A Rather Depressing Reality

I had a rather depressing realization this past week as I was contemplating the message of Luke 7:36-50. It might take a little to unpack, but I’ll try to be brief.

For quite some time now I have been arguing – at least with myself – that the only way that our culture can be redeemed is if there is what will amount to a “third great awakening,” led by the Holy Spirit and resulting in a reversal of so many recent immoral developments in this culture. I am in the fold of Barton W. Stone who, in disagreement with Alexander Campbell,  believed we as human beings could never do anything to usher in the working of the Holy Spirit. So, it was not that I was advocating that we need to elect this person or pass that law (in fact, quite the opposite – I deplore the idea that we can pull ourselves up out of this moral morass by our own bootstraps). If you ever want to seem me grit my teeth, just suggest that one political party or one law (or even one hundred laws) will ever do anything to change the moral compass of our nation. What I have been advocating, very much in line with Stone, is that we must be receptive to the power of the Spirit, and pray for the supernatural working of the Spirit to regenerate and to recalibrate our national moral direction.

But, as I said again, in reading Luke 7:36-50 I was struck by a sobering thought – not to limit the power of God to do anything beyond what we can even imagine – but there is the issue of whether the country is even capable of embracing a “third great awakening.” Both the first “Great Awakening” (early 1700’s) and the second “Great Awakening” (late 1700’s into the early 1800’s) had a common denominator – the awareness of the masses that they were sinful people and needed be saved. Granted, there were significant differences between the two – in the first awakening the focal point was the preaching of the great Calvinist preachers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield. Salvation would be by the awesome hand of God, and there could be no reversal of that decree. But – the entire point of Edwards’ and Whitfield’s preaching was to draw men to God. One of the great ironies of Calvinist preaching is that there is nothing a man can do to save himself, and yet most of the greatest revivalist preachers have all been Calvinist in theology (think Billy Graham). In the second awakening, there was much less emphasis on God’s holy decree to salvation or damnation, but the emphasis on the Holy Spirit was profound. Stone himself was witness to the great revival at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, where hundreds, if not thousands, were so overcome by the Holy Spirit that there were widespread instances of shaking, barking, and other “Holy Spirit” manifestations. While it might not have been as overtly Calvinist as the first awakening, the second awakening was shot full of the power of God and the utter sinfulness of mankind.

So, what is it in my estimation that makes it impossible (or virtually impossible) for yet a “third Great Awakening”? Just that acceptance of the sinfulness of mankind.

You see, even as church attendance craters, and as more and more people (at least in the western world) describe themselves as “nones” (in relation to their chosen form of religious affiliation), it is fairly obvious that there is a great degree of spirituality, at least in the United States. We are a deeply religious people, just not a very Christian people. Just check out the books on spirituality and even alternate forms of religion (omitting Christianity, Judaism and Islam). So basically what that means is we want to believe in something beyond ourselves, but we really, really do not want to believe there is anything wrong with ourselves.

While there are vast differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, one similarity (however slight) is that humanity is basically sinful. In each of these world-wide faiths the only solution to that human sin problem is the power of God. The huge, undeniable, and overwhelming difference is that in Christianity the solution is the very human and the very divine God-man, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Both Judaism and Islam fail to provide either an adequate explanation or a solution to the problem of sin. However, it must be admitted that all three world religions admit, and even highlight, the utter sinfulness of mankind.

Postmodernism has eliminated the concept of sin from the modern consciousness. God has been functionally eliminated from the picture not because of the success of atheism, but simply because of the removal of the idea of sin. If there is no sin, then there really is no need for a god, except in the sense that maybe a god might be useful in the idea of an “otherness” that lifts our eyes out of the muck and mire of our daily existence. God becomes not a fellow struggler or a savior/redeemer, he is just a meme to instill optimism and good feelings. In a sense, postmodernism has done what thoroughly “modern” atheism could not – it has removed God on a foundational level, not by attacking God as much as just eliminating the idea of sin.

So, getting back to my realization. What is the entire point of Jesus’s conversation with Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7? In this pericope, a woman has (somehow?) evaded the phalanx of socially elite meal guests and has started to weep over Jesus and to anoint his feet with expensive ointment. This action caused no small matter of consternation among the guests, even to the point that Jesus was rebuked, silently if not overtly, for not stopping the display and chastising the woman. In response, Jesus asks a poignant question – if there are two debtors who both receive complete forgiveness, one who owes a small amount and one who owes a great amount, which will be the most thankful? Duh. Obviously the one who had the greater forgiveness.

Jesus’s point is crystal clear. The Pharisee, and presumably the rest of his dinner guests, did not consider themselves to be sinners. If not sinners, then not in need of forgiveness. The woman DID consider herself to be a sinner, and so was searching for and receptive to that which could forgive her. She found her forgiveness in Jesus. The Pharisee and guests lost out, not because of their sinlessness, but because of their refusal to accept their sinfulness.

Now, I am not even going to suggest God cannot do something – Paul says that he can do far and above anything that we can even ask or imagine. But in my understanding, one thing God refuses to do is to force his creation to accept something it is unwilling to accept. This is why I think a “Third Great Awakening” is unlikely, if not outright impossible, at this particular period of history. We as Americans in the 21st century simply do not have the requisite understanding of sin to be able to recognize, nor to accept, the power of the Holy Spirit. The one ingredient that allowed the first and second great awakenings to reform the culture of those two time periods is utterly missing today.

Nobody sins today, and no-one is guilty of sin. We are all victims – if not overtly then simply by association. If I violate a rule, then the rule is racist, sexist, or some other “ist,” or I simply cannot be held accountable because of my upbringing or some accident of sociality that exempts me from any repercussions. The absolute worst sin anyone can commit today is to suggest that someone can be guilty of a sin.

But if there is no sin, there is no need for a savior. If there is no sickness, there is no need for any medicine. If there are no moral absolutes, there is no need for absolution.

I am just too much of a Barton W. “Stoner” to think that we as mere mortals can effect the kind of change that so many people are calling for. I am an apocalypticist by conversion, and am convinced that it will only be by the power of God through the acting of the Holy Spirit that anything resembling  a cultural change will occur. However, that being said, perhaps the one thing that God is waiting for before he sends his Spirit once again to draw men back to himself is this –

God is waiting for us to confess our sin and to express our desire for his Spirit to heal us.

Stated another way – until we really admit we are sick, God is not going to send the medicine.

Well, so much for being brief. If you read the whole article, thank you very much!

A Little More Theological Doodling

Yesterday I did a little thinking out loud about the references in Leviticus 11-27 regarding the God’s call for his people to be holy. It seems to me to be pretty obvious that God expected his people, the nation of Israel, to be a peculiar, a holy people. I am also equally convinced that God fully expects his “New Testament” people to be equally holy, peculiar. But let me doodle just a little more.

If I may participate in a little speculation, it would not be far wrong to suggest that many people in today’s culture reject the claims of Christianity because, in their mind, so much of the Bible (even the New Testament) is focused on negativity – you can’t do this, you will go to hell if you do that. I would also suggest that most of the things that are prohibited are things that this culture really wants to participate in, such as having absolute autonomy over their sexual nature. Of course, there are a lot of other prohibitions in the Bible, but it seems like the only ones that really provoke people are the ones that regulate with whom and how one might exercise his or her sexual nature.

As I view this phenomenon, I would suggest that this reaction is not against the Bible, but rather a humanistic understanding of what an idol is.

You see, an idol has to be placated. You have to sacrifice to a god in order to implore him or her for a good result, or to alleviate one or more of his more obvious personal animosities. You could never really be on good terms with a god – you were always on the ragged edge of angering him or her, or at the very least, failing to perform some checklist with 100% accuracy. So, you sacrificed in the hopes that your actions and incantations were perfect so that your crops would produce, or that your cows would bear healthy young, or that the rains would come in season. If you messed up, you sacrificed to placate the god’s irascible anger.

Let us then return to Leviticus 11-27 and discover why God called his people to a living holiness –

For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (11:45)

Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you. (20:8)

But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. (20:24)

You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. (20:26)

So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the LORD. And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the LORD who sanctifies you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD. (22:31-33)

And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. (26:12-13)

“I delivered you from slavery. I have sanctified you. I have separated you from the other peoples of the earth to be my special possession. I will walk among you (have a personal relationship with you). I have broken the bars of your slavery and have made you walk erect.”

Doesn’t sound like an angry, vicious, temperamental god to me. It sounds to me like a loving, benevolent God who acts in grace first and only demands obedience later. It sounds to me like a father who wants what is best for his children, but knowing that children will often act to their own harm, sets beneficial limits to their behavior to protect them. It sounds to me like the kind of God that most people would love to get to know, if they could push past their own understanding of slavish obedience to a malevolent, capricious god.

Now, if that is the picture that God gave us of himself in the Old Testament, under the Old Law, and limited by a national allegiance, how much more should we view God as a loving, gracious, benevolent father who, more than anything, desires a close personal relationship with his redeemed people  under the shadow of the cross?

The more I read the Old Testament, the more I am convinced that we have seriously misjudged its message and significance for Christians. I think it is no small wonder that perhaps one of the most understudied books in the New Testament is the book of Hebrews, the one book that quotes from the Old Testament most frequently. Yes, it teaches us the Old Law (the national law) has been superseded, but it does so in such a way as to magnify the message of grace and redemption as foreseen in the Old Law.

Hmm. Perhaps some more doodling in this subject would be appropriate.

Conservatives/”Evangelicals” are Really Beginning to Scare Me

You know, sometimes life hands you an absolute victory, something so easy and so perfect that it would be virtually impossible to mess up.

And, somehow, we manage to mess it up.

Thus I have been thinking about the decision the Mitt Romney made to vote for the the impeachment of Donald Trump, and the immediate (and continuing) vitriolic response to Romney’s decision. Romney has graciously and repeatedly explained his decision – he took an oath to defend the Constitution, and much further than many politicians, he believed his oath was first and most importantly made to God. Therefore, when he came to realize that Trump abused his power (which, I agree with 100 %), he knew he had to vote to convict. It was not a vote of convenience, it was not a vote to placate the maddening crowd. It was a vote of conscience.

Now, conservatives and “evangelicals” (whatever in the world that term means anymore) have been clamoring for years – decades – for more politicians who will uphold their oaths to defend the Constitution. They have been clamoring for years – decades – for men and women of conscience to stand up and be heard, even if (or especially if) that voice is contrary to the herd mentality. So, they get a senator who is willing to defend the Constitution and vote his conscience and what happens? These same conservatives and “evangelicals” are ready to lynch Romney from the nearest tree.

I don’t get it. Here is a perfect example of how conservatives are so perfectly different from liberals, at least in general (not one Democratic senator voted to impeach Clinton). Here was an opportunity to say, “See, the conservative approach (and the Republican party) is the place where people can hold conscientiously differing opinions, and we are all stronger for it.” But, no. Like a crazed group of cannibals, the extreme right (and maybe some of the mainstream right) is having a conniption fit and calling for the head of the one man they should be honoring. And, in so doing, they are demonstrating why I believe that currently neither party can lay claim to being safe or sane. The right wing of the country is seriously beginning to scare me, and that in and of itself terrifies me, because the left wing is so far from redemption that, should they gain power, I honestly do fear for a second “civil” war.

From gender bending issues to abortion to rabidly insane calls for the repeal of the 2nd amendment to the Constitution (and the flat out repudiation of the 1st amendment), the far left wing (is there a center-right wing of the Democratic party??) of this country is becoming seriously deranged. Now more than ever those who consider themselves conservatives, and especially those who consider themselves to be disciples of Christ, need to stand up and defend individuals who hold to their morals, even if (and perhaps especially if) those morals do not align 100% with a given political leader.

We need men and women of courage. We need men and women who will stand up to other elected officials and remind them that we are a country of laws, not of entitled men, and when laws are violated then there must be repercussions. We need men and women of courage who will take their oaths seriously, even if it means voting in a manner that jeopardizes their political future.

I disagree with Mitt Romney profoundly on a number of issues – theological and political. But, I am proud to defend his actions in regard to his keeping his oath, and his reasons for voting against “his” party and president. It may cost him some votes, it may cost him an election, it certainly has cost him within the right wing of the Republican party. Good on him, I say, because for once we see a politician act like a statesman, a leader, and not a sycophant.

I wish we had more like him in the senate and in the house of representatives.

So This is Where We Are Headed

Last night marked a new low in American politics, civics, and common decency. The President of the United States and the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States could not shake hands with each other.

The Speaker of the House ripped a copy of the State of the Union speech in half, in full view of the assembled Senators, Representatives, and members of the Supreme Court, along with other dignitaries.

The most dignified and significant offices of government of the United States are currently being held by the most petulant, childish, immature, and stupid individuals on the face of the earth. And, yes, I do mean “stupid” because their behavior goes way, way beyond ignorant. That was intentional and utterly bereft of any redeeming excuse or explanation.

But, mark my words, it will only get worse – the fetid swamp will only become more fetid and putrified.

Unless . . .

Unless someone, somehow, manages to learn the basic rule of civility and governance – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That means unless somehow, someone realizes that in order to save our republic they must cease to be partisan political hacks and become statesmen (and stateswomen, gender neutral).

Yes we can have differences of opinion. Yes we can have different visions of how we want the country to move forward. Yes, we can have honest and fervent debates about those opinions and visions. But, at the current rate of this infantile tit-for-tat, name calling and thuggishness, we as a republic are doomed.

Beam me up, Scottie. There is no intelligent life on this planet. Not in the leadership, anyway.

What Color is the Sky in Your World?

Sorry if you were expecting a great burst of optimistic sunshine today. I’m just not sure what is going on in the world today – you might say I am in the funkiest of funks. To wit:

  • A major league baseball team cheats to win at least one divisional and league championship, and perhaps a World Series, and the owner and players get off completely free. The management gets fired. Sooooo much justice there. (Pleeeeeze don’t argue that 4 draft picks and $5 million dollars are “punishment.” Baseball does not function like football or basketball regarding draft picks [most, if not all, draftees are years away from seeing a major league ball park, and very, very few end up playing an inning for the team that drafted them], and $5 million for a baseball owner is like you or me scrounging through the sofa looking for pocket change to go buy a cup of coffee.)
  • State legislatures across the country are brazenly attacking the Second Amendment right to self-protection by the ownership of firearms. These are not “common sense” approaches to gun violence, but are vaguely disguised attempts to restrict, or out-right ban, private use or even ownership of guns. I have written previously that I do not consider the U.S. Constitution to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, but seriously, if we can simply eliminate the second of our most cherished “Rights,” which will be the next to go? The first?
  • I’ll be honest here (although greatly in the minority, and probably greatly to be hated) but I am sick to my stomach with the adulation and hero worship afforded to the death of a basketball player. Kobe Bryant was a human being, a deeply flawed human being. If justice was served, he should have spent several years in prison for rape. Justice is rarely meted out against “heroes,” and Bryant has been dutifully beatified and enshrined among the pantheon of distorted American saints. It is amazing what absolution a little money and the right colored jersey can buy you.
  • In the fetid swamp that envelopes Washington D.C., a grotesque parody of epic proportions is on stage for all the world to see. A party that was absolutely aghast at the lurid behavior of a Democratic president now shrugs its shoulders at the lurid behavior of one of its own, as if to say, “nothing to see here, move on.” Meanwhile, the other party – which was totally oblivious to perjury and obstruction charges against one of their own – now sees the machinations of the Republican president as somehow equal to George Washington fighting for the British.
  • Every day a new story breaks about the “progress” of the current rage of gender dysphoria – be it homosexuality, gender “reassignment” or some such other nonsense. We are not just dealing here with the questioning of reality, but the very rejection of any semblance of reality.

Pardon my jaundice here, but has anything happened in 2020 that has been praiseworthy or admirable? It just seems like we have been given a re-run straight out of the 1970’s. Only worse.

I am working on teaching through the minor prophets on Sunday mornings, and I wonder – did Amos and Micah and Joel and Hosea and all the others see the same things in their decadent cultures? Many of the minor prophets were writing at the peak of Israelite (and south Judah) power. They were not just rejected because their message was counter-cultural (it was!), but also because it was considered ludicrous, insane even. How dare you challenge the status-quo, especially when the status-quo brought so much economic, political, and military power?

I have noted this elsewhere (and if you want a far more erudite exposition of that to which I am referring, see just about any offering by Os Guinness), but our culture cannot exist for long going the direction it is currently headed. Only two options exist, as far as I am concerned. One, there will be a huge, epic, tectonic, quantum change in our collective conscience and we will be spared from certain annihilation; or two, the American dream will collapse like a soggy house of cards, and sooner rather than later. The weight of the debris from the disintegration of any semblance of sustainable morality or ethic is simply too much for our tottering foundation to bear.

If you are tempted to pshaw at me, just ask yourself – exactly when did it occur to you that protecting the perversity of transgender people to be the “Civil Rights Issue” of our generation (as identified by Bernie Sanders, or was it Joe Biden – I lose track)? I rest my case.

When I was a kid we would tease someone who made an outlandish statement by asking with mock seriousness, “What is the color of the sky in your world?” I am not sure what color the sky is in the world of many people.

As I look around me, I’m not even sure I know what color the sky is in my world. It used to be all colors of beautiful blue and gold and orange and red and amber and even black, depending on the time of day. Now . . . it is just all so . . . funky.

Additional Thoughts on “I’m a Card Carrying Member…”

I have received some wonderful feedback regarding yesterday’s rant on people who want to be a member of something, but can’t stand what they want to be a member of. I really don’t understand why people would want to do that, but after sleeping on the question, I have some additional thoughts . . .

One, I want to reiterate the point that within the Churches of Christ we own a heritage of dissent. We are seemingly not happy until someone is unhappy. Our DNA is to challenge – to hold traditions up to the light of Scripture and to change what needs to be changed and to accept that which is truly inconsequential. That is one of the things I love the most about my fellowship. I can honestly preach what I feel the Scripture calls on me to preach – and I know I will have my feet held to the fire if I go beyond what is written. It has happened before, and will happen again.

So, don’t misunderstand me. I am not seeking to silence those who are raising honest questions. I am not demanding unquestioning allegiance to unwritten creeds that are equal to Scripture. Even in the year 2020 there are questions that must be asked, if for the only reason to make sure we are standing under the text, and not over it.

What I don’t get, and what piqued my rant yesterday, is that honest search and humble questioning have turned into mockery and outright rejection, but those who mock and reject do not have the courage to honestly state their position and their intentions. Just as one ‘fer example,’ it is a legitimate question to ask in what situation and for what purpose Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14 that a woman is to “remain silent” in the churches. There are honest textual and linguistic issues to raise and answer. However, it is another kettle of fish altogether to say because we live in 2020 and not AD 55 that it is perfectly acceptable for women to have equal leadership roles within the congregation, and that men can marry men and that some men can even become women. I have no problems with a searching question as to why we do not use mechanical instruments of music in our worship service. It is another issue entirely to suggest that if we just had a “praise team” or a “praise band” that our young people would quit leaving our churches. It is one thing to say, “I do not understand.” To mock and to belittle positions that have been honestly held and defended for over 200 years is to cross a line that I simply will not allow to be crossed without a response.

To return to the illustration with which I started the whole discussion yesterday – when is a Glock not a Glock? If all you do is change the sights on your Glock because they are dreadful to begin with, then I would say you still have a Glock. But when you change the sights, drop in a new barrel, replace the trigger and the trigger spring, when you switch out the grips and the recoil spring, and when you add lasers, RMRs and a suppressor, then it gets to the point that I would argue you no longer have a Glock, but instead you have a Glockenstein. You have exchanged an Austrian thoroughbred for an Americanized mongrel that may have the name engraved on the slide – but no longer bears any resemblance to its heritage. (And, to all my Glock lover friends, I am not dissing the actual gun. I do think they are hideously ugly, but there is a reason there are millions and millions of happy Glock owners out there!)

I could say more, but I really probably need to shut up for a while. I’m a dinosaur, to be sure, and I’ve just never figured out how to use the roller blades I’ve been given. But, the older I get the more obstinate I get, I guess. I’m just really, really tired of the hypocrisy, the slight of hand, the veiled sincerity, the feigned allegiance that I see and hear from so many pulpiteers today. When you can walk into a “Church of Christ” today and see a full band, hear a woman preach, and see pre-schoolers praised for “accepting Jesus into their hearts,” then I am going to call “enough.”

Amos 5:21-23.

Follow-Up to My Last Post

I received some comments on my last post, and a very good question, so I feel it important to extend my thoughts just a little more here. For the background, see my thoughts here – 1 Corinthians 11, 14, 1 Timothy 2, and Paul Contradicting Himself (Again)

First, a little history. Whatever a preacher (or author, or teacher) says or writes is largely autobiographical, and it is almost impossible to untangle what is original and what is borrowed. So, my thoughts on this topic are hugely influenced by my classes with Dr. Everett Ferguson, an article on the practice of male priests covering their heads written by Dr. Richard Oster, and more generically by my understanding on how to do exegesis and thus hermeneutics.

Regarding the last point, I think it is absolutely critical that when we approach the text of Scripture that we remove ourselves as much as possible from the text. I emphasize “as much as possible” because it is impossible to completely do so (as much as Alexander Campbell would disagree.) So, in regard to the topic at hand, one profound issue I have with those who argue for no, or very little, limitations on women exercising leadership roles in the worship assembly is that invariably they insert 21st century worship wars into Paul’s letters. That is a HUGE exegetical, and ultimately, hermeneutical mistake. For us, Paul’s letters are all about me, myself, us, our, and we. We read Paul’s letters as if we are looking in a mirror, and, lo and behold, all we can see is ourselves!

Paul was addressing first century religious (and in the case of the Corinthian letters, Roman and Greek religious) practices as they impacted the first century church. That is where we have to start, and where Paul’s instructions (inspired by the Holy Spirit, no less) intersect with today’s culture, we can draw appropriate conclusions. Where that culture diverges from our culture we have to be very careful that we do not impose our culture on Paul (or Peter or James or even Jesus!) – questions and answers that they never intended.

So, with that said, let us return to 1 Corinthians 11, 14, and 1 Timothy 2 (and, just for giggles and grins, let’s add 1 Peter 3:1-6). If you read 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and remove from your interpretation any apostolic reference to 21st century worship wars, what do you see? Paul wants the Corinthians to maintain a certain set of “traditions” he handed down to them – seemingly related to authority and submission. His first (and I would argue, primary) subject is the proper decorum for men who go before God in prayer. A reader pointed out that Paul does, in fact, spend more time addressing women in these verses, and I agree. But mere volume does not equal significance. Let me illustrate with another text.

In Luke 15:11-32 Jesus tells the parable of the “prodigal son.” The overwhelming majority of the parable revolves around a younger son and the relationship with his father. The older son only gets a few verses at the end of the parable, but I would argue that the real “point” of the parable was aimed at the Pharisees, who clearly stood in the position of the unforgiving and self-righteous older son. The repentance of the younger son, and the forgiveness of the father dominate, but the unanswered question of the parable is, “are you ‘older sons’ going to welcome the repentant younger son back into fellowship?” No-one could argue with genuine repentance or parental grace – but forgiveness from one who has been faithful? Ouch.

So, if I am correct (and that is a big “if”), Paul has his sights set squarely on the men who, accustomed to praying with their heads covered with a shawl or cowl, continued to do so following their conversion to Christ. Paul nowhere addresses the where or the when of the prayer, he simply reminds them that, in the new kingdom, men do not pray with their heads covered! To Paul, that was a sign of disrespect to their authority – Christ and God. Women, on the other hand, did pray with their heads covered – not the least of which was their long hair. Once again, the when or the where was not in Paul’s mind. Paul knew women prayed – by themselves, with their children, with other women – that was proper and good. Paul may use more words in relation to the females, but he never takes his eyes off of the men. [As I mentioned above, I borrow this point from Drs. Ferguson and Oster. I wish I could direct you to the article by Dr. Oster, but my books and files are buried in a storage unit, and I simply do not have access to them.]

Now, here is where my training and experience influences my interpretation. Beginning in v. 17 (and repeated a number of times), Paul shifts his attention to the public gathering of the assembled church. There is a shift, a change of emphasis, a new focus in Paul’s eyes. Paul addresses a number of Corinthian problems – the abuse of the Lord’s supper, the confusion of multiple prophets speaking, and the use (or abuse, the question is still open in my mind) of the miraculous gift of “speaking in tongues.” At the very end of that topic, Paul gives his instruction that “the women should keep silent in the churches.” Unfortunately for us, he leaves that instruction rather bare, but it clearly is in relation to the confusion and improper decorum of the Corinthian assembly.

If 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 provided us with the only comments on the question under discussion, we might be safe to say that the question remains open, and perhaps Paul’s accommodating position in Romans 14 might be important here. But, Paul does give additional instruction regarding male and female “authority” roles in 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Once again, Paul is not addressing 21st century “worship wars,” so let’s be careful lest we look into that theological mirror again. Paul’s emphasis (once again beginning with the male) is that prayers be genuine, without anger or malice. The women are to dress with proper decorum. Then, Paul specifically mentions that women are not to exercise authority over men, either in teaching or, as I said in my last post, through prayer (Paul’s immediate context). This is where I see that prayer is an authoritative speech according to the apostle. I could be wrong here – have been in the past and will be in the future, but lest I sound like a broken record, I can only do exegesis as I have been taught, not as I have not been taught.

If you have followed me so far, thank you. Now for my main issue with the so called “egalitarians,” those who argue for full (or perhaps expanded) roles of leadership for females in the worship service. If you hold the egalitarian position, Paul has utterly contradicted himself in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 compared to 1 Corinthians 11. At this point you have to decide which is controlling – Paul’s so called “universal” teaching in 1 Cor. 11, or the “limited” or “correcting the one-off, aberrant behavior” of 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Timothy 2. Those who hold that 1 Cor. 11 is the true, proper, and Spirit-inspired teaching have to diminish 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2 by either removing 1 Cor. 14 completely (i.e., Gordon Fee), or by so minimizing those texts that they ultimately become meaningless to any situation beyond Corinth (or Ephesus) in the first century. I simply cannot go there. Once we  start eliminating Paul’s instructions because they do not “fit” our paradigm, where do we stop? Are Paul’s instructions regarding sexual perversity in chapter 5 also simply a rejection of a cultural taboo that is no longer valid? Are Paul’s instructions regarding division in the church (chapters 1-4) simply to be ignored because they are directed to Apollos, Peter (Cephas) and Paul? What of Paul’s instructions regarding the Lord’s Supper, or even his teaching regarding the resurrection?

And, just one final piece of evidence. Many argue that Paul reveals his chauvinism here – that he took Jesus’s egalitarianism and stood it on its ear. Okay, well, then what of Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:1-6? Peter nowhere mentions the assembly, so his words touch this issue only tangentially – but it is this tangential connection that I find so compelling. Peter’s focus is on the submission of the wife to the husband (also mentioned by Paul), and ties this Christian behavior to the behavior of Godly women throughout history. For Peter, apparently, a woman usurping the authority of her husband would be a violation of Christian behavior. My point is that Peter confirms my understanding of Paul’s overall consistency, and therefore that 1 Cor. 11:1-16 must be seen in a generic sense, and not in the specific situation of the assembled congregation.

Once again, I could be wrong here in any – or all – of my conclusions. I can only work with my understanding of how to do exegesis. I have been wrong before, and will undoubtedly be wrong in the future. But, as Martin Luther so famously said, here I stand until I am proven wrong. I sincerely believe that many hold to an erroneous position because of a number of false assumptions. There is the assumption that 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 pertains to the assembled worship assembly. According to how I was taught to read Scripture, that assumption cannot be defended. Once again, I can only read, and therefore teach, as I have been taught. Then, there is the subsequent, but necessary, assumption that 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2 are therefore only speaking to one-off, aberrant situations that no longer have any validity for the church of Christ. There is further an assumption that the apostolic teaching regarding authority and submission was bound only to the first century, and that any subsequent culture is free to define (or re-define) roles regarding gender any way that is predominant in that culture.

I don’t want to open another can of worms (okay, maybe I do), but just a question – if we are free to define roles of authority regarding sex and gender if we can discover, and eliminate, Paul’s first century cultural biases, then how can we argue against any of the issues of homosexuality, bi-sexuality, poly-amorous relationships, and gender fluidity so prevalent in our culture today? If there are no inherent significant differences between male and female, and if there are no spiritually significant connections to those differences, then who is to argue that there is any limitations as to sexual behavior, or even sexual identity?

What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and if our culture’s headlong rush into sexual dysphoria has taught me anything, it’s that our understanding of God’s original plan for mankind is found in Genesis 1:27, and if we rupture that relationship we have nothing of any value to stand on.

Thanks for reading, thanks for the comments, and let us all ascend by climbing lower.

I May Disagree With the Decision, But I Must Defend the Right to Make It

I just read a horrifying story out of the state of Oregon. A judge has forced a 13 year old girl to undergo surgery for a rare form of liver cancer, over the objections of her mother and the 13 year-old herself. (Here is a link, as long as it is good. story here

I have no idea about the intention of the mother, or the accuracy of the story, or if the girl has been adequately informed of the options and possible outcomes. My issue in discussing this story is the terrifying reality that a state can step in between a parent and a child and compel the child to undergo something as traumatic as liver surgery against the wishes of the parent.

I would imagine that most of us are aware of the reality that a young girl can obtain an abortion without the informed consent of her parents, but this decision launches the debate into entirely new – and dangerous – territory.

There has been ample news coverage of late regarding the parental decision not to immunize their child(ren) against various diseases. In these cases I believe the state has a compelling interest to require those immunizations if the child is going to take advantage of such state funded institutions as schools, daycares, and some sporting events. In these situations I still side with the rights of the parents if they decide against immunization (although I think it is dangerous, and founded on bizarre conspiracy theories). But, the parents must also be held accountable and be told that if they refuse the immunizations, their child will not be allowed to participate in federal or state funded programs. I believe they must also be formally educated about the need for such immunizations, and the cost to the community as a whole if they refuse the immunity, and what can happen in cases of outbreaks of diseases that have almost been eradicated through such immunizations. There is a community component in these cases that is not present in the case of the solitary girl who has liver cancer.

However, taking a child away from the custody of a parent and forcing her to undergo radical surgery is just Orwellian in the extreme, and, if I understand the story correctly, nothing but pure evil. If this decision is allowed to stand, what will be the next step? Will a state decide it has the moral and legal right to remove children from a home and forced to undergo LGBTQ indoctrination if (and when) Christianity is effectively labeled a “disease?” You scoff. You label this a non-sensical “slippery slope” argument. I counter – since when has it been deemed appropriate or legal for the state to physically force a 13 year old child to undergo a radical, and potentially dangerous, surgery when the outcome has, by their own admission, at least a 30 percent chance of failure?

I have written repeatedly in this space about how we are no longer living in the same cultural context that described this nation even 30 years ago. Dear brothers and sisters – it appears that the time for disciples of Christ to stand up and resist these abhorrent decisions is coming far sooner than later. Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrated the power of non-violent resistance – the power of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands, of like-minded individuals who simply refuse to comply with unjust laws and lawmakers. Will we have to employ those methods in the effort to protect our constitutional right to the free exercise of our religious beliefs? And what should happen if that freedom is somehow abridged? Will we still have the courage of our convictions to stand and protect our children?

This case may be a tempest in a teapot – or it may be the canary in the coal mine that lets us know that the death of religious freedom is surely coming.

I may not agree with this mother’s decision, but for the sake of the freedom of every parent to raise their children as God has given them the authority to do so, I must defend her right to make it.

Words Have Consequences!

From my “Undeniable Truths for Theological Reflection” (#10)

Attitudes and beliefs have consequences. Words, used to express those attitudes and beliefs, have equal consequences. Words chosen to convey spiritual concepts have eternal consequences.

Since long before the election in 2016 we have been regaled with Donald Trump’s mean spirited and very often blatantly racist words, primarily through his “Tweets,” short pithy little statements uploaded to the social media platform Twitter. Mostly these have just been food for his ultra-right wing base, and fodder for his enemies. Christians who understand the seriousness of even any careless word have recoiled from such statements, but, up until Saturday, these outbursts have been viewed as the rantings of a demagogue, someone who is more bluster and bloviating than substantial.

That all changed on Saturday, August 3. That was the day someone took some racist words and transformed them into racial terrorism.

While it is still far too early in the investigation to know everything for certain, there are some facts that I believe are incontrovertible: Trump has said/tweeted some unconscionable statements regarding immigration and the racial makeup of many of those immigrants, the shooter in El Paso targeted persons of a specific race and nationality, and (this point is still being confirmed) the shooter has written a “manifesto” in which he speaks approvingly of Trump and his racially twinged statements.

It’s not impossible to connect these dots.

Do I think Trump intended his words to have this effect? Absolutely not! Do I think Trump is a racist? Probably, just like 99% of the current House of Representatives and Senators. But, mostly, I think Trump sees people in terms of green, red, and black. That is, if you can further Trump’s personal agenda (raising money, erasing debt or furthering his narcissistic agenda) he likes you, regardless of your race or gender. If you cannot do any of those three things, you are useless to him, regardless of your race or gender. Also, mostly I think Trump is just a fool – in the biblical sense. He does not believe in God (at least, the God of the Bible) and he thinks he can solve all of his problems with his own intellect. That is the biblical definition of a fool.

Do I think racist statements, regardless of how innocuous they are made, can have the kind of result that we saw on Saturday? Absolutely. Our nation is becoming more hateful, more racially divided, more prone to racial violence with each passing year. In one sense, what happened on Saturday, August 3 was inevitable. And, let us be clear about something else – the long road that ended in El Paso was promoted by the election of Barack Obama. Obama saw every event during his two terms of office in relation to race. Trump was NOT the first racist to be elected to the office of president. I’m pretty sure every one of the presidents has been racist to some degree or another – some quite blatant. To suggest that Trump is the first to be afflicted with this sin, or that Republican presidents are racist and Democrat presidents are not, is beyond preposterous.

Trump and his political minions are trying effusively to distance Trump from the shooting in El Paso. I’m sorry, but that ship sailed from the harbor a long time ago. In my mind there is just one thing Trump should, even can, do to extricate himself from this tragedy – confess that his language has been horribly offensive and exploitive, and apologize to the races and nationalities that he has targeted. He will not do that, of course, and it would just be a beginning, but it would be a good start.

Every individual who has spoken in a public setting has said things he/she did not mean or later regretted. I am certainly in that list of offensive speakers. It is not that we intentionally set out to offend – but our mouths are not always connected to our brains, and even when they are, sometimes our brains are not connected to our consciences. We sin with our mouths, let us be honest and confess that proclivity. But, I stand by my Undeniable Truth for Theological Reflection number 10 with all of my being. Words have consequences. Words that relate to theological truths have eternal consequences.

Let us be so diligent, so careful, so painstaking in the choice of our words, that we never have to apologize for denigrating the value of another human being simply based on the color of their skin, the nation of their origin, or the language that they speak.

By our words we will be justified, and by our words we will be condemned. (Mt. 12:37)

The Loss of Transcendence and the Death of Humanity

Pardon me as I continue (sort of) my lament from yesterday . . .

We are experiencing, in increasing measure, the slow death of humanity. I don’t mean humans as such (although that might be coming), what I mean is the loss of what makes us human, what separates us from lower animal life. It seems to me that the more technologically progressed we have become, the deeper into nihilism we have fallen. We know more and can do more with greater ease than ever before, and we are far sicker than we have ever been.

What got me to thinking about this was a recent camping trip. Not that long ago it was natural to assume that a family went up into the wilderness (or, at the very least, away from the confusion of the city) to get away from the noise, the hustle, the frantic pace. You left all of that “behind” so you could unwind, relax, shed some of the stress of the “dog eat dog” world. I noticed this past weekend how all of that has changed – and not just a little bit. I was stunned to see that off-road vehicles (we used to call them ATVs) are now almost obligatory for the modern camping family. That, along with mammoth fifth-wheel campers makes most camp sites look like the infield of the Indianapolis 500 auto race. As I stood knee deep in a gorgeous little stream I had to strain to hear the birds and squirrels fuss at each other because the almost constant barrage of four-wheelers on the nearby road made it impossible to hear God’s awesome creation.

It got worse. From time to time I could look up and see the passengers in these noise making contraptions. From what I could tell they were not happy. They were in a hurry to get somewhere, anywhere but where they were. Many had scowls on their faces, but virtually all were expressionless. Here they were in quite honestly the closest thing to the Garden of Eden, and they were either bored, or actually pained. They had to get somewhere else fast, so they could not enjoy where they were or what they were doing. Every so often they would come ripping back down the road they had just zoomed up. In a hurry, oblivious to the world of creation around them. Making noise, and utterly, completely unable to here the birds and squirrels chatter and talk to them.

It was so unbelievably sad.

We, as humans, have created a world where we can control virtually everything. If it’s too hot we turn on the air-conditioner. If it’s too cold we turn on the heater. If we are bored we turn on the TV or the tablet or our cell phone. If it is too quiet we blast our stereos or plug our ear-buds into our tablets and tune out the world. I just saw an article pointing out how there are signs of increasing mental struggles of pre-schoolers because of the increasing use of “screen time,” the fact that children do not interact with their physical world, but are increasingly tied to computers, tablets, or cell phones. It has now become the norm that even when we try to “get away from it all” we pack everything up and bring “it all” with us. We haul around our stress, our anxiety, our utter inability to deal with life if we are not stimulated to the ends of our hair follicles.

We have, or at the very least, will soon lose every concept of transcendence, of the “awesome.” When we do we will have lost the very last vestige of what it means to be human. To me that is not theoretical – I have actually witnessed it. People, human beings, created in the image of the Divine God himself, so completely engrossed in technology that they cannot even recognize, let alone appreciate, the awesomeness and transcendence of God’s most holy creation.

I do not have a Ph.D in psychology, but it really does not take a psychologist to recognize that we are a sick culture. Anger, depression, anxiety – all symptoms of a decaying society are rising at an exponential rate. Children are displaying acts of greater and greater violence at younger and younger ages. Prescriptions for anti-depressants are skyrocketing. Young people are identifying feelings of rootlessness and meaninglessness like never before. And, yet, the demand for the next upgrade for a cell phone or the next greatest app is unending.

I am not naive enough to believe that all of this can be reversed if we only clicked our heels together three times and repeated with Dorothy, “I wish I was home.” But, I am equally opposed to the idea that I should just shrug my shoulders and say none of this matters. It matters, and for future generations it should matter very much.

Somehow, someway, in calm and reasoned thought or in pure desperation, we are going to have to learn how to unplug, unwind, and “deconstruct” our over-stimulated lives. Maybe when we run out of fossil fuels and we can no longer drive massive trucks that pull 40 foot fifth-wheel camp trailers we will learn how to live life patiently again. I think learning how to hitch up a horse to a wagon might be valuable for a great many of us. It would, at the very least, teach us that we need to respect and nurture God’s awesome creation.

And, it would be a lot quieter. Maybe we could learn to listen to the birds and squirrels again.