter if the card playing was not related to gambling, card playing altogether was seen as a sin–no spades (that would make me very sad), no war (boring as it may be), and no poker (even if no gambling takes place). Unlike past days, church discipline is no longer done concerning matters of card playing. Today, however, alcohol is still a hot-button issue for many, and the issue itself is showing a chasm in the SBC.

THE CHASM

It would seem a deepening rift is emerging in the SBC related to the alcohol issue. There are two sides to the argument: 1) The side that argues all alcohol is wrong in every circumstance and 2) the side that argues Christians do have liberty to consume alcohol as long as they do not become drunk.

Argument 1: The Traditionalists

Traditionalists are, generally speaking, the so-called old guard, or at least they have been brought up in churches tied to the old guard. Old guard churches are typical 1950’s and 1960’s churches that are doctrinally conservative, preach the gospel, rabidly Arminian, and know what they believe.

The church life of the traditionalists is certainly not cult-like but it is marked by preaching and Sunday school teaching that is, at best, indoctrination. The goal of the church education programs is to educate the people what to believe and to eliminate all viewpoints to the “company line.”

Argument 2: The Libertarians

Libertarians (no, not “Liberals”) are, generally speaking, the so-called modern Baptist. Libertarians have been educated in churches which shatter the 1960’s mold of Southern Baptist structure–still doctrinally conservative and gospel-preaching, however. Libertarian churches are usually more Calvinistic (or at least not anti-Calvinistic), know what they believe, and, much more importantly, know why they believe what they believe.

Church life at a Libertarian church is marked by strong exegetical messages from the pulpit and Sunday School material which seeks to educate the people to read, understand, and apply the Bible for themselves. The goal of the church education program is to make disciples so that every viewpoint, both inside and outside the church, can be engaged and considered in the light of biblical revelation. Usually, on issues that are not related to like faith (the must-haves of Christianity like the bodily resurrection of Christ) and like order (the must-haves to worship together like the mode and purpose of baptism), there is much room for friendly debate and disagreement (like whether the return of Christ will be pre-tribulation, pre-millennium, etc.).

Certainly these are general pictures so there is bound to be some overlap between the two groups. Remember these are “general” statements.

THE INTERSECTION OF ARGUMENTS

The traditionalists and the libertarians are now clashing over the issue of alcohol. To be sure, there are mistakes being made on both sides.

Mistakes the Traditionalists Make

(1) Traditionalists usually make the issue of alcohol a litmus test for true Christianity. In most cases, a person who does not agree with the traditional position on alcohol is branded as a non-believer or a liberal based on this one issue alone.

(2) Traditionalists usually argue their points on the basis of tradition and logic, leaving out the Bible, or worse yet, misquoting and misapplying the Bible to support their view that alcohol in every circumstance is a sin.

Mistakes the Libertarians Make

(1) Libertarians usually argue from the biblical text. Usually, their exegesis is quite good as they note the Bible never forbids drinking except for a Nazarite or a priest actively ministering in the tabernacle/temple. However, the arguments are made in such as way as to belittle or demean the opponent. It is as if the Libertarians use the alcohol issue as a litmus test as to a person’s spiritual maturity.

(2) There are some libertarians who believe this is an issue of license. They reason, since the scripture does not forbid drinking of alcohol, it is their right to drink and anyone seeking to deny that right is uneducated or, worse, not a true Christian.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY

The Bible never forbids drinking (except for a Nazarite or a priest serving in the tabernacle/temple). Even in the two forbidden cases, abstinence from alcohol is not life-long, but only for a time.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament is favorable toward alcohol consumption while strongly affirming the damaging and destructive results of becoming drunk. In fact, Deuteronomy shows a quite favorable disposition to drinking:

22 “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. 23 And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24 And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, 25 then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses 26 and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. 27 And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you. (Deuteronomy 14:22-27, emphasis mine)

As Deuteronomy shows, drinking is permissible–even before God as an act of worship! But, on the other hand, Proverbs (among many other passages) shows the danger of overindulgence:

19 Hear, my son, and be wise,
and direct your heart in the way.
20 Be not among drunkards
or among gluttonous eaters of meat,
21 for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
and slumber will clothe them with rags. (Proverbs 23:19-21)

As the Old Testament clearly shows, the issue is not drinking alcohol. The issue is drinking too much and becoming drunk.

The New Testament

The New Testament shows Jesus Himself drinking wine (at least as part of the Passover celebration) and turning water into wine at a wedding. Paul encourages Timothy to drink some wine for his stomach. Now, it is most likely the wine of that day was cut with water. The alcohol made the water drinkable as it killed bacteria, parasites, etc. Again, the New Testament clearly shows the issue is drunkenness, not drinking itself.

Silly arguments as some try to twist the Bible

Some strenuously argue that the wine and other alcoholic drinks in the Bible were not alcoholic at all. I’ve heard and seen an argument stating that wine is simply grape juice. Of all the words used for wine in the Bible, only one probably refers to grape juice. All the others are, by definition, referring to an alcoholic drink. Also, the Hebrew word commonly translated “strong drink” is referring to a malt-liquor of some kind–but it is undoubtedly alcoholic.

What is the bottom line? People in the Bible drank alcoholic drinks, and in some cases were invited to do so by God Himself. Drinking was not and is not a sin. As the Bible clearly states, drunkenness is the issue.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

(1) The libertarians need to realize that the drinking of alcohol is not a right. The Bible gives a Christian the liberty (not license) to drink alcohol as long as the drinking does not lead to drunkenness.

(2) The libertarians must understand and apply to the alcohol issue what Paul writes about eating meat sacrificed to idols. If fellow brothers are offended by the drinking of alcohol we must give up our liberty for the sake of their (weaker) conscience. In this case, any alcohol consumption must be done with the utmost discretion and probably in the privacy of one’s own home.

(3) The traditionals must realize that alcohol is not a litmus test for salvation. If someone chooses to drink, it does not make them less of a Christian.

(4) The traditionals must not make alcohol consumption (or the forbidding thereof) a matter of doctrine. To do so is to place an extra-biblical requirement on the faith and practice of a brother or sister in Christ. This, by definition, is phariseeism.

A BETTER PLAN

Rather than draft resolutions outlining an extra-biblical position, both sides should come together to affirm the dangers of drinking and the benefits of laying down our liberty for the sake of others. I would phrase things this way:

While the Bible allows for the consumption of alcohol, we have chosen to lay aside our freedom to drink so that we may serve the interests of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and serve as an untainted witness in the eyes of the world.

We fully affirm that some will still choose to drink and that this is not a sin.

We encourage all persons to debate this issue in the truest sense of Christian love and civility.

Many blessings to you all, teetotalers and drinkers alike.

The Archangel

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Intentional Mediocrity

It is interesting and quite sad to see how the church parallels the world. Of course, the church should not look like the world, but in many ways we do–to our shame. One such way we look like the world is our “education” system.

I have a Bachelor’s degree in education and I see many problems (and that’s putting it lightly) in the American education system. While I may not comment on all the problems, these are, in my estimation, the biggest ones and they also can be found in our churches.

(1) Indoctrination, not education.

The American education system gave up on true education decades ago. True education involves development of the processes related to thinking and self-education. The goal of true education is to be able to think–to know what you know, to know what you believe and to know why you know it and why you believe it.

The American education system is now fully dedicated to indoctrination. Take, for example, the recent squabbles over teaching intelligent design along with evolutionary theory. Now, in a system truly dedicated to education, the teaching of these two points of view would not be a problem. A system dedicated to education would be happy to juxtapose these two systems of thought in order to think through all the issues related to the question of creation vs. evolution. When this happens, the students are the big winners–they are taught to think and, ultimately, they will know why they believe what they believe.

It is incomprehensible and unconscionable for an educational system to willfully and systematically keep their students ignorant–depriving students of the opportunity to know of alternate points of view and alternate world views. To do so instills a one-viewpoint set of information, which is indoctrination. For the American education system to pursue this as a its practice of “education” is nothing less than chasing mediocrity.

(2) Students are not taught how to think.

This is closely related to point number one. When I was a kid, I hated the “just because” answer. I always wanted a reason. Today, most students cannot give a reason for anything they believe because they are told what to think, not taught how to think.

Thinking takes time and effort and it is dangerous–someone with the same set of facts can come to a different and disagreeable conclusion. Thinking is based on the evaluation of one or many truth claims and an evaluation of the claim (or claims) in light of all available evidence to see which truth claim is correct.

Of course this is hampered by the bent of postmodernism to eliminate all truth claims as false and oppressive. Modern education has bought into this lock-stock-and-barrel.

I have seen a bumper-sticker that has become one of my favorites, it says: “Give a man to fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Teaching someone to think is the same thing. If you teach someone to think you will equip them for a lifetime. To intentionally neglect teaching the process of thinking is to court mediocrity.

(3) Competition is not allowed.

You may have seen this for yourself. You go to a high school graduation and listed under “Valedictorian” are some ten names. Now, I’m not all that old, but I remember when there was one valedictorian–the one with the best grade point average (of course, in the case of a tie in GPA, there could and should be multiple winners). Second place was for the “Salutatorian.” At typical graduations these days, there is a cadre of valedictorians and salutatorians. The two have become many.

Why is this a problem? Without competition, the vast majority of students see no need to push themselves in order to better themselves. In this system there is no need to take responsibility for your actions, or lack thereof, to better your mind. If there are only winners, you cannot lose–no matter how stupid you actually are (Note: Stupid here means willingly throwing away a golden opportunity to learn or better one’s self).

Also, the education system seeks to spare the student the pain of losing, so competition is dumbed-down or eliminated altogether. This, of course, bears absolutely no resemblance to real life.

If one of the purposes of an educational system is to prepare its students for life in the real world (and it is), there must be winners and losers. Learning how to lose is as important as learning how to win and learning how to lose with dignity is as important as learning how to win with honor. Also, it is important to learn how to be tenacious in the face of overwhelming odds when a loss is all but guaranteed.

Here’s an example: When I was doing my student teaching, I was partnered with an amazing teacher who used the high school football team as an example. The football team was terrible. In fact, there were not enough people on the team to field an offense and a defense. There were only enough players to have the kids play both ways–offense and defense. I don’t think they won a game, but they never gave up. Their tenacity was phenomenal. As my cooperating teacher said (this is a paraphrase), “These kids are learning far more about life by getting their butts kicked week after week and still getting up, dusting themselves off and trying to make themselves better and win a game.”

Not quitting in the face of impossible odds is a virtue and it is one our schools have jettisoned by making competition a joke. A world without competition is, by definition, mediocre.

So, then, what does all of this have to do with the church? Plenty!

(1) Churches must educate their people in the knowledge and ways of God from the Bible

Like the world, the church spends its time indoctrinating people. If you look closely at much of what is called preaching and much of what passes as Sunday school material, it is easy to see that there is not much, if any, application. Sure, there may be a lot of information, but the preacher or the Sunday school lesson seldom tells us what to do with that information.

Biblical information without application leads to the false and deadly “internal versus external” dichotomy. Many people think (because of poor preaching and discipleship programs) that it doesn’t matter what you do, it only matters what you believe. Nothing could be further from the truth! Believing the right thing, the Bible, must show up in our actions. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James’ statement means that the connection between faith and the outworking of that faith is a non-negotiable. If we claim to be followers of Christ we must live our lives according to the Bible, not according to the world.

In a proper education program, churches will seek to instruct people in the doctrines of Christianity and how those doctrines are derived from the Bible. Equally important to this doctrinal instruction is the why–why we believe the doctrines. Doctrines alone do not define us because any true doctrine is, ultimately, biblical so the Bible is what defines doctrine and, therefore, the Bible ultimately defines us and our actions.

In this way, the church will instruct her people how to read, understand, and live the Bible.

(2) Churches must teach their people to think for themselves.

In high school, I had an amazing teacher for my British Literature class. He introduced us to the concept that a proper educational program will, by necessity, if the program does its job properly, eliminate the need for a teacher. The idea here is that a properly-educated person will be able to teach him or herself. Is that not the goal of teaching students to read? So they can read books and, thereby, educate themselves?

The goal of a church’s discipleship program must be about teaching the people to read, understand, and apply the Bible for themselves. This involves much effort to help people “Rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

A wide-spread, far-reaching, and well-educating education system is not optional. We are commanded (by inference) by God to love Him with our minds. (See Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Matthew 22:37, which is Matthew’s exposition of the Deuteronomy passage)

The church must equip her people to do these things if we are to fulfill the Great Commission mandate to “Make Disciples.” Anything less is a sin.

(3) Churches must teach their people to better themselves by intentionally becoming more Christlike.

Suffering is not popular today. Whether it be the world trying to protect students from the suffering of losing or the church trying to preach and teach a suffering-free health and wealth gospel, suffering is off the table. So, it should not surprise us that at the first hint of suffering, church people head for the door.

If we take the life of Job and see what is being played out there we can learn that there is great potential in suffering. In his book of poetry on Job, John Piper rightly suggests Job, through his suffering, was given a great gift–to see God as He really is, in all of His magnificence. The title of Piper’s final chapter is “Unkindly you have kindly shown me God.” Job suffered greatly (at the hands of God, I might add) and he benefited greatly from his suffering.

Suffering is part of the Christian life. We only need look at Hebrews 12 to see that we are to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” This means that we are not to quit–even in the face of tremendous and life-threatening opposition.

Furthermore, the church must teach her people to struggle to become more and more Christlike as they seek to live a rightly-discipled life. Paul writes of his struggle:

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

As Paul struggled and pressed on, so we must struggle and press on. We must struggle and discipline ourselves to be more Christlike today than we were yesterday. We must live the Bible more today than yesterday.

We should not be surprised when people quit coming to church or leave our churches or when high school students completely reject the Christian faith when they get to college. We have not been diligent in equipping our people, and the statistics of decline and our living like the world show that.

Similarly, we should not be surprised when our churches or The Southern Baptist Convention struggles with certain issues like worship style, alcohol, and spiritual gifts. The main fight is between the Indoctrinated and the Educated. The educated are offending the indoctrinated with their biblical arguments and the indoctrinated offend the educated with their often-superficial proof-texting.

If we look at the history of higher education, we quickly and easily see the church led the way in education. After all, Harvard and Yale were originally chartered as schools to train ministers of the Gospel. The church once led the way and it must do so again. If we are to fulfill the imperative of the Great Commission to “make disciples,” we must be about the business of educating our church people, so that they become an army of lay-person scholars able to “rightly divide the word of truth”, enabling them to believe the right thing and live the right way–according to the scriptures.

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