Saturday, October 18, 2014

Houston Sermons Subpoenaed: Russell Moore on "Why Not Hand Them Over?"

Russell Moore asks and answers the question Why Not Just Hand the Sermons Over? as he discusses the recent events in Houston, Texas.  His answer is short but covers a great deal of ground in answering basic types of objections.  Here are few items from the blog post:
These questions come really in two or three different forms. The first is based on Romans 13, the Apostle Paul’s teaching that the government has God-given authority. We submit to government, the argument goes, even when we don’t agree with specific government policies. So why not just send in the subpoenaed sermons, even if we don’t like it, since we have nothing to hide.
The problem with this view is that Romans 13 is not an unlimited authority. Paul clearly bounds in the power of Caesar’s sword to the punishing of “wrongdoers” (Rom. 13:4). That’s why the Apostle says that taxes are to be paid, along with honor and respect, to those to whom such things are due (Rom. 13:7). On the opposite side of the spectrum from Romans 13 is Revelation 13, which demonstrates what happens when a government oversteps its bounds, as was the case eventually in the Roman Empire’s attempt to regulate worship.
Every authority, under God, is limited. Daniel is obedient to King Nebuchadnezzar, until the king decreed the way prayers should be offered. Peter and John are obedient to the authorities, until they are told how to preach, in which case they defy this authority (Acts 4:19-20).
Moreover, the issue is even clearer when we recognize that the City of Houston, and beyond that the broader American governing system, is, unlike in the case of Caesar, not the rule of one man (or one woman). There were all sorts of governing officials up and down the chain in the Roman Empire, but the ultimate accountability was Caesar himself. In our system of government, the ultimate “king” is the people. As citizens, we bear responsibility for electing officials, for speaking to laws that are made in our name, and for setting precedents by our actions. Shrugging this off is not the equivalent of Jesus standing silently before Pilate. It’s the equivalent of Pilate washing his hands, so as not to bear accountability for our own decisions and precedents set.
When the government acts, legal precedents are set. By complying with this unjust decree, Christians would be binding future people and institutions, including those who are the most powerless to stand against such things. If the government can scrutinize the preaching of Christian churches on sexual matters in Houston, the same government could do the reverse in, say, Amarillo. It would be just as wrong for the mayor to demand to see sermons from the Episcopal Church calling for LGBT anti-discrimination laws as it is to do this. As citizens, we bear responsibility. This is analogous to the tax collectors and soldiers coming to John and to Jesus asking how they are to function as Christians in the world of Caesar. They were not to use their power to defraud people or to go beyond their delegated authority (Lk. 312-14; 19:8).
It sounds spiritual and pious to say that we are just going to “give up our rights” and “surrender our place at the table.” We should indeed do that. When we are stricken on the cheek, we turn the other one. When someone takes our tunic, we give up our cloak as well (Matt. 5:40-41). That’s quite different though from those who have been given police authority ignoring assaults; such is injustice decried by Scripture. And it’s quite different from a soldier forcibly collecting cloaks because “you ought to be giving those up anyway.”
That’s why the Apostle Paul, quite eager to give up his personal rights (1 Cor. 11:7-11), appealed to his Roman citizenship repeatedly in the Book of Acts, litigating for liberty. And that’s why he, like John and Peter, refused to comply with a decree that was unjust (Acts 16:35-39).
Be sure to read the rest of the post and see Moore's answer to the following question:
But, some would ask, aren’t these sermons public anyway? Why would we not want the mayor and the city attorney to hear them?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

God's Covenant Love: He Provides the Blood

Imagine! The Creator of the universe, the holy and righteous God, was willing to leave heaven and come down to a nomad’s tent in the dusty, hot desert of the Negev to express his love for his people. 

“Bring me a heifer, a goat, and a ram…along with a dove and a young pigeon,” God told Abraham. Then, when those animals had been sacrificed and laid out on both sides of their shed blood, God made a covenant. To do that, he walked “barefoot,” in the form of a blazing torch, through the path of blood between the animals. 
Think of it. Almighty God walking barefoot through a pool of blood! The thought of a human being doing that is, to say the least, unpleasant. Yet, God, in all his power and majesty, expressed his love that personally. By participating in that traditional, Near Eastern covenant-making ceremony, he made it unavoidably clear to the people of that time, place, and culture what he intended to do. 

“I love you so much, Abraham,” God was saying, “and I promise that this covenant will come true for you and your children. I will never break my covenant with you. I’m willing to put my own life on the line to make you understand.” 

Picturing God passing through that gory path between the carcasses of animals, imagining the blood splashing as we walked, helps us recognize the faithfulness of God’s commitment. He was willing to express, in terms his chosen people could understand, that he would never fail to do what he promised. And he ultimately fulfilled his promise by giving his own life, his own blood, on the cross. 

Because we look at God’s dealings with Abraham as some remote piece of history in a far-off land, we often fail to realize that we, too, are part of the long line of people with whom God made a covenant on that rocky plain near Hebron. And like those who came before us, we have broken that covenant. 

When he walked in the dust of the desert and through the blood of the animals Abraham had slaughtered, God was making a promise to all the descendants of Abraham--to everyone in the household of faith. When God splashed through the blood, he did it for us
We’re not simply individuals in relationship to God, we’re part of a long line of people marching back through history, from our famous Jewish ancestors David, Hezekiah, and Peter to the millions of unknown believers; from the ancient Israelites and the Jewish people of Jesus’ day to the Christian community dating from the early church. We’re part of a community of people with whom God established relationship in the dust and sand of the Negev. 

But there’s more. When God made covenant with his people, he did something no human being would have even considered doing. In the usual blood covenant, each party was responsible for keeping only his side of the promise. When God made covenant with Abraham, however, he promised to keep both sides of the agreement. 

“If this covenant is broken, Abraham, for whatever reason--for my unfaithfulness or yours--I will repay the price,” said God. “If you or your descendants, for whom you are making this covenant, fail to keep it, I will pay the price in blood.” 

And at that moment, Almighty God pronounced the death sentence on his Son Jesus.
--Ray Vander Laan with Judith Markham, Echoes of His Presence: Stories of the Messiah from the People of His Day (Colorado Springs: Focus on the Family, 1996), 8-9.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Roman Catholic Flow Chart: The Sacramental Treadmill

John Bugay has the following chart in his piece entitled Motivations.  He refers to this as the Roman Catholic "sacramental treadmill."

Click HERE to go to another page with flow chart which can be enlarged.

Next Comes...Incest

It wasn't all that long ago when defenders of traditional marriage would seek to argue against same-sex "marriage" by asking about the logical implications of such a view.  The argument had the structure of a reductio ad absurdum: If you allow same-sex marriage, the same reasoning could be used to justify polygamy and incestuous relationships.  This, of course, was laughed at and mocked as being an over-the-top slippery slope kind of argument.  Well, now a German ethics committee has laid the foundations for incest to be considered a "fundamental right."An article in The Telegraph entitled "Incest a 'Fundamental Right', German Committee Says" begins in this way:
Laws banning incest between brothers and sisters in Germany could be scrapped after a government ethics committee said the they were an unacceptable intrusion into the right to sexual self-determination.
“Criminal law is not the appropriate means to preserve a social taboo,” the German Ethics Council said in a statement. “The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination is to be weighed more heavily than the abstract idea of protection of the family.”
The article did end with the thought that this "ethics" council reasoning would not be accepted:
But a spokeswoman for Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats indicated the government was unlikely to adopt the Ethics Council’s recommendations.
“The abolition of the offense of incest between siblings would be the wrong signal,” said Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker, legal policy spokeswoman for the party’s group in parliament.
“Eliminating the threat of punishment against incestuous acts within families would run counter to the protection of undisturbed development for children.”
The important thing to note, however, is that the German council's ethical reasoning is based on "the fundamental right of sexual self-determination."  If this premise is accepted then it is only a matter of time before the laws of the land come to consistently express this viewpoint.  The premises which have been used to endorse same-sex marriage are the same premises which will invariably lead to greater sexual anarchy.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Silliness of Bultmann

Over at The Jesus Blog they are offering to give away a new book on Rudolf Bultmann.  To enter you have to leave a comment about Bultmann.  Here was my comment:

Favorite comment about reading Bultmann comes from philosopher Dallas Willard:

"Thus Rudolf Bultmann, long regarded as one of the great leaders of twentieth-century thought, had this to say: 'It is impossible to use electric light and wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.'

To anyone who has worked through the relevant arguments, this statement is simply laughable. It only shows that great people are capable of great silliness." The Divine Conspiracy, p. 93

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Prayer for Muslim Lands

The following was over at Kevin DeYoung's blog.  It is a beautiful and theologically rich prayer for those in Muslim lands.  Samuel M. Zwemer (1867-1952) was called "The Apostle to Islam."  This prayer is from 1923.

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, who hast made of one blood all nations and hast promised that many shall come from the East and sit down with Abraham in thy kingdom: We pray for thy prodigal children in Muslim lands who are still afar off, that they may be brought nigh by the blood of Christ. Look upon them in pity, because they are ignorant of thy truth.
Take away pride of intellect and blindness of heart, and reveal to them the surpassing beauty and power of thy Son Jesus Christ. Convince them of their sin in rejecting the atonement of the only Savior. Give moral courage to those who love thee, that they may boldly confess thy name.
Hasten the day of religious freedom in Turkey, Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Africa. Send forth reapers where the harvest is ripe, and faithful plowmen to break furrows in lands still neglected. May the tribes of Africa and Malaysia not fall prey to Islam but be won for Christ. Bless the ministry of healing in every hospital, and the ministry of love at every church and mission. May all Muslim children in mission schools be led to Christ and accept him as their personal Savior.
Strengthen converts, restore backsliders, and give all those who labor among Muslims the tenderness of Christ, so that bruised reeds may become pillars of his church, and smoking flaxwicks burning and shining lights. Make bare thine arm, O God, and show thy power. All our expectation is from thee.
Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son in the Muslim world, and fulfill through him the prayer of Abraham thy friend, “O, that Ishmael might live before thee.” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Some Recent Posts on Christianity and Sexual Ethics

As the sexual anarchy of our culture continues to march on at increasing speed a number of evangelicals are attempting to provide guidance on how to live in such a time.

Michael Kruger has written One of the Main Ways that the Earliest Christians Distinguished Themselves from the Surrounding Culture.  He cites a number of second century Christian sources that show their view on sexual ethics.  Here is a sampling of Kruger's post:

For instance, Tertullian goes to great lengths to defend the legitimacy of Christianity by pointing out how Christians are generous and share their resources with all those in need.  But, then he says, “One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives” (Apol. 39). Why does he say this?  Because, in the Greco-Roman world, it was not unusual for people to share their spouses with each other.
In the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, the author goes out of his way to declare how normal Christians are in regard to what they wear, what they eat, and how they participate in society.  However, he then says, “[Christians] share their meals, but not their sexual partners” (Diogn. 5.7).  Again, this is the trait that makes Christians different.
We see this play out again in the second-century Apology of Aristides.  Aristides defends the legitimacy of the Christian faith to the emperor Hadrian by pointing out how Christians “do not commit adultery nor fornication” and “their men keep themselves from every unlawful union” (15).
A final example comes from the second-century apology of Minucius Felix.  In his defense to Octavius, he contrasts the sexual ethic of the pagan world with that of Christians:
Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed. Marriages with sisters are legitimate among the Egyptians and in Athens. Your records and your tragedies, which you both read and hear with pleasure, glory in incests: thus also you worship incestuous gods, who have intercourse with mothers, with daughters, with sisters. With reason, therefore, is incest frequently detected among you, and is continually permitted. Miserable men, you may even, without knowing it, rush into what is unlawful: since you scatter your lusts promiscuously, since you everywhere beget children, since you frequently expose even those who are born at home to the mercy of others, it is inevitable that you must come back to your own children, and stray to your own offspring. Thus you continue the story of incest, even although you have no consciousness of your crime. But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all (31).
This sampling of texts from the second century demonstrates that one of the main ways that Christians stood out from their surrounding culture was their distinctive sexual behavior.  Of course, this doesn’t mean Christians were perfect in this regard.  No doubt, many Christians committed sexual sins.  But, Christianity as a whole was still committed to striving towards the sexual ethic laid out in Scripture–and the world took notice.
Needless to say, this has tremendous implications for Christians in the modern day.  We are reminded again that what we are experiencing in the present is not new–Christians battled an over-sexed culture as early as the first and second century!
Albert Mohler has written Why the "Concordance Reflex" Fails in Sexuality Debates.  In this post he speaks of the necessity of having a nuanced approach to the text of Scripture in order to address issues not specifically mentioned in Scripture.  Here are few selections:

As the church responds to this revolution, we must remember that current debates on sexuality present to the church a crisis that is irreducibly and inescapably theological. This crisis is tantamount to the type of theological crisis that Gnosticism presented to the early church or that Pelagianism presented to the church in the time of Augustine. In other words, the crisis of sexuality challenges the church’s understanding of the gospel, sin, salvation, and sanctification. Advocates of the new sexuality demand a complete rewriting of Scripture’s metanarrative, a complete reordering of theology, and a fundamental change to how we think about the church’s ministry.

Is 'Transgender' in the Concordance?

Proof-texting is the first reflex of conservative Protestants seeking a strategy of theological retrieval and restatement. This hermeneutical reflex comes naturally to evangelical Christians because we believe the Bible to be the inerrant and infallible Word of God. We understand that, as B. B. Warfield said, “When Scripture speaks, God speaks.” I should make clear that this reflex is not entirely wrong, but it’s not entirely right either. It’s not entirely wrong because certain Scriptures (that is, “proof texts”) speak to specific issues in a direct and identifiable way.
There are, however, obvious limitations to this type of theological method—what I like to call the “concordance reflex.” What happens when you are wrestling with a theological issue for which no corresponding word appears in the concordance? Many of the most important theological issues cannot be reduced to merely finding relevant words and their corresponding verses in a concordance. Try looking up “transgender” in your concordance. How about “lesbian”? Or “in vitro fertilization”? They’re certainly not in the back of my Bible.
It’s not that Scripture is insufficient. The problem is not a failure of Scripture but a failure of our approach to Scripture. The concordance approach to theology produces a flat Bible without context, covenant, or master-narrative—three hermeneutical foundations essential to understand Scripture rightly.

Mohler goes on to discuss the issue of transgenderism in terms of the larger Biblical Theological categories: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation.