Archive for the 'christianity' Category

I think I’m turning into a pacifist…

February 18, 2009

Yesterday’s church history class opened up with our professor telling us that we would be covering all that was wrong with the Medieval period of Christianity. We then trudged through the inquisition, rival popes, and the crusades.

There is no need to talk about how bad the crusades were. It did, however, encourage me to think a little bit more about what I think about violence.

I don’t think it is hard to come up with a Biblical argument for non aggression. Personal aggression, that is. There seems to be little or no interpretation room to think that we ought to be a bunch of bullies, pushing each other around. Feel free to prove me otherwise, but I am not sure that citing Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek is proof-texting. I think it is pretty clear that the way of Christ is not one laden with physical attacks.

In fact, even the cross (often used to cite that the Christian God is an angry, violent God) is an argument for personal non aggression. God, in his infinite wisdom, chose for the path to salvation for many to be sacrifice rather than siege. Christ’s victory is found in his submitting to his assailants instead of destroying them, and then raising from the dead showing their physical attacks to have been in vain.

So, enough preface, on to being a peacenik.

So where do we get a justification for war at all?

It is clear that God does not condemn the idea of war. The New Testament seems to allow for soldiers to remain in their occupation (although you could make the case that some Roman soldiers were just meant to keep internal peace rather than external, but I don’t think that argument holds up), and in the Old Testament God calls the people of Israel to war.

Luther made the argument for a just war based on the idea that governments have the right to protect their people – and have been given that charge from God. Romans 13 (among many other passages in the Epistles) makes it pretty clear that Christians are not supposed to try and overthrow the government, because God has given rulers their authority (we can talk about how that works with oppressive dictators another time). Therefore, as just war advocates say, governments have authority to use their power for governing their people, including their protection.

Other may dispute this, but practically it seems unthinkable that any country would not have an army or any system of defense. And whether or not you agree with the current war being waged, the logic of strike first is not completely flawed, nor is the idea that the big kid on the playground has a duty to look out for the little guy (a concept that would not be hard to draw out of the sundry commands in the OT prophets for Israel to watch out for the oppressed). You know, Uncle Ben “With great power comes great responsibility” business.

So what is my problem?

My problem is that when I over simplify the situation, I believe that killing someone else to stop them from killing you is not right. It is more than possible that this has different implications in a war setting, (God did not allow murder in Israel, but did allow for war), but it is still a mental, ethical hurdle that I struggle with.

My problem is the fact that when I became a citizen of the United States, I pledged to take up arms to protect Constitution if necessary. And I have no idea if I could do that with singleness of mind. I understand that there are many brave, and honourable Christians who are part of the armed forces, and by no means do I think that what they do is wrong.

I do think that Christians (particularly Evangelicals) support sending missionaries to the 10/40 window and sending more troops to the middle east without ever thinking that there might be a contradiction in those efforts. This is an over simplification, but the internal struggle should be there.

I don’t have answers to this one. This is my personal, ethical gordian knot that I am working through. War may be a necessary evil, a product of a fallen world that still needs to be redeemed by Christ, an unfortunate last option when peace is not an option, but none of that changes the undeniable fact:

War is bad.

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how much judging can we really do?

July 7, 2008

I am all over the place on this topic. I have seen many people in the blogosphere roast every last quotation of Rob Bell – dissecting what they believe he MUST mean when he says things, and on the other side I was criticized for mocking the Universal Life Church over at my internet junk blog.

Well, here are my thoughts (why else would you be here?):

1. I am a big fan of giving people the benefit of the doubt. I mean, to a fault. If I were an atractive girl, I would totally always go back to the jerk who cheated on me.  When it comes to theological writing, I feel like we should really assume that there is something good that we could extract from what people write. Romans 1 seems to suggests that everyone has a generic understanding of God hard-wired into them, and I think that can provide some insight. This, unfortunately, leads me to…

2. Human writers are going to be, in some way, wrong. Some, much more than others (see: my potshots at the ULC) but no one has everything nailed down. Not only does the Bible affirm that we have the image of God, but we also, deep down, are crappy people. Until Jesus returns in glory, we are all going to do some egregiously bad things. We might not all be arsonists and murderers, but that doesn’t mean we won’t yell at the McDonald’s worker for no good reason every now and again. That badness that plagues us affects everything, including our understanding of God.

So, how much judging can one really do? On one hand, you should really be kind and assume that everyone is really trying to speak truth about God. On the other hand, people suck and we better watch out because there is bound to be some sort of lie just waiting to infect my already sin plagued psyche.

Here is my proposal. And by my proposal, I mean a proposal already stated somewhere else that I like. Everything really should go through the same filter – whether it is my best friend or the kid who beat me up in elementary school, everyone deserves to be heard out for what they have to say. When you come to any piece of media (books, video, blog-o-net) with a personal vendetta against the author, you are just setting yourself up to miss something good. But to remain in accordance with point 2, we really have to scrutinize what we intake. There is lots of crap out there, and I ought not just take everything in. Some stuff is really wrong.

For example – the universal life church website offers their online absolution. They confirm the idea that it is good to try and lead a good life. I can read this and reaffirm the fact that my faith is not about thinking right things alone, but about also acting on those convictions. They also affirm forgiving others, which is something that Jesus commands us to do.

But then we get to the part where my filter kicks in. The lack of mention of Christ on their ‘Instant Absolution’ site destroys the idea of forgiveness. We can’t just forgive ourselves, and a javascript form just doesn’t have the authority to proclaim that I am forgiven. No, that power belongs alone to God. And then it goes on from there.

The point is this: in Philippians Paul talks about not caring the motive behind some preaching the gospel as long as Christ is preached. Since everyone has the ability to say something true, we should give them a chance. But, since everyone makes more mistakes than not, we shouldn’t ingest what they say without thinking.

P.S. ULC offers a ‘Doctor of the Universe’ diploma. If I ever meet someone with said credentials, I refuse to refer to them with the title ‘doctor.’ Just not gonna do it.

Product Christianity

March 26, 2008

So, my blog may go more and more towards my experience in youth ministry, but without any dedicated readers, I suppose it won’t make much of a difference ¹

After reading a post on Once a Youth Pastor, I thought I would write something about product Christianity.

It seems to me like there is a deluge of books and seminars about how to make your church attractive to those outside the church. Put up fancy banners. Sing songs with cool waterfall video on a screen. Do things that will make the product of our faith look streamlined and trendy and sexy. Do special things on Sunday mornings so that new people will get hooked on Jesus.

We do not need a host of new graphics and designs with the best sound systems to attract people (although, if we are going to do graphic design, we ought do it well. Stop using clip art – NOW!). We also don’t have to try and have the best programs for everyone’s needs to attract people to our Sunday morning services (although we ought try and attend of the needs of those around us).

People outside of the church need to see Christians totally surrendered to God, meeting together to worship Him, and spending their time outside of church being His hands and feet. That will be attractive enough. When our faith is tailored to look how people want it, it is no longer the worship of God but a glorified social club.

As much as Christians (particularly Evangelicals) have blasted post-modernism (or at least, what they think post-modernism is) they continue to cling to cultural problems as if they were gospel. Commercialism and Materialism have become second nature to us, and we don’t even fight it. Bigger ‘auditoriums!’ (I have a problem with that word, but I will rant about that another time) Nicer video displays! Get the best pulpit around! Make sure the ‘stage’ (don’t get me started on these words..) is nice a big. And as we focus so much on stuff, the product of Christianity gets shinier and shinier until it is covered in so much gloss we can hardly see Christ’s possession-less lifestyle.

None of these things are problems in and of themselves, but they are merely a signpost to what church and Christianity has become: something we are trying desperately to sell to others. If our LORD is really what we say he is, and if the Christian faith is so self-evidently true, why do we try so hard to gussy it up like a show pig at the county fair? ²

And so (to get to the youth ministry part that I warned you about earlier) a generation that is being bombarded with ads and their need to have stuff more than any other is being introduced to a church that fits so much in with culture it looks like just another part of America. But it isn’t. Christ is an alternative to how the world lives. A different approach.

I am all about contextualizing messages for different cultures, but not to the point where we take on the worldliness as our own.

And so, to try and tie this all in some sort of tidy bow, when the church stops thinking it is a product, an option for people to choose among many, then we can return to being the counter-cultural, life changing institution Christ intended us to be.

¹ Blog rule number one: self deprecation is not appealing. No one wants to see you all down on yourself.

²  I tried to think of a really cool Charlotte’s Web reference here. To no avail. Pretend like I did.

ecumenism

September 26, 2007

another post related to my experience from looking at episciopal blogs (particularly Father Jake’s  who, even though I disagree with him theologically, is a pretty level-headed guy I must say)

There is a lot of problems in the Anglican Communion. A lot. Because of the differences in theology between the conservative, global south and the liberal west (I think that is an accurate geographical split) who both consider the other to have strayed away from true Christianity, there may be a schism. Both sides are beginning to feel like staying in Communion with one another is not worth it anymore.

I will agree, the tension is definitely there, and perhaps there is legitimacy to seeing a brother who will not repent of their sins and leaving them. But I wonder how far the separation needs to go.

Do we ever excommunicate a brother and leave him to his own ways forever, or does there have to be some sort of general sense of communion to make sure that he knows that we still love him? I fear that an actual split between the factions will not help in our attempt at Christian unity, but instead take a step backwards.

I see far too many churches in the evangelical tradition splitting and starting up new churches for the most ridiculous of reasons. Church plants are one thing, but how many churches are there that have no accountability to anyone; no relationship with any other church? How is there any expectation of unity within the church when there are estimated to be over 20000 Christian denominations in the world? Add to that the number of churches which claim to not be part of any larger group. How do we teach about the universal Church,  when we make no attempts to make our church universal?

I am not saying everyone forsake their differences and hold hands and sing kum-bay-ya, but there has to be some sort of steps taken to unity. And sometimes that unity is going to require us to be in dialogue with people who believe very different things.

So would I be happy if the Anglican Communion split? I don’t know. I think the best opportunity is for there to be actual conversation between the sides, but I wonder if that ship has sailed.

degrees of sanctification

September 24, 2007

The Christian life is one of constant change. We are always trying to take more steps away from self and towards Christ. Repentance is a daily need, and we can all agree that there is no person who has no room for improvement.

Where my new problems lie is in where I mentally place myself along this scale. About a month ago at our church’s men’s group the question came up of whether we think of ourselves as sinners or saints. Do we act in life as if we are fallen humans, constantly making mistakes, or do we assume that we are positionally justified and think in terms of how we are positively affecting the world around us?

It seems like an innocuous difference, one that will only bother philosophers and people who over think details. But in reality how we view ourselves will greatly affect our lives, especially our lives in Christ.

When we think of ourselves more in the camp of a depraved, fallen human who is unable to please God with our actions (which we are), we will be quick to accept our mistakes. “I couldn’t help but sin because I am just a sinner,” we lament, all the while justifying our sins because we have accepted our fate as sinners.

At the same time, however, if we think of ourselves too much in the realm of saints (which we are), as holy ones, we can falsely think too highly of ourselves. It is possible to then go through much mental strain when we inevitably fall into sin because we have assumed that we will not sin. At the same time, that bar is set high because of Christ who was tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

What I think we have to keep in mind, is first off, we are a new creation. The old self is gone and a new has come so that we are able to live free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:4-7). In my recent dialogues with people on a wide number of blogs I am finding more people who accept sin and throw their hands in the air. That beliefe seems pretty incongruent with Paul’s teaching on the matter.

Secondly, I think that the Bible does not encourage us to think of ourselves as completely changed. In 1st John we read that anyone who claims to be without sin lies (1 John 1:8). We will not be perfect until the day of the Lord and we are give our glorified bodies.

What I think is the right way to think about personal sanctification is to never give the old self any foothold in our thinking, while recognizing that we are fallible. We must never recommit our minds to thinking that we are still part of the kingdom of darkness, who no longer has power over us. We are under a new kingdom. There has to be striving and real commitment to living as close to perfect lives as we can – for (as Peter Akinola said this Sunday) there is no alternative to obedience. Any part of our lives that is not changed into conformity with God’s commands is still to be changed. But our identity, at its core, has to lie with Christ and his kingdom. We are not of this world anymore.

So wherever you find yourself on the sliding scale of sanctification, do not allow yourself to think that you are still a hopeless sinner, because if you are in Christ you no longer answer to your former master. You are part of the body, and we all ought strive to make that identity more and more prominent in our lives.

angry anglicans

September 17, 2007

so, recently there has been quite a stirring in the Chicagoland episcopal church due to an upcoming visit from ++Peter Akinola to a joint service of several conservative Anglican churches out in Wheaton, IL. lots of blogs are calling for protests, and many of the people posting are pretty hate filled.

And so I throw my two cents into the pot.  It seems like there is a considerable amount of misunderstanding between the Episcopal Church and those of us who are in churches departed from the Episcopal church. We say that we believe the Bible to be true and our highest authority, and so what Paul calls sin we call sin. We will be the first to acknowledge our own many sins, and can not begin to judge any person – that is God’s role. We do say, however, that if something is called sin in the Bible, we will not affirm that behaviour. We do not hate sinners, but we can’t affirm that their sin is acceptable

What is heard, or at least what it seems like is being heard, is that since we will not affirm sin, we hate sinners and refuse to accept them as people. I quote a comment from josh on akinolarepent.wordpress.com

“We don’t care what your thoughts are, or your justifications; those positions aim to assert heterosexual superiority in every aspect of public life. And just like the old doctrine of white superiority, that’s profoundly bigoted and sinful.”

The problem is that the argument is constantly leaving its roots and hitting side issues. Conservative Anglicans do not aim to fashion ourselves higher or better or superior to anyone. We simply can’t accept homosexuality as something that is pleasing to God, not because we formed that opinion by ourselves, but because that is what we believe that Bible says – and the Bible is the chief authority in our thinking.

And frankly, you will find that in a lot of these churches, GLBT people will be much more accepted that not. I have been in two different AMiA churches, and both of them had open arms to anyone in their church. There was no hate directed at GLBT people. Instead there was enough love to not carte blanche accept their sin, but instead to help them through it. In fact, I wish that attitude was presented more thoroughly to my own sins, that they would be brought to light so I could change them.

I know I have offended enough people already, so I end with this: the gospel is not about acceptance and affirmation, but about repentance and transformation. (I know wordplay is cheesy, but I can’t help myself…)

the poison of Christians

April 27, 2007

Richard Dawkins is right…well partially

I have been looking a little bit into what he has to say about Christianity, and although I may not agree on every point, he does have some good conclusions to make. Albeit, I don’t agree with the things that he probably wants me to agree with him on, but that is alright

I mean, as far as the lack of existence of God, he is considerably missing a lot of things. And, to be honest, despite his polite sounding demeanor, he is very ungracious to the other side of the argument. But when it comes down to the problems that religion has caused, he is spot on.

In the name of religion many awful things have been done. And as a dedicated Christian, I can never apologize enough for either the cruel things my fellow Christians have done, or for the things that some people who claim to be Christians have done.

There is no excuse for Westboro Baptist “Church.”

There is no excuse for the bombing of abortion clinics, the beatings of homosexuals, and the constant snobbery that comes from Christians.

Don’t even get me started on the crusades.

the only thing I can say in response to this is that this is a flaw of people, but not of God. Our failings to properly live out the example Christ set for us is not the fault of Christ but of us. We have done a terrible job of feeding the poor and helping the oppressed.

I am really really sorry.

But what that means is not that God does not exist, or that Christianity is false. It means that the church has some shaping up to do. We have some serious work ahead of us. Frankly, the gospel is an offensive enough message before we get to it. It does not need any help to cut to the core of people.

I apologize also that some parts of the church have told the world that God loves you just as you are AND that He does not desire change for you. I think we can all agree that people at least all have flaws, and at most are inherently evil and sinful because of the fall of Adam. What kind of God would love you and not want you to be the very best you can be? What sort of God would allow us to wallow in our error, without even giving us the opportunity to better ourselves and become more and more like Him?

And I am not even getting into the issue that a holy God requires us to strive to rid our lives of evil.

So, in short, the church has made two vital errors: one of which is attacking the world and hating it instead of loving it, the other is loving it falsely and pretending as if God did not possess any power or will to make people better than they are able to do on their own.