The Gates Are Open

August 2015

Sweeping Sexual Assault Under the Rug

Posted on August 28, 2015

Libby Anne is a blogger who grew up in a Fundamentalist church, who endured a Patriarchal, Quiverfull culture and, more importantly, became an escapee from all of that bondage.

She penned an article today giving a background expose on the church and ministry that Josh Duggar is attending as “rehab” for his sexual addiction.  Here is the article.

Allow me to quote two parts of the article and then interact with what she is saying:

 As others have reported already, Reformers Unanimous does not appear to have any licensed counselors on staff, and its residential program appears to be made up entirely of physical labor and Bible study. This is a path Josh Duggar has been down before, but it is the only path his parents seem able to envision. Questioning the beliefs and dynamics that lead to abuse is difficult; solving problems with a larger dose of Bible reading is the familiar default.

As of this week, Josh is at Reformers Unanimous, whose chairman and cofounder, Paul Kingsbury, had a long term working relationship with convicted sexual predator Jack Schaap, is allegedly protecting an accused sex offender from justice, and allegedly has a habit of failing to notify people when a known sexual predator is in their midst. How an individual alleged to have such a troubled relationship with both legal accountability for sex offenses and established best practices for handling cases of sexual abuse can be expected to run an effective and above-board rehab program for individuals who come to him seeking help for addictions to porn or sex is perhaps question of the week.

Libby Anne is questioning the validity and legitimacy of the “treatment” Josh Duggar is receiving at Reformer’s Unanimous. This organization is a Patriarchal group consistent with all the Duggar family believes and practices. Josh Duggar will not get any better there; he will simply learn to submerge and cover it up better.

I began working in counseling with sex offenders for the Province of British Columbia starting in 1982. Very few counselors were willing to do that because they were mortified when they had to listen to the details of sexual assault. I freely admit that for several years I would be sick to my stomach as I listened to the stories as I helped these men work through their sin and bondage. Eventually I stopped feeling that way as I regained some compassion for their own personal degradation. However, not once was I excusing any of their behavior.

I have now worked with almost 100 men who have either been caught or self-reported sexual assault or abuse. Some of these men have been pastors and missionaries. I have three rules when I begin working with them:

1. What they are doing is completely their fault and I will not allow them to blame others.
2. If there is any crime they have not admitted publicly to, and they admit it to me, either they will report it to the police or I will.
3. I advise families that even if an offender repents, they are never to trust them again. They should never be allowed near the people they have offended and should never be allowed near children if that is the object of their offense.

Do these principles seem harsh? I hope so. This is the only way for a sex offender to be rehabilitated. They have put their victims through hell and have taken away their victims’ rights to have control over their own bodies. Those have permanent effects.

The statistics vary, but it is commonly held that once a person starts sexually abusing children or people under their authority, they will not stop doing it until they are forced to stop. I counseled one man who admitted to molesting 62 children before he was sent to jail. He kept a journal of all he had done to them. The rule of thumb among counselors is that you must stop them at any cost or they will do it again.

Some Christians will ask, “But don’t we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives? So how then can we say there are some people beyond help?” I didn’t say these men were beyond help. I said that we cannot allow them unencumbered access to potential victims. As  you read Libby Anne’s accounting of the group Josh Duggar is getting “help” from,  you will realize they are simply perpetuating the cycle of abuse by not treating it as seriously as it needs to be treated.

I speak of this from first-hand experience. Years ago, I was contacted by a woman who admitted she had been molested by a traveling evangelist. When she told me his name, I was blown away. In my undergraduate days, I had lived in a dormitory named after this guy. This woman, after getting the help she needed for recovery, pointed several other women my way for counseling. They told a similar story; that they too had been accosted by the youth evangelist. I did some investigating and found that the rumors of his crime had spread to other churches in the state. The denomination at one point heard about all of these rumors and they approached him. He denied doing anything, but agreed to some counseling.

I talked to the man who counseled him. He assured me the evangelist had repented of his sin before he passed away. I asked him if the evangelist had admitted doing any molestation and sexual assault. The counselor said he had and that they had walked through several sessions of repentance. I asked him why he had not turned him  into the police. Here was his answer:

“That’s not how God wants us to handle things in the Body of Christ.”

That evangelist had already passed away by the time I was investigating. At last count, he had sexually assaulted almost 20 girls during his years in that state. And that’s the ones we know about.

This has gone on long enough. No more hiding sexual assault. No more hiding molestations. This is not how we handle it as followers of Christ.

I feel sorry for Josh Duggar, after all I have said. He is not going to get  help at this place. He is going to get worse. I feel for his future victims. I feel for his wife. I feel for the Body of Jesus that must bear the ignominy of all of this.

I Blame Michael W. Smith

Posted on August 27, 2015

Michael_W._Smith_in_June_2014My step-dad Larry told me he had been listening to a lot of “Mike Smith” on CD lately. Larry’s musical tastes and mine had never overlapped much, so I only half-listened. He told me about Mike Smith’s approach to music, worship and public speaking. I had never heard of Mike Smith, so I asked Larry if he had a favorite song of his.

“I love “Above All”” Larry told me. Then it dawned on me.

“Oh, you mean “Michael W. Smith” don’t you?”

“Sure. Don’t they call him “Mike Smith”?”

I guess his crew calls him that. Maybe. No, I doubt it. His brand has always had the full name and middle initial. I envision his wife calling him “Michael W.” when she has dinner ready. I believe his children call him “Daddy W.” I wouldn’t swear on it, but that’s my theory.

I have an ambivalent emotional relationship with Michael W. Smith. First, he is a little too “pop” for my taste. But I admit he sings well, has an ear for songs that fit his range and ability and puts on a great concert. There is little I don’t like about him.

Except he ruined the style of church I love the most. Ruined it. Just took it outside and tied it to his truck and took the corners hard and ripped the skin off it.

I blame Michael W. Smith for the mess we’re in.

In the mid-1990s, MWS toured the United States several times, hawking his brand of pop CCM. These were some of the most well-attended concerts of any genre and he and his team were making a boatload of money. I went to one of the concerts and came away thinking “this guy has figured it out.” I meant the business part of performing, not the God part.

Then he did something unexpected and risky. In the midst of one of his tours, he took a chance and led the concert-goers in an impromptu worship service. He borrowed songs written by friends and put together a set of worship songs most of his audience knew. Because there were 18,000 people there and he had a live band and an already skilled mixer board, sound system, lighting effects, smoke machine, backup singers etc., it was an auditory and cultural experience that few people had ever been part of. The crowd in Houston, TX that night was blown away.

Let me interject a word about pop performers having worship music in their concerts. MWS was not the first or the best to do this. Keith Green started the ball rolling on this one. The Gaither Vocal Band took the aegis of the Gaither Trio and turned it into massive concert experiences. They were completely focused on worship. Don Moen, Vineyard Music, Christ For the Nations Bible Institute, Rich Mullins, Petra, The Imperials, and a lot of other Christian musicians had hosted public worship services before. But MWS did something that no one else had thought of. Essentially, Christian singers could choose one of two formats. They could perform in churches where they led congregations in worship. On the other hand, they could perform rock, folk or pop music with a Christian theme. They utilized concert halls and arenas for these performances. Occasionally, during a song or two, the formats would blur. Petra, for instance, used to perform the worship song “King of Kings” with a heavy metal sound that their fans loved.

But Michael W. Smith for several years made a full 50% of every concert a worship time. This was wildly successful both from a marketing standpoint as well as having spiritual impact on people’s lives. Church-goers who never went to concerts attended the tour stops of MWS. He had to get larger venues to accommodate the crowds. The church crowd and the concert crowd were now blending into one demographic.

This changed the Christian music industry forever. The stars of CCM became the groups that wrote and performed worship music. Their songs crossed over and churches began to sing their music in worship services.  Thus, we saw the emergence of David Crowder, Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, Delirious, Kari Jobe, Newsboys, etc. Like most of the people reading this, I like their music. I have enjoyed their concerts and approach. It’s all good. I couldn’t care less who writes the songs we sing or where they are first performed. But it is this worship service/concert blend that I am angry about.

And I still blame Michael W. Smith.

For 20  years now, this style of concert worship has infiltrated church services. The seepage is so complete that anyone who started attending church in the past 20 years will think it has always been this way. But it hasn’t. Let me give a couple of examples.

If you walk into a contemporary church today, the feel is completely different than 20 years ago. If someone was transported from 20 years ago into a church without any context or feel for what has taken place, they would notice the following:

  • They can hardly see because it is so dark (churches used to have as much lght in their buildings as they could)
  • The ceilings and walls are black. (Colors used to be the standard)
  • There is professional stage lighting everywhere (we used to have functional lighting and maybe some flood lights).
  • The drummer’s kick-drum is miked and overpowering. (drums were never miked until recently…and yes, I know this started so the volume of the drums could be controlled. Well, they’re not controlling the kick-drum any longer, they are enhancing it).
  • The platforms are three times the size of what they used to be
  • Musicians cover every inch of the platform (there used to be symbols up there. No longer).
  • Rarely does anyone explain the meaning of the songs. No pastors (except musical pastors) are seen on the platform. (The theology of music used to matter. Hymns would be explained. It is good to know what we’re singing and why. Now, pastors almost never interrupt the “worship set”).
  • Few people in the congregation are singing. (The performers are so loud and the songs so complicated, few people feel like they can sing them. Also, because so many new songs are introduced, few people even know all the words).
  • The lighting changes with the mood of the song. There are pulsating changes to the lighting to match the rhythm of the song.

If you asked this person transported from 20 years earlier where they were, they would say “I’m at a concert.”

Exactly.

Contemporary churches now design their musical worship to mirror concerts. This is because the average church-goer attends concerts and while there, is invited to join in for musical worship. The real problem is the focus on the concert worship is always upon the performers. That’s who you are there to see and hear. And why not? It’s their concert.

The generation that was discipled by Chris Tomlin and Hillsong has come to expect that musical worship will look and sound like a concert. The difficulty with this is, the goal of the concert is the exact opposite of what congregational worship is designed to emulate. We learn from both biblical and historical evidence, music is supposed to be a group experience. We are supposed to see each other, encourage each other (speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs). Now the focus is on the performers and the lighting.

How can you be part of one another, speak to one another, if the lights are completely out and curtains cover every window? By the way, why do churches black out the musical part of their service? One person told me it was so they could see the projector screen better. Well, first of all, that isn’t true. With today’s powerful projectors, you can see the screen clearly even with bright lights on. Second, they don’t do this when the preacher is speaking. The lights go up for that and no one struggles to see the screen.

No, they dim the lights so the focus goes to the front and the performers there.

Why do churches have strobe lighting, mood lighting, spot-lighting? It is all designed to look like a concert, because this is where people associate their most powerful musical moments in worship.

When you look at the words of the song on the screen, in most large churches the background is a video of the worship team playing. The same team you are watching.

I blame Michael W. Smith. And I fully believe he had no idea what he was starting.

My advice to churches is they turn up the lights, turn off the spots, get rid of the mood enhancers, take the mike off the kick-drum, stop putting your “team” on the screen and teach the congregation to sing again. Allow the congregation to be the performers.

Anne Ortlund, in her book “Up With Worship” said this.

“We get worship all backwards. We are right in believing it is like a concert, but we get the roles reversed. We think that the Performers are the musicians and singers, the Prompter is God and the Audience is the congregation. That’s not it at all. The musicians and singers are the Prompters, the congregation are the Performers and the Audience is God.”

“We’re coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you…it’s all about you Jesus.”

 

The Best Expose Ever on The Ridiculous Prosperity Gospel

Posted on August 25, 2015

In the listing of comedy styles, satire and sarcasm should be near the bottom of everyone’s list. These stylistic attempts to entertain are always based upon a deeper level of anger and frustration. They are the venue of the passive-aggressive.

However, when wielded against things that ought to make us angry, they are both effective and devastating to the objects being attacked.

This video is dedicated to attacking one of Christianity’s most heinous copycats: The Prosperity Gospel Copycat. It is 20 minutes long and certainly irreverent. However, Christians have been way too nice to these charlatans in the past. John Oliver on his show laces his attack with profanity and sarcasm. But he also has some excellent proof of what is happening. After watching the video (or as much as you can) come back here and I’ll give you my personal take on all of this:

Many years ago, when I was pastoring a church, I invited a man to come and speak in our church. He was known to have certain powerful gifts and I was curious to see his ministry up close. He never identified himself as a Prosperity teacher, but I found out soon that this was his schtick.

On the second night, he spent almost 20 minutes on a financial appeal to seed money into his ministry. He used the same blurring of biblical texts to back up his doctrine. At the end of that service, I politely told him this was not what I or our church believed. I asked him to stop doing it.

Two nights later, he did the same thing again. In the middle of his appeal, I got up and asked him to sit down. Even though we had two more nights of meetings planned, we were done that night. I wasn’t going to endorse his shenanigans any longer.

I later learned in four days he had raised over $25,000 for himself. I was incensed and called him to let him know I thought he should give back that money to people. He laughed at me over the phone.

Cut to ten years later. The same Prosperity Teacher called me up (i was living in a different town) and asked to see me. I refused. I wanted nothing to do with his trickster approach to life. He assured me he didn’t want anything from me or my friends. So I agreed to meet him.

He wanted to apologize. He told me that he had raised a lot of money for himself in the few years he toured as an “evangelist” asking for money. He admitted it was in excess of a million dollars. Most of it went into gambling, drugs and jewelry. He was now broke, divorced and fighting addiction problems. He was going through a treatment program and part of his recovery was to make amends to those he had hurt. I was on that list.

In our conversation, he told a number of stories about men and women who had been part of his Prosperity Gospel movement. He told me that very few of them are followers of Christ and even less of them have any sense they are serving God. They know a great scam when they see it. He especially focused on men he knew: Creflo Dollar, Bob Tilton and Charles Capps. These three had taught him so much about how to raise bucks from unsuspecting rubes.

They are out there people. And they laugh at you while you send in money. Maybe, even with as crude as his presentation is, we should all be required to listen to John Oliver’s presentation just to remind ourselves that there are many “wolves in Shepherd’s clothing.”

Dissecting the Dones

Posted on August 20, 2015

dissection tools

The Dones are not a Reality TV family. They are an ever-growing group of people who no longer attend church, nor do they want to any time soon.

A host of articles have been written in the past 18 months looking at and analyzing this group.

The analysis is being done both by the “Dones” themselves and by those who do not want them to be done: i.e. church leaders. In these reports on the reasons Dones have left church, there are 7 reasons mentioned most commonly:

  • The church is too judgmental
  • Church leadership stifles creativity and personal expression
  • Lecture style of preaching is not the style Dones want
  • Their church’s stand on some doctrine or political stance differed from theirs
  • They find authentic experiences of God more often outside of church life
  • The church is unbending on certain moral issues the Dones consider complicated
  • They were hurt by people in more than one church setting

Well-known Christians now count themselves among the Dones. Heralded fiction writer Anne Rice wrote this a few years ago:

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

Donald Miller, author of the best-selling “Blue Like Jazz” was less harsh, but just as “done”, with his admission he was no longer attending church:

It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him. So, like most men, a traditional church service can be somewhat long and difficult to get through…How do I find intimacy with God if not through a traditional church model? The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow. It’s thrilling and I couldn’t be more grateful he’s given me an outlet through which I can both serve and connect with him.”

Rob Bell, a former pastor of Mars Hill church in Grand Rapids, Michigan has announced that he will be a regular contributor to the Oprah Network. He was quoted as saying that if the church does not embrace homosexual marriage, it will become meaningless and a byword in history. He went on to say,

“I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life,”

After saying this, Bell was so thoroughly castigated and disapproved, he willingly joined the ranks of the Dones. And he encouraged others to do the same.

I have taken a long time to dissect the inner workings of the “Dones” I know personally. Several of these are my closest friends and associates and  a couple are close family  members. So, I believe I am accurate in my findings.

Underneath the stated reasons that people have left church behind are factors that seem to unite this disparate group of people. I believe that even though these factors cannot possibly be universal–after all, there will always be unique reasons why people make certain decisions–I believe they represent the vast majority of Dones.

 

Unmet Expectations

This factor is easy to identify, for you will find it underlying any decision to be done with a relationship. A person has a reasonable expectation the relationship was going to go one way, and it ended up somewhere not as good. In this case, the relationship is between each individual Done and the local churches they have been part of.

Author Frank Viola, in his book “Pagan Christianity” claims there is only one authentic New Testament expression of Christianity: That is the one found in the 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians. I won’t break down that chapter or his argument, but his assertion is a good case in point concerning my idea that people leave church because of unmet expectations.

Viola is one of modern Christianity’s most vocal critics. Some would even say he led the original vanguard of the Dones (though he would likely dispute that on grounds he never left the church. He just redefined it).

Viola believes in the “pure” New Testament model of the Corinthians. However, the 14th chapter has to be placed in its context. For thirteen chapters, Paul has been criticizing the Corinthians for partisanship, greed, immorality, homosexual practices, the rich exploiting the poor within the church, pagan practices, loud public arguments between leaders: In short, he describes a church that few of us would ever want to join or stay with. But in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul commends them for the way they conduct their public meetings. They allow more than one person to teach. They invite participation from non-leaders, the music is intimate and communal, and the style is more free-flowing than modern churches embrace. The gifts of the Spirit are obvious and manifest and the Body of Christ seems to be functioning properly.

But though Paul commends them for this, the rest of their “junk” makes this group appear very dysfunctional, no matter how great their public gatherings appear.

If you study the letters of Paul, you find a Christianity disjointed, rebellious, given to cultic behavior and beliefs, rife with sectarian infighting and openly immoral. There is nothing about the first century church that would lead any of us to be satisfied with the Christianity they had over that of our present day. Paul in his letters even toyed with taking his own life and at the very least said he wasn’t averse to the idea of God taking him home early.

What I’m saying is that Christians since the first year of the church have felt this disappointment when their expectations of what the Church should be are not met with reality. But church history shows us a curious pattern: most great changes in the history of the church happened because someone got discouraged and said “I’m Done”.

Martin Luther said it many times. So did Ulrich Zwingli, Count Von Zinzendorf, William Tyndale, Samuel Rutherford, Charles Finney, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, Aimee Semple McPherson, A. B. Simpson, Billy Graham, John Calvin and C. S. Lewis. All of these saw the Church as it should be and then compared the Church to what it was in their day and decided they didn’t want to keep going the way they were. Some, like Martin Luther, A. B. Simpson and John Wesley started new churches. Some like Zinzendorf, Zwingli and Tyndale just lived their life the best way they could and changed their world even though they weren’t plugged into the church. Others such as Finney, Rutherford and Billy Graham learned to come back into the church and help her change.

It just shows me that there are many ways to handle the disappointment of Unmet Expectations. But there is another factor that goes deeper than this. As I have written in the past, I hope the Dones will eventually give us something that can help modify and change today’s church into something better.

 

Pain and Resentment

John Bevere calls Resentment “The Bait of Satan.” When we are hurt by others, that hurt lasts for only a particular length of time. It has a shelf life. But if we entertain resentment for how we are hurt, then the pain does not stop. At times, the pain can take a life and a destiny all its own.

Gordon Sinclair was a newspaper reporter of some renown in Canada. He also was a recognized leader in his Church and denomination. In 1969, he announced to the world that he was done with the church, done with Christ and done with religion. From that day, he became a vocal opponent of Christianity and sought at every turn to point out the mistakes and sins of the church. What made him so vitriolic?

Sinclair joined the staff of a famous Canadian television program “Front Page Challenge.” It is through this medium that most Canadians came to know him. At one point in every show, the panel was asked questions about their personal life. (It was a news program designed to look like a game show). On one of those programs, Sinclair was asked why he hated Christianity so much.

He hesitated for a few moments and then launched into his explanation. In the late 1950s, he and his wife lost their only daughter to a debilitating disease. After this happened, he said, members of his church in Toronto barraged him with pat answers, phony good cheer and other nonsense. His pastor just wanted him to learn how to move through the grief into “victory”. After several years of this, Sinclair decided to stop attending church. That is when his denomination and friends who went to church turned on him. (This is his telling of the story of course).

He admitted he was bitter and resentful over all that happened. He resented God for taking his daughter, he resented the church for telling him to get over it, and he resented his Christian community for criticizing his decision to stop attending church.

Many of those who leave church and are “done” report some of these same feelings. So many of the Dones that I know grew up in conservative, almost legalistic, churches. In today’s church climate–and maybe it has always been this way–people feel very free to comment on each other’s mistakes, setbacks, family problems and life choices. Christians feel justified to do this since we use words like “body”, “family” and “community” to describe our church life. Inherent in those words are the implication that we should be able to be forthright and brutally honest. If you give that many people that many opportunities to comment on your life choices, you can be sure some of their opinions will cut to the core.

I know a Christian couple where one spouse was unfaithful. The other one decided they did not want to be married any longer. That is their choice and it really is no one else’s business. However, the rest of their Christian circle has adopted it as their mission to save the marriage. This hurts my friend and they have told me they are “done” with church.

But the pain is one thing: Resentment is another. Pain is inevitable, but resentment is a choice. If a Done can be hurt and eventually move on without resentment, they will eventually play some role in God’s quest to renew and change his church. But if resentment seeps into the core of the soul, there is little chance of recovery.

 

The Move Away from Classical Orthodoxy

A close friend of mine, a pastor, told me he no longer believes God will send anyone to hell. We call this belief Universalism, and for centuries it was considered outside the boundaries of orthodoxy. An estimate was made that a full 40% of those who attend evangelical churches now are Universalists in doctrine.

A recent study done by Christianity Today revealed that 25% of pastors now support Gay Marriage. When asked if they would openly support it, only 1 out of every 25 said yes. Obviously, this has not been the historic belief of the church.

The numbers vary, but it is commonly believed that the majority of Christians do not hold to a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis, including details like Creation, the Flood, the Egyptian Plagues, the parting of the Red Sea and the Fall of Man into sin. Curiously, many of the people who do not believe in the literal translation of the Bible still believe in miracles, prayer, the Voice of God and the Resurrection of Jesus.

What this shows me is that classical doctrine has now become a hometown buffet. As Christians today read through the Bible, listen to sermons and watch Christian movies and television, they are instinctively taking the doctrines they want and leaving the ones they don’t. This may be one of the most important underlying factors in why so many people are Done.

How did this doctrinal soup happen?

I will probably write another article in the coming weeks on all the factors that led up to this, but let me mention the one most responsible in my opinion. The universality of the Internet has made the sheer number of doctrinal opinions on every issue too many to grasp. I read a ton of articles every month related to the doctrine and practice of the Christian Faith. And it is hard for me, even with my Theology degree, to adequately interact with all I am hearing. I can imagine what it is like for people who have limited knowledge of the Bible when they encounter this barrage of opinions on every doctrine and practice.

Two years ago, I wrote an article on evangelicals and their beliefs on premarital sex. In that article, I pointed out that certain biblical questions still remain about premarital sex. It’s not as cut and dry as most Youth Pastors–and the parents of their teens–would like it. I quoted several contemporary Christian writers who talked about their own struggles to remain chaste in the middle of a culture that believes all sex is good if both parties are consenting adults. What made it hard for these authors is that the majority of their 20-something Christian friends were openly sexual. It is hard to feel you are the last person holding up a tent pole as the tent begins to collapse.

What effect did this trend have on the Dones? First, since most Evangelical churches are known for taking dogmatic stances on core beliefs, if you struggle to accept any of the core beliefs of Christianity you will feel ostracized from your church. Second, if you practice Christianity differently than others, often because of these differing belief systems, you will hesitate to hang around with people who may condemn the way you’re living. And third, there are many people in this world who do not go to church who are willing to accept the way you’re living while you’re sorting out your beliefs. Many of these people are nice, moral and easy to get along with.

Every time the church has focused on a particular facet of living to condemn, those who practice those things are “Done” with the church. In the late 1800s it was drinking alcohol. In the 1970s it was divorce. In the 1980s, it was premarital sex. Smoking, doing drugs, missing church, provocative clothing, swearing, declaring bankruptcy are all practices that have caused churches to shun their members.

In today’s church, if you believe in a woman’s right to choose an abortion, are sex-positive, believe that there is nothing wrong with premarital sex, support gay marriage–any of these will bring harsh reactions from church leaders.

This is the reason that Anne Rice and Rob Bell both became Dones.

I am not saying that the church should refrain from commenting on how people are living. I am not making any kind of judgment either way on that issue. Each church needs to decide what they believe and how they will communicate that to their members. What I am saying is that as church members realize there are millions of people who love Jesus and don’t believe what their church believes, they get discouraged. They realize that unless they adopt the entire package of things their church believes, they will have to be Done with church.

And many of them are. The Internet and the tendency of the post-modern age to say that nothing is absolute and no belief issue is settled make it easier for people to be Done with church.

And I wrote this article for two reasons:

  1. To help those who Stay with church to understand why some don’t
  2. To help those who are Done with church to know why you chose it.

 

 

Christians and Poor Debates – Part 2

Posted on August 20, 2015

debateDo you want to engender immediate dislike and strong reactions from people? Simply imply that their favorite politicians, preachers or writers are doing it all wrong. That’s what I did in my last article on this subject and I am jumping in to do it again. I never learn.

As People of Faith, we are among those who hold tenaciously to what we believe. And, because we hang around with people who share our belief system, we reinforce those beliefs regularly. Therefore, you would think we would get really good at articulating those beliefs to others. Regrettably, we are not that good.

After the last article, a few of you wrote and asked if I was implying that all of us should argue, debate and reason with those who don’t believe. Actually, I think there are many among us who should not debate or enter into rational discussions on topical issues. Sometimes it is better to live a life of spiritual power, integrity and consistency and just let people learn from your example. Sometimes.

But there are legitimate human debates in which Christians have something to say. But when we do say it, we need to be careful we don’t muddy the waters with poor rhetorical skills. In Part 1, I mentioned four mistakes commonly used by everyone in debating a point of view:

1. Ad Hominem Attacks:

2. The Polemic Approach

3. Appeals to Faith

4. False Dichotomies

As you read through those, undoubtedly you will recall when you have heard these mistakes made. Even though they are often catalogued in college textbooks on Rhetoric, they are all common. Just as common are the next four mistakes. But I have lumped these together because they are mistakes made not just in debate but also in casual conversation.

Rather than trying to recall when you have heard others make these rhetorical errors, see if you can spot when you have made them yourself.

1. Willed Ignorance:  This is defined as a stubborn refusal to change one’s beliefs even if the evidence and the arguments are overwhelming. I am ashamed to admit I have done this on several occasions and even as I write this article, I mentally try to justify having done so in the past.

We engage in this most often when we are caught off-guard by the debating skills of another person. We may have a friend who wants to talk about the proof for the existence of God. This is always a difficult debate and it almost never ends well for either party. But suppose a Christian is debating the existence of God and the other person is better prepared and gives reasonable proofs for why God does not exist.

Does that mean God doesn’t exist? Hardly. The existence or non-existence of God does not depend upon the skills of debaters. However, a person makes the “Willed Ignorance” mistake when they feel overwhelmed by the argument. A “Willed Ignorance” statement would sound like this:

“I don’t care what arguments you make, I am going to believe God exists anyway. I don’t need evidence. I just believe”.

If you recall, this is also an Appeal to Faith mistake. But at the core, the person making this statement doesn’t want to wrestle with the argument. They simply want to bury their head in the sand and make it go away. This is willful ignorance.

This is also the idea behind statements like “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”  “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.” “This is the work of the Devil to confuse me; I’m just going to ignore everything you said.”

In my first year of pre-med, I took several biology courses. In those classes, the concept of Evolution was presented clearly and as fully as a Freshman class can present the subject. The evidence for an Old Earth was staggering and overwhelming. But, I also believed in the literal account of Genesis. As a result, I would tell people “I know what the evidence suggests, but it must be wrong because the Bible is always right.” At church, when I told my friends this answer, they all applauded me–and as a result reinforced this belief.

However, over the decades since, I have done more research into this topic. I found out there are many Christians who took the evidence for Evolution seriously. And from that honest inquiry, they have developed models for Creation which accept certain elements of evolution while still holding to a high opinion of the Genesis account. As I mentioned in the last article, there are now 24 plausible alternative interpretations to the literal Genesis story of Creation.

In a discussion, if the other person is making a point you can’t counter, it is best to listen carefully, ask questions and say “I will think about this later. Thank you.” And, then go and think about it. Ask other people what they think about it. God wants our faith to be well-established, not stubbornly clung to.

2. Strawman Fallacy:  This is not a mistake Christians make: it’s a mistake EVERYONE makes. It is so prevalent and subtle it is almost taken for granted. But we offer a huge disservice when we use this in discussions on beliefs and practices.

A “strawman” is presenting a false version of another side’s argument and then debating that. Let me give some examples.

A pro-choice supporter says “Pro-lifers want to tell women what they can do with their bodies. Pro-lifers love a couple of differentiated cells more than the woman who has them in her body. Pro-lifers want to force everyone to believe what they believe.”  None of those statements is a true representation of the majority of pro-lifers.

A pro-life supporter says “Pro-choice people are murderers. They are just in it for the money. They want to use unborn babies as science experiments, harvesting their organs and selling their stem cells. Pro-choice people are heartless, cruel and couldn’t give a crap about the poor mothers who are fed false information leading up to their abortions.”  None of those statements are true representations about the majority of pro-choicers.

A Republican might say “President Obama wants to tell you who your doctor must be. He wants to tell a 65-year old he can’t have dialysis”

A Democrat might say, “Republicans want every poor family to starve, every wealthy person to pay no taxes and the elimination of all government. And they want every person to own a gun and walk down the street with it on their hip like cowboys of old.”

You see what happens with the Strawman arguments. You make a caricature of another person’s argument, then you tear that argument down. The problem is the argument you are tearing down is not really their argument.

I heard this being used when Rob Bell published his book questioning some beliefs on Hell. I then read another book that sought to refute him. In that book, the author essentially said that Rob Bell was trying to eliminate Hell so that we never have to talk about sin or judgment in church any more. Nothing could be further from what Bell was saying. Bell actually says three times in his book he believes in Hell. He talks more about judgment than most books. But once the author painted Bell with his Strawman argument, he spent the rest of the book showing how judgment and sin are things we should talk about.

I don’t think Rob Bell would have disagreed with him. But it wasn’t a fair approach to a very worthy debate. Even though my personal position was closer to the second man’s book, I felt myself taking Bell more seriously because of how poorly the other guy treated his argument.

3. Failure to Clarify:  It’s actually called “Failure to Elucidate”, but since so few people know what “elucidate” means, I thought I would clarify…with the word “clarify”.

This failure happens when you are asked to give a definition of a word or concept and the definition is more confusing and complicated than the word itself. An atheist friend of mine tells me with regularity this is the error Christians make more than any other. Though I think we are much more creative in our mistakes than he gives us credit for, he is right: We do this a lot.

But we’re in good company. Politicians have made this into an art form. Political chiefs of staff actually tell their candidates when they are asked a potentially catastrophic question to make the answer as confusing as possible. If they are asked to clarify, make the clarification confusing as well. We can see how this would benefit a politician who has just stepped in the political equivalent of dog manure.

But for people who want to make their beliefs known and accepted, our definitions need to be clear. Jesus certainly did that. People may have disagreed with him, but they always knew what he was saying.

Textbooks can be guilty of this. Here is an actual definition of a thermometer from a Biology text“”A thermometer is a device that measures the average kinetic energy of the ambient medium, usually indicating the reading by means of the height of liquid in a narrow vitreous tube.” What and what?

Here are a few Christian examples of this mistake:

“There are spirits all over this world.”  “What’s a spirit?”  “A non-corporeal substance.”

“You need Salvation through Jesus”. “What do you mean salvation through Jesus?” “You need to have your sins washed in the blood of the Lamb.”

I think you get the picture. Any time we try and define something for another person, we should be careful to use words they can understand better than the original word. There are exceptions to this of course. When we are trying to define the indefinable, sometimes all we can give is an analogy. Jesus does this a number of times in the Gospels when he compares the Kingdom of God to varied things, such as a Mustard Plant, a man looking for precious pearls and a lost coin.

The best thing to do is, if you can define something more clearly than the original word, do so.

4. Causal Reduction:  I remember sitting in a high school history class and the teacher said “What caused World War 2?” One of the students put up his hand and proudly announced “Germans had hated Jews for hundreds of years. That’s why the war started.”  My teacher had a sly look on his face and then proceeded to explain how over-simplified this student’s answer was.

In a little less than an hour, he explained over 50 significant causes for World War 2. Fifty!! I have never forgotten that class because it showed me that things are often more complex than we admit to. It is much easier in life to reduce all problems down to one or two causes. The problem of course is that if you reduce a problem too much you are inaccurate and often unhelpful.

This is the error of Causal Reduction. In trying to show the importance of a certain cause, we often over-inflate that one cause and reduce problems down to simple solutions. Christians, Muslims, Politicians, parents, teachers, bosses, economists and Sesame Street are all guilty of making this mistake.

Let’s give several examples from politics, religion and daily life:

“If we just close our borders, our economy would improve.” (Really, it’s that simple?)

Officer, the sun was shining too brightly and my sunglasses were broken. That’s why I rear-ended the guy in front of me.” (Really, you weren’t driving too fast, you weren’t texting, you weren’t pre-occupied some other way?)

“If you would just pray together as a couple, your marriage would be saved?” (Really, that’s all we need to do? Should we both stop hitting each other and cheating on each other…or just pray?)

“If you start giving 10% of your money to the Lord, all your financial problems will be solved.”  (And maybe stop gambling, buying stuff you can’t afford, drinking too much, investing foolishly as well).

I could go on and on. This is a debating mistake we often make with other Christians. We see something they’re doing in life we don’t agree with and we want to make that mistake responsible for all their problems. Life is extremely complex and interwoven. There are few situations that can be explained with one simple cause. The only way you can do that is by making the cause so large and vague that it could apply to everything.

That’s why the Beatles could sing “All you need is love” and we agree. It’s true because it encompasses a thousand ways of acting in love.

Preachers are guilty of this, and many times with good intentions. They want to emphasize the importance of certain errors so they aggrandize their importance. Recently, I heard a famous preacher say “If every married couple in this church would agree to  have sex every night for 30 straight days, I believe it would solve almost every marriage problem in this room.” I was flabbergasted at his audacity. And then I thought about the truth-claim he was making. All I had to do was open my mind up to the possible exceptions to his formula and they began pouring into my mind.

Will 30 days of sex solve the following marital problems?

  • Spousal unfaithfulness
  • Dealing with cancer
  • Loss of income
  • Disobedient children
  • Crushing debt
  • Physical violence
  • Child molestation
  • IRS audit
  • Missing child
  • Migraine headaches
  • Constant putdowns by one spouse

I know a couple who are friends of ours who took the 30 day challenge. At the end, they reported there were some really good moments. But they both admitted they had a lot of resentment at the end of that month. Why? Because the resentment was there at the beginning and the idea that 2 fortnights of sex could cure that was unrealistic.

I believe a sane approach involves saying “Here is a problem I have seen” and not make it bigger or more extensive than it is.

God’s Judgment and Circumstances

Posted on August 18, 2015

Eugene Villines of Greeley, Colorado was driving home from his job at a local Army National Guard post on his motorcycle. That’s when he was hit by lightning. Not only that, but it sent his bike into an uncontrolled skid and he crashed. Here is a video of his interview.


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Villines has been interviewed many times and in one of those interviews he claims that God saved him and protected him in this bizarre accident. I found that statement curious, since it seems to ignore one other fact here.

It is very rare to get hit by lightning when you’re driving a motorcycle. There are people who might even say that getting hit by lightning “out of the blue” is more reminiscent of God’s judgment than God’s salvation. So which part involved God–the lightning or the protection in the skid?

As we continue to look at the Judgment of God, we move into decidedly New Testament territory when we seek to interpret events and circumstances. Which crises are God’s judgment? Are any of them the judgment of God? You may want to review what we’ve said so far about judgment in order to follow the conclusion that Jesus will help us come to this time.

In Luke 13, we read this curious teaching from Jesus:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Historically, we know nothing about either of these two incidents. But that really doesn’t matter, since these two types of disasters are as common in our world today as they were in Jesus’ day. The Galileans suffered at the hands of a vindictive local governor named Pilate. Pilate obviously killed some of them and then, to emphasize his authority over them, mixed their blood with their religious sacrifices. This is yet another example of man’s inhumanity to man.

The second type of disaster seems less unjust, but no less confusing. 18 people are killed when a tower near the town of Siloam fell on them. This represents the many, many accidents that happen in our world. Whether the accident is part of nature (such as the man hit by lightning) or man-made (such as the tower) it is the same thing.

Jesus who is God come to earth, asks them the most poignant question: Were these Galileans worse sinners because they suffered this way? That is, he is asking the crowd if they believed these guys were getting what was coming to them. This is not much different from the base belief associated with the Hindu idea of Karma: That all of the bad things that happen to us are payback for bad things we have done. The big difference between the Hindu idea of payback and the Hebrew idea of it is when the sin happened. The Jews felt we get payback for things we have just done and the Hindus believe the sin happened in a past life.

But Jesus draws a different conclusion. He answers the question he asks with a resounding “No!”

No man’s sin caused these things to happen to them. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Except for situations we looked at in the last article–where God intervened to judge quickly and decisively–it is wrong to try and ascribe God’s judgment to disaster of any kind. Why?

These disasters were not caused by the sin of the victims. We cannot tell the good from the bad by how well their lives go. We should not even bring the concept of judgment into any discussion on the meaning of a disaster. But then he adds another thought: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” In this teaching, Jesus brings us higher up and further in to the full teaching on judgment. First, he uses the future tense when he speaks of this moment of perishing. All who will not repent now will perish later.

Judgment is not now. Judgment is later. Therefore, the events of today, the disasters that seem to assail us left and right, are not judgment at all. So what are they?

They are occasions for all of us to see the relative insecurity of this life. They are consequences that befall a world where every person only wants their own way. Disasters sometimes are the result of very human things like greed, lust, envy, control, regret, jealousy, hatred and selfishness.

Take the news this week. Someone blew up a town square in Thailand, killing 18. Is that the judgment of God? No, it cannot be. it is the decision of a person who wanted to kill people to make a point. There are squirrels in Yosemite National Park with the Plague. Is this the judgment of God? People used to say the Black Plague was God’s purging of evil. That is, until it happened in their towns. But then, they also thought it was caused by rats. So they burned the rats, not realizing it was spread by the fleas on the rats. When the rats burned, the fleas jumped to humans and spread the disease faster.

Are these things the judgment of God? Circumstances may be a consequence, but they are not the judgment of God. This is not the age for God’s judgment; that is held over until the future age. As we will see in the next article, all judgment has been given over to Jesus. And because of that, this world in which we live will face only one judgment in this life: the consequences of the evil we do to each other and the effects our evils have had on this planet.

In our first article, I asked whether God would judge the nation for gay marriage, abortion and immoral living. My answer is simple: Eventually, yes. Right now, no. There is a judgment on sin, but it is one that is brought by the consequences of our sins as a nation. Take abortion as an example. We callously disregarded the value of an unborn life. We redefined abortion as disposing of a “fetus”. Even though evidence is overwhelming that an unborn child has all of the functions we associate with a living being, our nation has willfully disregarded that evidence.

Let’s look at another example. Starting in the 1950s, divorce became way more common than it ever was before in American history. The effect of this is that a third of all children were raised with parents that were no longer together in the same household. Single-parent households account for a much higher percentage of problems for children than dual-parent households.

What is the consequence of rising rates of abortion and divorce? We gave birth to several generations who no longer want to get married and who are not really interested in having babies. We have a negative birth rate in our country.

Russia and China are even worse. Both of those countries have higher rates of divorce and abortion, and they continue to see rapidly dropping marriage and birth rates. (Yes, I know China has a policy where each couple can only have one child. But they are actually thinking of ending that policy because they have a rapidly aging population). In addition, China has a curious problem. Because they allowed abortion on demand, most couples who could only have one child wanted a boy. When these couples found out through ultrasound they were having a girl, they aborted those babies. Under the age of 35 in China, 70% of this population are male. Do you realize what that has done? Where are the brides for these men? Do you know what happens to a culture with this kind of gender unbalance? Violence grows at a rapid pace.

Violence, lack of children, absence of marriage. These are the judgments against abortion and divorce in China. But God has nothing to do with those judgments. We bring them on ourselves. The same could be said for dramatic changes in the climate of the planet, rising cancer rates and the preponderance of new diseases and drug-resistant infections. We brought these things on ourselves.

So what will the Judgment of God look like? In the next article, we will listen as Jesus lays out the full expanse of God’s plan of Judgment.

 

Christians and Our Poor Debating Skills-Part 1

Posted on August 17, 2015

debateThe Apostle Paul made it quite clear in 1 Corinthians 2 that he was not interested in getting into a philosophical discussion with the Greeks. He concluded that a philosophy was not going to transform lives in Corinth, but would actually prevent people from knowing God. His conclusion:

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

It seems ever since, Christians have decided since Paul avoided public debate, so should we. And unfortunately, many in Christendom who do engage in debate do it so poorly that it would be better if they didn’t. We break so many rules of logic and reason it is no wonder that people scoff at what we have to say. And we think it is because they are rejecting God’s Truth. Many times, people are rejecting the poor way we present the truth.

I assume most readers did not take a debating class in school or a class in Rhetoric in college. It would be good if every apologist did so, but most will not. Therefore, I want to be helpful and point out the 8 ways that Christians often make huge logical errors as we present biblical Truth.

1. Ad Hominem Errors.

I know…you don’t like Latin or anything that smacks of it. Neither do I. But this is what this error is called, so learn it and know what it means.

Ad Hominem means to attack a person making the argument instead of the argument itself. As followers of Christ, we ought to remember that each of us was the Chief of Sinners before God forgave us and gave us Grace. Unfortunately, when we speak of what we’ve learned in life, we often take a high and mighty attitude that looks down upon others who have not learned what we have. Let me give an example.

Jim believes that every woman should have a right to choose whether to have an abortion. His friend Bill, a Christian is trying to argue that all abortion is wrong. In his argument, Bill says this:

“Jim, haven’t you been in jail three times for losing your temper? Why should I listen to what you have to say? You’re a violent man who endorses violence against unborn children!”

This is an attack against Jim and therefore against his argument. But when you make the attack personal, it is really  no longer about the original idea. What if Jim had been a wonderful member of society, giving to the poor, making time to help puppies in distress–would that make his pro-choice argument stronger? No. An argument stands or falls on its merits, not on the limitations and moral standing of its presenter.

There is another type of Ad Hominem argument. That is where a person is attacked for their personal bias in the situation. We call that Situational Ad Hominem. For instance, if we are talking with someone who works for Planned Parenthood, we might tell them their argument doesn’t hold water because they receive financial benefit from abortions. Though that is true, it doesn’t affect the legitimacy of their argument. They could say the same about a pastor: That a pastor receives a salary and therefore must tow the party line on abortion or lose his job. That doesn’t mean a pastor arguing the pro-life argument is wrong either.

2. The Polemic Approach

This is used more in public addresses than in personal debate, but it is good for all of us to recognize when it is being used by people whose positions we agree with. This is also called “Argument of Emotive Language”. Some have called this “Preaching to the Choir”. It is not always wrong and may even be part of a debating approach that contains good facts and logic. But it is dangerous when used alone.

We heard this a lot in the gay marriage debates. Public speakers against gay marriage would stand and tell the crowds that legalizing gay marriage would destroy heterosexual marriages. The speakers never really explained how that would work. But it would stir up the crowds. Statements like “God made them Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” bring cheers and laughter. But this kind of appeal just clouds the real question.

In fact, during the court challenge against Proposition 8 (the California referendum that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman ) the Appeals Court asked defenders of Prop 8 to explain the position that gay marriage would hurt straight marriages. Remember, this is in a court of law where polemics are discouraged. The defendants tried to prove that this would happen, but their arguments were weak. Once you remove the crowd listening to the emotional appeal, the argument doesn’t sound all that strong. When that happens, you know you have a polemic appeal and not a logical one.

Preachers will use polemics to rally people to good living, helping the needy, evangelizing the lost, giving to missions and church work, attending church, forgiving your brother. All of these are good things and ought to be taught. But when the only teaching appeal is a series of slogans, jingoisms, emotive language and telling people what they already believe, the effectiveness is lost.

3. Appeal to Faith:  This is one that Christians often feel justified to use. And it is a legitimate appeal in some circumstances. The problem with this appeal is that we use it too often and many times in the wrong circumstances. Let me explain.

An appeal to faith is a way to end an argument by using faith as the ultimate appeal. It would be used in this way:

“I want to explain this to you, but it can’t be understood without faith. And because you don’t have faith, I can’t explain it to you.”

The reason this is wrong for Christians to use is because faith is not supposed to be our final appeal. Faith is a sense of trust in God. Faith says “even when i don’t understand, I trust God’s heart.” Faith has nothing to do with explaining something; it has to do with being able to trust even when we don’t understand something.”

If my child dies young, I can still believe that God loves me and is the King of the Universe. That is not an argument for God’s sovereignty or an argument for his love. Those arguments can be made many other ways. Faith in God is what I hold onto when the circumstances seem to suggest that God does not love or is not in charge. Faith is not to be used to explain the nature of God.

Here is what the appeal of faith looks like when it is used wrongly:

Seeker: “How can God be good if He allows evil things to happen?”

Believer: “If you had faith in God, you’d be able to accept that God is sovereign even if there is evil. I’m sorry, until you have faith, I can’t explain it to you.”

There is a reason this line of explanation is wrong. You can certainly explain the existence of evil without faith. God is a good God. God created all things, including mankind, and gave mankind the ability to choose good or evil. God left that choice free. Therefore, when man chooses evil, God does not prevent him because it would not be a free choice otherwise. This explains how God can be good but allow evil to exist. This is a logical argument.

Now, for people to believe in a God who allows evil, they must weigh the evidence and come to a decision. That decision is called faith. Faith does not help a person understand the argument. Faith comes after we have believed the argument. To put faith at the beginning is to make all logic and reason unnecessary. And God is the one who says “Come, let us reason together.”

4. False Dichotomy: In Rhetoric, this is one of the most common fallacies. This is also called a False Dilemma. A False Dichotomy is an argument where someone proposes there are only two legitimate choices, when there are actually more than two. It is used in politics all the time. If you have been watching the debates between the Republican candidates lately, you’ll hear this used all the time. Let me give a couple of examples:

“Either you want to cut off all immigration or you hate this country.”

“Either you stop voting to raise the debt ceiling or you want us to be owned by China.”

“Either you have a brain or you watch Reality Television.”

Years ago, this was used in the debate over Creationism. People would often claim that “either you believe in a literal six-day creation or you will need to throw out everything the Bible says.” “Either you believe in a six-day Creation or you believe in Evolution.” Over the years since Darwin, there have been at least 24 different variations of belief in the Creation account. And many of those variations are held by people who believe the Bible is God’s Word. They have simply adopted another way.

In the debate on homosexual practice, both sides like to frame the argument as a choice of two viewpoints. But recently, the debate has centered around a whole host of “third views”. The two main views are that homosexuality is a sin or that homosexuality is valid from God’s point of view. Using the False Dichotomy logic someone might say “Either you believe that homosexuality is a sin or you believe there is nothing wrong with it.”

But the issue is not that simple. There are people who believe that homosexuality is a sin, but being attracted to the same sex is not a sin. There are some who believe God endorses homosexual marriage, but not sex outside of marriage. There are those who believe that homosexuality is not a sin, but also believe it is wrong for modern society to endorse it (these are believers in the concept of Natural Law).

The problem with this logical fallacy is that it boils everything down to two alternatives, when there are often more than two. Some will say Jesus did this in the Bible. There was a moment he told his disciples “Whoever is not for us is against us.”  This certainly seems like two alternatives. But are there just two? At another point, Jesus says “Whoever is not against us is for us.” When you add the two statements together there are actually four views:

For Jesus

Not for Jesus

Against Jesus

Not against Jesus.

I think you can see the differences between these four positions if you try. Nicodemus, when he came to Jesus was not yet a believer. Yet he sought him out so he was not against Jesus. The crowd who wanted Barabbas to be released was not For Jesus. The Pharisees were actively against Jesus. The disciples were actively For Jesus. So look at these four examples: Nicodemus, the crowd, the Pharisees, the Disciples. These are four different positions related to Jesus. It is not just either or.

My uncle used to say “there are two groups of people in the world; those who lump the world into two groups and those who don’t.”

Next time, we will look at the four other common types of poor debating skills.

Quick Divine Judgment–What it Means and What it Doesn’t

Posted on August 11, 2015

Uzzah was a nice guy. Everyone said so. Whenever someone needed to move, Uzzah got his 3/4 ton donkey and helped out. He was just one of those guys who was always looking for a way to be supportive and useful.

So when his dad asked if he and his brother would help move the contents of the big box that had been left in their back yard, he didn’t think anything of it. He had been willing even to help lift it onto the big cart they would be using to haul it to Jerusalem, but his dad had a worried look on his face and told him not to touch it. That day, a bunch of Levites showed up to load it onto Uzzah’s cart. Uzzah had a beer while he watched the other guys work. He had no trouble taking a break when there was nothing to do.

Dad told him to walk beside the cart  and make sure the oxen didn’t take off into the fields. Right before they left, Dad explained that this was the Ark of the Covenant, one of the most important items in Israel’s history. Uzzah heard the words, but they meant nothing to him. He just liked to help.

About 4 miles up the road, one of the oxen slipped on a smooth rock and stumbled. Uzzah was walking by one side of the cart and saw the Ark begin to slip off the side. He quickly reached out to steady it.

The second his skin touched the Ark, he was dead. He will forever live as the poster-boy for the Quick Judgment of God.

In the last article, we saw that God is slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness. Except when He isn’t. There are some notable examples of God very quickly enacting Judgment. Let me mention just a couple:

  • In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of land and brought it to the care of the Apostles. They told Peter they sold the land for a lot less than they actually did and kept back some of the money for themselves. As soon as Ananias lied to Peter about the amount of money, he dropped over dead. When his wife came in later, Peter asked her the same question and she concurred with her husband’s account. She too died immediately.
  • A sorcerer named Elymas or Bar-Jesus opposed the Apostle Paul when he was preaching. He immediately became blind until Paul touched him and prayed for him.
  • King Herod stood up to give a speech one day. The crowds were trying to butter him up for a favor they were going to ask, so they kept calling him a “god”. He didn’t refute this. Immediately, the book of Acts tells us, he dropped over dead because worms ate his insides.
  • The ten plagues that God struck Egypt with came in rapid succession. However, in this case, God gave lots of warning and even took away the plagues when Pharoah begged him to.
  • In 2 Kings 2, Elisha the Prophet is walking up to Jerusalem when a bunch of street kids starting taunting him about his bald head. He curses them in the name of the Lord. Immediately two bears rush out of the woods and mangle 42 of them.

There are other instances of this, but these suffice to make the point. Sometimes, the God of the Bible does enact judgment quickly. There are several things to note about all these scenes.

1. For the most part, when God enacts quick judgment, people die. .

2. When God judges quickly, he rarely uses a human intermediary for the judgment.

3. Quick Judgments never get repeated in the same way. This is a crucial point I want to explore. It will tell us a lot about what quick judgments mean.

Let’s go back to Uzzah. Nowhere in the story do we see the heart condition of Uzzah. He was just this guy. The Ark of the Covenant was a visible reminder of the sublime relationship between Israel and Jehovah God. 20 years earlier, the Philistines captured the Ark, and kept in their land. But the presence of the ark caused rats and cancerous tumors for the people living where the Ark was. So they begged Israel to take the Ark back. Israel took it back but no one wanted it. They were all afraid. So the leaders of Israel asked Uzzah’s father (or clan leader) to care for it at Kiriath-Jearim. While it was there for 20 years, God richly blessed that town. King David noticed this blessing and thought to himself, “I should bring the Ark back to Jerusalem, the center of the Kingdom”. So he arranged for some Levites to bring it back. According to the Law of Moses, only a Levite could work with the Ark.

Uzzah was not a Levite. As I speculated above, he was there to help out with the oxen. So why did he die?

As far as I can tell, it was because he touched the Ark which was against the Law. If you also think this was a pretty harsh punishment for such a small infraction, join the team with me. In fact, it so presents a different view of Jehovah from the rest of the Bible, that many people have doubted whether this story is true. But consider a few points.

First, this is not about Uzzah. This is about the Ark. The Ark was the resident symbol of God’s abiding presence with the nation of Israel, a covenant people. They had not taken God seriously for many years. This journey of the Ark from Kiriath-Jearim to Jerusalem is a significant one. It marks a moment when the covenant people were returning back to God.

Significant moments are key to rapid judgment. Ananias and Sapphira were trying to lie to the Holy Spirit at a moment when the church was in its infancy. If they had achieved their deception, people would have heard about it and a general cynicism about the Holy Spirit would have grown rapidly. In the case of Elymas, Paul was bringing the Gospel to a new place. They arrived on Cyprus and the proconsul had asked to speak to Paul. The church in Cyprus was about to be born. And Elymas, a sorcerer stood in its way.

Believe it or not, God doesn’t work miracles or heal or intervene in human endeavors simply because He loves us. God loves us even when he doesn’t heal us. He loves us even if we suffer. No, God intervenes with His Power when it best suits the purposes He has in history. And that doesn’t happen as often as you think.

The same principle applies with Quick Judgment. When God acts quickly it is because it is a crucial moment in history. There are malevolent spirits in this universe. They oppose the work of God and often inspire people to do so. When this power encounter happens, often God needs to intervene to protect His work in this world.

Ed Silvoso, in his book “That None Should Perish”  tells of a moment in Argentina’s history that underscores this principle. He and several prayer warriors were praying over the city of La Resistencia, a hotbed of witchcraft and the occult. They could not figure out how to break the power of the enemy in that town. So, instead of fighting the enemy, they began to pray for church leaders, that God would bring unity among them. They also prayed that God himself would intervene and break the power of the occult in that town.

God moved quickly. And as often happens, it was deadly.

The news spread fast. A woman known as the high priestess of a particular occult group in town had burst into flames in her bedroom and was consumed in seconds. No other part of the house was burned. This shook the witchcraft leaders to their core. Great fear seized everyone. This is similar to what happened after Uzzah, Ananias and Sapphira and Herod all died. God had made his point. La Resistencia is now a great place of God’s work.

With Rapid Judgment, God is usually making a point, not stamping out a pattern.

During the Scottish Reformation, several people who opposed the work of God died suddenly. This was also true in Burma during the early 1800s. We could cite case after case from Church History of instances where God did intervene with a miracle–even a miracle of judgment–and the work of God went forward.

I instruct people however, never to pray this way. This is not our concern. The most we can ask God is to “take care of this however you want to.” I know people who pray God will judge others and rain down plagues upon them. Don’t pray that way; this is Witchcraft praying. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his followers to pray blessings on those who oppose them. But if God wants to judge them quickly, that is God’s job.

There is one other thing to notice. Pharaoh and Herod. Both of them died suddenly and at the hand of God. In neither case did it really help the cause of God’s Kingdom. Both of them could have gone on living and it wouldn’t have affected God’s plan.

Paul, in Romans 9, tells us that God had been patient with Pharaoh for a long time. He allowed Pharaoh to live because it suited God’s purposes. When that purpose was done, Pharaoh was dead. We all need to remember that we still live because God allows it. God holds the power of Life and Death in His hands.

I think we can conclude the same thing about Herod. God had enough of that dastardly guy. Allowing himself to be deified by the crowd was one step too far. God may be slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness, but there is a moment when God has had enough.

Remember when your mother used to say “I have had enough of this”. When my mom said it, I cleared out fast.

You don’t want to hear God say it.

Why is Judgment Delayed?

Posted on August 4, 2015

My friend asked if he could meet with me to do a Bible study. He had been a leader in our church community for several years. I wanted to honor him even though I struggled with the way he was living his life at that moment. He had become violent with his wife and had gone back to some old ways; drinking and smoking pot among them.

That day, he wanted to study Psalm 73 together with me. At the time, I had only a passing acquaintance with that particular psalm, so I quickly read it through before he came to see me.  The first verses started out well and were very encouraging:

Surely God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.

But then the meditations of the psalmist get worse from there. In verses 2-12 the psalm takes a dark turn.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
    I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

They have no struggles;
    their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from common human burdens;
    they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
    their evil imaginations have no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
    with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
    and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them
    and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, “How would God know?
    Does the Most High know anything?”

12 This is what the wicked are like—
    always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

My friend pointed out verse 11 to me. “God doesn’t punish sin apparently. I know some pretty raunchy people who are never judged, who never have to face the consequences of what they’ve done. I spent years trying to live right and my life has gone down the toilet over and over again. I finally decided to change my tune.” I looked at him curiously. His facial expression told me he really meant these words.

Together, we read verses 13 and 14.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted,
    and every morning brings new punishments.

He continued to tell me that this is the reality of those who serve God. If God isn’t going to judge sins immediately, then there is no point being righteous. He then spent several minutes explaining how he would do things if he was God. He likened it to his own children. “The longer I wait to discipline my children when they make a mistake, the less effective my punishment is” he claimed. At this point in our bible study, he informed me he was planning on living any way he wanted to and asked me not to be concerned for him. He no longer believed in God’s judgment for sin. He believed that God was the equivalent of a tottering old man who can’t accomplish anything of purpose in life.

I didn’t talk to my friend for 8 years. The next time I spoke to him, he had a totally different interpretation of Psalm 73. But we’ll get to that at the end of the article.

The writer of Psalm 73 is certainly correct. It does seem that God is slow in enacting judgment. This has been the experience of so many people, starting with Adam and Eve and continuing to the present day. Not only that, but the Bible tells us in many places that God is deliberate in sparing humans from immediate judgment for transgressions.

In hundreds of places in the Bible, we see a variation on this theme. In the Old Testament especially, we are told that God is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness”. The words “loving kindness” can also be translated “mercy” or “covenant love”. They are the translation of the Hebrew word “chesed” which speaks of the obligation someone has when they enter into a covenant with another person.

Chesed is the love that a father has for a child, a wife has for a husband, Christ has for his church, and the Creator has for His creation. It is not based primarily on reactionary emotion. Chesed is a decision to do the gracious and compassionate thing for the object of our chesed.

God’s nature is a compassionate nature. God is not eager to judge and punish. We are told that Jesus is the fullness of God in bodily form. When Jesus says “Father, forgive them” this was the heart of the Father as well. But why is this the case? Since God is a righteous judge, why does he wait so long to punish and bring judgment?

I think the Bible provides us with three clear answers for why God delays judgment, sometimes for generations.

1.  God Desires Full Repentance:  In 2 Peter 3:9 we read

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 

This was what my friend struggled with. He couldn’t see how a God of justice would wait to reward or punish based on a person’s actions. Why wait? That just confuses the issue.

But Peter tells us that God is not really slow at all. God always has the long view of everything. God is like a good coach of a sporting team. Even if things are not going well at the beginning, He does not panic and go outside of his plan. This is often why we see disasters, wars, famine, earthquakes and we see God allowing them. All of these things can happen and yet have nothing to do with judgment.

God’s purpose in delaying is that it gives people a chance to change their minds. The word “repentance” is the Greek word “metanoia” which means to change one’s mind. Human beings need time to change the mind. We are stubborn, pig-headed and opinionated. We do what we want, when we want. And God allows this. If God were to bring immediate judgment for sin, there would be no repentance. All we would know is the fear of judgment. We would never change our minds. Rather, we would be looking over our shoulder for God in the same manner as we look for police officers on the freeway when we want to speed.

I remember the story of the little girl in the classroom. She had the wiggles and didn’t want to sit down. The teacher got more and more upset that she wouldn’t take her seat. Finally, she threatened her with a detention if she didn’t take her seat. So the girl sat down. 30 seconds later she raised her hand. The teacher gave her permission to speak. “Teacher, I may be sitting down on the outside, but inside me I’m standing straight up.”

God could exert his power and force us to do what is right. But our hearts would not be changed. And God values the change of heart before he values the change in behavior. We need to change our minds in order for the fullness of repentance to take place. This means God has to hold back his full judgment so we can see how foolish our actions are. God still allows consequences of our actions, but he delays his punishment.

2. God’s Character Demands Patience in Judgment:  The elements of God’s character do not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  As God reveals aspects of his character, it is not possible for God to lay them aside. They must be integrated with every other aspect of his character.

In Joel 2:13, we read:

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.

Joel is a book all about God’s judgment through a natural disaster. Swarms of locusts have ravaged the land of Israel and left no crops and no food anywhere. Joel pictures the locusts as the army of God swooping down to devour and judge. That is why it is curious that we read verse 13. God is not sometimes gracious and compassionate. He always is. God never takes delight in punishing and bringing judgment. He never does. He will do so reluctantly, but he delays it as long as possible. This underscores the big difference between judgment and consequences. If a person gets drunk continually, they will have problems with their liver and may die because of it. Those are not actions of judgment. They are simply what we have coming to us for our actions. But God’s judgment is a punishment that goes beyond the consequences. As we saw in the last article, this is the drought brought about by Saul killing some Gibeonites. Judgment is the death of all the first-born in Egypt. Judgment is Jehioachin being taken into captivity by Babylon even though his father and grandfather were much more evil.

However, Joel shows us the true nature of God: “He relents from sending calamity”. Even while the judgment is happening, God’s heart is not in it. He would rather not bring punishment. The second a person repents, God will work on their behalf.

Later in chapter two of Joel, it states:

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

There are many who assume that Judgment is the highest priority on God’s heart. But this is not the biblical record. God will judge because He cannot overlook anything. But he would rather forgive. It is his nature to do so.

3. God’s Judgment Requires Warnings:  There is a third reason God delays his judgment. He wants to make room for his servants to announce that people need to change their ways. Sometimes, this takes a number of generations before this can take place. And it isn’t always prophets that do the preaching. The ending of slavery meant a brave president had to be used by God. In England, William Wilberforce was God’s mouthpiece. Mother Teresa got more changed in Mumbai than most preachers have ever accomplished.

Samuel Rutherford preached one time in Edinburgh and was escorted out of the city by the order of the Catholic Cardinal. As he was leaving, he warned them: “This action to remove me will only serve to bring disaster on this city. When this happens, invite me back to preach and all will be well.” When Rutherford left the city, the Bubonic Plague, which had not been seen for a hundred years in Scotland, struck the city. Within weeks, they invited Rutherford back to preach.

I think of the reluctant prophet Jonah. God wanted him to go and preach in the city of Nineveh, the home of one of history’s most notorious and evil armies. They did unspeakable things to their victims, including Jonah’s people. Jonah didn’t want to preach in Nineveh. Why?

Because he knew God was gracious and compassionate and would forgive the people of Nineveh if he preached. Which is exactly why Jonah was being sent. Which is why Jonah ran the other direction and had to be brought back by a fishy water taxi. When Jonah announced that God would judge the city of Nineveh in 40 days, all the people changed their minds and changed their ways. They even put sackcloth and ashes on the cattle.

And Jonah was angry about this. In Jonah 4, the prophet accuses God:

Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah wanted God to judge the people of Nineveh. He didn’t care if innocent children and the mentally handicapped faced the same retribution. He wanted them wiped off the face of the earth. And God didn’t do it immediately. He sent Jonah to preach so they could change their ways; and they did.

God left you and I on this earth to warn people about the coming judgment, not to tell them it is happening now. If we’re being sent to preach, it is likely that judgment hasn’t happened yet. At least not the kind of judgment that God is part of.

8 years later, my friend returned to me. He had just got out of jail and asked if he could meet with me. In the first half hour we met, he explained how his life had deteriorated. He explained why alcoholism and violence had brought about. It was a sad story and I wept in hearing it. He had been my friend. But at the end of his story of decay, he told me God had him read Psalm 73 again. He told me he wished he had read further in the text. Here’s what he pointed out:

When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.

18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;
    you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed,
    completely swept away by terrors!
20 They are like a dream when one awakes;
    when you arise, Lord,
    you will despise them as fantasies.

21 When my heart was grieved
    and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
    I was a brute beast before you.

23 Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

The psalmist realized the only way to understand the righteous and the wicked is to take the long view. God will never forget good works or bad works. And God is slow to anger because this is his purpose and his nature. The key is to do what is right and to come into relationship with God continually. That day, my friend came back to the Lord and left behind his sin. He has never been sorry he did.

So, when you consider that God doesn’t judge right away, thank Him that judgment is not his highest priority.

But sometimes, judgment is right around the corner; when we least expect it. The next article, I will lay out God’s plan for us when judgment does come down.

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