Saturday, August 29, 2009

Does the ELCA decision really matter?

I've heard stories of people going to an ELCA seminary and being told that they could not be ordained because they believed in a physical bodily resurrection. I checked the ELCA website for statements in regards to the resurrection and found this article. The article is incredibly ambiguous. It seems to favor some type of spiritual resurrection and minimizes the importance of Jesus' bodily resurrection as historical event. What is important is that the Apostles had faith in the resurrection. I also came across an article on the virgin birth. This article seems to think that whether or not Mary was a virgin biologically is irrelevant.

At best the ELCA is allowing ministers to serve who deny the virgin birth and bodily resurrection. At worst the ELCA is promoting the denial of the virgin birth and bodily resurrection. Anti-trinitarianism and all kinds of anti-Christian teaching run wild in denominations with which the ELCA is in full communion.

So if the ELCA allows those who deny the resurrection and virgin birth to serve as ministers, is it really that big a deal that she allow practicing homosexuals to serve as well? Isn't it a bit like finding out that some mass murderer also broke someone's arm?

The Hammer of God--the Movie

I created this short cartoon based on one of my favorite scenes from the book The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The [expanded] Bible

The [expanded] Bible is a new translation from Thomas Nelson. The base text is a modified version of the New Century Version (NCV). Within the base text there are numerous words and phrases enclosed in brackets. The bracketed sections are designed to give different nuances of the Greek word, provide alternate translations, give a literal translation of the text, give a traditional translation of the text, or offer commentary. The dust jacket claims that with these aids among other things we can "See all the dimensions and meaning in the original languages." This claim is really an impossibility but I was interested to see how effective this translation was in giving the reader a little glimpse into the Greek New Testament. Overall, I thought it was more responsible than the Amplified Bible but still not very helpful.

Here is one of the better selections:

Ephesians 5:25-26 Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to make her holy [sanctify her], cleansing her in the washing of water by the word [Cthe "washing" may refer to (1) baptism; (2) spiritual cleansing (Titus 3:5); or (3) an analogy drawn from the Jewish prenuptial bath (Ezek. 16:8-14); the "word" may be (1) the Gospel; (2) a baptismal formula, or (3) the confession of one baptized].

The above example offers the major ways in which this passage has been interpreted and simply presents them. It's an excellent aid to understanding how different people might read the text without an unusual and distracting number of bracketed words that don't seem to tell us much of anything. Unfortunately this practice is not applied consistently. John 3:5 does not present baptism as a possible understanding of the text nor do the comments on many of the other texts traditionally interpreted as referring to baptism.

In Matthew 28:19-20, the participles "baptizing" and "teaching" are translated as imperatives--"Baptize" and "Teach." The reader would have no way of knowing that "baptizing" and "teaching" are not individual commands but describe the way in which the church is to "Make disciples."

Ephesians 2:8 reads "I mean that [or For; Because] you have been saved by grace through believing [faith]. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God." The NKJV translates the same verse "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." The church fathers all understood "that" as referring to "faith." Most modern commentators explain "that" as referring to the entire phrase "by grace you have been saved through faith." The [expanded] Bible seems to take "that" as referring to "saved" and does not give any other options.

Much of the text is littered with expansions and supposed nuances that don't really teach us much of anything. Also, the NCV is a thought for thought translation and so it often leaves Greek words such as "then" or "for" untranslated. The [expanded] Bible reintroduces these words back into the text by means of brackets. This seems very confusing to the reader who may think that "for" is some sort of expansion of the previous word rather than a word that was just left untranslated by the base text. It would seem better just to reintroduce these words as part of the base translation. The elimination of these words was designed to aid readability but including them within brackets seems to make it far less readable than simply including them within the main text. Thomas Nelson also owns the rights to the NKJV and I think that translation would have been a much better option for a project like this.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Transformation Vs. Affirmation

Much has been written about the decision of the ELCA to officially allow the ordination of practicing homosexuals. The Christian church should certainly be deeply saddened by this and crying out "Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy!" God sent a tornado to knock the steeple cross at the ELCA church across the street upside-down just prior to the vote. The vote passed by 66.6% (559-451). The decision is really a symptom of the much deeper problem of unbelief in God's Word and a shift away from the Lutheran confessions. On NPR I heard one minister say that this is really a debate between two different Gospels--the Gospel of Transformation vs. the Gospel of Affirmation. If that is a legitimate representation then we are not dealing with a battle between orthodox Lutherans vs. heterodox Lutherans. Neither the Gospel of Transformation nor the Gospel of Affirmation are theologies of the cross. They are both theologies of glory. We are dealing with a battle between old-school Methodists and new-school Methodists. This would explain why the vote to bring the United Methodist Church into full communion with the ELCA passed by 98% (922-15). When Pelikan left Lutheranism for Eastern Orthodoxy he said, "When the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod became Baptist, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America became Methodist, I became Orthodox."

The Gospel of Affirmation and the Gospel of Transformation share a common problem--they both deny sin and therefore the need for a Savior. The Gospel of Transformation teaches that real Christians do not sin. If God saved you then he transformed your life and you will stop sinning. If you are a homosexual and God has really saved you then you will no longer lust after another person of the same sex. It creates one group of people who have fooled themselves into thinking that they have attained this perfection and another group that live in despair because they recognize how sinful they really are. The Gospel of Affirmation denies that sin is sin which is what those who hold to the Gospel of Transformation have to do in order to convince themselves that they are really saved. Nobody in these systems can ever experience forgiveness. They walk around continuously with guilt because deep down they know that they are sinners but will not admit it. Homosexual clergy are not content with being treated like other clergy. They want to be celebrated for being homosexuals. They need more and more affirmation from the people around them to drown out the guilt of their own consciences. I cannot imagine how horrible it must be to live that way. The church keeps telling you that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing so you are doomed to live your life without forgiveness.

The Theology of the Cross says that your homosexual lusts and heterosexual lusts and hating and gossiping and meddling and coveting are real sins. You have really sinned and are really worthy of God's temporal and eternal punishment. But the Lamb of God has taken all your horrible and rotten sins upon Himself. The Lamb of God shed His blood for your sins. The Lamb of God has fully paid for your sins. The Lamb did not come for the righteous but for sinners.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pro-choice Christians

The term "Pro-choice" is misleading and silly. It does not describe an actual position but is designed to divert attention away from what the person who bares the title actually stands for. The title would only make sense if it were used in opposition to another group that was opposed to making any kind of choice. When asked, "Should we go to war?" The anti-choice group would reply, "There is no way as feeble human beings that we could ever make that kind of decision." The same answer would apply to less interesting questions like "Paper or plastic?" and even "Cream or sugar?" No anti-abortion protester is holding a sign lamenting the evil of making choices. Many "pro-choicers" argue that they are not "pro-abortion" since they do not support forced abortion. But this is ridiculous. Just because someone doesn't support the death penalty for speeding tickets and they think that the death penalty should be one among many sentencing options for even the most horrible crimes doesn't mean that they would be wrongly categorized as pro-death penalty. Otherwise we have to start calling people who support the death penalty "pro-choice" as well. It's equally ambiguous and does just as much to encourage serious and well-thought out debate as a pro-abortionist calling himself pro-choice. Given the fact that the big money and the big organizations such as International Planned Parenthood do in fact support forced abortions makes the "pro=choice" label even more ridiculous.

"Pro-choice" certainly sounds nicer but it's like calling someone who is in favor of decapitating those with headaches as "Anti-headache." Opponents aren't going to carry protest signs talking about how great headaches are or refer to themselves as the "pro-headache" movement. With the right equipment the "Anti-headache" movement would even be 100% effective unlike many abortion mills. People wouldn't be as concerned with the fact that the headache was removed but wouldn't appreciate that the head was removed along with it.

Anyhow, the real issue is the personhood and/or rights of the baby in the womb. If the baby in the womb is a person then they should be protected and given certain rights. If the baby in the womb is not a person then abortion is perfectly fine and we shouldn't even be trying to make it rare. But there is little concern within the "Pro-choice" movement to even discuss this. I searched through the website for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and discussions about personhood are only tacked on at the end of some articles. Everything is about the woman's right to choose. My five year old is completely dependent upon me for food and shelter and he can be quite a pain in the butt sometimes but I'm sure that if I killed him and started talking about my rights and how he was going to put me in an early grave and was making my hair go white people would realize that I was insane. "But it's just between me and my god, you have no right to judge me!" The visibility of the person being killed makes it difficult to consider my right to kill my son a legitimate right.

The RCRC has an article written by Roman Catholic who apparently is utterly confused and thinks that the Roman Catholic Church allows abortion as a "reproductive health option." Referring to abortion as a "reproductive health option" is a bit like referring to the Atomic Bomb as a city building device. There is an article written by a Protestant at the very same site. The Protestant knows his Catholic Catechism a bit better than the Roman Catholic does and realizes that the Roman Catholic Church does not allow abortion as a "reproductive health option" but argues that Protestants are less legalistic and should favor the rights of the woman above the rights of the fetus.

The Protestant article does have several articles listed underneath it that do in fact deal with the issue of the personhood of the fetus. The fact that they are buried so deep within the website leads me to believe that the issue of the personhood of the fetus really isn't an important issue to these "pro-choice" religious folks but at least there is something. The idea presented in these articles that perhaps early Christians practiced abortions is absolutely ridiculous because we have plenty of early Christians writings that specifically condemn abortion and none that promote it. The Biblical arguments contained in these documents are weak and answered in several places on the Internet so I won't bother repeating them here. One of the articles does define personhood as beginning when the baby breathes outside of the womb which is earlier than Obama and his czars define it. If "pro-abortion" is unacceptable then perhaps at least a description of when the baby does have rights associated with personhood would be more helpful. "Personhood at time of first breath Christian" or "Personhood at 30 weeks Christian" or "Personhood once a person has attained an IQ of 70."

The Scriptures are pretty clearly anti-abortion but maybe even more importantly orthodox Christian Christology is very anti-abortion. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A group of cells that had the potential of becoming the person that we know as Jesus was not implanted in the Virgin Mary but the person of Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary so that she is rightly called the Mother of God--the Theotokos.

There is also the issue of defining yourself as a "Pro-choice Christian." Christ did not come into this world to make choices that would make His life easier. If He did we would all be destroyed. The Lamb came to lay down His life for us as an act of self-sacrifice. Demanding our rights at the expense of another is one of the most anti-Christian things a person can do. We are called to lay down our life for our neighbor daily. In this case the baby is our neighbor.

In the interest of fairness I would also like to say that the term "Pro-life" can also be misleading and might be better called "Anti-Abortion." There are many within the "Pro-Life" bucket that frown upon large families or families that they don't think make enough money to have so many kids. There are plenty who don't regard a miscarriages as the death of human beings. "Pro-life" is also ambiguous and could mean a great number of things. I suppose in our culture of the power of positive thinking it's more popular to be "Pro" something than "Anti" something but some things are worth getting Anti about.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Do Not Throw Your Pearls Before Swine

Matthew 7:6 Do not give the holy thing to the dogs, and do not throw y o ur pearls before swine lest they trample them with their feet, and after turning they tear y o u in pieces.

I've often been very puzzled by this verse and how to apply it. The verse is usually interpreted as meaning something like, "If people continue to reject the true doctrine just stop bothering them with it or they might beat you up." It seems too easy for my sinful nature just to decide that somebody is hopeless and eternally damned so I ought not to try and bring them the Gospel anymore.

Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs provides a better explanation. The verse should be interpreted in context.

Matthew 7:1-6 "Do not be judging, so that y o u may not be judged; for y o u will be judged by the judgment with which y o u judge, and it will be measured to y o u by the measure with which y o u measure. And why are you trying to see the speck in your brother's eye, but you do not consider the beam in your eye? Or how will you say to your brother, 'Please let me take out the speck from your eye'; and look, the beam is in your eye? Hypocrite! First take out the beam from your eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck from your brother's eye. Do not give the holy thing to the dogs, and do not throw y o ur pearls before swine lest they trample them with their feet, and after turning they tear y o u in pieces.

If verse 6 is read in context, it becomes clear that the "pearls"/"holy thing" are not true doctrines but brothers in Christ. The "pearls" are the same as the brother with the speck in his eye. The passage is warning against hypocritically judging our Christian brothers. We should not cast them out of the church because they don't measure up to some standard that we have created. When we see the sins of others (if they are really sins and not just things we don't like), this should call us to self-examination and to the realization that it is only by the grace of God that we do not fall into the same sin. We should approach our brother in humility and with a genuine concern and love for our brother--not the hope of making him look bad.

The danger is that a wrong interpretation of this verse could lead a person to go tell his brother in Christ what he is doing wrong and when the person disagrees to conclude that the person is swine. The Lamb did not come to shed His blood for righteous speck removers, but for real sinners. If you cast God's holy treasures to the swine, you will be judged and torn in pieces.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How to Get Saved in Three Easy Steps

Step 1: Be Ungodly.
Step 2: Be Ungodly.
Step 3: Be Ungodly.

Romans 4:2-25 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin." Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations") in the presence of Him whom he believed -- God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants be." And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

We learn from this passage that only the ungodly are saved. Any reasonable god would justify the godly and send the ungodly to the poop burning area. But not the true God. The true God justifies only the ungodly. Of course, everyone is ungodly and so everyone is objectively justified by the blood of Lamb who was resurrected because our justification was accomplished. Christ was resurrected because of our justification just as He was crucified because of our sins. Unfortunately, not all are subjectively justified--not all experience justification. This is because we love to wallow in the poop that we call good works. We prefer to bring our turds before God and show Him how swell and nifty they are. We cling to them as our guaranteed ticket to heaven because we prefer a god who justifies godly people like ourselves and damns the ungodly. But through God's law we learn that WE are the ungodly. Through faith (which is not of ourselves but a gift of God) we believe that God justifies the ungodly and that the Lamb shed His blood for us stupid ungodly folks. God loves the ungodly. God died for the ungodly. But for those who prefer a god that gives everyone what they deserve--that is the God that they will meet.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Atheists and Evil

Every once in a while I get the email with the atheist philosopher who is humiliated by his Christian student when he tries to show that since there is evil in the world there must be no God. The Christian student says that evil is the absence of God and presents a pretty traditional answer that many Christians have given. At the end of the post we are told that this Christian student was Albert Einstein.

First of all, Einstein was not a Christian. Einstein believed in an impersonal god but not the Christian God. Trying to add credibility to an argument by adding some well-known genius to it when that person never really said these things only detracts from the credibility of the argument and leads atheists to believe that Christians are gullible idiots who believe any crazy thing they are sent via email. If you are one of those people who believe that everything that comes to your email box must be true, give me your email address and I will give you a great deal after you send me your bank account and credit card information.

The old evil therefore no God argument is a real argument that atheists use on a pretty frequent basis. The argument presented in opposition to the atheist is just as old as Augustine of Hippo. But is it the best answer? I don't think so. What the student should have asked is, "If there is no God, how can there be evil?" If there is no God there can really be no moral absolutes either. "Evil" is something which can only be defined by my experience. If I kill my neighbor and take all his stuff, that might be evil for the neighbor but good for me. I could even be considered to be doing the human race a favor by getting some of the weak people out of the gene pool. At least Nietzsche owned up to this basic idea in his atheism and opposed morality.

The evil therefore no God argument is really just a projection of the individual atheist. If you got a group of atheists into a room to discuss what is good and what is evil in order to try to figure out the proper way that God should operate if He existed you would never reach a consensus. You would always end up with a couple guys claiming that something is good which other guys in the room are claiming to be evil. What the atheist demands is a god that is created in the individual atheists own image--perhaps absent some of the flaws that he recognizes in himself. In order to satisfy all the atheists you would need a pantheon of different gods for them all and then they would still be arguing that the gods created in the image of the other atheists do not really exist.

But pretend you are a worm for a second and you hear something about these mythical supernatural creatures called human beings. Some of your worm friends believe in them but you are skeptical. The greatest thing that you can conceive of is some giant super-powerful worm and certainly if humans really existed they would not allow you to be eaten by birds. If there is an all-powerful God who created all things, wouldn't the difference between Him and humans be far greater than that between worms and humans? How could we expect Him to behave according to our rules? The only way that we could possibly understand anything about Him would be for Him to tell us about Himself. Even then we are limited. Just try to explain to a worm how a toilet works next time to you see one--you could give them a ride I suppose but their toilet experience would remain far different from yours.

God's ways are not are ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. God did the unthinkable. There's absolutely no possible way you could convince me to become a worm. If a worm were to tick me off, I would have no problem feeding it to my frog. But there's no way that you could convince me to become a worm and have all the worms who hate me place me on a hook and feed me to a fish in order to save those other worms. You can't make stuff like that up. Nobody creates religions as crazy as that. People certainly wouldn't be willing to die for a story like that if they made it up. But that's essentially what happened. We hated God and wanted to kill Him. God did not annihilate us as any reasonable god would do. Instead He loved us and sent His only-begotten Son to earth so that we would kill Him and in exchange receive eternal life in communion with God. Praise be to the Triune God for not acting reasonably.