Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What is Christian orthodoxy?

It may sound like I am backtracking somewhat, but the establishment of definitions is crucial. Orthodox means different things to different people and among Christians, talking about orthodoxy gets responses that range from imposition upon Christian liberty to idolizing creeds and formulas. God’s Word, the source of sound doctrine, teaches that holding to sound doctrine pleases God (Titus 2:9-10). Sound doctrine rightly explains to a fallen people who God is and rightly explains how they ought to relate to Him.

Just because an individual is orthodox does not mean that he is right with God. To hold to the biblical propositions about God will make you correct, but will not make you a Christian. The dictionary sitting on my shelf defines orthodox as “correct or sound in doctrine, especially religious beliefs.” So, any adherent to any religious faith can be orthodox. A Mormon can hold orthodox Mormon doctrines; a Jew can hold to orthodox Judaism; a Muslim can be orthodox in his beliefs about the Koran. Their doctrines are what they consider to be true and binding upon them and their lives are an extension of what they believe. The word orthodox transcends religious affiliation yet what does it mean for a Christian to be orthodox?

Orthodoxy is straight thinking. It means holding to a right opinion about a matter. When a Christian is “thinking straight,” he is thinking in terms of truth and allowing that truth to permeate who he is. The truth is then woven into his life; heart, soul, and mind. The truth has obvious effects on conduct and attitude. Therefore, an orthodox Christian is one who diligently seeks the truth found in the only source for sound doctrine, the Bible.

Do not think that you are thinking straight, that you are orthodox in your beliefs, unless your heart and will are subject to the truth. A personal commitment must be made to the truth, or else Christian orthodoxy becomes prideful and an affront against God. This is why Pastor James called on his congregation to understand the false dichotomy of faith and works (James 2:14-26). The two are not mutually exclusive, for the believing of right doctrine necessarily leads to right practice; hence, orthodoxy’s fraternal twin, orthopraxy.

James addressed his folks’ unwillingness to do; they believed perfectly fine. An unwillingness to do blinds our minds to the truth and raises in our minds a prejudice that prevents us from thinking straight. James used the example of passing by one who was destitute of daily food and clothing and the failure to provide for the impecunious’ daily necessities. “Go in peace, be warmed, and filled,” is simply platitudinous and benefits the weary one nothing. A truly orthodox Christian would address the poor man’s needs in this example not because it is the right thing to do but because he believes the right thing about God.

The intellect is not a faculty or a function that can act independently of the condition of the heart. There is always going to be an inter-permeation of knowing and doing. Only as the whole truth of God’s Word is applied to life and life is brought into conformity with it can true orthodoxy come to pass in the life of a believer. Only as the Christian is subject to the truth can he “think straight.”

For this reason, orthodoxy can be considered fluid; not in the sense that orthodoxy changes, which it does not, but understanding of what is and what is not orthodox can change. It is not that the doctrines change; the doctrines are static. It is the attitude toward those doctrines that is fluid and dynamic. As daily experience affords the believer opportunity to try his faith, one must bring that experience under the subjection of Scripture. He may or may not respond the way God would desire him to respond. So a failure in orthopraxy (sin) must necessarily lead to a revision of what would be considered orthodox. If we fail in doing a particular doctrine, it is not that our heads are at fault, it is our hearts.

If a Christian is not thinking straight, then he is thinking crooked, and if a Christian is thinking crooked, he is not thinking in terms of the truth. If he is thinking crooked, then the truth of the Word of God is not being woven into his existence. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). If he is thinking crooked, then he himself is crooked, in need of careful, prayerful, persistent, study of the Word of God, in order to straighten himself out to the standard of the Word of God. Dwight L. Moody is famous for the quip, “The best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick beside it.”

A necessary conclusion must then be drawn. It is a false antithesis to contrast the orthodox person with one who is seemingly devout or at the very least, to think that devotion can be severed from orthodoxy. John Murray, a Scottish minister of the early 20th century, said, “The person who is pious is pious only in the measure he is orthodox and the person who is orthodox is orthodox only in the measure in which he is pious.”

True, genuine piety is beautifully complemented by a faith that sees to its neighbor’s needs, shares joyfully the love of Christ with the stranger, serves dutifully in the church, disciples new believers in their faith, submits willingly to authority, and daily dies to self, bearing the cross with dignity and grace.

Therefore, by Christian orthodoxy, I mean straight-thinking Christianity; Christians, rightly-related to God, saved by grace through faith, thinking in terms of the truth, allowing that truth to infuse every facet of life. Thinking on the truth then is synonymous with thinking upon God, relating all of life to God and God to every part of life. Orthodoxy, truly understood, is striking a balance between Christian liberty and formal doctrine.

One cannot exist without the other; the two must peacefully co-exist, not as parasites feeding off one another but in a symbiosis in which the believer is challenged and inspired by both. Doctrine drives what the believer knows and understands; liberty entitles him to respond to those doctrines in the way God would expect.

This leads then, to the next question, what are the demands of orthodoxy? At the next post, we will take up this question.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Source of Orthodoxy

In the last post, I believe I presented a cogent argument for the establishment of sound doctrine as a fundamental reality of Christian faith as well as a necessity to leading to an understanding of true faith. Though I built my case from the Scriptures, it is a sad reality that oftentimes the understanding of sound doctrine is not based on the Scriptures but often upon something else, resorting to some "other" source.

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, though it has a tattered history, is a useful tool for seeing these other sources. Though I do not think that Wesley considered the four sources of authority equal, the immediate implication of a quadrilateral, it still has merit, if only pedagogical. From where should Christians develop their understanding of sound doctrine? Wesley's sources, in order of "usefulness," were Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. I am not proposing that we frame our beliefs according to this model; the model is only useful as a grid, because most folks' frame of understanding doctrine is borne of what Wesley is credited with systematizing. Rather, I am proposing that we frame our beliefs within the parameters of Scripture. It is a sufficient source for faith and practice and therefore we can draw the necessary conclusions regarding sound doctrine from it. What we should not do is formulate a position and then look for a Scripture to defend it.

So, sound doctrine does not arise from experience. Experience is subjective. Your experience is always going to be different from mine, therefore making it a less than trustworthy companion for developing sound doctrine. It is perfectly acceptable for sound doctrine to bear on practice, but never the other way around. A hearty example is the Purpose Driven phenomenon, which according to this article, is splitting and dividing churches. How often do churches look at a particular phenomenon that brought significant results and then attempt to implement the same methods, not even certain that those methods are biblical? Pragmatism is the death knell of many churches that elevate experience over that of God's Word. To what advantage are these pragmatic positions adopted and treated as doctrinal positions and then become bones of contention among the Body of Christ? Unfortunately there has always been a tendency to model successful practices after the successes of others, and though experience is necessary for us all, it is not the appropriate source for establishing sound doctrine.

Sound doctrine is not based on reason. Reason is flighty; it can make sense one moment yet seem so foolish after quiet introspection. In this age where information is exchanged in a matter of seconds and ideas live and die within a few months, it seems reasonable to go outside of the parameters of Scripture to determine what is best to answer a particular spiritual "fad." However, this notion is veiled postmodern irrelevance, that there are no absolute truths, and we must adapt to the changing landscape to see results. The Apostle Paul wrote, "the foolishness of God is wiser than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25). Reason can be the friend of faith, in that it can help to get compass bearings and wade through the mire of the muddy thinking. Reason can assist in challenging the role of tradition, evaluating the claims of others, and formulating what actually is sound doctrine. But in no way is reason to be elevated above the Scriptures.

Moreover, sound doctrine is not based on traditions. Many churches follow traditions to their own peril. Like doctrine based in pragmatic experience, so it can also be adopted from time-honored traditional practices. However, a century-old mistake is still a mistake, and as such should be rejected. Jesus had scathing denunciation for the elevation of tradition above the Word of God, and the Pharisees were the likely culprits (Mark 7:1-23). They had jumped on the disciples about eating with hands that were ritually unwashed; they tenaciously held to this "doctrine" handed down to them from their elders, and this leads to a necessary question to the church and the Body; do you hold the traditions of men over the heads of your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are they needlessly washing their hands just to meet your approval, thus unwittingly spurning the Word of God? Tradition can be an evil taskmaster.

Finally, and though this is not part of the quadrilateral, I offer it as an additional source that some Christians appeal to. Sound doctrine does not arise from extra-biblical revelation. Without a lengthy defense, there is no new doctrine or additional revelation other than what is contained in the canon of the Holy Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation. Often Christians will accept what a highly visible Christian personality says and then treat that, just because this talking head said it, as sound doctrine. Recently I posted on Dr. John Hagee's views on Islamofascism. So many good Christians accept this man's radical views of Islam as normative and then form their own doctrine based on what he said, rather than acting the Berean and evaluating his comments in light of Scripture. It is unfortunate that so many men like him abuse their position of leadership in the church-at-large to propagate their views as opposed to what God says on a particular matter, thereby misleading many. Yet it is also tragic that so many Christians accept these teachings at face value, and assuming that since Dr. So-and-So said it, then it must be true.

So what is the source for sound doctrine? The standard and norm is of course the Word of God. One who builds their doctrine beginning and arising out of the Word of God is then orthodox in their doctrine; the use of any other source to supplement, augment, or dilute in any way the message of the Scriptures is to push them beyond their original bounds and imposes either too great a limitation on them or too broad a scope.

Consider the words of Jesus in John 7:16-18: My doctrine is not mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true; and no unrighteousness is in Him.

It is one thing to give the assent of our minds to true doctrines yet quite another to give the consent of our wills to Him who is the Truth. It is an unhappy fact that many poor souls make a great boast of their Christian orthodoxy, idolizing their formulas. Such people accept truth about God, passionately adhere to it, but they do not commit themselves to God Himself. It is much easier and less costly to commit oneself to ideas about God than to commit to Him.

Stay tuned, this will be the subject of the next post.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Orthodoxy: A Case Study in the Pastorals

I have been involved in a discussion on Steve Sensenig's blog Theological Musings. Steve had been discussing the right understanding of orthodoxy on another post when the question was raised whether or not Mormons hold to orthodox Christian doctrine. Here is where our differences began.

Before I continue, if you are unfamiliar with Steve or his blog, you need to be. His loving and generous spirit are models all Christian bloggers need to emulate. You can disagree with him and though he can be passionate, he is never accusatory or hurtful and his tone is always moderated with grace and wit. At the end of the discussion, even if lines are drawn, Steve will still call you brother and invite you to join another discussion. I like that about him.

That being said, I desire that my readership offer their understanding of orthodoxy as well. I began with a case study of the pastoral epistles in the comments section of Steve's blog as a defense of sound doctrine. I was not as elaborate in the comments section, not feeling it appropriate, but will air my understandings here, a more appropriate venue, without being too laborious at Steve's blog.

I have no problem with using either the word orthodox or unorthodox. There must be an established set of doctrinal parameters to detrermine what is “sound” and “unsound” doctrine. I shall take the pastoral epistles as a case study.

In 1 Timothy 1:3-4 Paul warns Timothy about wrong doctrine and to guard against it. He sought that Timothy might “remain in Ephesus that [he] may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables…”

In 1:10 Paul wrote that the law is against all that was ungodly and contrary to sound doctrine.

In 4:1, there is a doctrine that arises from demons and not from God.

4:6 shows us that Timothy was told this: “If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed.”

4:13: Paul told the young minister “Till I come give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.”

4:16 is an additional exhortation to “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them and you will save both yourself and those who hear you.”

The young pastor was to give himself to sound doctrine. It necessarily follows that if Paul is commanding Timothy to take heed to good (orthodox) doctrine, then it necessarily follows that there must be bad (unorthodox) doctrine. I do not see this as imposing anything artificial on the Word of God or erecting barriers around it, not when the formulation of holding orthodox, acceptable doctrine is clearly stated.

In 5:17, the Apostle counts the elders (read, shepherd, pastor) as worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.

6:1 teaches that bondservants are to count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine not be blasphemed.

6:3 warns of the futility of wrangling with men who hold unsound doctrine and even recommends that those who ascribe to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ (as sound doctrine) withdraw from those who are unsound.

So, I think then that Paul is having Timothy devote a large amount of time in his ministry to the formulation of orthodox doctrine, to training men in that doctrine to teach it to the congregations entrusted to their care, and then to propagate that doctrine as what is true and correct and that it should be accepted as sound.

I think the qualifier Paul uses to describe doctrine in 1 Timothy 1:10, hugiaino, sound, speaks to orthodoxy. It speaks primarily of one who is in good health but can also be applied to one’s teaching and that it can be unhealthy; laden with error. The Greek word is also a verb (present active participle), which I do not think it is a stretch of the exegesis to say that sound doctrine is an active pursuit of the Christian.

Paul commends the green pastor in 2 Timothy 3:10; "But you have followed my doctrine..."

The locus classicus for the inspiration of Scripture, 2 Timothy 3:16, teaches that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine..."

What is Timothy to preach? "The Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching." The word used for teaching is a synonym for doctrine, the Greek word didache, which simply means teaching, but has the technical meaning in the New Testament of that which is taught in the religious assemblies by Christians.

2 Timothy 4:3 is a sober warning to the local congregation that "there will come a time when they will not endure sound doctrine." Again, it goes without saying that Paul assumes that there is a such thing as unsound (unorthodox) doctrine.

Paul also had much to say to Cretian pastor Titus as well about sound doctrine. Like Timothy, Paul left Titus in Crete with a job to do. The church there too was given to old wives' tales and fables. 1:9 instructs Titus in his duty of appointing overseers in the church "that [they] may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convict those who contradict." Again, a simple exercise in logic proves Paul was concerned about unsound teachings at the Cretian church.

In 2:1 Titus is commanded to temper his speech with "the things that are proper for sound doctrine."

In 2:7 Titus' doctrine is to show integrity, reverence, and incorruptibility.

Finally, Titus 2:10 is a command to bondservants that Titus is to pass along that they prove themselves well-pleasing in all things so that they may "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things." The conclusion is clear in that God is pleased with those who hold sound doctrine and they are an adornment of Himself to the world.

Orthodox would mean, then, an established set of doctrine, accepted by the church as fundamental and necessary to faith in Jesus Christ. A departure from accepted tenets indicates a departure from the faith and a holding to unorthodoxy or departure from orthodoxy should affect fellowship. I would not call someone who is unorthodox in their beliefs about Jesus Christian, though I think this statement needs qualification.

For a Mormon who has come to Christ, I understand there is going to be a time where that new believer must grapple with their new understanding of the faith found in (the true) Jesus and there may be some mixture of error in their faith system. However, I am confident that the Holy Spirit is capable enough to stimulate a love for and a pursuit of sound doctrine in the regenerated believer. So, as a new believer wrestles with these things, he may hold some beliefs that are unorthodox while at the same time believing orthodox beliefs.

And the question of accountability? It goes without saying that the unorthodox are accountable to God, but how so that the unorthodox one is kept from misleading others, the reason why Paul had Timothy remain in Ephesus and Titus in Crete? I think it falls in the hands of the spiritual leadership of local churches, as Paul advised Timothy, as Paul handed that responsibility over to Titus, as he advised the church in Galatia, as John warned the church in Pergamos (specifically addressed to the church’s “messenger” or pastor) for holding to the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolatians, and as Jesus admonishes the church in Matthew 18. This I believe also applies to the deacons of the church in that they are to hold to the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience and have great boldness in their faith (1 Timothy 3:8-11).

I have not included what I believe is orthodox nor a rationale for my beliefs in this post for the sake of brevity. If you would like you can go to the first post I wrote to get an idea of where I am coming from.

In conclusion, sound or orthodox doctrine means teaching that is true to the Bible and uncorrupted. There are doctrines that are taught that are contrary to the Scriptures and can mislead many. In the pastorals the church is given direction in how she should operate, emphasis on the propagation of orthodoxy (which leads necessarily to orthopraxy), how to deal with the unorthodox, and the praise God has for those who are orthodox.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Three-Wipe Diaper

My wife and I have a running gag that whenever one of us changes a soiled diaper, we rate how loaded the diaper was by the number of wipes it took to clean up the mess. One wipe indicates a lightly soiled diaper; two wipes means that we cannot skip baths tonight, and three, well, you get the picture. This introduction is not meant to sound crude, but to draw attention to the vivid nature of language.

Often, the English translators of the Bible tone down the actual meanings of some words so as to allay the coarseness of the language. So, naturally the job of the responsible exegete then becomes the revivifying of the language in the weekly exposition. Sometimes able students of the Scriptures miss the nature of what God is trying to communicate and the meaning of certain words cannot be overlooked so as to get a true and grand picture.

Zechariah 3:3 says, "Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel." When I was a boy, my mom used to tell me often that I was filthy after a day of outside play. She would hose me down at the back door before I was allowed to come in, sort of a "pre-bath." This was naturally the meaning I assigned to the word filthy and as such it undermines the true meaning of this text.

Joshua the priest is standing before God, Satan accusing him. The children of Israel had been back in the Promised Land for about eighteen years after a debilitatingly long exile. Spirtual lethargy had once again set in, the temple had yet to be completed, and they were slipping back into some of the same sins that resulted in their exile seventy years earlier. Zechariah preaches to them a message of repentance and hope, concerned greatly with the people's spiritual renewal. Even though the people had returned from Babylon and had started to rebuild the temple, there was still the contamination of sin that needed to be purged. The inauguration of God's presence back in Israel could not take place until the sins of the people were propitiated.

Joshua is standing before God, yet he is clothed with filthy garments. This is not just a dirty, sweaty tunic. The garment draped about Joshua is stained with human excrement, a literal rendering of the Hebrew term. God is setting before us in the strongest language possible how vile and disgusting sin is to Him. Somehow the degradation of sin is lost in just using the term "filthy." Joshua is standing before God in garments stained with (his own?) feces. It is no wonder Satan can accuse him; at this point he has every right to. Joshua has no defense of his own, no mediator, no go-between. He is proof positive that "there is none righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10). If a high priest cannot stand before God, who can?

Yet in the following verses, something amazing happens. God speaks to the angel standing nearby, and He says, "Remove the filthy garments from him...See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and I have clothed you with festal robes." The festal robe represents the dazzling white raiment of the priest, as he ministers in the temple before God, fully accepted and made able to do his priestly work.

Let us not however miss the connection between Joshua's change of raiment and his unrighteous standing before God. Joshua took no part in the heavenly act that took place on his behalf. Satan stood rightfully accusing him, mocking the poor priest. He had nothing to offer God; nothing except a three-wipe diaper! There was nothing that Joshua could have done to cleanse himself of his sorry state. God took the initiative; God commanded the angel to remove Joshua's garments; God made the declaration, not just that his sins were forgiven, but that they were taken away. They were completely removed from Joshua and then God gave him the perfect garments of salvation. Isaiah says, "For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness" (Isaiah 61:10).

Many people are consumed with image; "image is everything," so the slogan goes. Other's perceptions are often taken very seriously, choosing to look horrid in the eyes of God and lovely in the sight of men. The consequences of looking good in the sight of others is often just a matter of the situation. Sometimes it may cost only a bit of embarassment, a chink in the ego yet easily recoverable. Sometimes it may cost a bit more such as a friendship or a witnessing opportunity. But ask yourself this question, honestly.
Do I care if I look good in the eyes of God?
God's opinion is what matters most as Joshua discovered in a grand and beautiful way. Satan accused him heartily. Yet Joshua, a sinful man, looked good in the sight of God. For the individual Christian it can certainly be the same way. Only the goodness of Jesus as it is credited to our account can we look good in the eyes of God. Christ's righteousness is imputed to the Christian and therefore God thinks of it as belonging to us, just as that change of robes belonged afresh and anew to Joshua, the High Priest.

"...through the obedience of One the many will be made righteous" (Romans 4:19).

"But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30).

"...the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:17).

"...and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith" (Philippians 3:9).

"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).

Sometimes the shock value of words in the Scriptures do indeed get lost on us, but one thing is clear. We should never get over the shock that a loving God sent His Son to die the death that we deserve so that you and I might live and be made acceptable before Him.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Elephant in the Room No One Seems to Notice

A little over four years ago, Dr. James Dobson made a bold, clarion call to parents everywhere that it was time to get our kids out of the public school system. Other prominent evangelicals have made similar claims. Many were shocked last June when Dr. Albert Mohler wrote "I believe that now is the time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop an exit strategy from the public schools." There was a cry of outrage at T.C. Pinckney and Bruce Shortt for bringing before the Southern Baptist Convention in June 2004 an education resolution declaring in no uncertain terms, "to remove their children from the government schools and see to it that they receive a thoroughly Christian education." Needless to say the resolution was soundly defeated. The elephant remains.

I have been reading a lot lately on several blogs about the downward spiral America's teenagers are in. Granted, several other prominent and key leaders have weighed in with their estimation of what the church's real problems are. Only pat answers are given; there is a need for greater discipleship; more authentic Christianity; preach the Gospel more dynamically; eliminate hypocrisy. None of these answers strike at the heart of the matter. None of these answers address the elephant sitting quietly in the corner.

Let's face it. In order for the church to be all Christ wants her to be changes will have to be made at the germinal level. Changes that upset our routines, shake us out of our slumbers, inform our ignorance. Whoever said ignorance is bliss knew what he was talking about. For far too long, there have been articles, books, activists, and prophetic voices screaming for us to look at the elephant. There is a cancer metastisizing thorugh the public school system and avowedly there have to be few that readily admit that there is something wrong with the public school system, problems beyond remedy, problems beyond reformation. Can't we do something about that elephant?

Yet this is what many sympathizers cry out; the public school system is too powerful, the educational professionals cannot be swayed, the intelligentsia know what is better for my child than I do. Do we really not know that the public school systems are factories of ignorance and rotten character? Donald McConnell, aka Trinitarian Don, said in an August post, "As dean of a Christian law school, I am often in the position of interviewing prospective students. I have seen and heard with shock and surprise philosophy majors who cannot tell me what existentialism is, economics majors who do not know what externalities are, and history majors who cannot describe in detail the characteristics of their favorite era in history." Maybe someone sees the elephant.

Just a few days ago a fourteen year old girl was molested by the janitor at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. Why are things like this not uncommon? If it was an isolated incident and things like this did not make headline news nearly everyday, even I might ignore the elphant. However, some things hit too close to home and even in our quaint community, a girl was molested in the county middle school by a fellow student. A fellow student. The elephant just charged from one side of the room to the other.

So, let's continue to anesthetize our wounds with the delusional beliefs that "our schools are different from those out there," or "my child is salt and light," or "public education is a right." Eventually we will be forced to confront the elephant in the room and try to run him out. If we are forced to face the sobering facts about the public school systems, we nervously shuffle our feet, wring our hands, and slyly change the subject. Why?

Bruce Shortt is a leading proponent of running the elephant out of the room. His latest article in the September 2006 Baptist Banner helps somewhat to clarify the issue.
Are 70% or more of our children leaving church after they graduate high school? The self-deceived Christian responds, "Let's train 10-year-olds to be evangelists so there will be one in every classroom!" Does research clearly establish that fewer than 10% of our teens who claim to be Christians in fact really are? The self-deceived Christian responds, "Let's start after-school Bible clubs!" Are our children successfully being indoctrinated with the view that homosexuality and promiscuity are acceptable behavior that can be pursued safely if you take the right precautions? The self-deceived Christian responds, "Let's fight to get abstinence included in the curriculum!" Do a majority of Christian teens believe that Jesus was a sinner? The self-deceived Christian responds, "Let's get a 'Bible as literature' course included in the high school curriculum!" None of this is new.
Do we continue to ask the wrong questions, seek the wrong answers? Do we continue to rub ointment on an open, festering wound?

2 Corinthians 6:14 , a drastically misapplied verse, says, "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?" But is this not exactly what we do when we trot our kids off to public schools? Is this not what we do when we entrust our children's education and character formation to the state? Can somebody do something about that elephant?


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Teenagers who Jump Ship

A growing problem, and potentially one of the greatest threats to the church, is teenagers who leave the church. Don Fields at The World from Our Window asked a SERIOUS question; "Why are teens leaving the 'church'?" I want to provide my own answer to this problem, and I desire to express it as Michael Pearl addresses the problem. He calls it "jumping ship from the church to the world." The majority of this post comes from comments I left on Don Fields' post on this topic.

Why are teenagers turning their backs on the church in disproportionate numbers? I think the answer is three-fold.

(1.) Teens' built-in youth ministers are not doing their jobs. By this statement, I mean their parents. I often hear parents lament, "I raised my child in church, but he won't step foot in the church now that he's grown." Taking the child to church is simply not enough; families are not worshipping at home, parents are not mentoring their children in the faith, and they have their priorities mixed up. They expect the ministers, youth and otherwise, to do their jobs for them and then hold animosity toward the church and the ministers for "driving their children away" from the church. Too many parents are scratching their heads wondering what in the world happened, when the blame lies squarely on their shoulders.

Passive aggression does not work when it comes to leading children, especially teens, in their faith. Mentoring is an active process and involves hard work; work most parents are not willing to do. Parents are so consumed with their jobs, having instead of being, and even doing church work, that they fail miserably in training their children in their faith. Granted, Junior walked the aisle, he was baptized, showed up to Sunday School, and even went on the occasional church mission trip. But now that he is graduated, he doesn't come to church anymore. Why?

Church was force-fed and erroneously believed that it was all Junior needed. What he needed was consistent parents, consistent discipline, and not just casual oversight. All the Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, AWANA, RA's, GA's, Mission Friends, TeamKids, and summer camps will never substitute for good, godly parents, serious in their commitment to raising good, godly kids.

(2.) Another reason kids jump ship is they are not really taught theology. Too much ministry to teenagers is entertainment driven rather than based on the Word of God. Churches scramble to have a youth program that will appeal to teens. I was children's minister for a short time at a mid-sized church and the youth minister at this same church sweated bullets that he was not providing enough for the kids to do. Centrifuge, ski trips, paintball, concerts, theme parks, youth rallies, those kids were constantly going somewhere, but they were not doing anything.

The problem with an entertainment-based youth ministry is that you cannot out-entertain the world. The world will always have something better to offer and unfortunately the world will usually do it much better and more attractively. Kids are overstimulated and contemplating faith and theology are useless and trite endeavors for them and if faith and theology are not active pursuits of Junior's parents, neither is Junior going to pursue them. So, parents unwittingly assume that since the pastor or youth minister spends so much time dragging their kids all over creation then their kids are really being discipiled in the faith.

I do not think doing things with the kids is wrong; it is beneficial and can be a good springboard for discipleship, if it is purposefully pushed that way. However, just giving the kids an opportunity to stay out of trouble is fruitless. So, to make numbers look good and ministry successful, ministry to teens is gauged by how much we did rather than how much we have grown.

(3.) I know I am going to step on toes here, but the public school system robs them of their faith. After they are indoctrinated with secular humanism, evolutionary thought, and postmodern irrelevance, all purely antithetical to biblical Christianity, for seven hours a day, 180 days of the year, how can the church compete? At most church kids get 2-2 1/2 hours a week of biblical instruction, and I'm being generous. Frankly, why shouldn't they leave the church the moment they have the opportunity? It is what they have been trained to do since kindergarten.

State schools are not neutral. Again, this is a mistake so many parents make, or at least a faulty assumption. Public schools are intentionally secular, intentionally atheistic, and touted as amoral. Parents believe that the church teaches values and the schools teach the three R's value neutrally, a false dichotomy and spiritual suicide. Moreover, why also do parents willingly abdicate their parental roles to the state school systems? Unwittingly again, character formation, the parents' job, is left up to someone else. And more heinous than that, why put your children under the influence of their peers all day?

I just recently talked to a distraught mother of a teenage boy who is in his first semester of college. Church has become a non-issue. He spends no time at home and the opinions of his friends are what matter to him. The ones he spends all his time with are the ones who really matter, because mom and dad did not overtly place themselves in that mentoring role. Unfortunately, the only counsel I could give her was that she needed to ask her son's forgiveness.

The church has got to stop allowing the world to dictate the way it does ministry to teens. Teenagers see right through shallowness, especially where matters of faith are concerned. Until Christian faith becomes a vital, important part of the lives of their parents, not mushy sentimentalism, teenagers will jump ship. There are no easy answers; it is a gargantuan monster of our own making and is not a giant that will be easily slain.

Humbled and challenged,

Monday, September 04, 2006

Dr. John Hagee and Islamofascism

This past Sunday evening I took a group from the church I serve to Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA to hear Dr. John Hagee. His speech (notice I did not use the words "sermon" or "message") was on the evils of Islamofascism. Islamofascism is a word that has come into usage just in the past few months. It is a word first used by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and was recently used by President Bush in a recent press conference (11 August 2006). Dr. Hagee has adopted the word and is using it for his own soap box rants.

I believe the term probaly needs a bit of clarification, so let's unpack it. Islam is the monostheistic world religion that claims Allah as its god and Muhammed as its prophet. It has billions of adherents all over the world and is a zealous missionary religion; purely antithetical to Christianity. Fascism is a tyrannically ruled style of government, characterized by stringent socioeconomic controls, oppressive censorship, terror as normative, belligerent nationalism, and race-supremacy. Put the two together and it is indeed a gargantuan two-headed monster.

Against these Islamofascists Dr. Hagee railed. "The real enemy is not terror, it is the Islamofascists!" He thundered from the Thomas Road pulpit, lingering for repeated applause, an occasional standing ovation, and frequent "amens," every preacher's coveted cheer. However, I in no way cheer for this man's communication. There were several failures in Dr. Hagee's diatribe and I feel I must share these.

The people whom Dr. Hagee castigated were not precious souls for whom Christ died, but rather the enemy to be hunted and destroyed. Not once did Dr. Hagee say that the grace, hope, and truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was for the Muslim. Not once did he say that God loves the Muslim people, that their eyes are darkened by sin, that they need to know the love of the Savior. Not once did he encourage the congregation to reach out to Muslim adherents with the love of Christ. Rather it was the frequent refrain, "We must win this war at all costs!"

I am not arguing against the United States defending herself; she can and she must. I support and I pray for all our troops serving here and abroad, fighting to secure the very freedom I enjoy. However, the Gospel is not to be marginalized even at the expense of generating patriotism. The blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse Muslims too, even the most radical.

Dr. Hagee engendered fear in the hearts of the people. Christ's return is closer than we think. I have heard that numerous times, yet this is exactly the doctrine of the imminency of Christ; that He might return at any moment. Without it, the church, not that she isn't complacent enough already, would lose all of her evangelistic and missionary zeal. Every generation has believed that Christ will return during their generation. The harbingers of Christ's return are the same in every generation and I believe God has done this on purpose, so that the church would not lose her evangelistic fervor. The signs of the times are characteristic of all times.

But to say that the advent of Islamofascism is one of the clearest indicators of Christ's return? Even Jesus said, "It is not for you to know times or seasons" (Acts 1:7). Whether Islamofascists are indeed a reality and that they are sleeping on my doorstep is yet to be determined, but at supper after the service, one elderly church member asked if all those things Dr. Hagee said were true. Are the Islamofascists already here? According to Dr. Hagee, they are living in our neighborhoods, attending our schools, building their mosques right alongside our churches. Moreover, they are just waiting on a phone call so they can don their military regalia, take up their accoutrements, and join their Islamofascist brothers in their war against America.

Dr. Hagee claims World War III has already begun. If America does not take the first step to eradicate these radical Islamofascists, war will take place on our soil. The staggering irony is that the same tool terrorists are known for, with that same tool Dr. Hagee held his audience spellbound; fear.

Dr. Hagee stimulated hatred for the supposed enemy. What better way to cause one to hate another than to spend a lengthy amount of time teaching how much that people hates you? In no uncertain terms, the Islamofascist, when given the opportunity, he will kill you--why? It is because he hates you. Their children are trained from their mothers' breasts to hate Americans. Boys are taught to use guns by the time they learn to walk. Vast amounts of time are spent in school disparaging America and the freedom she enjoys.

Twice the (fictional?) story was told of an Islamofascist mother who made a liquid bomb out of her baby's bottle and then proceeded to blow herself, her child, and the plane out of the sky. "This is what these people are capable of!" Dr. Hagee painted faces on these people who are out to destroy America; mean, ugly, grim faces, faces that by their sheer ugliness we ought to recognize them. He brought every dark-skinned, dark-haired man, woman, and child in America under suspicion. Hate is yet another tool of the enemy, yet a tool Dr. Hagee seemed to wield with some expertise.

Finally, Dr. Hagee promotes a political activism that I am not sure Christians should prescribe to. Dr. Richard Land has written a new book, Imagine! A God-Blessed America, and it is advertised in the July-August 2006 issue of Faith and Family Values. It runs with this tagline: "Imagine an America where more Christians are radical change agents."

Is it the purpose of a Christian to be a change agent, the type Dr. Hagee and Dr. Land propose? I understand and agree that we should vote and exercise our political liberties. However, there is no precedent in the Bible, either testament, where social or political activism ever changed anything. If a community was changed, it was by the propagation of the Gospel. In Acts 17, a radical group of Jews dragged Jason out in the street, proclaiming him guilty of turning the world upside down. Why was he persecuted? Jason was there when Paul was preaching the Gospel in the synagogues saying, "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ." Some of the Jews were persuaded and a great multitude of Greeks believed the Gospel and repented of their sins. The Gospel turned that world upside down; not the invasion of an army, the eloquence of diplomacy, nor stalwart political activism.

If change is to come about, the church must realize its responsibility not only to its own community, but to the whole world. I appreciate the ministries of men like Dr. Hagee, because in every generation there must be men who will stand head and shoulders above the rest and proclaim things that must be said in the public forum. Attention must be drawn to these issues. However, Osama bin Laden does not really run a government. The terrorists in Iraq do not really constitute a government or a nation. And the hijackers of 9/11 were not fascists. Is my neighbor an Islamofascist? Honestly, I don't know; but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

It is my contention that Dr. Hagee was doing a bit of saber rattling, doom saying, and sounding the tribulational alarm just for the sake of selling a few books and padding his pockets.


Friday, September 01, 2006

A Word for the Weekend

I have poked fun at Paula White and the prosperity cohort this week, so this quote from Dr. David Black (notice the link in the sidebar), my Greek profesor in seminary, is in order. It is from a recent post, Carpenters for Jesus.

The Lord Jesus does not exist for our gratification. He will not be used, no matter how often we pray the prayer of Jabez. We exist to glorify Him, not the other way around. And nothing is more important to Him than our working together for the faith of the Gospel.

May God bless you and your families this weekend and I pray you have a blessed day of worship.