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Showing posts from October, 2019

Reformation Day.

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31 October isn’t just Halloween. For Protestants, some of us observe the day as a regular holiday. Others remember it as Reformation Day, the day in 1517 when bible professor Dr. Martin Luther of the University of Wittenberg in the Holy Roman Empire (now Germany) posted 95 propositions he wanted to discuss with his students. Specifically, about certain practices in the Catholic church—in which, at the time, they were all members—to which he objected.Technically it wasn’t 31 October. Y’see, Europeans were still using the Julian calendar in 1517. That calendar was out of sync with the vernal equinox by 11 days, which is why they updated it with the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Once we correct for that, it was really 10 November. But whatever. Reformation Day!Luther didn’t realize this was as big a deal as we make it out to be. It’s dramatically described as Luther, enraged as if he just found out about 95 problems in his church, nailing a defiant manifesto to the school’s Castle Church d…

Relativism. (’Cause we aren’t all that absolute.)

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RELATIVISM'rɛl.ə.də.vɪ.zəmnoun. Belief that truth, knowledge, and morals are based on context, not absolutes.[Relative 'rɛl.ə.dɪvadjective, relativist 'rɛl.ə.də.vɪstnoun.]Relativism is a big, big deal to Christian apologists. I’ll get to why in a minute; bear with me as I introduce the concept.Some of us were raised by religious people, and were taught to believe in religious absolutes: God is real, Jesus is alive, sin causes death, love your neighbor. Others weren’t raised religious, but they grew up in a society which accepts and respects absolutes. Like scientific principles, logic, mathematics, or a rigid code of ethics.The rest—probably the majority—claim they believe in absolutes, but they’re willing to get all loosey-goosey whenever the absolutes get in their way. They might agree theft is bad… but it’s okay if they shoplift every once in a while. Murder is bad… but dropping bombs on civilians during wartime is acceptable. Lying is bad… but it’s okay to take an iffy…

Prayer’s one prerequisite: Forgiveness.

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Mark 11.25, Matthew 6.14-15, 18.21-35.Jesus told us in the Lord’s Prayer we gotta pray,Matthew 6.12 BCPAnd forgive us our trespasses,as we forgive those who trespass against us.He elaborated on this in his Sermon on the Mount:Matthew 6.14-15 KWL14“When you forgive people their misdeeds, your heavenly Father will forgive you.15When you can’t forgive people, your Father won’t forgive your misdeeds either.”And in Mark’s variant of the same teaching:Mark 11.25 KWL“Whenever you stand up to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone.Thus your Father, who’s in heaven, can forgive you your misdeeds.”And he elaborated on it even more in his Unforgiving Slave story.Matthew 18.21-35 KWL21Simon Peter came and told Jesus, “Master, how often will my fellow Christian sin against me,and I’ll have to forgive them? As many as seven times?”22 Jesus told him, “I don’t say ‘as many as seven times,’ but as many as seven by seventy times.23This is why heaven’s kingdom is like a king’s employee who wante…

Jesus is the gate: Don’t go around him!

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John 10.1-10.Right after Jesus cured a blind guy on Sabbath, for which the guy’s synagogue threw him out, Jesus commented some folks only think they can see, but they’re blind as well. Then he segued straight into talking about sheep. Like so.John 9.40 – 10.10 KWL40Some of the Pharisees were listening to these things, and told Jesus, “We aren’t blind too.”41 Jesus told them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin.You now say ‘We do so see’—and your sin remains.1Amen amen! I promise you one who won’t enter through the sheepfold gate,but gets in some other way: This person is a thief, a looter.2One who enters through the gate is the sheep’s pastor.3The gatekeeper opens up for this pastor, and the sheep hears the pastor’s voice.The pastor calls their own sheep, and leads them out.4Whenever the pastor drives out their own sheep, they go on ahead of the pastor,and their pastor follows, for they know their pastor’s voice.5The sheep will never follow a stranger, but will flee from the…

When a well-known Christian quits Jesus.

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Back in July, Christian popular author Joshua Harris announced he’s no longer Christian. Which was a bit of a shock to people who hadn’t kept up with him—who only knew him from his books, particularly his best-known book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Which no doubt has prompted a lot of headlines and comments about Harris kissing Jesus goodbye. I had to resist the temptation to use that for this article’s title.I was obligated to read I Kissed Dating Goodbye at the Christian school where I taught. Some of my students’ youth pastors were inflicting it on them. It’s basically his promotion of “courtship,” as certain conservative Evangelicals call sexless, heavily chaperoned dating. In the book it’s how he claimed God wants people to find their mates. In my article on courtship, I pointed out the bible depicts no such thing; courtship is entirely a western cultural construct. Nothing wrong with it when it’s voluntary; everything wrong with it if your parents or church force it upon you.Which …

Altar calls: Come on down!

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ALTAR'ɔl.tərnoun. A table or block used as the focus for a religious ritual, particularly offerings or ritual sacrifices to a deity.2. In Christianity, the table used to hold the elements for holy communion.3. In some churches, the stage, the steps to the stage, or the space in front of the stage, where people go as a sign of commitment.During our worship services, sometimes Christians are invited to leave our seats and come forward to the stage. It’s called an altar call.Thing is, we’re not sure how the term originated. ’Cause the stage, or the front of the stage, wasn’t called an altar back then. The altar was the communion table. My guess is people were originally instructed to gather by the communion table. In a lot of churches, that altar is front and center; in the church I went to as a child, it was right in front of the preacher’s podium.But when evangelists held rallies, whether at a concert hall, sports arena, outdoor stadium, theater, high school gym, or grade school ca…

Take notes.

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It’s Wednesday. So, assuming you went to church Sunday morning… do you remember what the sermon or homily was about?Some of you do, ’cause your memory is just that good. (Mine is.) You were paying attention. The preacher said something memorable, or entertaining, or particularly profound. Or perfectly relevant to your situation, or taught you something you’d like to try.Others of you can’t remember for the life of you.Nope, this isn’t a criticism. Hey, some people who stand up to preach simply aren’t preachers. They might be nice people, good musicians, great prayer leaders; they’re friendly people, and exactly the sort of person you want in your life when you’re going through tough times. Or they might have a lot of personal charisma—they’re people you naturally like, even though they might not have done anything to win people’s affection. (Some of them, like certain celebrities and politicians, might’ve done plenty to make you dislike them—but when you see ’em in person, all they go…

Jesus’s discussion falls apart.

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John 8.45-59.So Jesus was trying to explain how if we stay in his word, we’re truly his students, and this truth’ll set us free. Jn 8.31-32 True to the Socratic-style way Pharisee instruction worked back then, Jesus’s listeners tried to pick apart his statements, and resisted the idea they weren’t free—that they were still slaves to sin. Jesus pointed out this was because they were still following their spiritual father, Satan… and you don’t need to be omniscient to predict they didn’t take this well.So why’d Jesus say something so provocative? Well I used to think it’s because he was kinda done with them; they weren’t listening to a thing he said anyway. But we have to remember Jesus is patient and kind—’cause God is love, 1Jn 4.8 and those are the ways love acts. 1Co 13.4 So he did mean to provoke, but not to antagonize. Some in his audience heard what he was saying (like John, who recorded it) and repented and followed him. And others decided these were fighting words—and that’s wh…

The Lord’s Prayer. Make it your prayer.

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When it comes to talking with God, Christians get tongue-tied. We don’t know what to say to him! And if we follow the examples of our fellow Christians, we’re gonna get weird about him. We’ll only address him formally, or think we’re only allowed to ask for certain things—or imagine God already predetermined everything, so there’s no point in asking for anything at all.The people of Jesus’s day had all these same hangups, which is why his students asked him how to pray, Lk 11.1 and he responded with what we Christians call the Paternoster or Our Father (after its first two words—whether Latin or English), or the Lord’s Prayer. The gospels have two versions of it, in Matthew 6.9-13 and Luke 11.2-4. But the version most English-speaking Christians are most familiar with, actually comes from neither gospel. Comes from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, which is based on an ancient new-Christian instruction manual called the Didache. Goes like so.Our Father, who art in heaven,…

What if you were never saved to begin with?

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If you believe Christians can never quit Jesus—that it’s impossible to reject God’s salvation, probably ’cause you believe God’s grace is irresistible or something—how do you explain the existence of ex-Christians?Because plenty of people identify themselves as former Christians. Grew up in church, said the sinner’s prayer, signed off on everything in their church’s faith statement, got baptized, got born again. Believed in Jesus with all their heart, same as you or I or any true Christian does. Even had God-experiences, saw miracles, did miracles. But now they’re no longer Christian. They left.So how do those who believe once saved always saved, reconcile their belief with people who say they were once saved and now aren’t saved? One of two ways:Those people only think they used to be Christian. But they never truly were.Those people only think they quit Jesus. In reality they’re still his; he’s still gonna save them. They’re just going through a period of rebellion. Give ’em time. T…

Once saved, always saved?

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Let’s start by getting this first idea straight: God saves us, by his grace. It’s entirely his work, done by his power; we don’t save ourselves; we can’t possibly. No number of good deeds, no amount of good karma, not even memorizing all the right doctrines, is gonna do it. We gotta entirely entrust our salvation to God. Period. Full stop.Since we can’t and don’t save ourselves, various Christians figure an attached idea—and they insist it’s a necessary attached idea—follows: We can’t and don’t un-save ourselves. If God saves us, the only way we can get unsaved is if God does it—and he’s not gonna. He’s chosen us, he’s elected us, for salvation. And it’s permanent. It’s a done deal. Nothing in our universe can separate ’em from God’s love. Ro 8.39Not even if they themselves later choose to quit Jesus. (So how do they explain ex-Christians? “Oh, they were never really Christian.” Which opens up a whole different can of worms… which I’ll get to tomorrow.)Sometimes Christians call this i…

“They were never saved to begin with.”

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Sometimes people who believe they’re Christian aren’t really.Sometimes people whom we believe are Christian aren’t really: They’re faking it for any number of reasons. Or they’re Christianists; they’re big fans of popular Christian culture, but have no relationship with Christ Jesus himself. Somehow we missed the fact they bore no fruit of the Spirit… or, more likely, we didn’t care they were fruitless. We were much too happy to consider them one of our own; we never bothered to ask real, penetrating questions for fear we wouldn’t like the answers. We get that way about celebrities, wealthy people, politicians, or on-the-fence friends and family members; we’ll take what we can get.So when these not-actually-Christian folks have a faith crisis, or God otherwise doesn’t come through for them in the way they expect or demand… they leave. Or when the only reason they pretend to be Christian is to make people happy, and they grow tired of making those people happy… they leave. Heck, even a…

Quitting Jesus.

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APOSTASYə'pɑs.tə.sinoun. When one leaves a religion.[Apostate ə'pɑ.steɪtadjective.]About half the pagans I meet say they used to be Christian. They grew up Christian, or at least grew up in church. Some of ’em even think they’re still Christian—though their nonchristian beliefs indicate they’re obviously pagan. Whatever their churches taught, they no longer follow. They left that behind. They went apostate.I know; a lot of folks think “apostate” is a bad word. It’s really not. It comes from the Greek ἀφίστημι/afístimi, “step away.” Lots of us step away from things. I used to ride a bicycle everywhere; I’ve since discovered I prefer walking, and gave away my bicycle. So I’m an apostate cyclist. (Nothing against cyclists though. Whatever works for you.)In the case of apostate Christians, they left Christianity. In my experience most of ’em no longer consider themselves Christian, nor consider Christianity to be valid. A minority quit God and went nontheist. Or joined another rel…

Are we free—or the devil’s children?

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John 8.30-47.Those who haven’t read the gospels, but only know of Jesus by reputation, often wonder why on earth anyone’d want to kill him… because Jesus is so nice. He only said nice things. He loved kids. He was so friendly to sinners. Why would anyone wanna kill such a nice guy?And they’re partly right. Jesus is kind. He has the traits of the Spirit’s fruit, and kindness and niceness overlap greatly: He’s gonna be nice more often than not. But even so, kindness and niceness aren’t the same thing. Sometimes when we tell the truth, we’re gonna say things people can’t handle. As kind as we might be, as tactfully and constructively as we might put things, they’re not gonna see them that way: They’ll read their own bad attitudes into it, and interpret us as cold or cruel.So in Jesus’s following discourse, that’s how many people have chosen to interpret him. They don’t look at him as accurately diagnosing the real problem with people who won’t listen to him, and warning us of it. They lo…

Worship.

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WORSHIP'wər.ʃəpnoun. Expression of love, respect, and honor, particularly in formal acts or rituals. (Usually expressed to a deity, but frequently to people or principles at a level comparable to religious homage.)2. Feelings of love, respect, and honor for a deity.3. [verb] Showing love, respect, or honor.Properly, worship is anything and everything we do as part of our religious devotion to God. Whether we do it out of active love or passive custom, it’s all still worship.There’s a tendency in charismatic churches to equate worship with worship music. Prayer too, but mostly music. And no, I’m not saying music isn’t a valid form of worship, or a really good form of worship; it totally is. But you know the reason Christians sing a song’s chorus over and over and over again… has nothing to do with whether God loves the song. It’s entirely about how much the music pastor loves it. Or the people of the church.And when it becomes much more about our preferences than God… well, then it…

Money the root of all evil?

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1 Timothy 6.10.Most Christians, and a fair number of pagans, already know “Money is the root of all evil” is a misquote. Properly the verse goes,1 Timothy 6.9-10 KWL9 Those who want to be wealthy fall into temptations, traps, many stupid desires, and injuries—whatever sinks people into destruction and ruin:10 The root of all this evil is money-love, which leads those who desire it away from faith.They poked themselves with many sorrows.It’s the love of money, not money in and of itself. Money’s a tool, useful for getting and supporting things. The problem becomes when people pursue that tool instead of God, who can get and support things even better than money can—and who isn’t morally neutral like money, which can get and support evil just as well as good. The problem is when people’s allegiance shifts from God to money and Mammon, and it has their worship instead of him. Or, just as bad, they only worship God because they think he’ll give ’em money.Here’s the ironic bit. A lot of th…

The Law is part of the gospel.

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Galatians 3.21-29.Legalists and libertines alike miss the point of the Law. For legalists, it’s rules we have to follow lest we compromise our salvation. For libertines, it’s rules we no longer follow because grace nullifies them—and in fact following them compromises our salvation. Follow them, don’t follow them; either way we get accused of heresy.Both groups have a bad habit of misquoting Paul, James, Hebrews, and Jesus himself to support their positions and justify their behaviors. It might help if we actually read the bible, right? So let’s.Galatians 3.21-29 KWL21 So “the Law versus God’s promises”—never say that!If the Law gave living power, righteousness might come from the Law.22 Instead the scripture locks everyone up under sin—so the promise of faith in Christ Jesus can be given to believers.23 Before faith came, we were guarded by the Law,locked up till the revelation of this faith.24 Thus the Law became our introduction to Christ, so we could be justified by this faith.25A…