What Christians are Not.

I know, I know, a big topic, and I’m being a little arrogant in claiming to understand the whole of one of the largest religious groupings in the world. Keep in mind that you’re reading a conservative protestant evangelical.

These are just some things I would like non-Christians to keep in mind when talking to me.

1) Christians, by definition, do not think they are better than you. If somebody seems to, you know that he is being a very bad Christian if he is one at all. We get saved by grace. The main point of the entire religion is that we are so seriously messed up that we couldn’t save ourselves and needed God to do it for us. That means we think WE are sinners.

2) Christians (remembering the above proviso) do not think that morality is adherence to a set of moral precepts contained in a code (even the rules contained in the Bible). Morality is a heart issue for Christians, it is about the character of the person performing the act, not the act in itself. Thus talking about moral actions is non-sequential to our faith structure. While actions may be evidence of moral character, Good actions in themselves are simply not sequential to the issue of being good.

3) That said, Christians (if they are being Christian) do have some actions that they should be doing. If the person that claims to be Christian does not do them, you have a right to question their claim to be Christian. If you do not like what they are doing because they are acting in accordance with Christian expectations, then you can say it’s a problem with Christianity.

4) Christians, like every other belief structure in the world, has adherents who have not thought about the implications of their beliefs, and people who have. Do not assume that Christians are all unthinking, because you only talk to the former. Similarly, some Christians are not very rational in their thinking, but some are.

5) There are bad Christians. This is not an amazing revelation that upsets my entire faith structure, nor should it. The actions of people are actually independant of the belief structure and are relevant insofar as the specific actions you find abhorrent fit the belief structure.

6) Christianity is a big religion. Do not assume that you understand what the specific Christian you are talking to believes. He is a different person from all the other Christians you have met. Indeed, given point 5, despite his claims, he might not actually be a Christian. If you want to know if a Christian believes something, ask him. You can attack a belief that he’s claimed to believe after he’s claimed to believe it, not before.

7) No Christian, not even fundamentalist Bible thumpers (save the most extreme groups which most other Christians think are nuts), think that you can understand the Bible’s teaching on ANYTHING by looking at isolated verses. So, God’s teaching on slavery is not completed by looking at Leviticus, the nature of God is not explained by looking at the genocides in Exodus, and our opinion about social concerns is not exhausted by John 3:16. We have to look at the whole of scripture (because scripture interprets scripture). You may think that’s a dodge, but it’s the way we actually roll.

8) Christian beliefs are pretty central to the lives of Christians. It is the way we see the world. To ask us to put aside Jesus for a second is like asking you to put aside your understanding of reality for a second.

9) Christians are not inherently opposed to science. I am not a scientist, so I usually recuse myself from such debates because I’m probably better to be listening at those points. This is not because I think that science is of the devil. The statement “Some anti-science people are Christian” is not a logically equivalent statement to “All Christians are anti-science”.

10)  Christians (at least of the type that I am) do not believe that forcing you to “become Christian” is even possible, much less permissible. In fact, in my experience the attempt is unbelieving and counter-productive. When I tell you what I believe, it is because a) I think what I believe is true and would benefit you or b) I feel the need to correct your erroneous understanding of what I believe. I would like you to believe, because I would like you to enjoy God as I do, but if you don’t, I can’t force you.

Online Reading (March 14, 2008)

Law: Indian court clears Richard Gere of obscenity. They did not comment on his acting ability.

Culture: Is Polyamory the next part of the Anglican “listening process”?

Conference: Video is now available for all main sessions at the text and context conference. They are really good talks, but a sizable investment of time (about 80 mins each)

Christian Life: J.I. Packer reviews his life and counts surprises.

The Power of Rejoicing (reflection on Phil 4:4-7)

    People often get rather anxious about life generally. Both on personal levels (will I find a good job, will I have somewhere to live, will my marriage continue, etc.) and on global levels (is global warming going to end us all, what about terrorism, etc.). Anxiousness is often thought a good and even an appropriate response to these things, and to a myriad of other problems we face in life.

But is it good and appropriate to be anxious?

Paul, in his letter to the Phillipians doesn’t seem to think so. Dealing directly with a situation of some stress, Paul tells his readers to “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice”(4:4). He’s rather emphatic on the need to rejoice, and specifically in the Lord.

There’s a very simple reason for this, as is evidenced by v.7, where it says that “the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”. This is not to say that you aren’t to actually deal with problems (indeed, you are called to present them to God), but that the basis of the Christian life is a seeming exchange between us and God.

We rejoice in the Lord, God will guard our hearts and minds.

This isn’t a warm touchy feely thing, but a proper response to the lives we find ourselves in. That it works is evidenced by the many people who have gone before us in the faith, facing problems and persecutions far greater than the ones we face. It also makes sense that it would work. After all, as long as we are focussed on problems and anxieties, and specifically our relation to them, it is very difficult to keep hope, and very easy to be discouraged.

But if we focus on the Lord, who is more than capable of dealing with all our anxieties, and has promised to keep us in Him if we but rejoice in him (meaning that ultimately, regardless of what else we may lose, we will get through even this). Our ultimate hope is sure, if our joy is in the Lord.

The result is that our responses to the problems that face us are not going to simply be despair, resignation, or even grim determination, but an underlying joy as we realize that while these things that make us anxious might have been able to defeat us, they will not defeat the Lord if we would but face them rejoicing in Him.

It is the Lord that guards us in the ways that matter ultimately, what is their to fear?

The Death of Faith (or more properly, its murder)

Recently I’ve been frequently faced with the fact that some people face a death in their own faith.

Before I start ranting about it, I should point out that everybody has some form of faith, whether it’s faith in the overall meaning of the universe, or the ability of their own intellect to accurately understand reality, or faith in God, or specifically in my case, faith in Jesus Christ.

So when I say a death in faith, I can’t mean a death in the faith that everybody has, but rather the faith that people used to hold to. Indeed, my once atheism was a faith in the regularity of the universe eliminating the necessity of God, and it died a cruel death which I happily celebrate.

Others have been moving the other direction, and as with most, it leaves me sometimes wondering if I’m nuts. After all, I believe that the ground of all reality, and the ultimate ruler of the universe was incarnated in a human being who died for my sins, allowing me to stand faultless before the glory of God. Seems a little nutty if I focus on the  rationality of the belief without looking at the underlying reasons to actually believe it, such as the historic reality of the resurrection.

But more commonly, I’ve found that people have turned away from faith in Jesus for the same experiential reasons that others have turned to the faith. Namely, something has happened in their own life that makes their former faith in God untenable. This is usually coupled with artistic expression that resonates with them and essentially causes an emotive conversion to the loss of faith. Don’t believe me? Try being an  evangelical Christian hanging around a few drunk atheists or agnostics, you’ll see what I mean.

Of course, the people involved somewhat choose the atheism, but more often than not, they were helped, most notably by the Church. No, I do not mean by the Church’s hypocrisy (were that the reason, nobody would believe anything; hypocrisy is based on lies, and as Dr. House says, “everybody lies”), nor by the evils of the Church (again, were that the case Marx, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Hitler would have put paid to Atheism). More often it is by the church’s failures to act like a church in the realm of discipleship.

Discipleship is the means by which a convert to Christianity is brought to a mature faith in Christ. It is most importantly based on the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (Phil. 1:6), but is also aided through the instrument of Church in teaching and discipline.

That the Church generally fails in these needs hardly be argued. While in academia, Mark Noll’s battle cry (in “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”) of a decade or more ago has been somewhat answered by a plethora of intelligent and erudite Christian thinkers, this has largely not moved to the general congregation. This is evidenced by the purile and illogical arguments levelled against Christianity by the present batch of popular Atheists. That some of this sounds intelligent (or even intelligible) as attacks on Christianity is based on the fact that most Christians have gotten no further in their faith than “Me and Jesus”. Few, if any, have reflected on Pascal’s wager, or on Anselm’s inaccurately named ontological proof for the existence of God, or even know what a presuppositional apologetic would look like, much less know how to use one.

Even deeper, few Christians know what it means to be being sanctified, where the basis of our justification lies, or even basically what the central fact of the good news is, instead believing that the ultimate reason for Christ’s incarnation was to save me from sin (because I’m such a lovable guy…… despite that original sin thing).

This is compounded by the failure in Church discipline. I hate to say it, and many former Christians would debate me on this one, but the other common cause of atheism, after a failure to grow in the faith, is the embracing of open sin in the Church.  Why does this cause atheism? Simple. People have the law of God written in their hearts, and as they act against it, they become less likely to look to God; out of sight, out of mind.

This is compounded when the Church spends its time pretending that the Bible is inaccurate as a reflection of God’s will, and thus eliminating parts of the scripture in practice (like pretending extramarital sex is okay, or that women clergy are accepted by scripture, or that homosexuality is a good and noble expression of God’s will).

On the other side of the divide, we have charismatics failing to test every spirit and pretending that the Spirit of God is some kind of vending machine, or that it gives fortunes, or worst of all, that it gives “new revelations” of God’s will in contradiction to the written word of God.

Thus I believe that in large measure, the present atheism we see is partially to be blamed on the Christian Church, we have done that which we ought not to have done, and have not done those things we ought to have done, and there is no health in us.

Our only hope now is that it is always God’s property to have mercy. May He have mercy on us now.

Dreading Monday

Well, it seems that Summer is almost over for me. On Monday I begin the orientation week at the college, marking the beginning of my last year of M.Div. (provided I complete this year successfully). Luckily. this is the only week I will have to spend at the college for the remainder of the semester, as I will be doing an internship at my local congregation for the fall. I am looking forward to that.

But why do I dread Monday then? Well. that’s kind of hard to explain. It stems mostly from my own exodus from the Anglican Church, and the subsequent decisions of the Church’s ruling body (General Synod) this past summer.

That this General Synod resolves that the blessing of same-sex unions is not in conflict with the core doctrine (in the sense of being creedal) of The Anglican Church of Canada.

Now on its face, this would only be a commentary on the veracity of the blessing of same sex unions. Unlike other Churches, this actually does alter the doctrine of the Church and represents the Church at least not being hypocritical (as would be the case if they claimed that doctrine prohibited same sex blessings, but that the Church could do them anyway). The Anglicans did the reverse, and stated that doctrine allowed it, but denied that dioceases had the authority to perform them yet (in a separate resolution).

The problem lies, however, in the way that this resolution works to interpret the creeds that the Anglican Church of Canada affirms. By stating that same sex blessings do not conflict with doctrines based in the creeds, it demands that any affirmation of the creeds must be interpreted in such a way as it allows for the blessing of same sex unions. So if, for example, I took the standpoint that when I affirm that “I believe in God the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and who with the Father and Son is to be worshipped and glorified, He spake by the prophets“, and believe that to mean that what is recorded in scripture as by the prophets is thus spoken by the Holy Spirit, I would be wrong according to the Anglican Church, since it is those same prophets that seem to speak against homosexuality.

Thus in a real sense, the doctrine of the Anglican Church seems to, at least in this instance, disaffirm the authority of scripture as I understand orthodox Christianity to hold. The result is that, while the practice of the Church remains largely orthodox for the time being, the doctrine of the Church (which is far more important) has already moved away from Orthodoxy.

And there is my problem. I am simply not completely sure anymore that the Anglican Church of Canada still represents an expression of Christianity, and thus I fear it may be inappropriate for me to take part in worship (or possibly lead worship) when I may not actually be part of the same religion anymore. i believe the scriptures are Go-breathed, through the prophets, spoken by the Holy Spirit, and it doesn’t look like the Anglican Church agrees with me.

(sigh) Some days I wonder if I shouldn’t have stayed teaching in Korea.

Bible Study comments 1: Knowing that faith is a gift of God moves us (among other lesser things) to Glory in Christ.

The Bible Study I attend in St. John’s is continuing to look into the Word of God, guided by a John Piper book, “When I Don’t Desire God” (available online by clicking on he link). Last week, they went through Chapter 4 of the book, Joy in God is a Gift of God: Doing Ourselves What Must Be Done For Us. There are many things in the chapter to comment on, but besides sharing the point of the chapter, I’ll leave you all to read it yourselves.

The Chapter is about, simply, the fact that the Bible seems to say that it is commanded that we have joy in the Lord, but similarly, that joy in the Lord is a gift given by the Lord. It’s the problem of dead sinners (sinners here meaning people who ARE sinners, rather than simply people who sin, we are not just people who do bad stuff, we are the kind of people that do bad stuff). We are in a very bad position vis a vis God, not simply because we’re doers of bad stuff, but because we desire the wrong things and thus do the bad stuff. The problem is not simply our actions, but the desperately wicked heart that drives the actions (See Jeremiah 17:9-10 for the relation of God’s judgment on deeds and the relation to the heart).

It is that rebellious heart that must come to rejoice in the Lord, which is the Lord’s work.

Now, I hear that there were two very good questions asked at the study. I want to give a stab at an answer for both, one today, and one whenever I next get time. The first is “Why does it matter that believing God’s revealed word about Himself is a gift that He has given?” and the second is “Should we be concerned with those who have not received repentance, and can we blame them for not repenting?”.

Why Does It Matter?

I think there are many reasons why it matters that God’s gift of faith in Him is a gift He Himself is given. I’ll give three of my anwers here.

1) Such knowledge keeps us from thinking of ourselves too highly. Humans have a habit of turning good things that we have into a means of boasting. That is the point of 1 Corinthians 1:23-31. I know in my own mind that I sometimes think of those who reject Jesus as stupid or ignorant, when in fact only God’s grace keeps me in faith. I have no right to boast over others, but rather have a need to boast in the Lord that saves me….from me.

2) Knowing that it is only by the gift of God empowers us to speak openly of Jesus to those who do not believe. Faith in God comes from God, and as such it keeps us from two opinions that might cause us to be silent about His grace around others. In the first place, we could be silent because we believe people are too far beyond the pale.

Indeed they are. Everybody we speak to is as dead in sin as we were, but God saved us, loving us while we were still sinners (1 John 4:10), and calling us to salvation and righteousnes while we were slaves to sin (Romans 6:17).

Do you think that your unsaved family member is too far gone to be reached by your words? Darn skippy! Sin has them enslaved, and sin is a powerful master. They are enthralled by the desires of the world, AS WE WERE. God can save them as He saved us, because we were not saved by our superior intellect or spiritual ability, or a “God gene” but by the sovereign grace of God!

Similarly, we can believe that we should not witness to our friends and family because we do not have powerful convincing words to move them. Instead we should just live holy lives and hope they see it in our lives. This is half true, we should lead Holy lives, like a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14-16), but we should also openly rejoice in God, and tell others. Indeed, not with hugely practiced words and powerful arguments, as that will only stoke the desire to be self righteous (and prove you to be self righteous at the same time), but with the words in your heart.

God may have saved you through an argument, or through reading or through the Godly life of another, but it was God who saved you, not you. In essence, in evangelism, you are not asked to be effective beyond your means, you are only asked to be faithful.

This does not mean you don’t learn arguments for Christ if you can, but do not worry if that is not your forte, God is going to use your faithfulness to save people, and it will be God’s work, so you don’t get to boast in it, you get to be part of what God does.

3) It’s important because it moves us to glory in Christ, our redeemer. Knowing that it is God in Christ who gives us the gift of faith, to understand His word, and to come to Him rejoicing in Him makes the joy in Him far greater. All things, whether it be the truth in Scripture, or a heart that seeks after God, or a Godly spouse and family, or Godly friends, or even our repentance itself, become conduits to praising God alone, feeling Him sweet, and valuable above all else. Honestly, I wanna sing now.

I will glory in my Redeemer
Whose priceless blood has ransomed me
Mine was the sin that drove the bitter nails
And hung Him on that judgment tree
I will glory in my Redeemer
Who crushed the power of sin and death
My only Savior before the Holy Judge
The Lamb Who is my righteousness
The Lamb Who is my righteousness

I will glory in my Redeemer
My life He bought, my love He owns
I have no longings for another
I’m satisfied in Him alone
I will glory in my Redeemer
His faithfulness my standing place
Though foes are mighty and rush upon me
My feet are firm, held by His grace
My feet are firm, held by His grace

I will glory in my Redeemer
Who carries me on eagle’s wings
He crowns my life with lovingkindness
His triumph song I’ll ever sing
I will glory in my Redeemer
Who waits for me at gates of gold
And when He calls me it will be paradise
His face forever to behold
His face forever to behold
His face forever to behold

Words and Music by Steve and Vicki Cook
© 2001 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP).