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Wednesday, 12 August 2015
What would Jesus really do?
Many of us has an image of Jesus as a politically correct person; he is not going to condemn anybody or point out any faults. There is some truth to that. It seems that Jesus is not focused on actions but on the soul of a person.
Jesus will not be a debater like a Lee Strobel or Ravi Zacarias. Jesus' response to the Sadducees who questioned the truth of a bodily resurrection is insightful. Jesus did not debate the possibility of bodily resurrection or the biblical basis for a future bodily resurrection. Jesus went right to the point and told the Sadducees that they do not know the power of God. Its very probable that if Jesus sees the atheists of today, he will immediately point out that they don't know God, that's why they disbelieve. He will not debate God's existence but would come right out and call them to repentance.
I think this should give us pause about using the style of apologetics (defense of the faith) that attempts to convince the unbeliever using reason and evidences. There are evidences and reasons for the faith but they should only be given to those who really want to understand why we believe. For those who have made up their mind to disbelieve, we should just come out and point out the unbelieveing spirit and call them to repent.
Jesus' concern is to call people to repentance, to change from their ways. Jesus favors those who are sorrowful for their sins, he is kind to them. He is harsh to theose who are not sorrowful for their sins. In the parable of the Pharisees and the Tax Collector, Jesus pointed out that it was the tax collector who came to God repentant that is right with God, and the Pharisee is not right with God because he boasted that he is better than the tax collector morally.
Some people assume that the religious people of today are equivalent to the pharisees and the less religious people (those who don't really care about God's moral standards) are equivalent to the tax collectors. There is a problem with this paradigm. Jesus dealt with repentant sinners who are sorrowful for their sins (he favors them and feels sorry for them), unrepentant hypocrites who thought they are morally superior (he was harsh with them). However, scriptures are silent as to what Jesus felt about unrepentant sinners- people who know they are sinners and don't care. It seemed everyone cared about their standing with God.
I'm sure there are people who don't consider themselves religious who actually care about whether they are right with God or not. However, there are also sinners today who don't care that they are. I wonder how Jesus would approach them. I speculate that Jesus would just come out and point out the unrepentant soul, just like he did with the disbelieveing Sadducees. Then I predict that what would happen next would surprise us. I think some of those we think are hardened sinners will actually repent. Such is the power of God's word which convicts of sin and produces faith. On the other hand, some of the hardened sinners will get even more hardened and act like the Pharisees who persecuted and killed Jesus.
I believe we should follow this paradigm as we confront sin in the world. We should point out, not primarily the sinful action, but the soul opposed to God. Sinful actions are symptoms of the unrepentant soul. We should not confront sin as moralists but as fellow sinners calling others to repentance, just as we are also repentant.
Tuesday, 11 August 2015
The Old New Reality
At the aftermath of the Supreme Court's ruling to legalize same sex marriage throught the whole United States of America, some conservatives decried that the judges have violated the United States constitution.
I am not writing as a proponent of same sex relationships. I believe that our creator truly spoke in history and declared that it is good for human beings to confine their sexual expression towards someone of the opposite gender (man to woman and woman to man) whom they have committed themselves to a lifelong relationship. He sees this as humanity's good and to trust him is to agree with him that what he declares to be good is good for us. I understand its hard to swallow for some because for those who have sexual desires towards somebody of the same gender, God is asking that person to forego sexual desire in obedience to God. I empathize but remember that all human beings are asked to forego desires that God says are not good (the desire to use the neighbor for our own purposes, the desire to harm somebody, etc.). All good gifts come from him (bodies, food, life etc.) and are expressions of his goodness. As a Christian, the ultimate exression of that goodness is on the cross where Jesus, God in the flesh, gave his life for our eternal good. You can trust that he desires good for you.
I know that the Old Testament permitted a man to have sexual relationship with many wives. However, just because something is allowed does not mean it is the ideal. God is not a revolutionary who comes down to humanity to suddenly change the practices already embedded in culture. The Old Testament laws are designed not to introduce something completely new to humanity at that time (there are people who already think killing is wrong for example) but to move humanity into a new direction (the people will not worship anything created but only the invisible creator for example). I wiill not go into the reason the Old Testament permitted polygamy. However, in the qualifications for leading the church, and Jesus's declaration concerning divorce, the idea of one man and one woman relationship in marriage is upheld.
Saying that, I believe that conservatives are not right in this regard. The supreme court's decision is the culmination of America's dedication to freedom. The same can be said about abortion rights, to violent effect. This nation was built by people who wanted to have freedom of conscience. They were running away from governments that seek to violate their freedom of conscience for the sake of national unity. We must understand that governments back then believe that there must be uniformity in religion, for example, so that the nation can be united. Dissent can be dangerous for the nations's peace and prosperity. English puritans have to be suppressed and Anglicanism established as the right religious expression for the people. It is understandabe that persecuted people desire freedom from their respective nations. Notice that it is the suppression of conscience that is being opposed by that article, not the expression of conscience.
That is why the constitution made sure that there will not be an established national religion that persecutes those not of that national religion. Despite that article in the constitution, there was a vast Christian consensus. For many years, nobody would object to Christian expression in the public square. Now there are atheists who believe that religuious expression in the public square (prayer, symbols) violate this article of the constitution. In their zeal for their "religious" expression, they are moving to suppress "other religious" expressions.
In the case of marriage, there are some people who see marriage as their happiness and the constitution does say that all men are free to pursue their happiness. Some of them believe that objection to their happiness is a violation of their rights as human beings. In the same way, there were some women that says that being able to abort their babies makes them happy and they are free to pursue their happiness. The constituition never put any moral constraints on people. Those moral constraints were assumed. Conservatives could not appeal to the constitution for the enforcement of moral constraints. Freedom is idolized in this country. People appeal to freedom of speech for their right to be mean to others. Politically correct people complain that people's rights to "feel good" are violated when people say "mean" things to them. People want freedom without constraints (unless it directly affects them) and the constitution grants them that. Those who question freedom, especially for those in power, will be persecuted.
As Christians in this country, we are used to our conscience being accepted by the state. The government does not force union of religious groups for example. Also, the US governnent sees the church as a social good. That is why there are tax exemptions for religious groups, to help them promote the social good. Now there is a fear that the state will not respect Christian conscience anymore. Refusing services based on religious conscience would get businesses penalized (I understand that there could be an overreaction- a pizza place refusing to cater to a same-sex celebration is something I see as overreacting. However, a shirt maker not agreeing to print statements on a shirt that violate his conscience, I see as valid). Churches who don't conduct same-sex marriages will be considered in violation of the state's new ideology and would not be respected (lose helpful tax exemption and worse, be closed down for voicing opposition to policies).
Religious persecution is scary. It has happened before and it is still happening. It is an old reality. People have violated religious conscience. We can appeal to the state but we don't control the state. Only God has sovereignty over history and people's hearts. The same God who is sovereign over history has allowed ungodly governments and he did not promise to spare us from them. All he promises is victory in the end; the gates of hell will not prevail against the church and he will be with us until the end of the age. Therefore, instead of trusting in the constitution, let us trust in our good God.
The prophet Daniel knows what it is like to face persecution. What helped him through it. First, Daniel had a community (friends) that supported him. Jesus' movement for the redemption of humanity is building a community. In our individualism, we have forgotten that. Many evangelicals tell people that to be saved, one has to say a prayer. However, when the Spirit moved through the Apostolic preaching, people wer baptized into community. They were automatically put in relationship with other baptized individuals. They were in fellowship with each other under the Apostles' teaching and it helped them grow despite persecution. Second, Daniel served the king (Babylonian state) really well. He did so well, he gained favor in the sight of the king. He was tactful when talking about how his conscience was being violated by being asked to eat "forbidden" food. From the beginning the church did have an impetus for service. It held the disintegrating Roman Empire together, it has fought for the abolition of slavery, etc. This society that idolizes freedom is unraveling and will continue to unravel. Are we Christians going to be there to pick up the pieces? Are we going to bind up hearts that are broken by divorce and parental neglect and selfishness? Are we willing to love to win people's hearts? The Lord who showed us love by forgiving our sins and who calls us to forgive others, will help us endure. His love will melt hearts and lead people's hearts to himself.
Saturday, 3 January 2015
I confess, I'm a Christian and I was a relevance addict. Despite my seminary background, I was accused of not being able to proclaim the gospel. But the truth is, I know it full well (Christ died for sinners to make them acceptable to God). but I just did not feel it changes society. Deep down inside, I felt that mercy does not change people and it definitely does not change society, but is really an indulgent message. Also, I did not feel that the message of forgiveness is not relevant for people who face suffering. I am a Chaplain and my work is the allevation of suffering. It was more important that people change or gets comfort than that they know the gospel. Therefore, the gospel goes on the backburner.
The truth is I will always feel the tension. There will always be a part of me that would ask, how would my message when I teach or preach change people's attitudes or behaviors? Or is the gospel really a comfort to a person who lost a loved one? In my struggle with this question, I have concluded that there really is a disconnect between people's felt needs and the need God addresses through the gospel. There is no getting around it. The story of Thor coming down to earth to defeat Loki who is messing with humanity is more exciting than the story of God coming down to earth to bring forgiveness to humanity. Its true that Christians hope for a final day when God eliminates evil, but that message is not the gospel itself. God is also the giver of law, and his law will triumph in the end with the ending of injustice and suffering. However, Christians are to proclaim and live the reality of the gospel, and for now evil comes and goes.
Unfortunately, whether consciously or unconsciously, the relevance trap has diluted the scriptural message. An example is with how certain bible stories are taught. The victory of David over Goliath could be taught as a story of the triumph of faith. If you believe, you can have victory in your endeavors, whether sports, business, etc. Teaching the story this way appeals to a pragmatic and self-centered audience. It sounds harsh but its true that if my "victory" is more important than anything else, then I am self-centered. I could be a nice person on the outside but I could still have a destructive flaw inside. It seems that the purpose of the biblical writers when writing stories of Israel's victory is to put a plug for God's power and faithfulness. David won because God is faithful to his promises and that he is God above all gods, not because David believed. It is true that faith is commended and seen as powerful, but we must also remember that God allowed King David's Israel to fall into the hands of enemies. It is not because they stopped believing, but because they have become presumptious in their relationship with God. God bailed us out before and he will do it again despite our sins. God who is faithful and powerful is the center of the story.
Another story that could be mistaught is the story of the woman who bathed Jesus with perfume, an act that was seen as too extravagant. A lesson on this story could become focused so much on the hearer "what are you willing to give up for Jesus?" The gospel writers were interested in proclaiming Jesus as a compelling character, that they have found God in him (that you may know that Jesus is the son of God). It may be a right application for people to give themslves Jesus, but it would miss an important step, reflection on Jesus. Where people want to be entertained and be given quick answers, to jump to the step of application is tempting, but that would encourage legalism. Legalism, despite people's aversion to rules, appeals to an audience that wants quick answers because they are "busy" with other things. We need people to slow down and ask "Who is this Jesus?" and let true devotion flow from a real "experience" with him.
Friday, 2 January 2015
Fallacy of Terror
I have never understood why some people would comment that Christianity protects the rich. Christians embrace the Old Testament which presents God as protector of the oppressed, punishing people for oppressive practices against the poor- taking away their land, not paying their wages, adding more and more land, etc. Mary's Magnificat follows this trajectoy by proclaiming that God is a reverser of fortunes- "He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty". The New Testament apostle James rails against favoritism towards the rich, that attitude being tantamount to faith without works, which does not bring peace with God.
Then I realize that Christianity does proclaim reconciliation and not revolution. Jesus was not primarily concerned with reshaping society but with reshaping hearts, moving hearts towards humility which leads to repentance and faith. The apostle Paul encourages servants to be obedient to their masters as unto the Lord, and commands masters to be considerate to their servants. The goal of the Christian gospel is to bring justice, not through the sword (violence through individuals or through the state), but through instilling humility. This same humility is shown in God, in the person of Jesus, coming down to earth to serve, ultimately giving his life for others. The Christian community is to be characterized by service towards each other. Christians find peace with God not by changing their behaviors but by first giving their lives to Jesus, who through his spirit moves them towards Christlike humility. In a world of judgmentalism and selfishness, this is a new perspective on life.
Chrisitianity does not do violence to the status quo of society. It does call the faithful individual though to conform his life in the direction of Christlike humility. The motivation of the faithful is love for Christ, who has given himself, and not the punishment of hell. Therefore, it could be accused of being for the status quo. It is not an ideology that seeks to overthrow the world system externally. That is why ardent theonomists (those who believe that the world would ultimately be Christianized and "Christian law" would rule the land) would not take up arms as a whole. God's ultimate goal is not that humanity will behave "better" but that humanity would find peace with him. "Better" behavior does not translate to true righteousness. The primary mission of the church could not be the betterment of society. Some Christians do things for the betterment of society and that is a human duty since God calls his people to seek the peace and prosperity of the city (place) where God has placed them. However, the mission of the church and the duty of the individual should always be distinct. Blurring the two results in a diluted gospel, that is not faithful to Jesus' call for all people to come to him in repentance and faith, or that neglects the human duty to promote justice and mercy which is still the burden of the faithful.
Christianity is not like some ideologies (Islam, Communism, western liberalism) which seek to change society (for the better in their perspective) whether by force of arms or legislation. It does not have an external social agenda. Christianity moves the heart of individuals, and does not advocate the violent overthrow of a system (society's values and methods).
Thursday, 25 December 2014
Supernaturalism and the Christmas Story
I must admit, reading about how secularism is growing disturbs me. I thought about why this is so. One reason is that, there is comfort in numbers, and being in a minority position can be unsettling, especially if the majority thinks they are superior to you. Unfortunately, many people who deny God/Supernatural also display intellectual pride. Another reason is that there is a part of me, and if my fellow believers are honest with themselves, that doubts and wants to suppress that spirit of doubt.
As far as being in the minority, contrary to popular thinking, Galileo was not just suppressed by the Catholic church but by the scientific community at that time. The scientific community fervently believed that the earth was the center of the universe, not because of biblical revelation (to say that would be to assume that all scientists in that era accepted the bible), but what they see as problems posed by their conception of the nature of things, much like intelligent design is maligned because it does not fit with the paradigm of a closed/mindless universe. This brings me to my next point.
Contrary to public sentiment, evidence does not speak for itself. For example, the data that the earth looked old can either be because the earth is really old, or it is possible that there were catastrophes that happened that make the earth look old. People could see the same "reality" but have different conclusions about it. This has been true throughout the ages. There are anti-supernaturalists and supernaturalists since ancient times, despite the "human progress" idea that as humans understand more, the more supernaturalism will disappear. In fact, there is a revival of paganism, belief in the old gods, not to mention necromancy and fortune telling, that was suppressed by the dominant theistic paradigm.
The anti-supernaturalist may say that all the belief that there is something beyond nature may say that it is a product of wishful thinking- humans want something to be out there to comfort them. However, the same charge of wishful thinking can be leveled against the anti-supernaturalist. They don't want to believe in a supernatural world because it impinges upon their freedoms to act however they want, therefore they look at the evidence and do not entertain supernaturalism.
It may be said that they don't believe in the supernatural because they have an ungrateful spirit that does not acknowledge that all they have comes from a nature that has been gracious to them (the farmer who grows food is only cooperating with life-giving nature). Understandably, we live in a world where we don't struggle that much to survive- if we are hungry we can go to stores and food is not expensive. This may contribute to many people's inability to be deeply grateful and have a sense of a force that is really in control of their lives The anti-supernaturalist may say that nature (evolution functions as the movement of nature in most anti-supernaturalist thinking, bringing humanity towards a goal) is mindless and has no good intentions, therefore they ignore it. This illustrates the apostle Paul's point that although people experience God (the mind behind nature), they do not thank him or worship him.
This brings me to a reflection on the Christmas story. Why would somebody make up that whole story about God becoming a baby (most vulnerable)? Those who told this story many years ago died as martyrs, sticking to their story that God became man, with all the vulnerability it entails. They definitely did not tell this story to support an earthly ideology. Not only is the story strange, but it is antithetical to human thinking. That world, same as today, would find it to make more sense that the "gods" would come down with power to smite their enemies, which could be other humans or other beings. The story of Thor coming to help humanity makes for a good story, but is not the Christian story of a God who came down as a baby born in a manger and later opposed until the end of his life, not smiting his enemies but dying for them, as the apostles proclaimed. The Christmas story could be seen as foolishness in the eyes of the world, but as the apostle says, the wisdom of God is seen in his foolishness and the weakness of God is his power to heal humanity from its brokenness. The early church rejected stories of a Christchild who does miracles just for the fun of it because they saw the center of the Christian gospel as God becoming man. Although this is antithetical to human thinking, I invite you to bow down to the vulnerable baby Jesus and ponder what it means that God's way of salvation is to become one of us, joining us in our weakness and confusion.
Saturday, 22 November 2014
You are needed
It is part of human nature to to desire to look out for its rights. In societies that readily tolerates violence, people physically fight for their rights. In societies that are more condemnatory towards violence, people sue for their rights and lawyers have become instruments in this fight for rights.
The issues of today like euthanasia and the minimum wage boils down into a battle for rights. The 29 year old depressed woman who set the date for her death defiantly fought for her right to control her destiny. The fight for the minimum wage could be billed as a fight for the right to live.
Although we should empahatize with this human desire to be free from pain or discomfort, this focus on one's individual rights destroys community and will cause society to implode. What kind of people are we shaping when we tell them their individual rights are more important than the comfort and sentiments of the people around them? Are we shaping self-focused and cold individuals? What would happen if we come to a point where sacrifice is needed to preserve what we value?
We live in a society where we take order and abundance for granted. We take it for granted that we can walk down the street and more than likely we won't have bandits attacking us, robbing us of our possessions. We take for granted that we don't have to worry about a foreign army attacking us, slaughtering and raping. This is because we have a state and an army that is for the most part powerful enough to keep its citizens safe. We take for granted that we have food to eat and if worse comes to worse, there are food pantries where food can be found. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone and we in America are fortunate enough that that food comes to us easily. That is why we need to be humbly thankful, not just thankful in a surfacey way, but really feel the reality that we are dependent on forces beyond our control and that the order and abundance we enjoy can breakdown at any moment.
Although we can't know how much pain the woman who died was feeling and that we need to approach the tragedy with empathy for her, we need to remember the suffering of the people around her who loves her and that she inflicted that suffering on them. The truth is that even if we don't feel it, the world, especially those who love us, need us. It needs our resources and our kind and loving presence. The kind old lady who can't do anything for herself, and whose smile calms the hearts of those around her, is fulfilling God's purpose for her. It is a tragedy that weakness (physical or mental) is seen as worthlessness and this attitude is imbibed by the suffering who feels their only recourse is to die. Instead of sending the message that "weak" people are worthless, we need to send the message that it is the kindness and love people exude that increases their glory, not just what they possess.
Some people say that an increase in minimum wage would cause a loss of jobs. It may be true. However, it is not necessarily the increase in minimum wage that would cause the loss of jobs, but the business owners' decision to hold on to their profits instead of being concerned that their workers could live on the wages they give. It is not right that there are those who earn more money than they need while others, in the same company, struggle to make ends meet. The capitalist system tolerates that but the God of the Old Testament prophets would not tolerate that, he condemns the disparity between the rich and the poor. However, the responsibility to sacrifice for the greater good lies as much on the workers as on the business owners. Small business owners struggle to make ends meet too and workers need to be sensitive to that. Their insistence on a higher minimum wage will hurt those struggling small business owners, and in turn the general public. This issue will not ultimately be solved by legislation which does not deal with the heart issue, but would only build resentment and the desire to get around the law (not hire anyone, reduce hours).
As long as we have a society where individuals are focused on their own rights, we will continue to have people seeking their own interests at the expense of others. We will have a society so torn apart that there will be no more peace, then we will have faced the judgment of God.
Sunday, 21 September 2014
Secularists attempt to be champions of separation of church and state but are really the ones trying to impose their "spiritual" values on society. They seek to entrench their secularist religion as the state religion. Their attempts at removing religious symbols from the public square betrays a willful attempt to supprest the supernaturalist impose that has sustained humanity for so long.
Secularists remind me of Mr. Ohara in the Lorax. He tried to suppress the truth that there is something outside his own world that is beautiful (or at least used to be but could be again) and beneficial to the people. He tried to impose the truth that their world is the only thing that counts, that all their needs are met in their visible environment. Thankfully, in the end, the walls of the town were broken and a different world was made manifest.
Some of us may wonder why some westerners who are educated and live comfortably join the Islamic Jihad. We say that the west provides a good life. It may be true, but the west has imbibed secularism to a certain extent, and secularism is empty. Westerners finding their purpose through the Islamic Jihad is a symptom of the bancruptcy of secularism. It does not provide hope or a sense of purpose. Islamic Jihad is a rejection of western secularism, with its unbridled human freedom. The west will not win its war with radical Islam through military might. Military force does not defeat ideology, at best it just forces it to go underground to rear its head again. The might of the Soviet Empire could not defeat Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan.
Despite the bancruptcy of secularism, some may say "it may not be comforting but its true, we really are just accidents with no purpose. and there is no comfort, we live and die and go to dust, all our accomplishments ultimately amounts to nothing." It is arrogant to assert full knowledge of the universe and declare the struggle of the human spirit to connect to something bigger and more lasting beyond day to day existence as something foolish. What if the denial of the reality of a transcendent supernatural world is what is truly foolish? Who is really foolish, the boy in the Lorax or Mr. Ohara?
In reality, even the secularist does not live as if there is no purpose. He wakes up in the morning believing that the world will function as the day before, that there is order. For example, it he is nice to others, they will be nice back to him. If people's thoughts towards him are just accidental (Cause and effect only makes sense in a world were it is an embedded natural law, and laws come from purposeful minds), then he would not really be able to function. He does not know how the brain of the person he is dealing with is configured the next moment. It is statistically impossible for a purposeful "machine" (natural law) to be a product of a mindless process.
Evolutionists talk about mindless chance as what is behind the processes that brought about the universe. Then they say this mindless chance is bringing about the survival of the fittest. That is an oxymoron, a mindless process does not bring about anything. If it does, then it is not mindless but purposeful. Mindless chance is functioning exactly as the God of the Old Testament/Monotheism or the divine reality of eastern religions. Because it is functioning in the same way, then mindless chance is really their God and the purpose of their God is to bring about the survival of the fittest or human progress, at least according to a certain vision of humanity (for example, Nazis had a vision of a world where Aryans are superior).
Wednesday, 6 August 2014
Back to Basics
Christians and Non-Christians alike wants to use Jesus to back up their social agendas. There are dangers to this.
Those on the political left use Jesus to suggest that the state should distribute wealth as much as it can to help the poor. Jesus did value the poor and the weak (healing them and chastising the religious leaders for caring more about the letter of the law than the care of the weak). However, Jesus did not call people to care for the poor. It is not the most important thing to him. In fact, he commended a woman who showered him with expensive perfume and chastised his apostles for saying that the expensive perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor.
Those on the political right focus so much on the moral issues that they come off as heartless. They rail against the moral degredation of society without doing anything tangible for the alleviation of suffering. They need to follow the example of Franklin Graham and some evangelists of the past (Geoge Whitfield) who called people to Jesus but at the same time built institutions to alleviate suffering.
However, even that work of building institutions (or even just giving to the poor) is not Jesus' main work and Christians must not lose sight of that. I am not advocating Christian abandonment of the political sphere. Jesus is a prophet/reformer of Judaism, which is not just a private religion but tied in to everyday life. Just like Islam, Judaism is a religion that regulates everyday life. However, in regulating everyday life, the religious leaders, who were compromised by the sinful world and their sinful flesh, forgot the spirit behind the law. For example, they commend a man who gives money to the temple (which is to their benefit), instead of using the money to care for his parents. Jesus values people so much and Christians should value people a lot.
However, this valuing could not be regulated by law, which does not touch the heart (a person can do the right things but can be hateful and that results in his condemnation). The person commended by Christ is the one who realizes that he has a sinful heart manifested by disobedience to the revealed law externally (actions) or internally (attitudes). This is the person he calls to himself to be changed under his influence. Therefore, Christians should not be commending legalistic faith because Christ condemns it, even if their doctrine is very close to Christian doctrine. Christians should also be respectful of the revealed law because by Jesus' call to repentance, he upholds the rightness of the law. Some Christians pick and chooses what they will follow and goes to great lengths to nullify what God commands. This attitude is antithetical to the repentance Christ commends.
So now that we are in a post-Christian world, does Jesus still have something to say? Jesus speaks to those who claim to be Christian. Jesus calls the Christian community to take care of the poor and aliens "in their midst", the good work of love that Christians are called to. Jesus still calls Christians to seek the peace and prosperity of the places where God puts them, just as God told the post-exilic Jews. This may mean political involvement, and giving advice to what is best for those who don't follow Jesus. Christians must refrain from using force (by arms or by legislation) to make society right, but confine themselves to influencing conscience for the common good. Then remember that Jesus gives this intruction to the church as it faces a non-Christian world- Go make disciples, baptizing them (bringing them into the community of faith) in the name of the triune God.
Saturday, 26 July 2014
One thing I find unfortunate is that being Christian is correlated with following certain rules, and even taking on certain politaical positions. Christians to many people are known for not dancing, not drinking, not smoking (cigarettes or otherwise), not having sex before marriage. Chrisitans to many people are also known for opposing liberal politicians, opposing gay marriage, opposing abortion.
I believe its time to repair that image and we can start by going back to the very early church. Because the Christian church was composed of Jews who were closer to the original religious tradition (Jesus was a reformer of Judaism primarily, not a pioneer of a new religion), and Gentiles who are God-fearers but not adherents to Jewsh tradition, a controversy arose. The Jewish Christians, who are the original bearers of God's revelation, wanted the Gentile Christians to comply with Jewish tradition. The reasoning is that Judaism is Jesus' tradition and they ought to follow.
The leaders of the church met to discuss this controversy and we need to heed their wisdom in dealing with this situation. The church made a statement that Gentile Christians should not be burdened with Jewish tradition (Sabbath laws, food laws, etc.). Christians are not under law, especially since all people are violators of the law, and the Jewish people are not any better at it. However, they upheld three rules- not eating food offered to idols, not eating strangled animals (which is related to prohibition of eating blood), and not indulging in sexual immorality.
I submit that the apostles upheld this rules guided by the principle of maximum freedom, and respect of the conscience of believers. Also, they touched three issues that were probably the most disturbing to the conscience of the people in the church (other issues there was a consensus already). Food sacrificed to idols, according to Paul, was an issue that is decided in the conscience, but he also said that the "stronger" conscience (eathing that food is ok) must submit to the "weaker" conscience (eating that food is idolatry). The prohibition of eating blood is a longstanding taboo among Jews and probably some non-Jews (life is in the blood and ought not to be consumed). The apostles upheld the two prohibitions out of respect for the connotations of that practice. The final upheld the stance for sexual morality. The apostle Paul upheld sexual morality strongly that he chastised some Christians for tolerating sexual immorality in their midst. What is it about sexual morality that's different? Maybe its because its dangers are more subtle but it has destructive consequences. A sexually promiscous person may look good to us, as opposed to the greedy rich person, but his lust is damaging to himself and his relationships (with God and with people).
So what should we do about controversies in the midst of believers? The attitude of the Christian spiritual guide should be to give wisdom but give maximum freedom. A person in coming to Christ must not be asked to give up his identity. A person who likes to dance should be guided in being proper but should feel freedom to flourish in what he loves. However, out of love, the believer must be asked to be sensitive to his "weak" brothers. In issues touching the moral law, the spiriual guide must stand strong for God's creational standards. The limiting of sexuality to one man and one woman committed to each other is a creational standard.
Friday, 4 July 2014
Honest to the Word
I have to confess. In my younger years, when I longed so much to get married, I had a hard time accepting the passage in the bible when Jesus talked about the resurrection. Some religious people asked him who would a certain woman be married to in the world to come if she had seven husbands, who died after the other, in the present world. Jesus answered that in the world to come, people will not marry and be given in marriage, just like the angels. I must admit that at that time, Jesus' answer depressed me. Therefore, I adapted the interpretation that Jeus is just talking about the fact that there would be no more death, and just used marriage as an illustration. However, I believed that it does not say anything about whether there would still be intimate relations between men and women in the world to come.
The interpretation I adapted may or may not be right. My point in writing this is to say that my interpretation is influenced by the desire of my heart. It is possible that in the homosexual debate, those struggling with homosexual desires want so much to have their relationships validated. Therefore, in the face of plain passages against homosexual practice, they go to great lenghts to find another interpretation. This mingling of our desires with how we see the text or the world for that matter (a child for example would have a hard time believing that his parent would purposefully hurt him), is part of our human makeup. They are put there by God to be filled in his own way and in his time, not in our own way or in our time. If our desire is blatantly opposed to God's word, it has to be repented of, not legitimized.
Am I saying then that the plain text is always the right way to interpret? No, it may not be what is intended or it may run counter to other passages or trajectories in scripture, but it needs to be taken seriously. Think about our society where the pursuit of wealth is a proper enterprise. The early Christians in the Book of Acts gave everything they have for the support of the poor. Many Christians are quick to say this is not communism and Christians are not required to give up what they have. It is curious that this is the first reaction and not a genuine wrestling with the text. It seems that the coming of the Spirit produced an outgrowth of generority. That call to generosity is echoed in the letters of the Apostles. Then why is our first reaction to reject the practice as non-normative. Because our hearts resist the call to give what we have. I include myself in this. I would rather use my money for something I enjoy than give it away, especially when giving would prevent my enjoyment. Self-sacrificing generosity is an ideal virtue.
On the other hand, the aposle Paul does condemn the man who does not support his family. The biblical teaching seems to be that the support of the family comes first but we must practice self-giving generosity. This is a paradox, but that is how God's word sometimes come to us. The battle concerning women in ministry has to take seriously the trajectory of equality in scripture (men and women are equal and both are gifted by the spirit), and the call for women to take on a more submissive stance (with the men called to servant leadership).
Some may make this blog to be an invitation to intellectual debate. However, before going to the intellectual, I ask that you examine your heart because at the end of the day, it is what is important.
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