Saturday, October 31, 2015

Jesus' Costume

I read a post to FB this morning that has inspired me to share an apologetic on why I believe Halloween for Christians is something to consider.  I think that if Jesus were here in bodily form, He would be out there with us.  Besides, He likes the whole idea of costumes...remember that one time He came into the world dressed like a person?  How great was that!  And then when He was on the Mount of Transfiguration and Peter, James, and John saw Him without His costume...what a day!  I'm convinced too His teaching about what goes into our mouths doesn't defile us.  I wish I had better Bible knowledge as a child...I would have shared that text with my parents on Halloween and Easter when they said I couldn't have any more candy!

The post I read had a great point.  Let's stop comparing Christians celebrating Halloween with Christmas and Easter.  Those aren't fair comparisons.  I agree.  Although many Christian holidays have pagan influences, Christmas and Easter are now fully Christian.  There are no other two holidays more sacred to Christians than Jesus' birth and His resurrection.  Even if their origins have to own some fault for pagan assimilation, today those holidays have one focus for us as devoted followers of Jesus...Him!  We cannot let the history that is behind us rob us of the opportunity we have to make the history that is before us!  And the history that is before us is desperate for devoted followers of Jesus to glorify His name!  From someone who has been in pastoral ministry since 1999, people turn their attention to God on those two holidays!  I know the Holy Spirit is always working in every life to bring them to Jesus and those two holidays create moments for His seeds to find good soil!

I believe people's reluctance to celebrate whatever you want to call 10/31 is born out of two streams of thought.  The first is that it violates someone's conscience.  I understand that.  We all need to understand that.  Scripture is clear in it's division of sin.  There are moral issues.  Those things that are wrong for all people for all time, without exception.  There are matters of conscience which are things that are wrong for one person but not for someone else.  The Apostle Paul used certain dietary restrictions as an example of this.  Then there are forgoing liberties.  This is where the Apostle Paul, on more than one occasion, talks about our need as Christians to forgo liberties if in exercising that liberty we may cause another to stumble in temptation.  For example, if you are having dinner with a recovering alcoholic, you should not have that favorite glass of wine with your meal.  This is the first reason there is conflict with Halloween, in two ways.  The first way is found in the name used.  We don't avoid the use of "Halloween" because we are ashamed of our activities.  We don't use that name because we don't want to unnecessarily offend.  This isn't being politically correct or white washing our's being sensitive to others which quite frankly needs to be more abundant in the Christian community!  The second way is that people who don't celebrate Halloween because it violates their conscience need to be respected, honored, and celebrated.  But those same people need to stop trying to justify their abstaining by making this a moral issue.  I have a definition of unity I like to teach.  Unity is when absolute commonalities transcend relative dissimilarities.  We need to agree on absolutes and hold them in common.  We also need to agree on what is relative and embrace how we are dissimilar.  When we force those things that are relative (matters of conscience and forgoing liberties) into the category of morality, we create legalism.  When we force those things that are absolute into the category of relative, we create permissiveness.  If you have come out of a background of the occult, some sort of satan worship, or used to get falling down drunk and stupid on Halloween and celebrating that day now in any way, even if your celebration now is wholesome, creates a feeling of conviction in your heart then most certainly, respect your conscience!

This post I read today also used comparison like orgies or naked group dancing around a fire...all pagan practices.  That we would not do those things and defend them as Christians.  No we wouldn't. I prefer to do my naked fire dancing in private...just kidding!  I can't even dance clothed!  But just in the same way you don't like unfair comparisons like with Christmas and Easter, neither do we.  All those examples in and of themselves are immoral.  Sex outside of marriage, sexual immodesty...all of those are wrong regardless of the reason.  Halloween for Christians who are celebrating community, having fun as a family, reaching out to their neighbors, using it to tell people about Jesus like we do at City Life...those are all virtuous, noble Christian actions.  Just because other people are using this night to celebrate evil does not undermine why we are celebrating.  Just because it is historically evil also does not taint the virtuous reasons we celebrate today.  If anything, because other people are using this night to celebrate evil is all the more reason we should be out there celebrating righteousness and life fully devoted to Jesus!  Those comparisons are born out of a need for people who have a legitimate matter of conscience objection but want to press it inappropriately into the category of morality.

Okay, here is the second stream of thought among Christians about Halloween.  As I was reading the Bible this morning, I found myself in Luke 14.  The chapter begins with Jesus healing on the Sabbath much to the anger of the religious leaders there.  These conflicts with Jesus and the religious establishment were related to what is referred to as traditions of the elders.  These were restrictions that were not specifically called for in the Mosaic Law but were born out of rabbinical interpretation. For example, because working was prohibited in the Sabbath, a person with a tooth ache could not rinse their mouth with vinegar and spit it out because that would be practicing medicine and is working.  You could however rinse and swallow because that fell under the category of eating.  There were limits on how far you could walk...which is why you find in Scripture the phrase "a Sabbath days journey" to communicate distance...people of Jesus' day knew how far that would be, based on these traditional restrictions.  Jesus' frustration with the religious establishment was that they viewed God as a God who took pleasure in denial.  This same view point gave birth to the failed experiment of Monasticism.  Does God have boundaries...yes!  But His boundaries are only for the purpose of releasing us into more liberty!  Wasn't it Jesus who said in John 10 that He came so we could have life to the fullest possible measure?  Many Christians today find an unhealthy fulfillment in denial.  I'm all for denial that is virtuous.  But I would humbly suggest that many of the people who feel the need to take hard stance against Christian families having fun tonight in an effort to honor God would have complained about Jesus violating the traditional Sabbath, not following washing rituals, parties He attended, and disciples He chose.  Liberty is a celebrated virtue of Christianity and one that we must not lose.

I hope this helps bring some clarity to why people can't seem to agree on this issue.  We don't need to agree...that is a beautiful aspect of the Christian faith that makes Jesus so very different from the rest!

Pastor Fred

Thursday, October 29, 2015

My Mind Didn't Change (part 3)

This is the third and final post for this series.  I hope that it has accomplished two things:  inspired you to read and study the view points of those with whom you disagree and has equipped you with knowledge to better understand the serious cultural changes happening in society with regards to marriage and sexuality.  Thank you for reading and if this topic interests you then please take the time to read through the LGBTQI series which is a much more exhaustive look at this subject.

I want to address two other parts of Gushee's book.  They are both found in the chapter entitled Creation, Sexual Orientation and God's Will.  On my iPad (horizontal) the first is on pages 298 and 299.  He sites again the percentage of people who identify with the LGBTQI community as being 3.4 to 5 percent of the population.  Then, he fairly estimates this number to be 2 percent if we remove bisexual and what he refers to as "some measure of sexual-orientation fluidity."  His point is that 2 percent of the population who long for romantic relationships, meaningful life partnership, are denied this basic human need by those of us who believe Scripture prohibits same gender romantic relationships.  Listen to this quote from Gushee, "These phenomena, embodied by real people, exist.  How are we to integrate these stubborn facts with Scripture, while responding compassionately to the real human beings in front of us?"

I find that quote terribly troubling.  The suggestion is that because people are at odds with Scripture then some sort of accommodation should be made.  What?  Isn't that the nature of Scripture?  We submit our lives to the text!  Gushee is clever.  He knows to blatantly suggest such a thing would be borderline heresy so what does he do?  He points out that mankind has a proven history of misinterpreting the Bible.  One, he rightly reminds us that people used to believe the earth was at the center of our planetary system and inappropriately used Scripture to support their claim.  His second example is less certain.  I think old earth vs. new earth is still a debate that is evenly championed in the Christian community.  But Gushee offers this as another example, suggesting that the earth is billions of years old and that Christians have inappropriately used the Bible to suggest otherwise.  His point?  Our interpretation of Scripture has been flawed and could very well be flawed with the issue of a Biblical prohibition against same gender romantic relationships.

This is my concern with his comparison.  The Bible is not given to us for scientific purposes.  Do I believe in the historicity of Scripture, yes.  Do I believe the Bible will never contradict valid scientific conclusions, yes.  But these two examples used by Gushee are not prominent themes taken up by Scripture.  Where are the texts that God provides in Scripture that speak to a direct prohibition against anyone who will not accept a heliocentric planetary system?  Where are the texts that speak to a direct prohibition against anyone who will not accept an old earth point of view?  They don't exist, because my scientific conclusions do not affect my relationship with God but my moral practice most certainly does!  Scripture has a plentiful collection of texts that speaks directly to sexuality and marriage.

My final point is found on page 311 of this same chapter (iPad horizontal).  Listen to this appalling quote.  "If we live in a Genesis 3 world, and not a Genesis 1-2 world, this undoubtedly means that everyone's sexuality is sinful, broken and disordered, just like everything else about us."  I find this disturbing because of his misuse of truth.  Yes.  We are all broken and sinful, saved by God's grace alone.  But to use this truth as permission giving for people to not bring their sexuality into submission to Biblical boundaries is inexcusable.  He says later that "no one's sexually is innocent."  We are not innocent in any way.  But forgiveness is not permission to abandon all efforts to Biblical conformity.  He is suggesting that because every person his flawed, no one should challenge the lifestyle of another...good thing the Apostle Paul didn't read this book or most of the New Testament would be missing!

I do have one partial praise for Gushee.  He does hold firm on the Biblical mandate that all sexual relationships should only be within a covenantal marriage.  My disappointment is clearly that he believes marriage does not have to be between one man and one woman.  But I am glad to see that he does not give permission for promiscuity.  However, if I were to apply all his arguments for permitting same gender romantic relationships against his position for "covenantal-marriage ethics" he would have to yield that ground.  Once you undermine the authority of Scripture and the divine authorship of Scripture, you have lost all moral foundation.  This is where Gushee leads us.

I hope this series has been meaningful, informative, and inspiring...keep reading!

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

My Mind Didn't Change (part two)

My comments on David Gushee's book "Changing Our Mind" continues with chapter four, entitled "What Exactly Is The Issue."  When reading books of this genre, one must be vigilant in identifying false choices.  Authors, all of us, tend to frame the debate in a way that serves our conclusions.  Sometimes these efforts are blatant and other times they are more subtle.

Early on this chapter, Gushee calls the viewpoint I hold as the "historic heterosexual norm" while referring to the alternative view that he holds as "...research and mental health efforts..." meaning that mine is based on a mere tradition born out of undue human influence and his is strongly scientific.  There is also a subtle accusation in his remarks that traditional gender roles are responsible for excesses like chauvinism.  That is the equivalent of saying that the institution of marriage is responsible for the sin of adultery.  Ludicrous.

This chapter also acknowledges that according to several studies in the U.S. the LGBTQI community only make up about 3.4 to 5 percent of the total population.  Does anyone else find this figure staggering?  How could such a small percent of people effect such cultural change in our society?  I am not trying to marginalize anyone or condone the degradation of anyone.  I believe everyone should be treated with respect, even if their view is different than mine on matters I classify as divisive doctrines.  My opinion is that they were successful because The Church over the last several decades has vilified people in the LGTBQI community instead of lovingly opposing their viewpoint.  Our response however because we failed in love must not be to make up for our sin by now extending permission.

Probably the most appalling statement by Gushee in this chapter is that he says the "ex-gay" movement has been a total failure.  This is another strategy employed by authors, to be overly dismissive of a contrary point in hopes of not having to address the opposition's point of view.  Gushee is either guilty of exaggeration or arrogance.  Neither alternative is noble.  All of the "research and clinical results" he frequently sites are only telling us what we already know.  Humanity has from the beginning of time suffered from the desire to self-direct.  Let me try and distill Gushee's premise into this statement:  because people continue to demonstrate a deep desire and longing for a life in regards to self determination with gender identification and same gender romantic, sexual relationships, we should doubt our understanding of Scripture's teaching on these matters.  I'm all for questioning and studying.  But let's not be surprised that humanity resists Scripture's boundaries.  If I am uncomfortable with conclusions that are divisive and conclusive then I am going to be uncomfortable with the idea of a sovereign God and an authoritative Scripture.

So Gushee in his books begins to call in question various texts that are central in this debate.  Because of this, I question whether or not he believes in the doctrine of a sovereign God and an authoritative Scripture.  I say that because of he begins to systematically undermine the texts that I would use to loving show God is opposed to someone rejecting the gender He assigned them and someone who wants to have same gender romantic and sexual relationships.  And one way people have always tried to minimize texts in Scripture that inconveniently oppose their point of view is to suggest that those particular texts are not from God but rather the insertion of a human influence.  If we are going to wrestle with the interpretation of Scripture, let's dance!  This is healthy.  This is edifying.  This helps everyone.  But if you begin by saying "God didn't write that" then there is nothing more to debate.  If you want to have a conversation that starts with, "What did God mean when He said..." then let's have that conversation.  But Gushee can't start there!  Why?  Because Gushee knows these texts do not lack clarity of intent.  So he must attack the credibility of the source.

Now the question of the whether or not all Scripture is divinely inspired is worthy of an entire series of its own.  I believe all Scripture is divinely inspired and God in His sovereignty was able to give us the Bible He intended for us to have.  I know that is a terribly oversimplified response but I wanted you to know where I stand on the authority of Scripture.  So not only do his comments in chapter four give me pause but also in chapter 14.  He makes this statement in reference to the creation account we so cherish in Genesis, "In Genesis 1-11, a primeval prehistory, the authors/editors both borrowed from and subverted their neighbor's creation stories, while adding new elements, to paint a theological picture of creation, human origins, marriage and family life..."    He goes on to say that "most scholars" agree that Genesis 1:1-2:4a and 2:4b-25 are two different creation accounts "interwoven by an editor."  Wow...really?

I have to admit.  If I had found those statements earlier in this book, I would not have survived its reading.  God is the author of Scripture.  Do we find similar accounts of creation in other cultures?  Yes!  Read Don Richardson's book "Eternity In Their Hearts."  The fact that these similarities exist is not a foregone conclusion that Genesis was borrowed but rather the realization that God as being the author of creation was somehow divinely revealed to other cultures as a confirmation of the accounts in Scripture we so deeply cherish.  Why?  Because as Mr. Richardson concludes, this positions these cultures to embrace the Gospel because they could relate to its origin!    And how about Gushee's opinion he presents as fact in regards to Genesis chapter one and two.  To say "most scholars" agree with him is irresponsible.  Maybe most of the "scholars" he knows!  I would say Christianity is about evenly split on that issue.  This is another example of being dismissive to avoid debating the real facts.  But the most disconcerting remark by Gushee for me is his use of the word "editor."  He is calling into question the divine authorship of certain Biblical texts.  This has always been the argument of people who want to undermine the texts that are inconveniently exclusive and divisive on issues and matters that oppose their point of view.

Be cautious of the conclusions of anyone who will not concede to the divine authorship of Scripture and the authority Scripture should hold over our lives.

I'm looking forward to continuing this series next week!

Pastor Fred

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

My Mind Didn't Change (part one)

I am beginning a new series with this post.  At the recommendation of dear friend, I purchased and read a book by the author David P. Gushee entitled "Changing Our Mind."  I guess you can deduce from the title of this series that my mind didn't change.  Gushee chronicles for his readers how his own mind changed in regards to whether or not the Bible specifically forbids same gender romantic relationships and same gender sex.  He offers many well prepared arguments and he shares what is clearly an extensive research project to try and bring his readers to the same "paradigm leap" that he himself has made.

I don't doubt his sincerity, his belief in his own convictions, or his academic prowess.  I did however find his conclusions to be misplaced and his arguments at times to be poorly constructed.  Maybe I am just intellectually obtuse.  I will leave those conclusions to you!  I do recommend the book because I believe we must be diligent in reading the views of those we oppose.  We must not be intellectually lazy, especially with issues that are shaping our culture.

I think the best way to approach this review of sorts is to simply share my perspective on bookmarks and highlights I made as I was offer, if I may, a running commentary.  If you have questions about sections to which I did not respond in this series, feel free to communicate those questions and I will do my best to respond.  Some highlights and bookmarks I may group together and others I may address individually.

The first comes from chapter two entitled Our Moment: A Church With A Problem.  Let me say I agree, that any church has a problem if they are mean spirited, hateful, and dismissive.  Or, as the author later shares in chapter twenty, has contempt for anyone in the LGBT community.  We must find our way forward in the path of Christ which is to speak the truth in love.  As I shared in a recent sermon reflecting on the text in John 1:14, our words too must be full of both grace and truth.  Grace without truth is flattery and truth without grace is an accusation.  Unfortunately the author is right in his observation that too many churches historically have lacked grace in sharing the truth of their convictions.

It will be difficult for me to give you a page number because I read this book on my iPad and iPhone!  This is towards the end of the chapter referenced above and he writes, "...the Church at least can demonstrate the capacity to live in community with each other even if we find full agreement impossible on this question."  I categorically disagree with the conclusion that a church must be inclusive in order to be gracious.  If a church feels that a matter of lifestyle is immoral and that conclusion is reached through an honest and clear process of Biblical interpretation, then a church should not be condemned if that said moral boundary is taught and is used to bring accountability to those who willing attend.

I will speak to our church specifically.  I wrote a series on this blog entitle LGBTQI that details my position on many of the issues addressed by Gushee in his book.  These are also the beliefs we teach at our church (City Life).  These are the beliefs we use in caring for people who have questions.  Our weekend worship services are open to anyone, whether they agree with us or not.  But in order for people to become a member or if people are going to serve in ministry we seek some agreement on issues of morality and a willingness to begin to take steps to align their lives with those beliefs.

There must be allowance for divisive doctrines.  I have a definition I teach for unity.  Unity is when absolute commonalities transcend relative dissimilarities.  Gushee would prefer churches to categorize same gender romantic relationships and same gender sex issues in the category of "relative" meaning lets give people the freedom to believe what they choose.  He would say we can be dissimilar on these issues and because they are relative (up to the person) let's not sacrifice unity.  I would argue however that the belief in a Biblical prohibition against same gender romantic relationships and same gender sex is an absolute and requires common acceptance, agreement by everyone.  If we place every belief in the category of "absolute" then we create an unBiblical, legalistic environment.  However, if we place every believe in the category of "relative" then we create an unBiblical environment of permissiveness.

If Gushee has any divisive beliefs, meaning that there is any doctrine he holds that he believes should be a requirement for someone to join a church in which he held a position of spiritual authority, then he must champion every church's right to hold divisive doctrines.  He is being hypocritical to imply that a church is uncaring if they believe in a Biblical prohibition against same gender romantic relationships and same gender sex and holds that belief as a divisive doctrine.  Exclusivity is a necessary component of Christianity.  Exclusivity makes us nervous, understandably so.  Excluding others has been a tragic part of history in a manifold of circumstances.  But we cannot let the abuse of others delegitimize the fair and honorable use of exclusion.  Unless Gushee is a Universalist, he must acknowledge that exclusion is a necessary aspect of the Christian experience.  If he is a Universalist, then I should be writing a blog about his heresy.

Looking forward to exploring this book in greater detail with you!

Pastor Fred