Christians and Politics in America
This is a tough topic for me to write about because it so easily becomes an emotional issue filled with very strong opinions for people. But I do want to make some comments about a growing trend in America that concerns me on several levels. That is the trend for well-known Christians to speak out politically in ways that confuse the issues surrounding our faith and our nationality.
Let me go on record right from the start by saying that I am not supporting any particular political party or view in this discussion. While I am registered to vote under a particular party, I am finding myself more and more at odds with the whole political scene, no matter which party is doing the talking. So this is not about Republican vs. Democrat. It is about the difference between being a Christian and being an American.
I consider myself to be first and foremost a citizen of the kingdom of God. I am an American by birth, and so that is my earthly citizenship. But I do not consider the two to be somehow intertwined or inseparable. They are two different things, and when there are conflicts between the two, my citizenship in God's kingdom wins out hands down every time.
In recent years, we have seen an ever-increasing voice politically-speaking coming from certain Christians. James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and a slew of charismatic preachers from Kenneth Copeland to Rod Parsley have all been very outspoken about their agenda for America: namely to make it a "Christian" nation. (I realize that many view the start of our country as basis for considering it a "Christian" nation, but let's not forget that our founding fathers specified freedom of religion, not state-sponsored religion. There really is a significant difference there.) Most recently, and what has prompted this essay, were the controversial comments made on the air by Pat Robertson regarding Venezuelan president Chavez.
My question is this: Are we called to be outspoken politically, or are we called to be outspoken evangelistically? Now, obviously, I don't see anything wrong with a Christian having political views, and as American citizens, we are certainly entitled to those views. But my issue comes when Christians are using their "ministry" time, money, and clout to speak their political views to large audiences.
Last year, following the presidential election, James Dobson announced that he was forming a new organization with political focus. He named it "Focus on the Family Action". I have already seen news accounts where it is referred to as "Focus on the Family" which is actually his non-profit ministry, not the political action group. But you can see where the confusion comes into play.
(I actually had a lengthy phone conversation with a very nice young man working for Focus on the Family Action where I questioned the ethics of them using their Focus on the Family mailing list in order to jump start the new political action organization. He denied it, but I see no other way in which they could have gotten my name and address since I never requested information from them. However, I was at the time on FOTF's mailing list. Coincidence? I think not.)
Additionally, Dobson frequently uses portions (or even entire episodes) of his daily radio broadcast to discuss political issues. This causes, in my opinion, way too much confusion, and I find it hard to believe that he is really able to separate out every dollar spent on non-profit work vs. political work. But that's conjecture. I'll try to stick with the facts.
Pat Robertson recently, as I mentioned, made some highly controversial comments on the 700 Club broadcast. This is a "religious broadcast" which includes reporting on world news, but again, I believe that the lines are completely blurred when the leader of that "ministry" goes on air calling for the assassination of a world leader. (Incidentally, Robertson has now "apologized" for his remarks, but has stated that he was "misinterpreted" and that he never called for the assassination of Chavez -- rather just that he be "taken out". Unfortunately, video footage of his comments does actually show him calling for an assassination, so his "apology" leaves much to be desired.)
With this and other examples I could give, I get the clear impression that these leaders think that somehow their political views are inseparable from their faith and that their faith is expressed fairly in their political views. That concerns me greatly.
In the United States, ministry organizations are almost always set up as non-profit corporations. Part of their status as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization includes requirements that they not endorse political candidates, etc. While most ministries, even when outspoken politically, tread that line very carefully (and I don't intend that as a compliment), usually very little is left to the imagination. I don't believe anyone was left to wonder who James Dobson wanted elected as president of the United States last fall! Without actually "endorsing" a candidate, he and others like him did everything they could to make sure people voted Republican. So, there appears to me to be a bit of an integrity issue.
OK, I've identified some problems, but haven't offered much in the way of solutions. That's because I'm not sure I actually have any solutions handy. But I do think that there are a couple ideas that could bring about solutions:
- Christian leaders should be held accountable for how they utilize their air time and ministry funds when it comes to political situations. Not only are they accountable to the United States government, since they have voluntarily placed themselves under submission to the corporate laws of this country, but they also are accountable to the Body of Christ.
- When leaders state political views, they should fairly represent them as their personal view, and not claim to speak for all of Christianity. I may agree with a lot of what Dobson believes, but he does not speak for me!
- Christians in America must recognize that our Christianity does not come from being an American. Nor does being a Christian make us any better an American than anyone else. The standards of judgment for Christians and Americans are two different standards.
These are mostly just rambling thoughts, to be honest. I'm not even sure what point I'm trying to make in this post. But I do feel a growing tension that I think will eventually lead to some kind of definitive moment for us here in America. My hunch, however, is that the definitive moment will not be of the sort that Dobson, et al are seeking.
Until next time,
An Army of Ordinary People - new book
One of my favorite simple church websites is House 2 House. These people are fantastic, and their passion for simple church is so evident in all they do. We've had the privilege of meeting with some of their staff members and talking with others on the phone, and I praise God for them. They are a joy and a delight to know, and I only wish that I had known them when I actually lived in Austin, TX (where they are located)!
At any rate, they have a publishing arm that has recently released a new book called "An Army of Ordinary People" by Felicity Dale. I have not been able to get the book yet, but have read a sample chapter online, and I am excited about this book. The premise is that for way too long, we have relegated the business of starting and leading churches to the "professionals" -- seminary graduates, trained theologians, etc. However, God delights in using ordinary people to do great things. After all, this is how Jesus started His ministry, isn't it? He selected men that the religious leaders of the day would never have considered worthy of "the ministry", and yet these men turned their world upside down for Christ!
We have the opportunity in our culture today to do the very same thing. One statistic claims that 1/3 of Christians in America are "outside" the organized church, and yet have not lost their desire to see God's work accomplished in their lives and in their world. I am happy to be part of that 1/3 -- meeting simply in homes, seeing "ordinary" people realize "extraordinary" truths in their relationship with God.
I find it fascinating to read in the Bible that when God first led Israel out of Egypt, He called the entire nation to the mountain, saying that He wanted them to be a "kingdom of priests". But the people were afraid, and asked Moses to speak for them. This started a long series of prophets sent by God to speak to the people. Yet His initial desire was to personally relate to every person in that nation. The way I see it, the coming of Christ was God's statement that He had had enough of "proxies" in His relationship to His people, and so He came in the flesh Himself to be "God with us". There is no longer a need for human mediators between us and God. And even though we who consider ourselves "Protestants" speak about the "priesthood of all believers", we do not generally function in that reality. Instead, we organize ourselves underneath a human leader and relegate the "real" ministry to that leader.
This new book from Felicity Dale, however, presents a series of stories that show the lack of necessity for this structure, and encourages each of us to take our place in this "Army of Ordinary People". Click here to read the sample chapter online (PDF format, Adobe Acrobat Reader required) or click here to order the book. Having read other books written by Tony and Felicity Dale, I can highly recommend this one after having only read the sample chapter online!
Until next time,
Quit Blaming God!
I have a feeling I might step on some toes with this one, but I hope that already in the short lifespan of this blog one can sense the heart with which I write. I do not write to be malicious or to point fingers. I do not write to pass judgment on brothers and sisters. And yet, there are some topics that come up from time to time in discussion that can ruffle feathers. This is probably one of those topics. I also really want to emphasize that I don't have all the answers. But I feel the need to bring some balance to this topic.
Lately, it seems that when listening to radio preachers, or when listening to Christian music, there is a strong and frequent emphasis on how God brings trials and tribulations into our lives in order to shape our character. The conclusion is always the same -- don't question anything that's going on in your life, no matter how bad, because it's something God has designed just for you in order to accomplish His desires in your life.
Lines of songs say things such as:
- "I will follow You through dark disasters" (i.e., God is leading us into and through these disasters)
- "This broken road prepares Your will for me" (i.e., God designed this broken road to walk on because it's the only way to get you to the place He wanted for you)
- "In my brokenness, I see this was Your will for me" (ditto the one above)
- "You give and take away" (more on this later)
- "Sometimes He calms the storm and other times He calms His child" (there is probably a whole post that I could write on this song alone, but suffice it to say I wish someone would show me in Scripture one example of where God did not calm the storm...)
And I've heard preachers making comments like:
- "Don't look to get out of the situation. Look for what you can get out of the situation." (very clever. But cute doesn't mean truth.)
- "When these situations come into your life, don't immediately look for the way out. Instead, accept it as something that God has designed for you to go through."
- "Don't be surprised at the things that go wrong in your life. Jesus said, 'In this world you will have tribulation.'"
Now, I recognize that some of these statements are either direct quotations from Scripture (in the case of God "giving and taking away", taken from Job) or are on the surface based on Scripture (many point to Paul's "thorn in the flesh"). But does that mean they are accurate and true statements?
As an absurd example of my point, one could quote Scripture by saying "There is no God." But the full context of the verse says, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'". What a difference context makes. Now, I'm not saying that the arguments put forth on this current topic are that absurd. In fact, on the surface, many of them seem to make some sense. But the question I have is, to what conclusion does that lead us? And with relation to context, as I mentioned in a recent post, what is the context of the whole Bible tell us about our conclusions?
We must look at the context of the entire Word of God in order to gain some perspective on this. Does the Bible teach us that God regularly brings difficulty into our lives in order to "teach us something"? Can we look at Paul's "thorn in the flesh" or Job's suffering and conclude that the normal Christian experience is for many difficult things to come into our lives?
Let's look at Job, first of all. Job made a statement that "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away." And his response to that assumption was, "Blessed be the name of the Lord." While I certainly applaud Job for still choosing to bless the Lord (although one could argue that in later chapters, he seemed to move away from blessing the Lord and instead chose to call the Lord to account, a move that brought him much humiliation when God actually showed up to answer his challenge!), we have a perspective on Job's situation that Job did not have when he made his statement. That perspective is what the Holy Spirit chose to record for us in the opening of the book. If you read the beginning of Job, who was it that took everything away from Job? Was it God? No! It was Satan!
Now, I realize, many will be jumping up and down saying, "But God allowed it." OK, I do not argue with God allowing it. But let's make one thing clear. Allowing does not equal causing. Regardless of whether or not God allows things to happen, we should not jump to the conclusion, then, that God causes that thing to happen! At least to my mind, there is a world of difference in perspective between sovereignly allowing something to happen (in other words, nothing takes God by surprise) and actually causing it to happen.
When Satan took all of those physical belongings and family from Job, Job proceeded to blame God for it. "The thing that I have feared has come upon me." In other words, Job wasn't fully convinced that God was going to protect Him anyway. He saw God as some capricious Being Who just did what He felt like on any given day. That is not God's character as revealed in Scripture. Perhaps I am missing something here, but I cannot seem to find one example in Scripture (apart from Christ, Whose suffering was a substitutionary suffering on our behalf -- more on that in a moment) where God capriciously turned His power against a righteous person. We are righteous if we are in Christ, so why would we conclude that God regularly brings things into our lives that hurt us?
Perhaps the bigger issue, however, that I have with all of this teaching that is so prevalent today is that it makes a grave mistake in interpretation of Scripture. That mistake is to equate Scriptural mentions of "trials" or "tribulations" with anything that goes wrong in our life. Some examples that I have actually run into:
- Someone battles depression, and is told that God is taking them through this battle against depression in order to strengthen them or teach them something. Therefore, they shouldn't ask for, or expect, deliverance from it because God will not deliver them until what He wants to accomplish is complete.
- Someone struggles with a destructive habit, and says that they want God to deliver them from it, but claim that He hasn't done so yet. They maintain that He is teaching them to trust Him completely before taking this destructive (might as well call it what it is: sinful) habit away from them. The conclusion: It's not His will for them to be freed from this sin yet. (Does anyone else see the danger here?)
- Someone is experiencing financial hardship. They maintain that God is "testing their faith" by seeing if they really truly trust Him. Therefore, it is God's choice for them to be facing this difficulty.
- Someone experiences a life-altering physical injury and decides that this is their "thorn in the flesh" and so they say that they don't want God to heal them from it. They claim that they are better off with this injury, and that it would be detrimental to their faith and relationship with God for them to want to be delivered from what God has apparently deemed best for them.
Now, I'm not, not, not criticizing these people. Please believe me!! But I am concerned that they are held captive by a false reasoning that leads them to believe God is something He is not. Several lines of reasoning begin to emerge from this way of thinking:
- Whatever comes into my life is designed by God. Therefore, I will not question it.
- I will not seek to get out of this situation because I don't want to "short circuit" God's design for my life.
- Jesus said we would have tribulation. This seems like tribulation to me. Therefore, this is exactly what I should expect to happen.
- God works all things together for my good. Therefore, He must have designed this trial for my own good.
But in all of this, we miss the very critical truth of what "trials" and "tribulations" are. As defined in the context of Scripture, we get a very clear picture of trials and tribulations as something that come to us from the world who hates us because of our faith in Christ. For example, Jesus said, "In this world, you will have tribulation." He did not say "In me, you will have tribulation." He was talking in context of how He was leaving us in the world. But by the same token, He also exhorted us to "Be of good cheer because I have overcome the world." In other words, the world is going to hate you and mistreat you if you truly identify with me, but I've already overcome those powers on your behalf, so it does not need to negatively affect you!
Additionally, Peter and James write separately to believers who were being persecuted for their faith. They told them, "Don't be surprised at these things." What things? Loss of job because of company layoffs? Physical injury due to falling off of a bike? Depression in their spirits? No! They were talking about people being ridiculed, mocked, beaten, tortured, killed because they took a stand for Christ! (Tell the Christians in prison or worshipping underground in China that we experience trials and tribulations here in America. Somehow, I'm not sure they'll really feel like you can identify with them.) Not once did Jesus, Peter, James, or anyone else say, "Take joy because this is something God has designed to make you a better person." In fact, in the context of these writings, James actually says, "Now when you're tested, don't say that you're being tested of God." Somewhere along the line, we seem to have overlooked that bit of crucial instruction!
Finally, before I shut my mouth and wait for the arrows to fly back at me (just joking), let me address one other aspect of this. Many times when people want to explain why all these bad things happening in our lives are really God's design for us, they point to Jesus. "Look at how much He suffered," they say. "Look at all that God allowed Him to go through. He was actually nailed to the cross, and He took it all because He knew it was the Father's plan."
Yes. That is correct. But we must not stop there. Remember that the reason Jesus did that was because He was taking our place! He didn't do it simply as a model so that we would see how we should act when God deals out judgment to us. He did it so that God would not pour judgment out on us! Isaiah says it best: "He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows." So if we think that we still have to walk through things in order to become what God desires of us to be, we might as well say that the sacrifice Christ made was a waste! Now, if we choose to remain in a place where we are not experiencing all that Christ made available to us, that will result in depression or difficulty in our lives. But that's not something God designed for us to walk through! That's something He has already set us free from, but we choose not to walk in freedom.
Jesus said that the enemy is the one who comes to "steal, kill, and destroy." (This is exactly what the enemy did in Job's life.) But Jesus came to "give life and more abundantly." So when something comes into your life that seeks to pull you down, don't blame God! Rather look to the One Who is capable of lifting you above any circumstance. As Paul said in Colossians, "set your mind on things above, not on things of this world." God will most definitely use any circumstance in your life to bring about good in you and His own glory. But don't just say, "This is God's plan for me, and therefore I will not choose to fight against it at all." And definitely don't just assume that it's a "trial" that should be expected. Peter said that if you're suffering for doing wrong, you can take no joy in that. But if you're suffering because of your identity with Christ, then you can rejoice.
I don't know if all that makes much sense. I hope so. And I hope I don't regret posting this one. But I felt it needed to be said.
Until next time,
Being "in Christ" and Personal Responsibility
In theology, there is often a raging debate between those who say that we should do nothing in the way of "works" as part of our relationship with God and those who say that we have to do a lot of things to earn or keep God's favor. It seems to me that this debate promotes two extreme positions, neither of which are completely accurate.
This space is not nearly adequate to fully discuss the merits of both positions, but I do want to address some of the dangers that I have found in these positions. As I have watched both of these positions lived out, I have found myself asking some questions. And it seems to me that the major problem that comes in is that we don't base our theology on Scripture. We approach Scripture with an immense number of filters and grids through which we see what we think Scripture should be saying. In doing so, we choose to pick and choose what parts of Scripture we apply, rather than considering the whole of Scripture as the guide.
Legalism is always a danger, and so once we decide that we must do certain activities or act/look a certain way in order to obtain favor with God, we have crossed a dangerous line. Favor with God is, according to Scripture, solely on the merit of our position in Christ. (More on this in a minute.)
Conversely, once we decide that we can't do anything to merit God's favor, we start to assume that anything we "do" is suspect, and therefore to be avoided. I have seen both of these extremes lived out, and the end result in both has been very difficult to watch.
It seems to me that many times in these debates, the legitimate answer is a "both/and" approach. When we attempt to box God in to our systematic theology, we always run the danger of going too far in one direction and losing the balance that God intended. When we look at the whole of Scripture, we see two very clear messages:
- We are saved by grace, through faith, and God has done everything through Jesus to provide the right relationship between us and Him.
- There is definitely a lot of mention in Scripture about fruit, works, and "doing", which we cannot ignore just to avoid legalism.
So, to bring it to a point of discussion, what is our responsibility in our relationship with God? And what does that look like in "real life"? (I must interject that I despise the term "real life" as used by most Christians to imply that the Scriptural ideal is simply that -- an ideal, and that we somehow need to modify the teaching of Scripture to fit the world in which we live.) Well, let's consider a couple key Scriptural thoughts:
- Jesus contrasted two builders: a wise one and a foolish one. He was talking about a "hearer only" vs. a "hearer and doer". Sounds a lot like what James wrote in chapter 1 of his letter. In other words, we have a responsibility to act on what we hear in the Word, not just to digest it academically.
- Scripture talks repeatedly about being "in Christ", "abiding", etc. In fact, it appears to me on the surface that Jesus talked a lot more about this concept than He did about "believing". It seems evident that believing in Him is played out in how we live.
So, I would conclude that our personal responsibility is to be "in Christ". What does that mean? It's hard to define this concept because it is an intensely spiritual reality that almost defies human language. But we can draw some implications from Scripture.
First of all, being "in Christ" means that we are placing our trust solely in the work of Christ. We deserved (in fact, were required) to die for our sin, but Christ did that for us. If we continue to place our trust in our own ability to please God, we reject the payment Christ made for us. To be "in Christ" means to not put our faith in anything or anyone other than Christ.
(Let me interject here that it is an incredible shame that our English word "believe" conveys so little of what the Bible intends to convey when it talks about "believing" in Christ. The word used in the Greek language has a whole lot more to do with "putting one's faith in", than just "believing", which in English boils down to little more than intellectual assent. Most would say that they "believe" in Jesus, but even among those who claim to believe in Him, I find that many do not actually put their faith in Him -- at least as evidenced by how they live their lives. Instead, they choose to trust in themselves, trust in their employment, trust in their abilities, etc. This is a far cry from what Scripture teaches.)
Secondly, being "in Christ" means that we will be producing the kind of fruit that is consistent with Christ's nature and character. We cannot legitimately claim to be "in Christ" if we continue to produce bad fruit or no fruit at all. An apple tree cannot bear oranges, no matter how much it might claim (assume for the moment the absurd notion that a tree can "claim" anything!) to be an orange tree. Likewise, if one claims to be "in Christ" or chooses to bear His name (as a "Christian"), yet continues to produce fruit that is of another nature, the book of 1 John says that one is deceived and is a liar. One cannot be choosing to live in sin, and yet claim to be in Christ.
Finally, being "in Christ" means that we will do the things that Christ taught. One cannot read the New Testament without seeing this. Jesus was very plain about this. The foolish builder was labeled by Jesus as foolish because he heard the words of Jesus, but did not do them. The wise one was the one who heard and did.
I find it interesting that the very passage that is often used to decry any mention of "works" as a believer is Ephesians 2:8-9 which states in part that we are saved "by grace...through faith...not of works." Yet, in reading the very next verse, we read that Paul continues to say that a result of that salvation is, in fact, works. Verse 10 says that we are "created in Christ Jesus for good works" (emphasis mine). Very interesting, in my opinion.
Until next time,
"Whisper Down the Lane" Theology
I'm sure you remember this game from when we were kids. A bunch of kids sit in a line, and the first one whispers something to the second one. That one, in turn, turns and whispers what they heard to the third one, who then whispers to the fourth one, etc. The last child in the line then tells what they heard and compares it to what the first one said. Invariably, it is different. Maybe just a little different, but almost never exactly the same.
I have come to the conclusion that the same thing happens with regard to theology and biblical truth. Now, before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I'm going to be talking about errors in transmission of the biblical text, let me clarify what I mean. I'm talking about the things that we believe are biblical because we heard it from "reliable sources", and yet haven't studied enough ourselves to find out that what we heard is not entirely accurate.
Let me give you an example that would be humorous if people weren't so serious about it. I have heard several people make the following claim: "In the Bible it says 'Fear not' 365 times. That's one for every day of the year." After hearing that several times, I had the idea that it would be neat to put together a calendar (one of those tear-off kinds with one page for every day) with each of the 365 "fear not" verses on the pages. That way, people could be reminded every day of the year.
So I began searching for the 365 times. Guess what? I couldn't find them! Oh, there are many commands not to fear, to be sure. And frankly, if God says something once, we should pay attention. Yet, I was intrigued by this. I started by searching online Bibles (such as the one on Crosswalk.com) for the phrase "fear not". I found 62 occurrences in the King James. That wasn't even close to 365! I tried searching for other variants of the phrase ("Be not afraid" - occurs 1 time, even the word "fear" by itself only appears 354 times, which includes many references that having nothing to do with telling us not to fear). Still no 365 times, no matter how I tried to slice it.
Finally, I found a website that seemed very confident in its assertion, and I figured the author must have done their own research. So I emailed them and asked them to point me to the 365 references. Surprisingly, I received a very prompt reply. Disappointingly, however, it included this statement: "I'm sorry that I cannot help you find these verses. I, too, have searched for them, and have not found them. But I heard Joyce Meyer make this statement, so I know it must be true."
I kid you not!! From what I can tell, no one has ever actually searched out these 365 verses (and found them, I should add) on their own, but are always taking someone else's word for it. Just because some preacher somewhere said it, you're going to turn around and tell others that it's true? What does this do for the credibility of Christians in this world? I'll tell you what it does. It ruins it!
We run around with this "bumper sticker" theology, making all these outrageous claims, and the world just sits back and laughs. Consider many of the emails that get forwarded around by Christians. Stories of NASA discovering the missing day from Joshua's time. Stories of Soviet workers drilling into hell and hearing screaming. Stories about how certain TV programs are being taken off the air because they mention "God". All of which are untrue, yet continue to this day to be propogated among Christians.
Jesus said that He would give us the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth. Part of that guidance comes from the written Word of God which was inspired by the Holy Spirit. But just because we have the Holy Spirit in us doesn't mean that people actually listen to His voice. I have learned that I must listen to what He tells me in order to make sure I'm on the right path. If I am willing to listen to the Spirit (and sometimes even just if I'm willing to use the mind God gave me!), I find that I do not fall prey to these "urban legends" that get so easily passed on from person to person in an awful "whisper down the lane" fashion.
For seven years of my adult life, I sat under the teaching of well-known Bible professors and teachers in Bible college and seminary. And whenever I felt the need to question something that was taught, I often rebuked myself with the thought that obviously, these men and women knew much more than I did, and they had studied much more. So who was I to question them?
Well, now I view it a bit differently. I actually have a responsibility to test what I hear and to sift out what is not true. If anyone tries to tell you not to question them or their "authority" in interpreting Scripture for you, I advise you to run the other way as fast as you can. And if you think that you're being rebellious by questioning what you're taught, you need to realize that it's not rebellion when God gives you that responsibility! Even in Old Testament Israel, the people themselves were given the responsibility to determine if a prophet was true or not. God did not ask them to blindly follow anyone who said "Thus saith the Lord."
In Acts 17:11, the Berean Christians are spoken of positively for checking out what Paul taught and comparing it to the Scriptures. How much more should we test what we hear before repeating it on to others?
I had a friend once who was talking about the idea of being friends with non-Christians in order to build relationships with them that allow you to shine Christ's light into their darkness. This is a biblical concept, so I'm not knocking the basic premise. But his defense of it? "Well, it's like Paul wrote to the Romans: 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do.'" I had to bite my tongue to avoid laughing when I realized that he was completely serious in saying that! I'm not sure which is funnier: That he thought Paul wrote that statement, or that he assumed it must be in the book of Romans!
Let's make sure that we are getting into the Word ourselves, and listening to the Holy Spirit. I have found that much of what we believe and hold to is sometimes mere tradition or something that someone once heard someone else say that someone once said.
Now, if we could just do something about the really awful slogans on church signs...!!
Until next time,
Let's Be Real
Many people before me have written about and talked about the concept of being authentic, being transparent, being real. But lately, it has been on my heart, and I want to share some of my own thoughts about the topic.
It seems to me that it is very rare for Christians in our culture to be real with each other (let alone the world!). This is sad! All too often, we put on our nice clothes, sing our pretty songs, smile at each other, greet one another with pleasantries -- and all the while, things are not right in our lives. But it's more than just that. Here's what I want to deal with in this post: We are not honest with each other about our relationships to each other.
I want to be very careful in what I write here because I don't want to appear to be pointing fingers at anyone in particular in my life, but I will relate a couple situations without giving too many specifics, so that you get a picture of what I mean.
A church leader who once was very critical (and judgmental) of my approach to ministry has never come to talk to me further about it (despite many invitations on my part), but when he sees me in public, he makes a big show of hugging me and acting like we're best friends. Apart from public, though, my phone calls have gone unanswered, and repeated attempts to get together have been brushed off. That's not being real.
A friend who was very involved in our life began to allow some things into their life that pulled them down spiritually. When we lovingly encouraged them to consider what was going on in their life, they just vanished. Again, phone messages were never returned, emails were never answered. Months later, they suddenly resurfaced to ask us to do a favor for them. We gladly did the favor, and then tried to get them to open up as to why they had disappeared for so long after such seemingly close fellowship. Their response? Well, once again they stopped talking to us and returning our calls. That's not being real.
These situations and others have made me wonder what the relationship should be between Christians. My take is that if we call ourselves brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are claiming to be "one" in the Spirit, then we need to be honest with each other. That means that if we have an issue with someone else in the Body, we need to be honest with them about it. Just pretending that nothing ever happened, or just dropping out of people's lives with no good explanation seems to me to be a sign of not being one with each other. That can't possibly be what Christ wanted His Body to be, nor what He prayed for in John 17.
Yes, people move to other places, and yes life has a way of causing some relationships to become less intense over time. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about people in the same church, or the same town, or the same group of friends who just can't be honest enough to talk about what's really going on in their relationship. Something is very wrong with that picture.
Until next time,
We're Asking the Wrong Questions
Lately, several of the blogs that I read regularly have gotten caught up in the debate about music in the church. Specifically, the question often being posed is: "What songs should the Church be using in its worship services?" Despite the insistence of the participants in the debate that they are not pitting "old" against "new", I'm really having trouble seeing it as anything else. It always ends up coming back to that.
I have read numerous comments about how "theologically rich" the old hymns of the Church are, and how we should not turn our back on 2,000 years of heritage in music. I have also read comments about how today's "worship music" is mostly based on shallow, repetitious, self-centered statements. In a recent thread of comments on a particular blog, several people have taken to referring to today's contemporary worship songs in a derogatory manner as "Jesus is my girlfriend" songs.
One person commented that we should compare the first 100 hymns in a Baptist hymnal to the next 100 songs played on a Christian radio station. This misses the whole point! When hymnals were compiled, they were done so by a committee of editors who searched through many, many songs and chose representative ones to preserve. But how many hymns have been sung in churches through the years that never made their way into a hymnal? In the same way, many songs that are sung today will never make it into the "canon" of enduring songs of the Church. But many will. And for good reason! Because they are valid expressions of God's revelation to us. So comparing the "best of the best" from generations past to the next 100 songs played on the radio today is not a legitimate comparison. I personally made the comment on another blog that I hate the "old vs. new" debate because it seems unfairly biased toward antiquity! We know from Scripture that Paul wrote more letters than what have been preserved for us. Does that mean the other letters were somehow invalid or wrong??? You see the problem with this argument?
What I have felt very strongly in reading these comments, however, is that we are asking ourselves the wrong questions! We need to simply be making a commitment to only ever sing songs that are true and consistent with what God has revealed to us. That can be a song that is hundreds of years old, or it may be a song that someone wrote yesterday.
With that in mind, here are some questions that I would like to pose, and perhaps even endeavor to answer in the future:
- Is "test of time" a valid criterion for judging anything with relation to our function as Christians? And a related question: Is "test of time" valid for everything, or only for certain things?
- Is congregational singing an absolute necessity in the function of the Body of Christ? And if so, what role does/should congregational singing play in theChurch?
- At what point can a song be a personal expression of one's relationship with Christ, and at what point should it be limited to a corporate expression? Who determines the appropriateness of a song for the church to sing, and should their judgment be widespread for the Body as a whole? Or should it be a judgment for their particular local body of believers?
- Who says that we need to preserve 2,000 years of heritage anyway? I'm not saying we don't need to, but I'm just forcing the question here, because I think it's a fair one. It seems to me that this debate gets into very dangerous territory of "tradition" being a criterion for validity.
- And for those who want to rely so heavily on preserving 2,000 years of musical heritage, I would ask: How much gregorian chant do you use in your services?
Here's the problem the way I see it: We have no record of church services in the New Testament that even included corporate singing. I'm not by any means saying it didn't happen, and I'm not saying that it shouldn't happen today. But we really need to start with that to begin to understand what role (if any) corporate singing has in our worship today. Paul tells us to sing with "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" to God (Eph. 5:19), and to each other (Col. 3:16), but doesn't mention corporate singing specifically. He may be referring to corporate singing, but not necessarily. His instructions in the context of both quotes seem more directed to individual Christian living in relation to each other. And when he mentions hymns in the most detailed explanation of a "service" in 1 Cor 14, he again relates it to an individual bringing a hymn to the service, not specifically denoted as the pastor or minister of music leading everyone in a song.
So what is the ramification for the debate today about music? Quite simply, let's make sure we're asking the right question. If we "force" 3 or 4 songs on a congregation each week, it is inevitable that we will get into a debate about style and personal taste. And if there is such a heritage that we must "preserve", how in the world are we going to preserve 2,000 years of history in just a few songs each week, and how in the world are we going to try to pick new songs to add to that heritage for future generations? That sounds like an impossible task for anyone to undertake.
Until next time,