iBooks Publish Announcement

For those of you living in the Windows and/or Android worlds, you can download the PDF version from my blog site here.

Christ and CorneliusChrist and Cornelius

I have published an eBook on iBooks.

Christ and Cornelius: The Biblical Case Against Christian Pacifism

Is Jesus Christ a pacifist?  Many Christians believe this to be the case.  However, unless this position can withstand careful Biblical scrutiny it cannot be considered true.  I have subjected this claim to that very standard in this book, and, have found it to be unsupported.  Along the way important issues regarding Biblical interpretation, the person and purpose of Jesus Christ, the application of King David’s life to our own times, the first Gentile convert to Christianity and Western Civilization’s crisis, among others, are discussed.

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Occasional Confirmations (1)

greenAs I’ve blogged about many and sundry topics I, by necessity, have stated opinions and drawn conclusions.  Certainly there have been cases in which I wasn’t correct.  Being a fallen man, I’m far more sensitive to those occasions in which new evidence appears to confirm rather than contradict past ideas.  Three of these confirmations come to mind that rise to the level of sharing.

Jesus Christ as a Progressive Avatar

Early in this blog’s life I focused on the theological issues that appeared to be the primary sources of the PC(USA)’s movement into open apostasy.  One of the primary conclusions of this study was that Progressive Christianity had replaced Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture with one of their own making.  I discussed this idea in a February 2, 2015 blog titled “Jesus Christ Avatar.”  At that time I was using the term “postmodern Christian,” which I have come to consider as a subset of the larger group of Progressive Christians.  My statement of the issue was:

I contend that through the incessant repetition of these misleading statements postmodern Christians have emptied Jesus Christ of who He is and refilled him with who they would like him to be. They have turned him into an avatar whose purpose is to act as an embodiment of their philosophy. He has been turned into “that guy who surely agrees with whatever I decide is good and true” as opposed to the objectively real incarnation of God who said and did specific things that are authoritative in defining our Christian understanding of faith and it’s playing out in our lives.

The fascinating aspect of the associated confirmation experience was that what I had imagined to be a relatively recent development was actually at the very least decades old.  For, in a May 16, 2016 post titled “A Brief Excursion into PCUSA Heresy” I reported on the words of Dr. Van Til in an essay on the Confession of 1967 (emphasis added).

Though we concede that the new creed and its new theology speak highly of both Christ and the Bible, we nevertheless contend that new meanings have been attached to old, familiar words. The whole question, accordingly, is one of reinterpretation. One may take a milk bottle and fill it with a poisonous white liquid and call it milk, but this does not guarantee that the poisonous liquid is milk. It may well be some thing that is highly dangerous to man. …

Though the twentieth-century church has been informed by the new theology that it can have no objective or conceptual knowledge of God and of Christ, this same theology still continues to speak about God and Christ in eloquent terms. But, as we have already noted, these terms have new definitions. The God and the Christ of this contemporary theology have very little in common with the God and the Christ of historic Christianity.  There is good reason to believe that the new theology has virtually manufactured a new Christ, a person who is essentially different from the Savior of the Scriptures.

Is not this text, written fifty years ago, describing Jesus Christ the Avatar, but in more precise and theologically sound terms?  I say yes.

I have no wounded pride that my supposed “insight” was predated by at least fifty years. No, I’m simply thankful that someone of greater wisdom than myself was able to see where the PC(USA) was heading.  You might rather say that I confirmed Dr. Van Til’s brilliant foresight.  I’m certain that, were he still with us, this would be a matter of sorrow as opposed to pride.

 

Christ and Cornelius (7)

Peter and Cornelius

clouds_from_GodGentiles Receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48)

Note that it is God who continues to drive this encounter to its predestined outcome.

44 While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.

Peter and “the believers from among the circumcised” (i.e., the Jewish Christians) knew from direct, personal experience what were the true marks of “the gift of the Holy Spirit [being] poured out” upon the elect.  The ideas that Cornelius and his household could have demonstrated this gift by chance or that they were acting with dishonesty are beyond absurd.  No, God had acted with unmistakable clarity to ensure this outcome.

Baptism_of_corneliusThen Peter declared, 47 “Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Peter responds with faithful acceptance and takes immediate action.  Everything that has occurred, from Peter’s and Cornelius’ visions, to the circumstances of their meeting, to the proclamation of the Gospel and, finally, to Cornelius’ and his household’s receiving of the Holy Spirit, has provided iron-clad evidence of God’s leading to this point.  And so, these Gentiles, this Roman Centurion and his household, these elect souls are “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

It is thus Peter, not Paul, who has welcomed Gentiles into the Christian Church.  Peter, as is his wont, will eventually vacillate on this certain decision from God.  It will be Paul who both acts to bring the full harvest of Gentile souls into knowledge of this saving grace and who demands that the Church consistently submit to God’s sovereign choice.

Nevertheless, Peter’s act of trust and faith here, against two-thousand years of Jewish religious and cultural separation, unmistakably confirms Christ’s statement:

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  (Matthew 16:18)

Christ and Cornelius (4)

Peter and Cornelius

NGC2207+IC2163The Two Worlds Touch (Acts 10:17-23a)

God has providentially intervened in the Gentile and Jewish worlds, setting them on a collision course.  No human being could have possibly foreseen the implications of this act.  No human being was ready within context of their own experience to comprehend just what was occurring.  Only in hindsight can we prejudiced, faltering and foolish humans see a sliver of truth about what God has done.  However, without the revelation of Scripture even that tiny sliver would have been obliterated long ago.

17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood before the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down, and accompany them without hesitation; for I have sent them.”

The wonder of this narrative is that it pulls back the curtain and allows us mortals to observe God’s providential engagement in human history.  What we see is both beautiful and disturbing.  It’s beauty arises from the Fatherly love that engages with both Cornelius and Peter at their points of human frailty, gently leading each towards their eventual world-changing encounter.  Its disturbance arises from the at first vague, but ultimately explicit, realization that both Peter’s and Cornelius’ destinies were being directly determined by God.  This intricate but ultimately mysterious interplay between our own wills and God’s providential purpose has been previously explored in “God’s Acts of Providence.”

That significance flowed from God to them, as opposed to being sourced within them.  This too is a reproach to our modern, self-centered mind-set. We too often view our end as beginning and ending with our own desires. The notion that our end is by design to be subordinate to anything else, even the L ORD God, flies into the teeth of the radical individualism that under girds so much of our culture’s life.

But lest we too strongly stress humanity’s subordinate status, the amazing extent to which God apparently bends to accommodate our wills must be accounted. Yes, God’s will is inexorable. But it’s as if it’s inexorable within the context of our free wills.

Isn’t this story precisely that of God’s inexorable providential will intersecting with our one free wills?  I say, yes, without doubt.

21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house, and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he called them in to be his guests.

Note how the people within this story exercise their own wills.  The men sent by Cornelius don’t say that Peter must engage with them because of God’s inexorable command.  No, they rather make the very human case that he who sent them is “an upright and God-fearing man,” that is, someone who Peter should consider to be trustworthy.  

Thus, on one level this is a story about human beings from two separate worlds working out the terms by which they might meet in true fellowship.  However, at the deepest level it is the story of God bringing to pass in time that which He had decreed from eternity.

“and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18)

Once again, I return to “God’s Acts of Providence” for the commentary.

 In the end, we must understand along with Abraham that the human details are not the point. The point is that God in His infinite love, mercy and power has determined to bless all nations. He has also chosen to do so within the context of human will, with all of its frailty, foolishness and fickleness. But He chose to do so before the foundation of the world was laid, deep inside the mystery of His infinite mind. That is, though played out on the stage of history, this is the working out of a predestined plan. Though we may never fully understand we can, no, must worship such a wondrous God.

the-creation-of-man-by-michelangelo

 

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (28)

ps60-05David’s Song of Praise (2)

2 Samuel 22:17-20

In the previous passage David describes God’s wrath and its consequence on his enemies.  David now describes God’s purpose.

17 “He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
18 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
19 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
20 He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me.

Thus, God’s acts were in support of His sovereign choice to make David king.  However, by the combination of David’s (God-given) character and David’s (God-ordained) experience, the resulting nature of this king was unlike any other.  That is, God has seen to it that David’s kingship would be the seed from which would grow the church of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  John Calvin brilliantly describes this act of God thus.

Here there is briefly shown the drift of the sublime and magnificent narrative which has now passed under our review, namely, to teach us that David at length emerged from the profound abyss of his troubles, neither by his own skill, nor by the aid of men, but that he was drawn out of them by the hand of God. When God defends and preserves us wonderfully and by extraordinary means, he is said in Scripture language to send down succor from above; and this sending is set in opposition to human and earthly aids, on which we usually place a mistaken and an undue confidence.

John Calvin’s Commentary on Psalm 18

Thus, David’s experience of God’s grace was so clear, so profound that he could not possibly conclude that it originated from “human and earthly aids.”

Finally, when David says that God “delighted in me” he is speaking from the position of divine election.  We in this life cannot claim a shred of justification for why God should have “delighted in me.”  However, how can one so redeemed, protected and justified discuss such an ultimate salvation without reference to the personal nature of this mysterious, blessed gift from God?

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (26)

King-David-at-Prayer-Pieter de Grebber

King David in Prayer – Pieter de Grebber

King David and Bathsheba (6)

Concluding Remarks

I have liberally used John Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 51 as a key resource for indicting David’s behavior.  It thus is only fitting that John Calvin’s comments should also be central to an explanation of God’s revealed purpose and motivations in this particular matter.  This issue is of the highest import because it sheds light on a core issue of the Christian life — that being the torturous tension between our salvation and our continuing irresistible compulsion to sin.

Firstly, let there be no doubt that we the saved elect are not supposed to sin.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:6, NIV)

However, in this earthly life that possibility for sinlessness falls prey to the residual power of sin in our lives.  The Apostle Paul’s anguished words connect this abstract issue directly to our living flesh and blood selves.

14We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:14-20, NIV)

This is the state in which King David existed, and, in which all humans, including Christians still exist.  Thus, the pretense of some Christians that they are more “moral” or “disinterested” or “loving” than the rest of us is a deadly lie.  No, the terrible truth is that, were it not for the fact that Christ’s obedience and satisfaction had been imputed unto us, we would be ultimately indistinguishable from any other human being.

What then is the distinguishing mark of a Christian with regard to sin?  It is this — that the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work exposes our sinfulness which leads to, over time, increasing acknowledgment of and repentance from the power of sin in our lives.  This sanctifying work is never completed in this worldly life.  But sure proof of our elect state is provided by the Spirit’s progress in moving us towards the goal.

What then, you might ask, is the definition of sin?  It is not defined by a secular political movement, or by highly credentialed academics or by celebrities or by anyone else.  No, sin is only what God’s Word says that it is.

With this preamble, let’s then turn to John Calvin’s discussion of this sanctifying process at work in the specific life of King David.  First, he comments on the humility with which David responds to the exposure of his terrible sin.

This is such a humility as is altogether unknown to the wicked. They may tremble in the presence of God, and the obstinacy and rebellion of their hearts may be partially restrained, but they still retain some remainders of inward pride. Where the spirit has been broken, on the other hand, and the heart has become contrite, through a felt sense of the anger of the Lord, a man is brought to genuine fear and self-loathing, with a deep conviction that of himself he can do or deserve nothing, and must be indebted unconditionally for salvation to Divine mercy. That this should be represented by David as constituting all which God desires in the shape of sacrifice, need not excite our surprise. He does not exclude faith, he does not condescend upon any nice division of true penitence into its several parts, but asserts in general, that the only way of obtaining the favor of God is by prostrating ourselves with a wounded heart at the feet of his Divine mercy, and supplicating his grace with ingenuous confessions of our own helplessness.

John Calvin on Psalm 51:17

This is the humility to which the Apostle Paul gave eternal voice in 1 Corinthians 1:27-31.

27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The+MessageCalvin then proceeds to comment on the situation of God’s Church.

From prayer in his own behalf he now proceeds to offer up supplications for the collective Church of God, a duty which he may have felt to be the more incumbent upon him from the circumstance of his having done what he could by his fall to ruin it. Raised to the throne, and originally anointed to be king for the very purpose of fostering the Church of God, he had by his disgraceful conduct nearly accomplished its destruction. Although chargeable with this guilt, he now prays that God would restore it in the exercise of his free mercy. He makes no mention of the righteousness of others, but rests his plea entirely upon the good pleasure of God, intimating that the Church, when at any period it has been brought low, must be indebted for its restoration solely to Divine grace.

John Calvin on Psalm 51:18

When we survey the wreckage of the modern Western church these words burn bright both in condemnation and hope.


The bottom line is that, although we are not supposed to sin, we yet will; and that our sin, be it individual or corporate, cannot obstruct God’s providential purposes.  King David indeed sinned terribly.  Yet his sin could not obstruct God from His sovereignly decreed purpose of building His Church from King David’s house.

Therefore, when you encounter Christians who presume that some sort of moral superiority (of any kind, from any source) lies behind their faith and/or opinions, you should become very skeptical.  For, to place yourself outside of the only true source of salvation — the imputing of the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto you — is to utterly misunderstand both God’s acts of providence and your own place in His creation.  That position of ignorance can only result in terrible errors and heresies.

 

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (24)

bathsheba-mourns-tissotKing David and Bathsheba (4)

The End of the Road: 2 Samuel 11:22-27

We now follow David to the end of the road that he started down at the beginning of chapter 11.  This is by no means the end of the story, for the consequences of this sin will torment David to the very end of his life.

22 The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. 23 The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. 24 Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”

It appears that the messenger has further embellished the story, adding details that explain why the Israeli warriors were so close to the city walls.  But, once the cover story is in place he wastes no time before sharing the key information: your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.  Can we not surmise with confidence that the messenger was well aware that this situation was deeply wrong?  He thus feels obligated to contribute his own part to the creation of this evil lie, both for purpose of self-preservation and standing with the king.  Thus, David’s sin has corrupted everyone who has become involved in the vile coverup.  

25 David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.”

Here we reach the disgusting, putrid moral sludge.  King David has turned all of the wit and cunning that had before been used to survive King Saul’s murderous assaults to the rape of a man’s wife and then this same man’s murder.  In so doing he also irrevocably undermined his own political and moral standing as king.  Is there in the annals of Scripture a more complete and disgusting example of sin through the abuse of power?

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him.27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son.

The final step is obvious.  For what purpose all the evil if the prize is unclaimed at the “victory?”  Thus, the widow Bathsheba is made King David’s wife and she bore him a son.

I can find no Biblical text that suggests the slightest moral failing on Bathsheba’s part.  Some say that her public bathing was a purposeful incitement of King David’s lust.  Perhaps, but the Biblical text, besides simply describing the event, makes no mention of her motives.  Thus David and David alone bears the explicit responsibility for all of this monstrous sin.

But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

David has conducted the perfect coverup from a human perspective.  To all who are outside Uriah’s death is indistinguishable from the other thousands who have given their lives for the nation.  For those few in the know, they are so personally complicit with the crime that their lips are sealed.  And, Bathsheba is not under the King’s power as his wife.

There’s just one loose thread…the LORD God Himself, who is displeased.

From a human point of view all is lost.  In the next chapter we will see just how God’s promise is yet preserved in spite of King David’s sin.  John Calvin provides the preview.

Upon the fall of one who was so great a pillar in the Church, so illustrious both as a prophet and a king, as David, we cannot but believe that many were shaken and staggered in the faith of the promises. Many must have been disposed to conclude, considering the close connection into which God had adopted David, that he was implicated in some measure in his fall. David, however, repels an insinuation so injurious to the divine honor, and declares, that although God should cast him headlong into everlasting destruction, his mouth would be shut, or opened only to acknowledge his unimpeachable justice.

Commentary on the Psalms — 51:4

road-end

 

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (5)

David-W&PThe Spirit of the Lord Comes Upon David in Power (1 Samuel 16)

Background

David’s story begins with the Lord sending Samuel to a small village, Bethlehem, to visit an insignificant family, Jesse’s, to anoint a new King of Israel.

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”  But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”  The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” (1 Samuel 16:1-3, RSV)

This passage immediately creates tension within the Christian reader.  For, to all intents and purposes, the Lord is here directing Samuel to engage in deception to obscure his actual mission.  The theological issues associated with this and numerous other instances of, apparently, God-approved dishonesty are subjects of hot debate.

Christian Perfectionism

What I will here address is the intersection between this issue and the concept of “Christian perfectionism,” which is currently defined in Wikipedia as:

Christian perfection is the name given to various teachings within Christianity that describe the process of achieving spiritual maturity or perfection. The ultimate goal of this process is union with God characterized by pure love of God and other people as well as personal holiness or sanctification. Various terms have been used to describe the concept, such as “Christian holiness”, “entire sanctification”, “perfect love”, the “baptism with the Holy Spirit“, and the “second blessing“.

Certain traditions and denominations teach the possibility of Christian perfection, including the Catholic Church, where it is closely associated with consecrated life. It is also taught in Methodist churches and the holiness movement, in which it is sometimes termed Wesleyan perfectionism. Other denominations, such as the Lutheran and Reformed churches, reject teachings associated with Christian perfection as contrary to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone.

As an orthodox Reformed Christian I reject this theological concept.  However, my personal decision in no way diminishes the powerful hold of perfectionistic thinking within Christian communities, most definitely including those that are theoretically based on Reformed theology.

My experience with this concept requires a more specific discussion.  That is, many Christians, regardless of their theological background, have an insatiable need for some clear “mark” of their saved status.  Thus, they are inexorably drawn towards ideas that promise to deliver such a distinctive mark to their lives.  In the circles within which I generally travel, these marks are sought and obtained through secular politics.  In other circles these marks may be dominated by personal prosperity or ecstatic experience (e.g., “speaking in tongues”).

In all cases though, since each and every living human is bound under the curse of sin, these marks of Christian perfection must allow their bearers to discount reality.  This result is generally obtained through use of one or a combination of the following strategies.

  1. Narrow down the scope of morality to such a small a sliver of life that it becomes manageable to presume perfection.
  2. Identify a source of presumed “moral perfection” and then slavishly adhere to that source’s guidance.
  3. Massively overestimate your own inherent wisdom and goodness, to the point that anyone who criticizes or even disagrees with you can only be motivated by stupidity and/or evil.

This need arises from two primary sources.  The first is a profound distrust of God.  That is, distrust that God’s promise of salvation by grace alone can be counted upon.  The second is human pride.  That is, the determination to take responsibility for, or at least contribute substantively to, your salvation.  Thus, Christian perfectionism is a salvation by works theology that simultaneously pulls down God and raises humans.

In all cases this error distorts and destroys Christian life.  One key means by which this destruction occurs is through moral competition.  That is, Christians seek to measure their progress towards (or actual achievement of) perfection by comparing themselves to others.  One description of this destructive dynamic is found in a recent post criticizing “The Benedict Option.”

That leads me to my critique. Many of the families who come together to form these communities believe they are being obedient to God or purer in faith. But what begins as a good desire turns into a measuring rod. Families begin comparing themselves to one another and to those outside the community. Who can be more rigorous, and hence more faithful?

R.C. Sproul well describes the disastrous consequences of this concept through two human encounters.  In the first, a nineteen year old who has been a professing Christian for one year claimed that his sanctification (to perfection) exceeded that of the Apostle Paul’s.  In the second, a woman has deluded herself to believe that, due to her state of Christian perfection, any sin that she might commit could be only “unwillful.”

Returning to the Story

What, you may well ask, does any of this have to do with the Biblical passage concerning Samuel?  Well, this.  The Lord God communicated a specific mission to Samuel that, while part of His eternal decree, would yet be accomplished within the constraints of this fallen world.  That is, the Lord would not miraculously intervene to protect Samuel from King Saul.  Thus Samuel, in order to remain alive to accomplish his mission, was directed to use deception to obscure his true purpose from the king.  Samuel could have argued that God’s own Ninth Commandment prohibited him from this action, and thereby avoid the obligation to pursue God’s chosen end.

That is, Samuel could have placed his own need for moral perfection above God’s direction to accomplish a mission.  Although Samuel may have felt self-justified, in reality he would have been disobedient.  Samuel rather chose to pursue God’s purpose within the constraints of this fallen world and without presuming to school the Lord on morality.

job stormThen the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? (Job 38:1,2, NIV)

These situations are anathema to Christian perfectionists.  For, if you have raised your own morality as an idol to which is tied your salvation, you simply cannot violate that belief without destroying the ground upon which you imagine your salvation to stand.  This logical contradiction can immobilize Christians, with disastrous results.

As we move through David’s story this tension between acting in pursuit of God’s will and maintaining the illusion of personal moral perfection will be seen many times.  Thus, there will be additional occasions to meditate upon this crucial issue.

“The Strange Persistence of Guilt”

38cb7cf1a3608458634fI recommend this profound meditation by Wilfred M. McClay on “The Strange Persistence of Guilt.”  Over the past few years I’ve been struggling to understand what appears to be ever increasing levels of troubling, even bizarre behavior within Western Civilization.  This article comes closer to providing a workable hypothesis than anything I’ve seen.
And yet, in the end, even this inspired meditation appears to fall short.  For, after making a powerful case that Western Civilization is failing due to rejection of its Judeo-Christian foundations, Dr. McClay ends by, apparently, recommending a “social utilitarian” perspective for rediscovery of religion’s value.
I argue that the PC(USA) and many other denominations have already pursued this path to utter failure.  That is, we have argued that the value of Christianity is its usefulness as a tool (only one among many others) by which to identify and then advance the social good.
What Dr. McClay may not understand, and many of our denominational leaders certainly do not understand, is that Christianity’s power for advancing the social good is a consequence of actual, real belief.  And, without that real belief as a first thing, Christianity can’t be anything more than a derivative, inefficient and unreliable vehicle for social change.
It is only through real belief in Christianity’s foundational truths made available to flesh and blood people that there is any hope for humane social change.  Neither you nor I can presume to know or control the paths of God’s providence working through a Christian community.  I attempted to explain this point in a recent blog post.

The ensuing events that built Western Civilization were filled with violence, cruelty and injustice, which is not surprising to a Reformed Christian.  But, somehow, by a Divine Providence that transcends human understanding, out of this chaos of sin there yet emerged a culture that began to affirm the value of each human being as an individual, unique creation of a Sovereign God.  And, from that affirmation grew a civil tradition that, incompletely and imperfectly, sought to advance those humane values.

And so, we come to the crux of our current predicament, that being the increasing inhumanity in our supposed pursuit of social good (as profoundly explained by Dr. McClay).

What makes the situation dangerous for us, as Fredriksen observes, is not only the fact that we have lost the ability to make conscious use of the concept of sin but that we have also lost any semblance of a “coherent idea of redemption,” the idea that has always been required to accompany the concept of sin in the past and tame its harsh and punitive potential. The presence of vast amounts of unacknowledged sin in a culture, a culture full to the brim with its own hubristic sense of world-conquering power and agency but lacking any effectual means of achieving redemption for all the unacknowledged sin that accompanies such power: This is surely a moral crisis in the making—a kind of moral-transactional analogue to the debt crisis that threatens the world’s fiscal and monetary health. The rituals of scapegoating, of public humiliation and shaming, of multiplying morally impermissible utterances and sentiments and punishing them with disproportionate severity, are visibly on the increase in our public life. They are not merely signs of intolerance or incivility, but of a deeper moral disorder, an Unbehagen that cannot be willed away by the psychoanalytic trick of pretending that it does not exist.

May God bless and empower us in these troubled times.

What does the Bible Teach on Immigration and Refugee Policy? (3)

bible-bordersKey Scripture Passage

The passage to be assessed will be Leviticus 19:33-34 (ESV) as it may well be one of the most frequently cited.

Leviticus 1When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

I have already confirmed both the relevance and authority of this passage as a guide for Christian understanding of immigration and refugee issues.  And yet, I intend to show that the application is not as perfectly tailored to support of the Progressive Leftist political current day positions as is assumed by far too many.

A first issue is use of unwarranted selectivity.  Sometimes pastors and laity are more than happy to cite Leviticus 19:33-34 to those with a differing perspective.  However, I can’t help but notice how verse 15 from the same chapter is not so commonly used.

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

I’m well aware of the Bible’s overall teaching about the poor.  However, I wonder how some of our fellow Christians would react were someone to pluck verse 15 out of Leviticus and quote it every time the poor are considered?

The second issue that must be examined is what is meant by the word “sojourner.”  The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible explains this word as follows.

A person living in mutually responsible association with a community, or in a place, not inherently his own. …  In the basic meaning of the term, a sojourner is a person who occupies a position between that of the native-born and the foreigner.  He has come among a people distinct from him and thus lacks the protection and benefits ordinarily provided by kin and birthplace.  His status and privileges derive from the bond of hospitality, in which the guest is inviolable.  … Placing himself under the protection of a particular clan or chieftain, or a person, the sojourner in turn assumes responsibilities.

Based on this information I conclude that a “sojourner” is something very different from the formulation of the Rev. Parsons, that being someone “who find themselves within our borders.”   That is, a sojourner is someone who has entered into an explicit and bi-directional relationship with a community “not inherently his own.”  Thus, someone who illegally sneaked into a community and attempted to reside without any mutual agreement on the nature of their relationship would not be considered to be a “sojourner,” but rather an interloper.

So too, the leader of a clan or community would have to agree to the creation and continuation of this relationship.  Were a sojourner to violate the terms of agreement, the community would no longer be bound by them either.  And, that community/clan leader would be expected to use their best judgment prior to entering into such an arrangement with foreigners.  For example, if a dozen military aged Philistines showed up on the border claiming to be “sojourners,” who but the most biblically/historically illiterate would imagine that an ancient Israeli leader would be predisposed to enter into such a relationship?

Finally let’s consider the issues associated with historic and social context.  The NIV Study Bible (© 1985) estimates that the Book of Leviticus was written by Moses between c. 1446 and c. 1406 B.C.  Taking the midpoint of this period, that is 3,443 years ago from 2017.  I point this out not to attenuate the Book’s authority as Holy Scripture, but rather to suggest that it may be quite a stretch to simply conclude that any verse can be directly and thoughtlessly applied to problems facing us today.  Yes, it most definitely does speak to us and our problems today, but a responsible interpreter will carefully identify differences between c. 1426 B.C. and 2017 A.D. that could result in misapplication of God’s Word.

Nathaniel Micklem in The Interpreter’s Bible makes this point with great wisdom in his exposition on Leviticus 19:9,10 (NIV).

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

Are we to say in the light of vss. 9-10 that the storekeeper must always throw in a little extra when he is serving a poor customer, that the market gardener must be quite unconcerned if a poor man helps himself to a little pickings from his fields?  It is obviously impossible to apply the rules of a simple agricultural society to the complicated conditions of modern economic society.

Such rules as these must be translated into another idiom.  But the principle remains, I am the Lord your God.  Therefore, you shall not be grasping, you shall not make every cent you can for yourself and your family; you shall share with the needy that measure of prosperity which God in his mercy may have granted you.

We must therefore ask just what are the primary societal parameters that have changed since c. 1426 B.C.?  Is it that human beings are no longer capable of ill will and/or deceit?  Is it that leaders no longer have responsibility to provide protection to their communities?  Is it that human beings no longer bleed and die?  No, no and no.

The primary thing that has changed is that the immigration/refugee issue is today debated in the United States within context of a nation of 320 million people spread over almost four-million square miles.  Thus, whereas a community/clan member in ancient Israel would have to look into the eyes (living or dead) of the victims of their poor decisions, citizens of the United States who demand no vetting of immigrants/refugees and open borders can do so safe in the knowledge that the likelihood of this outcome is vanishingly small.

Many, many people who follow the Progressive Leftist line on immigration and refugee policy do so without having carefully thought through all of the issues and implications.  However, there are the most serious of moral issues at play.  Were some of these well intentioned people to stop and really focus on these issues they might modify their words and actions.