Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

In the beginning, God…

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Forty years ago, the astronauts of Apollo 8 had embarked on a groundbreaking mission to become the first humans to orbit the moon.  They also found themselves the first humans to spend Christmas in space.  In a live television broadcast on Christmas Eve in 1968, the three astronauts — Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders — suprised the world with a special message.

Anders: For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Lovell: And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

Borman: And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.

You can see the original broadcast on YouTube (there’s not much to watch though) or an edited video that presents it very nicely.  The photo above is called “Earthrise,” one of the most spectacular images ever captured on film.  It was photographed by Anders during Apollo 8’s orbit of the moon.  The U.S. Postal Service used the image on a stamp issued in 1969.

Evangelical synergism

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

I know, big words.  Synergism is a theological term that describes an understand of cooperation in the process of regeneration and salvation.  The idea that man’s holy inclination and God’s grace must cooperate to accomplish salvation.  This is a traditional Catholic and Eastern Orthodox view, but among Protestants is not generally accepted.

The argument against synergism for sola gratia, by grace alone, can be framed as a logical question, posed by John Hendryx.  If two persons receive grace and only one believes the gospel, why does one believe in Christ and not the other?  What makes the two persons to differ?  Jesus Christ or something else?  If it was the human response that determines the difference, than salvation required the cooperation of both man and God.

We “reformed” people get this concept.  We understand Ephesians 2:8-9, and state it clearly as doctrine and dogma.  But do we live it?  Do we preach it?  Is it practical?

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Taking the High Road

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

A group of atheists in Washington state asked for and received permission to post a sign near a traditional nativity display “celebrating the Winter Solstice.”  But if you read the text, there’s nothing about celebration there.

Some idiots stole the sign and it was quickly recovered and replaced — whatever my thoughts about the message, stealing is wrong and free speech is a decent right to protect.

[UPDATE: Turns out some people don’t like the baby Jesus either.  A life-size figure was stolen from a manger scene setup near Independence Hall.]

Dan Barker, a former pastor and co-founder of the atheist group, insists that the sign was never intended to attack anyone.  But in the same breath, he’s saying things like this:

“It’s not that we are trying to coerce anyone; in a way our sign is a signal of protest,” Barker said. “If there can be a Nativity scene saying that we are all going to hell if we don’t bow down to Jesus, we should be at the table to share our views.”

“When people ask us, ‘Why are you hateful? Why are you putting up something critical of people’s holidays? — we respond that we kind of feel that the Christian message is the hate message,” he said. “On that Nativity scene, there is this threat of internal violence if we don’t submit to that master. Hate speech goes both ways.

Whatever your thoughts about Christianity or Christmas displays, is it reasonable to respond to what you think is (perceived) hate speech with more (self-admitted) hate speech?  I’m glad the un-emotional rationalists (“may reason prevail”) resort to name calling because they think Christians do it.  That sure is taking the high road.

As for the Nativity, I’m glad he gets the message — every knee will bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord.  The incarnate Savior demands worship.

A Matter of Principle

Friday, December 5th, 2008

I was reading an article from the Charlotte Observer about UNC forgoing Christmas trees or any other Christmas decorations in their libraries this year, ostensibly because some staff were offended by the display.

So I have two questions:

  1. What particular religion claims the Christmas tree as a sacred part of its religious observance of Christmas?  Seems to me like a Christmas tree is an entirely secular celebration.  So shouldn’t it be equally offensive to Christians that it becomes the focus of the holiday?  Or should we all just realize that it’s part of our “American culture” and go with the flow?
  2. As a matter of principle, shouldn’t the people who are offended by Christmas and Christmas-related displays, decorations, and parties, also be offended at the vacation day provided on Christmas?  If you’re honestly offended, I’d expect that you would refuse to take the day off, because in so doing, you’re selling out to “the man” who’s pushing Christmas down our throats.

The Secular Message of American Christianity

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Michael Horton (Christless Christianity, p. 49ff) mentions sociologist Marsha Witten’s analysis of the secularization of American churches (All is Forgiven: The Secular Message in American Protestantism).  Ms. Witten recalls listening to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, when the mail arrived with a promotional flyer for a new church: “Why not get a LIFT instead of a letdown this Sunday?”

Witten uses this juxtaposition — St. Matthew Passion vs. the flyer — to frame the conclusions of her study.  As Horton summarizes:

While the former is fed by a rich sense of God’s majesty, holiness, and mercy, as well as the genuine struggle of faith, the latter is “optimistic, untroubled, purely mundane,” like any other advertisement for a product.  American Christianity today lives in this contradiction between “the spiritual and the psychological, the transcendent and the pragmatic.”

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Diagnosing the Illness

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

I recently started reading a new book by Michael Horton called Christless Christianity, in which he lays out the case that the church in America is in captivity, having given in to a secularizing trend that excludes Christ:

Over a century ago, Princeton theologians Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield observed that according to the system of revivalism associated especially with Charles Finney, God was not even necessary. If conversion and revival are “simply the philosophical result of the right use of means” rather than a miracle of God’s grace, all you have to do is find the right techniques, procedures, and methods that work across the board: in business, politics, and religion. A lot of the church growth literature of the past few decades assumes the same outlook. Could evangelicalism grow and experience success even if God didn’t exist?

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Slippery Slope

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

So the current fight in California and elsewhere to get marriage redefined to include homosexual relationships begs a real question in my mind. If you remove the true foundation of marriage, that is its institution by God himself, and his moral commandments about it, and replace it with some concept of human “love,” where does that take us?

Using the same reasoning that opens the door to gay marriage, why doesn’t it also open the door to these other relationships:

  • Polygamy. What consenting adults do in private is their own business, right?  And the marital structures they choose to participate in are defined only by “commitment” and “love,” so what reason is there to stop at only 2 people?  Why not 3, 4, or 10?  Monogamy is clearly an outflow of Judeo-Christian biblical morality, so how can we justify the illegality of polygamy in this new world?
  • Incest. Again, two consenting adults.  If we remove biblical injunctions, what legitimate basis do we have to prevent or discourage all kinds of incestuous relationships?  Sure, you might argue the possible deleterious genetic effects on offspring, but doesn’t that delve in the privacy realm of the woman and the man?  It is claimed that the state can’t dictate nor prohibit reproductive sexuality, so why would that stop incest?

From the Wikipedia article on incest:

In Slate Magazine, William Saletan drew a legal connection between gay sex and incest between consenting adults. As he described in his article, in 2003, U.S. Senator Rick Santorum publicly derided the theory of the Supreme Court ruling to allow private consensual sex in the home (primarily as a gay rights move). He stated: “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery.” However, David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign professed outrage that Santorum placed being gay on the same moral and legal level as someone engaging in incest. Saletan argued that, legally and morally, there is essentially no difference between the two, and went on to support incest between consenting adults being covered by a legal right to privacy.

In a world where there is no normal, no standard, everything (at least between “consenting adults”) becomes permissible.  If I were a judge in a place where gay marriage was legal, there’s no way that I could in good conscience unfairly apply the law to all kinds of other situations.  Just my thinking.

The Story of Simeon

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Yesterday we celebrated All Saints’ Day, probably for the first time ever in my “traditional” Baptist church.  I told the story of the martyrdom of Simeon, from The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe, which is readable online at Google Books.

Albrecht Durer, Martyrdom of 10,000 Christians

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)
Martyrdom of 10,000 Christians

In the same country of Persia, about this time [A.D. 343] suffered under Sapor the king (as recordeth Simeon Metasphrastcs) divers valiant and constant martyrs, as Acindynus, Pegasius, Anempodistus, Epidephorus, also Simeon, archbishop of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, royal cities of Persia, with other ministers and religious men of that region, to the number of one hundred and twenty-eight. Of this Simeon thus writeth Sozomen:

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The Fifth Freedom

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Author’s Note: This is a sermon that I gave in August of 2006 at my church, Wyoming Ave. Baptist, in Philadelphia.

Scripture: Galatians 5:13-26

At the close of an important speech to Congress on January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt shared his vision of the kind of world he wanted to see after the war was over. He envisioned four basic freedoms enjoyed by all people: (1) freedom of speech, (2) freedom of worship, (3) freedom from want, and (4) freedom from fear. Certainly the world has made some progress on these since World War II, and the church needs to be active and engaged in fighting for these basic human rights.  But even if these all were attained, our world still needs another freedom, a fifth freedom. Man needs to be free from himself and the evil dictatorship of his sinful nature.

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Testing a New Plugin

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

So I just downloaded and installed my first WordPress plugin, and I need to test it out.  The plugin is RefTagger from Logos Bible Software, which should automatically put a pop-up link on any Scripture references that I use in my blog posts.

So let’s give it a try.  Yesterday, I commented on Facebook about a statment by Archbishop Tutu of South Africa:

“God says, ‘Help me. Help me. Help me make this world the kind of world I intended for it to be. Help me. Help me so I can make this world more compassionate. Help me. Help me to make this a world that is more caring. Help me, help me, please help me, to make this world a world where there will be no poverty; where my children won’t spend as much as they do on weapons of destruction, and would spend a small fraction of what they do on killing to make sure my children everywhere have enough to drink and have food to eat. Help me. Please help me. Please help me. I have no one except you.’”

Now, I think that’s a ridiculous statement for a Christian to make, and I used Isaiah 50:2 to answer the question of God’s “arm being too short” to accomplish his will without our cooperation.  Sure, he expects obedience, and has chosen to work through us, but he doesn’t cry out like some weak, lonely old man that we would accomplish his dreams. 

In my recent flurry of Facebook activity, I also touched on the subject of the church’s care for the poor and widows, which according to most public opinion, should be without conditions.  The Bible says that widows must be chaste and dedicated to service in the church, or else the church shouldn’t provide for them (see 1 Timothy 5:9ff). The poor must work for their bread, not expect it as a right (see 2 Thessalonians 3:9-10).  (After this post, I was criticized for being stuck on the OT and its laws and regulations, and that Jesus came to teach us to love without condition.  Doh!)

Anyway, that should be enough to test the plugin.  Facebook is where the action is, at least until the election.  Then maybe I’ll start some real pontification again (hmmm, what name would I choose if I actually were the Pope? — that’d be real pontification, now, wouldn’t it?).