Wisdom beyond the homosexuality debate

Rosaria Butterfield has written an insightful article about understanding homosexuality through the lens of a Christian worldview, but the beauty of her article is that it goes far beyond dealing with questions about homosexuality alone and focuses on the way that the ideas of others can shape our views about theology and set the direction for our life choices. Her article was prompted by a recent student protest at Wheaton College after she was invited to come and share her testimony. In response to this protest, Rosaria set aside time afterwards to meet with those who had protested against her to hear their concerns and discuss their issues. In her article she states that “This may seem a quirky observation, but I know too well the world these students inhabit. I recall its contours and crevices, risks and perils, reading lists and hermeneutical allegiances. You see, I’m culpable. The blood is on my hands. The world of LGBTQ activism on college campuses is the world that I helped create. I was unfaltering in fidelity: the umbrella of equality stretching to embrace my lesbian identity, and the world that emerged from it held salvific potential. I bet my life on it, and I lost.” Rosaria exemplifies how we can truly reach out in love and grace when we are met with opposition without compromising that which we know to be true. While the issue that prompted her article is homosexuality, it is only one of a myriad of issues facing the church today where a similar loving but firm response is needed from the church.

 

You Are What—and How—You Read by Rosaria Butterfield

A Year of Deception

YBW-cover-cropG. K. Chesterton said in his book “Orthodoxy” that:

“the new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. . . . As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. . . . The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.

Chesterton well understood where Postmodernism was headed and his description of modern man’s inclination to doubt everything is exemplified in the Emergent church movement today. In Emergent circles it is common to have “question and response” sessions; “question and response” rather than “question and answer” because they believe that there are no absolute answers to any of life’s biggest questions. Rachel Held Evens, who has embraced this kind of postmodern theology, is rapidly becoming one of the most popular voices of the Emergent Church and over and over again in her writing she demonstrates the rebel against everything attitude that Chesterton described so well. Her new book, “A year of Biblical Womanhood: How a liberated woman found herself sitting on her roof, covering her head, and calling her husband master” is just one more example. It is rife with examples of poor biblical exegesis, false assumptions, and it appears frequently to be deliberately misleading but, like most of Rachel’s writings, she is consistent in her call to rebel against everything. Trillia Newbell has written an excellent review of Rachel Held Evans latest book and cites many examples from the book itself. She concludes with this thought “This book is not ultimately about manhood and womanhood, headship and submission, or the complementarian and egalitarian debate. At its root this book questions the validity of the Bible.”  I believe she has hit the nail on the head.

God, the Cosmic Vending Machine

1like_1prayerThere is an ever growing trend in social media where prayer is equated with clicking “like.” While the accompanying pictures often depict real tragic circumstances, they frequently don’t depict real life situations. They are often very old pictures of situations that were resolved long before the first “prayer request” was ever made on social media.These requests are not made by friends or relatives of the person depicted but by scammers who have searched the internet for images intended to pull on your heart strings. Why do people make these requests? It is not because they are seeking prayers, it is because they are seeking profits. It is one way that internet scammers engage in “like harvesting.”  Each “like” does not equal a “prayer,” each “like” equals an increase in the ranking of their page which allows them to have much broader distribution of subsequent advertising that will come later.

More importantly, each click also represents a tragic misunderstanding of prayer. God doesn’t want our “like,” he wants our heart. The bible tells us that Jesus gave his life so that we might enter into a true genuine relationship with God, the creator of the universe. Real prayer is that time we spend with God communicating with him about those things which most deeply touch our heart and it is a time when we allow God to speak to our heart; it is a time to get to know God more deeply. Real prayer is powerful because it represents a true sharing of our heart with the one who already knows the perfect answer to every problem and has the power to do anything. However, God is not a cosmic vending machine in which we put our spare change and push the button of our choice, he is the Eternal King of the universe to whom we must approach with true respect and reverence. When you pray, please don’t share your “like” on facebook, but instead humbly share your heart with the God and King who loves you and so deeply longs for you to truly know him that he endured the cross for you.

 

All Hollows’ Eve Oct. 31, 1517

Matthew Barrett has written an article describing what “Sola Scriptura” is and what it is not. This is an article that I would highly recommend.


‘Sola Scriptura’ Radicalized and Abandoned

LutherReformation Day reminds us of Luther’s monumental decision to post his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. Luther’s theses would strike into motion an irreversible set of confrontations with Rome, eventually leading to the genesis of Protestantism.

While these 95 theses are important, Luther’s stance on the authority of Scripture over against Rome was not expressed in all of its maturity in 1517. The formal principle of the Reformation would become more and more conspicuous with every passing debate between these two nemeses.

Sola Scriptura

In 1519 at the Leipzig debate with the Catholic debater Johann Eck, whom Luther called “that little glory-hungry beast,” Eck brought the real issue to the table: who had final authority, God’s Word or the pope? For Eck, Scripture received its authority from the pope. Luther strongly disagreed, arguing instead that Scripture has authority over popes, church fathers, and church councils, all of which have erred.

Luther was quickly classified with the forerunning heretics, John Wycliffe and Jan Hus. At first Luther denied such an association, but during a break in his debate Luther realized that Hus had taught exactly what he believed. Eck returned to Rome and reported his findings to the pope, and Luther left the debate only to become further convinced that Scripture, not the pope, is the sole and final infallible authority.

Luther’s sola scriptura principle would be most famously articulated in 1521 at Worms. On April 17, 1521, Luther was told he must recant. After thinking it through for a day, Luther returned and declared:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they often err and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. May God help me. Amen.

Luther’s speech is firm and straightforward: Scripture is the norma normans (determining norm), rather than the norma normata (determined norm). As he would explain in future writings, Scripture has priority over the church, for the church is the baby born out of the womb of Scripture, not vice versa. “For who begets his own parent? Who first brings forth his own maker” (LW 36:107; WA 6:561)? Luther rejected the two-source theory that viewed oral tradition as a second, extrabiblical, and infallible source of divine revelation passed down from the apostles to the magisterium. Instead, he argued that Scripture alone is our infallible source of divine revelation.

Continued Here

Why ONLY Telling Your Story is NOT the Best Way to Share the Gospel

count the costLeslie Keeney’s article “Why Telling Your Story is NOT the Best Way to Share the Gospel” raises many good points to which I am deeply sympathetic but I think it only scratches the surface of a much deeper problem within the western church today. In the west we have so greatly elevated grace over obedience, individualism over community, and love over truth that the very Gospel message we are called to share has been almost completely lost.

Grace over Obedience

In the west we have been preaching “cheep grace” for far too long. Yes, God has freely given his grace to us because of his love for us, a grace that none of us deserved. But the grace he freely gives us came at a very great cost, it cost our Lord his very life and his gift of grace should elicit a life long response of obedience that demonstrates the value of the gift we have been given. Our desire should be to please the one who has given us this unimaginably great gift. Leslie touches on the problem of “cheep grace” in her article when she says “Well-meaning pastors realize that people are scared to tell people about Jesus, and they want to find an easy method that they can use to teach their congregation how to share their faith without actually having to ask them to do anything—at least anything hard.” While I too believe this has been a mistake, I believe it is a mistake that extends far beyond the arena of apologetics. Yes, it is important that we take the time to learn how to share our faith with those in our culture and understand the questions they are asking but I believe it is even more important that we first take the time to understand our own faith, what we believe, why we believe it, and how that faith is demonstrated in every area of our lives. We need to understand the Gospel message and be willing to live it out in our own lives before we can begin to genuinely share it with others and this means that we understand that every disciple of Christ must be willing to make sacrifices for their faith; they must be willing to do hard things. When we do share the Gospel with others, we need to stop selling “fire insurance” and begin telling those who are seeking Christ that they need to count the cost of being a disciple.

 

Individualism over Community

Our faith in God is deeply personal and reflects an individual relationship between us and God alone but our relationship with God also brings us into the family of God and as members of God’s family we are responsible to love, care for, and support the other members of his family i.e. the body of Christ. God has uniquely gifted each of us to serve one another and when we fail to pull our own weight as a member of the family, the whole family suffers. As we seek to share the Gospel, I believe it is absolutely important to remember that we do this as part of the body of Christ. Yes, we all need to understand our own faith and yes, we all need to have a basic understanding of the questions those around us may be asking but we also need to remember that God has not given all of us the same gifts and sometimes the best coarse of action is not to study more but to know when to bring a brother or sister in Christ along whose gifts allow them to better answer the questions that are being asked. This is not an excuse to sidestep the hard work of learning but rather a recognition that we should focus the hard work in the areas that reflect God’s calling in our life because none of us can do or know everything. In order to answer all the questions asked by everyone in our modern multicultural society we would need to know more than anyone one individual could possibly ever know. Let us remember that we are not called to go it alone; we have been given a family who has been richly gifted by God to reach our hurting world and we will accomplish the most when we work together as a family and rely on each other to bring strength where we are weak.

 

Love over Truth

Before we can begin to address the questions of postmodernism asked by those outside of the church, we need to begin understanding how postmodernism has influenced the beliefs of those inside the church. How do we begin to explain why statements like “that may be true for you, but it’s not true for me” are wrong when we have tacitly accepted those same beliefs ourselves within the church. Often today, as long as someone associates themselves with the label “Christian” and/or a belief in “Jesus” they can voice beliefs that stand in direct opposition to the historic Christian faith taught in Scripture and few will be willing to take a stand against it. The word “heretic” has become taboo in the western church today. We are continually told that faith is a “personal thing” and we can not “judge” the faith of another person.  And while it is true that only God knows another person’s heart and God may be working on a person’s heart in ways we do not understand, it is a lie to suggest that we should not make judgements about the beliefs/doctrines another person teaches. What people teach in the name of Christ is something that we can and must compare to what is taught in Scripture and when it is found to be in contradiction with what is taught in Scripture, we need to take a stand against those teachings. Until we recognize that the ideology of “that may be true for you, but it’s not true for me” is just as wrong inside the church as it is outside the church, we will never be able to explain why it is wrong to those outside the church.
A couple of more thoughts

The title to Leslie’s article (“Why Telling Your Story is NOT the Best Way to Share the Gospel”) is a little misleading. After reading Leslie’s article I think that she would agree that sharing our story is truly one of the best ways to share about our faith but she recognizes that it is ineffective unless we are also prepared to share the Gospel message itself and understand how our faith answers the questions our culture is asking. When our message is nothing more than “our story” the Gospel message is lost and our message ineffective. Leslie clearly communicates this in her article and in her response to comments following her article but the title of the article seems to have led people to misunderstand.

In Leslie’s biographical note it says that “She is both modern and post-modern (and the postmodern part means she’s OK with the paradox).” I wish she would have explained what she meant by this because many of the problems she describes in her article are a result of the church accepting a postmodern ideology.

Update: Leslie has explained some of her views on being modern and postmodern in the comments following her article.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church attributes the work of Satan to the hand of God!

jefferts-schoriIn Acts 16:16-40 we are told about a slave girl who was able to foretell the future through the power of an evil spirit that had possessed her. This slave girl kept following Paul and shouting “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved. (Act 16:17 NIV).” Paul eventually cast the spirit from this slave girl and her owners, who were no longer were able to profit from her divination abilities, had Paul thrown in jail.

The presiding Episcopal bishop Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, ignoring the context of this passage, the biblical prohibitions against divination (Duet. 18:10-14), and examples where Jesus himself faced similar circumstances and responded much as Paul did (Lk. 4:41), has concluded that the work of this demon was in fact a spiritual gift given to this slave girl by God and that Paul, in his sin, destroyed this slave girl’s spiritual gift. The following is an excerpt from her sermon, the entire sermon can be read below.

Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves. But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so! “

This is not the only serious error in her sermon. Much of her sermon alludes to the acceptance of universalism; there is no discussion of the fallen state of mankind nor our need for a savior, and homosexuality, like divination, is lauded as something good. She talks about many good things, but the message of the gospel has been entirely lost. It appears that this Bishop has walked away from the Christian faith; hopefully she has not already brought the entire Episcopal church with her.

========== Here are the contents of the entire sermon ============

All Saints Church, Steenrijk, Curaçao [Diocese of Venezuela]
12 May 2013

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

The beauty of this place is legendary.  It is beautiful – and fragile, for its beauty depends on a dynamic balance among the parts of this island system.  Many people don’t notice beauty around them until it’s gone.  When we go somewhere that looks very different, often it takes a long time to appreciate that it has beauty, even though it’s a different kind of beauty.  Some people never do learn to value the different kinds of loveliness in the world around us.  One of the gifts of this remarkable island is its diverse mixture of desert and tropics on land and sea – and even more so, the beauty of its different peoples, languages, and heritages.  Yet the history of this place tells some tragic stories about the inability of some to see the beauty in other skin colors or the treasure of cultures they didn’t value or understand.

Human beings have a long history of discounting and devaluing difference, finding it offensive or even evil.  That kind of blindness is what leads to oppression, slavery, and often, war.  Yet there remains a holier impulse in human life toward freedom, dignity, and the full flourishing of those who have been kept apart or on the margins of human communities.  It’s a tendency that seems to emerge along a common timeline.  Formal legal structures that permitted human slavery ended here and in many parts of the world within a relatively short span of time.  It doesn’t mean that slavery is finished today, but at least it’s no longer legal in most places.  Even so, slavery continues in the form of human trafficking and the kind of exploitation that killed so many garment workers in Bangladesh recently.

We live with the continuing tension between holier impulses that encourage us to see the image of God in all human beings and the reality that some of us choose not to see that glimpse of the divine, and instead use other people as means to an end.  We’re seeing something similar right now in the changing attitudes and laws about same-sex relationships, as many people come to recognize that different is not the same thing as wrong.  For many people, it can be difficult to see God at work in the world around us, particularly if God is doing something unexpected.

There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it.  Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves.[1]  But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!  The amazing thing is that during that long night in jail he remembers that he might find God there – so he and his cellmates spend the night praying and singing hymns.

An earthquake opens the doors and sets them free, and now Paul and his friends most definitely discern the presence of God.  The jailer doesn’t – he thinks his end is at hand.  This time, Paul remembers who he is and that all his neighbors are reflections of God, and he reaches out to his frightened captor.  This time Paul acts with compassion rather than annoyance, and as a result the company of Jesus’ friends expands to include a whole new household.  It makes me wonder what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her.

The reading from Revelation pushes us in the same direction, outward and away from our own self-righteousness, inviting us to look harder for God’s gift and presence all around us.  Jesus says he’s looking for everybody, anyone who’s looking for good news, anybody who is thirsty.  There are no obstacles or barriers – just come.  God is at work everywhere, even if we can’t or won’t see it immediately.

The gospel insists that Jesus has given glory to the growing company of his friends and disciples so they can be all be one.  When we recognize the glory of another human being, we become her advocate, and we begin to see him as friend.  The word that’s used for glory has echoes that speak of awe, and gravitas, and deep significance.  The glory we’ve received is something like a grand ceremonial garment, maybe even a shining face like Moses’, that says to those around us, “here comes the image of God.”  The world begins to change when we see that glorious skin shining on our brothers’ and sisters’ faces.

The great loves in our lives come from a deep recognition of the glory in another human being and a desire to share that glory.  When Jesus speaks of oneness, he’s moving in that direction.  What would the world be like if we could love not only our lovers, but every human being with that kind of starry-eyed passion?  The glory is there to see in all of us.  Certainly God sees that glory.  Most of us have eyes that can see that glory in one or a few other human beings.  Learning to see that glory all around us is a good part of what the Christian life is all about.  Slavery, war, and discrimination are only possible when we fail to see the glory in those people.  Why does Jesus tell us to pray for our enemies, except to begin to discern their glory?

We live in a time when we need to see the glory of God in every other human being, and also in the rest of creation.  This fragile earth, our island home, is also shining with the glory of its creator.  If human beings are going to flourish on this planet, we’ll need to learn to see the glory of God at work in all its parts.  When we can be awed at the beauty of a sunset or the delicate complexity of an orchid or the remarkable diversity of a coral reef, we’ll be much more wary about using it for our own selfish ends.

Looking for the reflection of God’s glory all around us means changing our lenses, or letting the scales on our eyes fall away.  That kind of change isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s the only road to the kingdom of God.  We are here, among all the other creatures of God’s creation, to be transformed into the glory intended from the beginning.  The next time we feel the pain of that change, perhaps instead of annoyance or angry resentment we might pray for a new pair of glasses.  When resentment about difference or change builds up within us, it’s really an invitation to look inward for the wound that cries out for a healing dose of glory.  We will find it in the strangeness of our neighbor.  Celebrate that difference – for it’s necessary for the healing of this world – and know that the wholeness we so crave lies in recognizing the glory of God’s creative invitation.  God among us in human form is the most glorious act we know.  We are meant to be transformed into the same kind of glory.  Let’s pray that God’s glory may shine in us and in all creatures!