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15 August 2018

Election: God did choose you, y’know.

Because you didn’t just wander into Christianity. God wants you.

ELECT /ə'lɛkt/ v. Choose for a purpose or position, like a political contest or a job.
2. n. A person (or people) chosen by God for a purpose or position. [Often “the elect.”]
[Elector /ə'lɛk.tər/ n., election /ə'lɛk.ʃən/ n.]

I grew up with a Christian mom, a Christian upbringing, and lots of relationships with people who happened to be Christian. Whole lot of opportunities to have God-experiences. It’s kinda like I was set up: Stuff was deliberately stuck in my path to influence me to become Christian.

Other Christians didn’t grow up the same way, of course. Things were a lot less Christian, a lot more pagan—or they grew up with another religion altogether. But at one point in their lives they were obviously nudged in Christ Jesus’s direction. Maybe they had a rough patch and Christians showed up to point ’em to Jesus. Maybe a miracle happened and they realized, not just that God’s here, but that Jesus defines him best. In some cases Jesus even personally showed up and told them to follow him—’cause he does that.

The fact is, God wants to save everybody. Jesus died to make it possible, and everybody’s been given the invitation to come to Jesus, be adopted by God, and enter his kingdom. Everybody, without exception, is invited. He’s not turning anyone away. (Unless they clearly don’t want him, or don’t mean it; but those are other discussions.)

But. Even though God’s invitation is for anyone and everyone, there are lots of individuals whom he makes a particular effort to save. Like me, ’cause he set me up to become Christian. Like you, more than likely: When you look back on your life, chances are you can think of many situations where God was getting your attention, moving you into place, coming after you. Some of them were really obvious moves on his part. Some were more subtle. Hey, whatever got you into the kingdom. But God definitely, specifically, wanted you.

And when that’s the case we Christians call it election.

14 August 2018

“Pre-Christians” and religious bigotry.

A bit of optimistic Christianese.

About 25 years ago, my pastor talked about how he was no longer gonna refer to pagans as “non-Christians.” (He never did refer to them as pagans. That’s a practice which varies from church to church. Anyway.) From now on he was gonna call them “pre-Christians.” Because, he explained, he was gonna hope in favor of them becoming Christian eventually. It’s based on optimism.

It also addresses a rather common problem we find in Christendom, particularly in the Bible Belt. It’s a certain degree of negativity Christians can have towards pagans. Bluntly, it’s religious bigotry: The attitude that if you’ve not chosen Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must be sinful, stupid, or otherwise morally or mentally deficient.

My pastor explained none of this thinking is proper, nor even correct. Pagans are simply people who’ve not chosen Jesus yet. He hopes they yet will.

And Christians have no leg to stand on when it comes to religious bigotry. God loves the world, Jn 3.16 which includes all the pagans in it. Jesus died for them, same as he did for us. 1Jn 2.1 God wants pagans to be saved and learn truth, same as Christians. 1Ti 2.4 God forbid our rotten attitudes get in the way of them coming to truth, and to this relationship with God.

Religious bigotry is a very old problem. Jesus had to address it more than once. Like when the Pharisees objected to him taking his meals with taxmen and sinners. By “sinners” Pharisees meant non-Pharisees. Didn’t matter if these non-Pharisees did try to follow God; if they weren’t doing it the way Pharisees did, didn’t participate in Pharisee synagogues, didn’t hew to Pharisee customs, or otherwise weren’t religious enough for Pharisee tastes, they got called “sinners.” Same as certain Christians will get about someone whose sins are more obvious than usual. Nevermind the sin of gossip.

The Pharisees wanted to know why on earth the rabbi ate with sinners. Jesus’s response was he didn’t come to cure the well, but the sick. MK 2.17 An entirely reasonable answer, and one which should be duplicated in our own attitudes towards pagans: We’re here to help! But too often we duplicate the Pharisee attitudes, and worry, “If we interact with pagans too much, they’ll rub off on us. They’ll corrupt us.” So we shun them.

It’s a valid concern if we suck at resisting temptation. But more often that’s a copout. It’s not the real problem. Either their sins offend us, and we can’t get over our hangups and love them anyway; or we wanna look like their sins offend us, ’cause we’re hypocrites.

Fact is, pagans are gonna sin. ’Cause they don’t know any better. And even when they do know better, it’s all the same sins we Christians commit. But they’re never gonna learn better—nor how to resist temptation—till they meet Jesus. And they’re never gonna meet Jesus till we Christians properly introduce them to him. And we’re never gonna do that if we shun them!

13 August 2018

Stick together.

If we could only grasp how much of them there are.

Ephesians 4.1-16

Now that God’s provided his adoptive kids with his superabundant riches, it’s time for us to live like his kids. So here’s the part of Ephesians where Paul moves away from the salvation theology, and gets into how we Christians are supposed to behave towards one another. We’ve been predestined for God’s kingdom; now let’s walk like inheritors of his kingdom.

Paul especially emphasized the unity we oughta see among Christians, who are after all sharing the same Master.

Ephesians 4.1-6 KWL
1 So I, the captive in the Master, encourage you to walk the calling you were called to,
appropriately: 2 With all humility and gentleness.
With patience, putting up with one another in love.
3 Eager to defend the Spirit’s unity, in peace’s joint captivity: 4 One body. One Spirit.
Just as you were also called in one hope of your calling.
5 One Master. One faith. One baptism. 6 One God,
and Father of everyone, over everyone, and in everyone.

Most of the time preachers apply this to Christians who are members, or regulars, of the same church. We’re supposed to love our fellow church members, be patient with them, live in unity with them. Which is true; we should. But that’s not at all the idea Paul had in mind.

Multiple denominations of Christians wouldn’t exist for another two centuries or so, and it’s likely Paul never expected them to ever exist. Even though multiple denominations in the Hebrew religion existed—Pharisees and Sadducees and Samaritans—the early Christians didn’t expect the body of Christ to be likewise fragmented. It’s a violation of Jesus’s will, y’know. Jn 17.20-23

So when Paul wrote this, it applied not just to Christians who shared a church body, but every Christian everywhere: We’re to put up with any and every fellow Christian, no matter what their stripe, whether we fellowship in the same congregation or not. Every denomination and theology. We’re to encourage unity with all of them, because that’s what Jesus wants. Because all of us do have one body, one Spirit, one Master, one faith, one baptism, and one God.

True, you get certain Christians who insist we can’t interact with certain churches. Because they insist they get to define orthodoxy, and if you’re not orthodox enough for them you’re not a true Christian. I would say otherwise: Only Jesus gets to define who’s his and who’s not, and when Jesus told us how to identify true followers, true teachers, and true prophets, he didn’t tell us to look for orthodoxy; he told us to look for fruit. Fruity Christians have the Holy Spirit in them, so they belong to Jesus. Fruitless Christians, no matter how orthodox their beliefs, aren’t obeying Jesus, and aren’t really his.

And y’notice Paul mentioned a few of the Spirit’s fruits in the above passage: Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Love. Peace. If you can’t be bothered to try these things, of course your church isn’t gonna hold together. Or interact with other churches. Or interact with anybody; you’ll turn into one of those isolationist cults who only come out in public to wave “God Hates Fags” signs. You’ll think you’re the only ones going to heaven, ’cause the rest of “Christendom” can’t possibly. And it’s gonna suck to be you when you finally stand before Jesus.

10 August 2018

On sexists. Sorry, “complementarians.”

But really sexists with a nicer-sounding label.

COMPLEMENTARIAN /kɑmp.lə.mən'tɛ.rɪ.ən/ adj. Sexist: Believes men and women are inherently unequal in authority (to lead, teach, or parent) and rights.
2. Believes men and women should adhere to [culturally defined] gender roles, and complement one another by fulfilling the unique duties of those roles.
EGALITARIAN /ɪ.ɡæl.ə'tɛ.ri.ən/ adj. Believes all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunity.

I really dislike the term “complementarian.” It’s what logicians call a weasel word: It’s one of those words people use instead of the proper word, ’cause they don’t care to tell you what they really mean. Or they’re in serious self-denial about what they really mean.

Bluntly, “complementarian” is Christianese for “sexist.” Because that’s exactly what they mean: Women and men aren’t equal; there are things men can do which women mustn’t; if women dare do them, they’re violating the social order which has kept men in power all this time God’s will. Because God supposedly wants his daughters to perpetually have a second-class status. That’s why he didn’t give ’em penises.

The foundation of this misbegotten belief largely comes from the story where God curses Eve, and women in general, for her sin. Because she violated his command, childbirth is gonna hurt, and her man is gonna boss her around. Ge 3.16 As for Adam, he was cursed with having to fight the ground to get food from it, and of course death. Ge 3.17-19 But Jesus came to undo these curses!

Whereas modern technology has made it a lot less wearisome to grow crops, and childbirth doesn’t have to hurt (or kill the mother) as often as it used to, and we usually fight off death for as long as possible, complementarians are still pretty darned insistent that men get to boss their women around. It’s one of the few curses in the bible which people demand be carried out.

What about Jesus’s stated intention that women are co-heirs of his kingdom? Oh, complementarians will accept the idea women can be saved; and how kind of them. But as far as ministry and responsibility in the kingdom is concerned, they get all the plum spots, cushy jobs, and positions of authority. ’Cause conveniently for them, that’s their place. And women have to joyfully submit to this truth.

Y’know, any belief which puts people down instead of raises them up, promotes dominance instead of humility, destroys instead of heals, is graceless instead of gracious, is entirely antithetical to what Jesus teaches. Doesn’t matter how fond dark Christians are of it; they don’t know Jesus as well as they imagine.

But sexism is everywhere in Christendom. And to be fair, it’s not necessarily because sexists hate women, or are anti-women, or wanna exclude them from ministry and leadership roles. Roman Catholics are kind of an obvious example of this: Most of ’em, including the pope, cardinals, and bishops, try to put women in leadership and ministry roles wherever they can. But according to their official church teachings, women can’t be priests, and that’s that. It’s not a glass ceiling; it’s made of solid stone. With Michelangelo’s pretty frescoes all over it, but still. And Evangelical sexists believe much the same thing: They’d love to include women, and do so wherever they can get away with it, but the bible only lets them go so far, and no further.

In my article on sexism I point out the bible does so let ’em go further, and accept women as equals in ministry, the church, and God’s kingdom. And if sexists honestly aren’t anti-women, they don’t take much convincing at all: They look at the scriptures, look at the historical context, realize they were wrong, repent of their sexism, and frequently do what they can to correct others.

The rest of them? They don’t wanna be wrong. They don’t really want women to be their equals. And frequently they double down on their sexism, just to make it clear they’re following their interpretation of the bible, zealously. Which has the unfortunate, but telling, side effect of being fruitless and graceless. And worse on their women.

09 August 2018

When people can see God.

Or to use the theologians’ term for it, theophanies.

THEOPHANY /θi'ɑ.fə.ni/ n. An experience where God is visible; often hearable and touchable.

Recently a member of a discussion group I’m in was talking about apostles: One of his definitions of apostle is someone who’s seen Jesus. You know, like the Twelve—and Paul of Tarsus, whom he figures was a special case, because Jesus doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore.

There I entirely disagree. Jesus appears to people all the time. Poll the people of your church sometime. Assuming they’re not afraid to admit it (either because your church doesn’t believe in miracles, and in so doing has kinda banned them; or they’re afraid you’ll think them nuts) you might be startled to discover at least one of them has seen Jesus. And no, not a painting of him, nor a Jesus movie: Seen Jesus.

I went into more detail about this in my article on the subject. Jesus can and does appear to people, still. This is the usual form a God-sighting will take place nowadays. God doesn’t have to appear in pillars of cloud and flame, or burning bushes, or thunder on a mountain, or any such thing. The form he took when he became human will do him just fine from now on.

But before he became human, God appeared in all sorts of odd ways to his people. ’Cause sometimes he felt he had to make a personal appearance… so he did.

Remember, God is spirit. Jn 4.24 So most of the time he’s gonna interact with us humans in spiritual ways. In other words, non-physical ways: Won]t see him, won’t hear him, won’t feel him, won’t smell or taste him, won’t detect him through some poorly defined sixth sense. Various Christians claim to sense him, but 99 times out of 100 they’ve confused their emotions (or the really good subwoofers in their church) with “feeling the Spirit.” Or they’ve psyched themselves into an experience.

But in that one time in 100, God chooses to become detectable to our senses. He appears to people. We theologians call this a theophany. It’s one of the five forms of revelation (which’d be prayer, prophecy, bible, conscience, and theophany). When we’re too dense for one of those other forms to do the job, sometimes God resorts to making an appearance.

The bible begins with God-appearances. (’Cause the other forms of revelation weren’t around yet.) God made a habit of hanging around Eden with Adam and Eve. They could even hear him coming. Ge 3.8 True, he didn’t have to physically do this. He could’ve walked with the first humans the same way Jesus “walks” with most of us, answering our prayers and guiding us through life. But he didn’t wanna. Most of the reason he became human is because he still doesn’t wanna. We’re the ones who freak out over God-appearances.

Exodus 20.18-19 KWL
18 All the people saw the sound, the bright light, the trumpet’s call, the smoking mountain—
the people saw, trembled, and stood far away.
19 They told Moses, “You speak with us so we can hear.
Don’t have God speak with us, lest we die.”

As if God had any intention of destroying them. (Yet.) But that’s the problem: God’s grandeur, even in small doses, freaks us out beyond reason and understanding. Mk 9.2-6 The popular belief was, and still is, that if we actually see God as he literally is, our fragile selves can’t take it, Ex 33.20 and we’ll drop stone dead. Dt 18.16, Jn 13.22 And y’know, there’s likely something to that.

So when God appeared to people in the scriptures, he usually appeared as a man Ge 18.1-16 or angel. Jg 13.21-22 The “Angel of the LORD” may only have been a herald who represented God, but consistent with ancient practice, people addressed it as if it was God, and Christians wonder whether this angel wasn’t God in some angelic form. (Other Christians figure it was Jesus before Jesus became human… and since Jesus is God, it’s sorta the same idea.)