Friday, September 28, 2007

What is a Conservative?

This quiz not comprehensive, but it's not bad in terms of the choices for comparison. It offers overlapping viewpoints by listing common clarifications of talking points rather than less specific "on a scale of 1 to 5..." questions. Can you tell I'm as politically conservative as I am theologically conservative?

Fred Thompson
Score: 49
Stem-Cell Research
Health Care
Social Security
Line-Item Veto
Death Penalty
Duncan Hunter
Score: 49
Stem-Cell Research
Health Care
Social Security
Line-Item Veto
Death Penalty

-- Take the Quiz! --

So what is a conservative, anyway? The word is intended to convey the notion that historical ideological norms ought to be conserved.

Politically speaking, this means that conservatives in Saudi Arabia would be ideologically very different than conservatives in France for each set of conservatives would seek to preserve their own historical ideologies. Conservatives in the United States seek to conserve the ideology of the founding of our nation with the understanding that we have learned some lessons and the world has changed considerably since then. However, the principles of the ideology haven't changed, only the application.

Christian theological conservatism is a different thing. One could say that it is merely a throwback to conserving the traditions of a mere generation ago. There are those who follow this. However, true theological conservatism is where it is recognized that an absolute meaning was intended in the message of God to His people. The theological conservative therefore tries to discover and propagate this message.

As an American, I am a political conservative in that I am in agreement with the principles on which this country was founded. As a Christian, I am a conservative in that I believe that God has intentions that I cannot control and commands that I cannot controvert. It is my duty as one of faith to learn what those intentions and commands are as they are clearly communicated by God and teach others what I learn.

And what of non-conservatives? American political non-conservatives do not agree with the founding principles of this nation. Christian theological non-conservatives do not believe that God has intentions that they cannot control and commands that they cannot controvert.


Note - By posting the results of the above quiz I do not intend to indicate my endorsement of either of these candidates. This merely represents the results of the referenced quiz. However, I think both of these are very capable candidates and worthy of our consideration.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Faith and Obedience, Joy and Happiness, Part 2

Given that we at Western Avenue have been convicted of the need to fulfill the Great Commission, there are some observations that need to be stated. I observe that we tithe our membership to missions.

These are not full-time missions in the sense that 10% of our membership is in the field at any given time. That said, it must be understood that many of our people work year-round to raise funds and prepare for any particular mission.
We may be sending 10%, but what of the other 90%? Understanding that not everyone can go, we can still send more.
We have done no special thing to grow spiritually for this task besides to earnestly seek God’s face. God Himself is the progenitor of our status. We strive to be faithful. We strive to worship Him in every way. We strive to glorify Him in everything we do. From among us, God has provided everything we need to fulfill His purpose.
Our missionaries are no better than any other group of true Christians. We still bear evidence of the old sin nature. We are not uber-spiritual, but rather normal Christians who happen to agree that we need to figure out how to be about the business Christ told us we need to be about.

With that last statement, let me offer a montage of snapshots of our congregation, proverbial warts and all. No names are given here and the textual faces are smudged to protect identities. The point is that these are people I love. These are people who filled the church Sunday. As we offered praise to God, considering His call for us to go, the faces I saw in worship were the faces of people I knew had obstacles of sin to overcome. Nevertheless, God is glorified despite their weakness. Here are some of the brothers and sisters with whom I attend church:

  • There’s the man who left his wife and kids, but came back to them.
  • There’s the woman who starts major projects all over the church, but invariably gives up on them after a short time.
  • There’s the younger man who had a stroke. He’s functional, but he lacks the ability to control some aspects of his behavior and is often annoying.
  • There’s the woman who has a good heart, but can really find a harsh way of showing it sometimes.
  • There’s the man who longs to minister to some of the most downtrodden people on the planet, but his wife’s health has gotten so bad that he has to expend all his energy ministering to her.
  • There are the couples who have divorced for various reasons.
  • There is the husband and father who has been attracted to another woman, but has remained faithful out of true love and a willingness to offer himself up for his family.
  • There is the woman who feels devalued, but has been able to bring meaning and stability to so many ministries.
  • There is the man who too often takes the path of least resistance, but whose heart is so tender that he encourages others to be likewise tender.
  • There is the woman who is often impatient with children, but has a desire to minister to children around the world that makes her effective.
  • There is the man who organizes several activities, but can't seem to put church property back where it goes so that others can find it.
  • There is the woman who engenders the attentiona and affections of many because of the tenderness by which she ministers to all near her. However, she keeps herslef so busy with all this that she fails to follow up on those who she has left behind.
  • There is the man whose health has caused financial problems, but who seeks to minister in any way he can.
  • There is the woman who is raising her children alone, but keeps them active in the church and teaches them to minister to others.
  • There is the man whose wife has passed away and continues to lead missions to difficult places.
  • There is the couple who couldn't have children until they started adopting.
  • There is the man who is trying to stop smoking and works for a secret agency, but who has discovered a joy in using his gifts to minister to others.
  • There is the couple who comes from a difficult background who seek to teach their kids to minister.
  • There are the ones who complain from time to time, but remain faithful to minister.
  • There are those of significant wealth who give generously, but sometimes try to put strings on their gifts.
  • There are those of limited means who continue to find God's provision to go on missions.

There are so many more that I could include. Perhaps you recognize some of these people at your church. The snapshots are not particularly unique and some of them represent more than one person I know at my church. If you think that a people must be particularly special to get involved with God's work, you're mistaken.

One of the songs that we sang Sunday was Days of Elijah. One line, in reference to Ezekiel, is "The dry bones becoming as flesh". We are those dry bones. We are told that if we do not praise God, He can make the rocks cry out. All of us have had hardened hearts. When our hearts become soft enough to praise God, we are the rocks that cry out in praise to our God. He is the one who gives us life. He uses us to take His message of life to others.

To His glory!

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Faith and Obedience, Joy and Happiness, Part 1

Sunday was a profound day for me. I’ve been struggling on how to convey this. The struggle is over the fact that there is significant information that I cannot share. Some of it is very personal and some of it is involves sensitive information. These things I cannot share. I have written and re-written an account of Sunday, but have been unable to express clearly what has happened spiritually. There is a message attached that I’d like to share, but the message has greater meaning than I can relay with a simple linear discourse.

The theme for worship Sunday was missions with a focus on the sovereignty of God. I sang the following song:

I Will Go

Give me ears to hear your Spirit,
Give me feet to follow through,
Give me hands to touch the hurting,
Give me faith to follow you.

Give me grace to be a servant,
Give me mercy for the lost,
Give me passion for your glory,
Give me passion for the cross.

And I will go where there are no easy roads,
Leave the comfort that I know,
I will go and let this journey be my home,
I will go, I will go.

Dejaré mis ambiciones, (I’ll let go of my ambitions)
Cortaré cualquier raíz, (I will cut any root)
Que impida despojarme, (That impedes or defiles me)
De lo que no sea de ti, (Of what is not of you)
De lo que no sea de ti. (Of what is not of you)

Por la fe de seguiré, (By faith I will follow)
Tu poder yo vestiré, (Your power I will don)

Yo iré siguiendo tu voluntad, (I will go following your will)
Dejaré el confort atrás, (I will leave my comfort behind)
Yo iré y donde estés será mi hogar (I will go and where you are will be my home)
Yo iré, Yo iré, (I will go, I will go)

I will go, Lord where your glory is unknown,
I will live for you alone,
I will go because my life is not my own,
I will go, I will go.

Our Sunday school teacher, David Moss, develops his own material and this lesson fit right in with everything this morning, although it may not be readily apparent. He’s been teaching on the subject of Holiness using a book by Francis Schaeffer as a guide. Despite having 150 members in our class, we still manage to have good discussion, well moderated by David. The discussion Sunday developed to make a comment that follows a post I made several days ago about happiness:

“I have considered that God does not want us to be happy. He wants us to be faithful and obedient and there through He gives us joy.”

David heartily agreed and spent the rest of the class unpacking this statement. This is where I have derived the title of this post. I’ll unpack it here briefly adding to what I posted earlier.

One of my Christian Philosophy professors posed the question, “What is Faith?” He said the answer lies in considering the definition of Faith with regard to the question, “What is faithfulness?” The answer to the first question is answered not by Paul in Hebrews 12, which is more descriptive, but by James, whose letter handles Faith more definitively.

Our church is involved significantly with missions around the world. Venezuela is only a small part of it. We have at least 10% of our congregation going to places such as Argentina, Peru, Guatemala, Brazil, Costa Rica, Honduras, Great Britain, Sweden, Germany, Ukraine, Uganda, Sudan, the Middle East, India, Nepal, Vietnam, China, Canada, Four Corners and the Gulf Coast. That’s not to mention local missions. And I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. Sunday evening we had a share service for our biggest mission effort.

Brian Burgess preached a message last week that fit well with what went on this week. Listen to it here. He goes into much more detail about one of our missions than I am willing to in my blogs.

I will continue the topic of this past Sunday in my next post.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Accomplishing the Mission - Boot Camp

We just had a serious day at church - serious in a good way. I long more than ever to be on the mission field. I got past my deadlines on creating mission oriented videos from photos given to me only a few days ago and now I've just been spending a few moments seeing what I can find interesting on YouTube.

As such I found the two videos of Marine Corps Boot Camp you see below. (There is a third one I liked that I won't include because of the strong language.) Honestly, they bring back fond memories. They are representative of the sorts of things I encountered in Boot Camp. You might think that many of these moments are pretty brutal. It was a brutal three months, but worth it.

I began this post with a brief reflection on my yearning for the mission field and quickly transitioned into Marine Corps Boot Camp. The two seem incongruous, but they are very much alike. Boot Camp may be brutal, but the goal is to learn how to effectively accomplish assigned missions under fire. It's the difference between life and death. My fellow Christians will recognize that our enemy roams about like a lion seeking whom he may devour. Our mission is to proclaim the gospel under spiritual fire and sometimes under the real threat of loss of life. The loss of physical life is nothing for us who have the certain hope of Christ, but the real danger is the life of those to whom we are called to proclaim the gospel. We cannot save them ourselves, but God uses the obedience of His people through evangelism to make certain His election.

From the testimonies of my fellow short-term missionaries tonight I was reminded of something I already know - the Great Commission has as much to do with the spiritual development of the missionaries as it does the salvation of the people to whom they are called to go. Taking the gospel to people is training for further spiritual warfare.

Interestingly, I've discovered that even the most mature Christians among us are susceptible to spiritual attacks that could kill our witness in a moment. Likewise, even the most highly trained warrior can be taken down with a single bullet. The stakes are higher in Christian missions because we deal with eternal life. However, we have the Spirit of God and He will allow us to persevere through confession and repentance. I'd rather be on the mission field.

Ok - enough rambling. On to the videos of fond brutality...

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Apologetics - Gospel Authorship

Despite the textual critics, there's plenty of well-known evidence for the authorship of the gospels. Here is some lesser-known evidence for the authorship of the gospels I found on Triablogue offered by Jason Engwer:

Some Lesser Known Evidence Relevant To Gospel Authorship (Part 1)
Some Lesser Known Evidence Relevant To Gospel Authorship (Part 2)
Some Lesser Known Evidence Relevant To Gospel Authorship (Part 3)
Some Lesser Known Evidence Relevant To Gospel Authorship (Part 4)

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Happiness is...

When I was a boy, I had a book by Charles Schultz entitled, "Happiness Is A Warm Puppy". (Apparently I can have it again for $5.95.) Each page had a warm, fuzzy sentiment about happiness wonderfully illustrated by the author of Peanuts. I always considered that Charlie Brown was never quite happy and always identified with him and his "Good Grief" brand of misery. Nothing seemed to go right for good old Charlie Brown. As baseball team manager and pitcher, he was the leader who no one respected. He trusted Lucy not to pull the football away and offer helpful psychiatric advice after spilling his guts to her. She did neither. He hoped beyond hope that the kite would launch and not get tangled in a tree. Even his dog was more popular than him and his hopes of puppy romance were quashed when the little red-haired girl moved away. We all thought he may have had something in his friend, Peppermint Patty. However, we soon realized that her interest in "Chuck" was given with more self-interest than anything. Perhaps the greatest thing Charlie Brown had was a benevolent relationship with Linus. Linus was the philosophical thumb-sucking, blanket-snuggling brother of his greatest foe. He was hardly a social maven himself.

Poor Charlie Brown. We delight in the one who had no delight.

In the Declaration of Independence, we learn that we sought freedom from England in order to obtain unalienable rights such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Hey! Happiness is a right, right? Given by whom? Why our Creator, of course. That's what we have told ourselves. While we have declared for ourselves a "right" to pursue happiness, we have not declared for ourselves a "right" to be happy.

... and it shows. As a culture, we have created so much wealth for ourselves that it has become a curse. On average, our poor live like royalty compared to most of the rest of the world. We pursue stuff thinking that it will make us happy. We think stuff will make us more comfortable, make our living more convenient and make us more popular. We pursue fame or try to find a niche specialty so we can feel important. We see others with these things that think that they must be happy. We want that happiness.

...but we find that the happiness doesn't last. The stuff gets old. There's always something new. A thing only attracts attention for a moment and then everyone goes away. Many of my fellow Christians refer sophomorically to the "God-shaped-hole". The happiness we pursue is a sense of value within a meaningful community. This is what that hole is. But we fool ourselves by confusing happiness with joy. Perhaps this is why so many famous people have attempted suicide. Aren't they happy? They have lots of stuff. They have fame. They have all sorts of people surrounding them who would treat them like friends and value them. But they're not happy.

I have heard self-professed Christians use as an argument for dissolving a marriage in favor of another lover that "God just wants me to be happy." Yet, I just heard yesterday from a brother in Christ. He suffered a divorce and years later is still single. He told me what I already know - it's not worth it. Lest you think I'm speaking personally, I'm not looking for a divorce. I have a good wife and a... happy(?) marriage. No - I have a marriage full of joy.

God doesn't want us to be happy. We have no right to be happy. The pursuit of happiness has been a red herring. We have done nothing to warrant happiness. God offers us joy instead. We don't need stuff. We don't need to be accepted by others. We SHOULD be accepted by our brothers and sisters in Christ, but like us they are flawed human beings and likely will never perfectly accept us this side of eternity. The only thing God asks of us for joy is to die to our sin and trust Him. It's the same thing. If we sin, we don't trust God. If we trust God, we won't sin. God doesn't want us to be happy, He wants us to be obedient.

He summed up obedience in the simplest terms: Love Him. Love each other. How do we love? Like Christ. Christ sacrificed Himself to pay the penalty for the sins of His people. To love God is to die to sin. We are therefore, no longer identified with sin - we are instead identified with our Creator. To love each other is to recognize the mark of the Creator in each other and serve Him in each other. That's the simple rule. That's obedience. It is an obedience not of works, but of intent. Therein is true joy.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, September 16, 2007

100th Royal Tournament on YouTube!

I enlisted in the Marines in 1987 as a 5546 - a trombone player - and was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division Band at Camp Lejune, NC. In January, 1991, we reverted to our wartime function as a special security unit of Headquarters Company, Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division and deployed to Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield/Storm. Just prior to this, in the summer of 1990, we were ordered to London for three weeks to participate in the 100th Royal Tournament. On a whim, I searched for Royal Tournament on YouTube and the very first entry, although added a mere three months ago, was from the 100th Royal Tournament. Here's the video I couldn't take because I was there. There was a detachment of Spanish Marines, then the 2D MAR DIV BAND, and this video of the Royal Marines Massed Bands marching in to HM Jollies, the RM's service song. The instrumentation of the Spanish Marines (consisting of small bagpipes, piccolos and tenor drums) wasn't compatible with everyone else's, so they didn't play, but we played along with the Royal Marines on the rest of the music.

If you pause at 0:03, you will see the Spanish Marines closest to the camera with our small square of US Marines just on the other side. No bigger than we were, we were accustomed to playing large pass and reviews. We were tested at 135db point blank. At this volume, our small group balanced the 200-plus Royal Marine band members. They jokingly asked us if we were trying to straighten out our horns. We played loud enough that we earned a noticeable and surprised nod from Her Majesty, the Queen. You can get a closeup of the rear portion of our band (I was a little closer to the front) at 0:44 - 0:48.

The prayer spoken during the "Sunset" music is the official RM prayer and was recited by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, husband to the Queen.

Those not familiar with the seal of the Royal Marines may not notice that Gibraltar is missing from it. This was done to appease the Spanish Marines who lost to the Brits over it.

When you hear the British tribute and the sound of the trumpets becomes loud, that's the US Marines. None of the britih bands march with trupets, they use coronets. Trumpets are reserved for royalty and there is a special trumpet corps precisely for the purpose. There was a debate as to whether we would be able to use our trumpets when we played with the Massed Bands, but the permission was given. Thus, when we play the British tribute, you can here our few trumpets pierce the air thick with fake cannon smoke.

During our three week stay, we played 2 programs a night six days a week and cut a CD of the music. Just prior to the video I've included, we did our fifteen-minute program. We recorded 10 minutes of it. I include it here from my copy of the CD:

When we recorded this, the studio wasn't ready for our volume. Under normal recording levels, we blew a speaker in the sound booth to the extent that the cover flew off and made our drum major spill his coffe all over himself. Oooh RAH - Semper - stinkin' - fi!!!! We had to delay recording long enough for them to replace it. The portion of this that is narrated is called The Marine's Hymn, Apotheosis, by Sammy Nestico. When it transitions from one section to the other, you will hear a single trombone play a few pickup notes to lead it in (3:45) - that's me.

Naturally, I don't have photos of the portion of the program recorded in the video, but I do have a few pictures of portions of the program I was able to observe prior to it.

This was an earlier portion of the program that the RM Massed Bands did on their own.

There were a number of other portions of the program. Some involved demonstrations of police dogs rappeling from the catwalks, motorcycle stunts, and the Navy gun team tournaments. These were horse teams galloping in amazing syncronization about the court.

Let me go back and mention the gun teams again. These consisted of incredibly large men who would carry cannons by hand through an obstacle course. The team that fired off their cannon first at the end of course won. These men could carry 500 lb cannon parts in one hand while they hung onto a rope with the other. So dedicated were they that some were known to substitute their own digits (which they lost in the transaction), if a wheel peg came up missing, so that their team would win. Such injury was not uncommon and an exceptional number of alternates were on standby in the event that a team member was hurt.

But perhaps the most memorable occasion was directly after the finale, the royals would exit through a heavily guarded and temporarily cordoned walkway to their chauffered vehicles. This path was directly next to the opening to the court where we would exit at the end - so we delighted in observing the royals we typically only saw on TV. At the show that the Queen Mother (may she rest in peace) attended, she was slowly escorted down this path at the end. I stood next to my buddy who played the sousaphone and we had managed to make it to a position directly at the cordon between two guards. Now Brits don't march with sousaphones. Brits march with small tubas hung from their neck. The sousaphone is an American instrument. As the Queen Mum passed by, she paused and looked slowly over at me and my buddy. When she saw the size of the sousaphone, she exclaimed with reserved delight and wonder, "My, what a big horn."

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Discipleship 2007 - Session 1

I had the opportunity to lead three sessions of discipleship in Venezuela this year. In the first session, I covered the Ordinances. For those of you who are not Baptists, these are often referred to elsewhere as sacraments. Roman Catholics believe in several sacraments, but Protestants typically only recognize two: Baptism and Communion. The reason that Baptists call these "ordinances" rather than "sacraments" is to make a distinction in the theology. The use of the word "sacrament" is rooted in the belief that participants in the activity somehow receive some sort of special grace from the activity. For example, there are those who believe that baptism actually saves the one being baptized. Others believe that the grace received through baptism is the reception of the new covenant. Baptists do not believe that God imparts anything special to us other than to provide an outward sign of an inward truth. Our desire as Christians should be to be obedient to that which Christ has ordained.

As such, I sought to teach only that which is explicit in the Bible and allow their questions to teach me what issues they need addressed. In this way I might go without sullying their learning by introducing muddled debates over questionable theology that they have no knowledge of. In accordance with this and as a Baptist teaching Baptists, I maintained only a basic hermeneutic recognized by Baptists and refined it only when they had questions or specific concerns. The reason for this was to build a solid hermeneutical foundation that can be refined.

The following constitutes the notes I passed out and from which I taught:

The Ordinances


Greek word means “dip” or “immerse”. Often it was used in reference to cleaning something. There are those who dispute this meaning saying that the ancient usage of the word had a much broader meaning. This is true. There are cases where it is used figuratively for the baptism of the Holy Spirit or for ceremonial cleaning (Hebrew 9:10). However, this passage draws a distinction between ceremonial washing and Christian baptism. Furthermore, when the act of water baptism is described in the Bible, it is described in terms of full immersion (Matthew 3:16) and the meaning of Christian baptism with respect to the death burial and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3; Colossians 2:12) makes no sense outside of full immersion.

Institution: Matthew 28:19-20
Was administered by John the Baptist: Matthew 3:5-12; John 3:23
Was sanctioned by Christ through His baptism: Matthew 3:13-15; Luke 3:21
Christ baptized: John 3:22; 4:1-2

Historical Foundation for Baptism

Ceremonial washing Exodus 30:17-21

In the Old Testament, the Jews practiced a number of ceremonial washings and cleansings. A Gentile convert to Judaism had to undergo a baptism to complete his conversion. If a Gentile wanted to be identified with the Jews (become a proselyte), he had to undergo a three-part process: (These procedures are still mostly in effect today)

  1. Circumcision (Today, if already circumcised, a male must offer a drop of blood as symbolic circumcision)
  2. immersion, baptism (Still mandatory today, called a mikveh, must be witnessed by three)
  3. Corban – offer the blood sacrifice of animals to remind the Gentile that their forgiveness required the death of a substitute (Today, a convert can give money or gifts to the poor as an offering. An additional step is the choosing of a Hebrew name.)

By three things did Israel enter into the Covenant: by circumcision, and baptism and sacrifice. Circumcision was in Egypt, as it is written: ‘No uncircumcised person shall eat thereof’ (Exodus 12:48). Baptism was in the wilderness, just before giving of the Law, as it is written: ‘Sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes’ (Exodus 19:10). And sacrifice, as it is said: ‘And he sent young men of the children of Israel which offered burnt offerings’ (Exodus 24:5)...When a gentile is willing to enter the covenant...He must be circumcised and be baptized and bring a sacrifice...And at this time when there is no sacrifice, they must be circumcised and be baptized; and when the Temple shall be built, they are to bring a sacrifice...The gentile that is made a proselyte and the slave that is made free, behold he is like a child new born.

To this day, Gentiles who would embrace Judaism must undergo baptism in a mikveh ritual. The purpose of this ceremonial immersion is to portray spiritual cleansing, as Maimonides concluded in his codification of the laws of mikveh: “...uncleanness is not mud or filth which water can remove, but it is a matter of scriptural decree and dependent on the intention of the heart.

What the Bible teaches us about Baptism
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Matthew 28:19
Inward truth:
Regeneration: Romans 6:3-11
Confession of sins necessary: Matthew 3:6
Marked by repentance of sins: Acts 2:38
Faith is necessary: Acts 8:37-38; 18:8
Remission of sins: Acts 2:38; 22:16
Water is the outward and visible sign: Acts 8:36; 10:47
It is the outward sign of an inward truth
Represents the influence of the Holy Spirit: Matthew 3:11
True baptism results in the gift of the Holy Spirit: Acts 2:38
Fruit of the Spirit: Galatians 5:22-26
Unity of the spirit: Ephesians 4:2-6
It is to be done once in the life of the believer. (Hebrew 6:2,6)

The Lord’s Supper

Institution: Matt 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:15-20; I Corinthians 11:23-25

The historical foundation for the Lord’s Supper
Feast of Unleavened Bread: Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-20
From the Law of Moses: Exodus 23:15
Passover before the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt: Exodus 12

What the Bible teaches about the Lord’s Supper
It is called “The Lord’s Supper” (I Corinthians 11:20)
It is called “Communion” (I Corinthians 10:16)
It commemorates the death of Christ (I Corinthians 11:26)
It must not be observed unworthily (I Corinthians 11:27-32)
It may be done throughout the life of the believer until Christ returns. I Corinthians11:26

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I'm Amazed - Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

Just to bless you today...

Labels: , ,

Religious Discrimination

I wonder if much of religious discrimination isn't simply ignorance. There's an article about a Christian hospital chaplain that was fired for praying in the name of Jesus in a prayer for non-Christians. The hospital issued this statement:

"It would be very appropriate to say Jesus' name in the presence of a Christian family. That's no problem. What must be understood is knowing the audience and what is appropriate for that particular situation."

Where's the ignorance? Answer - anyone who prays earnestly realizes that his "audience" is God. To be consistent as a chaplain that adheres to a particular faith, the chaplain cannot offer a prayer to any God other than the one with whom he has a relationship.

This begs the question - do Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. all believe in the same God? Some would argue yes - some, no. To be sure we do not believe the same things about God. To be further sure, not all Muslims believe precisely the same things about Allah, Christians do not all believe precisely the same things about God and Jews do not all believe precisely the same things about God. There are some things that one should be able to point to in general and say that Christians must all believe these things about God. The same with Muslims or Jews - or any other religion for that matter. The question is a little too simplistic for this reason.

The temptation , therefore, is to relativise our understanding of what we believe. In other words, we might wish to gloss over the complexity of the issue by personalizing belief. It's a false magic wand that stems from the motivation that we don't want to tick anyone off by trying to discover a truth that others might not want to believe.

The ignorance is one in which people like the hospital leadership cannot tolerate someone who actually believes that when they pray, God listens. It behooves such a one, therefore, to learn about a God who listens. Secular psychologists may tell us that the ooey-gooey feelings one gets from hearing a prayer offered to the God they know encourages the mind to cooperate with the healing of the body. Nevertheless, true ministers of God recognize that the One who created us is the One who can heal us. Ooey-gooey feelings built on anything but solid Truth will eventually fail.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 03, 2007

Answer to Original Sin

I posed my hypothetical question to a group of brothers last Thursday night and through the discussion that ensued was able to refine my understanding of the doctrine of Original Sin. The question was:

"If scientists one day are able to artificially produce a man with no parents, will he be free from original sin?"

I asked the following questions to point out the meat of the dilemma:

"Was Christ free from sin because he had no biological human father or because He is God?
...or both?
What was the purpose of the virgin birth?"

I've heard it taught more than once that Christ was free from sin because He didn't have a human father and that sin is passed down generation to generation through our fathers. The key passage on OS, Romans 5:12-19, doesn't mention the transmission of OS as being hereditary in any particular sense. Here are the key texts that I have found that deal with the OS (all quotes are from the NASB):

Romans 5:12-19
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned--
13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.
16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification.
17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.
19 For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Ephesians 2:3
Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Job 25:4

"How then can a man be just with God?
Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?"

Psalm 58:3
The wicked are estranged from the womb;
These who speak lies go astray from birth.

Psalm 51:5
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.

Lets look at a couple of terms often used: imputation and heredity.


According to Houghton Mifflin, to impute is either "to relate to a particular cause or source" or "to assign as a characteristic". This is irregardless as to any particular means. Theological discussions typically connotate that the imputation of OS is direct with no means indicated over and against some other form of imputation which is indirect through some sort of genealogical heredity. As such, I will use "transmission" to refer to general imputation and "imputation" to refer to theological imputation.


While we have versus such as Job 25:4, Psalm 58:3 and Psalm 51:5, each appearing to imply the genealogical imputation of OS, the precise method of heredity is unstated. Differing ideas exist. OS has been part of Roman Catholic theology from early in their history. Jewish rabbis typically do not believe that these indicate OS believing that Deuteronomy 30 indicates that men are capable on their own of being able to follow the law implying that Paul's teaching in Romans does not align with that of Moses. states that OS is imputed through a "genetic defect". In Article II of the Defense of the Augsburg Confession, traditional Lutheran theology is establishes the means of hereditary imputation as being that of status or position. None of these are explicit in the scriptures.

Job 25:4 implies that the hereditary imputation is through one's mother. However, the question is merely asked of Job by Bildad the Shuhite and may not have been asked with a correct theological premise.

Psalm 58:3 is part of a prayer for the punishment of the wicked. It implies OS by mentioning that wickedness is in the heart of people even before they are born and that from birth, when people can begin to speak, they are capable of lying. No mention of means here.

From the OT passages, Psalm 51:1 comes the closest to directly implying any means of hereditary transmission. The parent mentioned is the mother. However, heredity is yet only merely implied. It isn't clear as to whether the act of conception itself is the means or some other explanation for the relationship between "sin" and "conception". What is clear in this Psalm is that David is expressing contrition by assenting to his state of total depravity for the sake of trusting God for purification, deliverance and salvation. he is not offering specific theological information as to precisely how it was he was given his total depravity.

That said, is it true that we have an original sin gene, or a genetic defect that can be corrected through gene therapy so that future generations don't have original sin imputed to them? Or is it the case that the hereditary nature of OS is necessary but not sufficient where it is required that OS also be imputed. If so, are they both necessary and could there be some other element not revealed in scripture that is also necessary. Of course that would be an argument from silence. Could it be that the answer is simpler than all this?

What do we make of Christ. Whatever answer we find must also allow us to see that Christ did not have the curse of OS. He was spotless. We know that Enoch didn't sin, but he still carried the guilt of OS. Christ could not have OS or He would not be worthy to bear OS as a spotless lamb. Otherwise, Enoch could have done the same as Christ.

Let's first get free of the idea that Christ was free of OS because of the virgin birth. Nowhere does the Bible explicitly or implicitly say that the purpose of the virgin birth was to enable Christ to be free from the guilt of OS. That's reasoning based on an already established belief that OS is physically hereditary. As it is, both Isaiah and Matthew give the explicit reason for the virgin birth. It is a sign both in the fact that Christ would be born of a virgin, miraculously conceived, and that it was to fulfill a specific prophecy.

If it is true that OS is hereditary, then unless I'm missing a passage somewhere it's not explicit in holy writ. But I'll speculate that it's possible that it's true that OS could be hereditary. If so, then on what basis could it be hereditary if we also don't want to believe that a man could be constructed free of OS with genetic material that is artificially generated and not from any reproductive act. Then in the construction of such a man, although his genetic structure was artificially generated, he would still have human beings as his progenitors. In the act of physical reproduction, genetic material is spliced together by a mother and a father aided by biochemical physics. In vitro fertilization is still genetic material from human parents spliced together by a physician aided by biochemical physics. If technology becomes sophisticated enough to construct the genetic structure of a human being from "scratch" and develop it into a living human being, then some scientist will have had to decide on the physical characteristics to be compiled together in the code (in two differing, because of the double nature of our genetic structure) and he will be aided by the same biochemical physics required to sustain the process whereby the genetic code can amount to anything. In essence, human babies are made by humans with the help of the physical world God has given us. If a man were artificially constructed from the genes up, he would be no less constructed by humans although he would be conceived an orphan.

This raises some interesting bunny trail questions such as, were the nephilim free from OS? But I digress...

What about heredity of position I mentioned from the defense of the Augsburg Confession? The fact of the matter is that the Bible is not clear about the transmission of OS by heredity or imputation. IF it is transmitted at all by heredity, then it is mere speculation as to how precisely it is so transmitted.

Does the Bible explicitly say how OS is imputed? Let's look at the Romans passage and note a few things:

Verse 12
  • "just as" - in the same manner that one man sinned and death entered the world, so we all die because we sin.
  • the "world" - Greek "cosmos": Can have local or broad implications. In this context, it appears to refer to the created order of not only men who sin, but the context within which we sin.
  • "sinned" - past tense. Did Paul not mean to use the stative tense, "sin"? After all, we continue to sin today.
  • Or did Paul mean to imply that all of us sinned in Adam?
Verse 13
  • Why did all men sin? "for...sin was in the world".
  • "imputed" - Greek "ellogeitai": it's an accounting term referring to whether sin that entered the world is charged to the accounts of all men.
  • Adam's sin is not charged to the accounts of men when there is no law.
  • However, Paul indicates in chapter 2:14,15 that the law is written on the hearts of men (Gentiles, in context) even when there is no law socially established for them. After all, was not Abel justified and not Cain? On what basis was this judgement unless there was some law that they could in some way know.
  • If the imputation of OS happened prior to the law of Moses because the law was written on the hearts of men, then why would Paul bother to mention this principle?
Verse 14
  • If OS was not imputed prior to the law, death certainly was. This raises the question regarding OS: Precisely what is imputed? There are two kinds of death. One is the breaking of relationship, in this case being separated from God; the other is the cessation of the function of the physical body. Is Paul saying here that God allowed physical death prior to the law while not breaking relationship with men by imparting guilt prior to the law?
  • What then can we say for the faith of Abraham over and against say the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah?
  • The answer is indicated in the phrase, "sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam." There was an indication of law in terms of a transgression against God. The very act of transgressing against God brings the knowledge of a law even if the law is not yet explicit. Therefore, it is not that OS was not imputed to those between Adam and Moses. Rather, Paul mentioned the principle to further indicate that death is the result of Adam's sin.
  • Adam was a type of Christ.
Verse 15
  • Adam as a type is not the same as Christ in that the act of Adam was a transgression that brought the curse of death to many and the act of God through Christ was grace that brought a gift to many.
Verse 16
  • Adam as a type is not the same as Christ in that the curse of death arose from one transgression where the gift of grace addressed the transgressions of many.
  • Does the gift of grace, therefore, remove the curse of death brought by the one transgression: Original Sin? Or where OS was through Adam, so is it propagated somehow and the gift of grace is the answer to individual instances of propagated sin?
Verse 17
  • Adam as a type is not the same as Christ in that through Adam death reined and through Christ, those who receive the gift will reign in life.
  • We learned in verse 14 that death through OS reigned even over those who didn't sin. However, only those who receive the gift of grace will reign in life.
Verse 18
  • In Adam one transgression resulted in condemnation to all and in Christ, one act of righteousness resulted in justification to all.
  • "...justification of life to all men". This sounds like universalism. Is justification universal or particular?
  • Does universal justification mean universal salvation?
  • Does this pose a problem for Calvinists (of which I count myself) by countering the ever-controversial Limited Atonement? The word "all" can be used to mean "any". However, the context here clearly indicates that the understanding is universal. In reading Calvin's own melodyary on this passage, he doesn't explain the word "all" but merely asserts Limited Atonement. However, while justification for all may mean that Christ's work of grace is efficacious for all, it doesn't mean that all are imputed with Christ's righteousness. It certainly doesn't speak as to the means of faith from verse 1. One must conclude such from other passages because it's not present here in verse 17.

I'll leave verse 19 because it just continues one more verse of the same. There's one key word I intentionally missed back in verse 12: "Therefore". What is this passage a conclusion of? Is there some important material here? I've already hinted at verse 1 and we can go back earlier to see what Paul is talking about, but we don't have to. Just look back at verses 10 and 11. What does Paul indicate was accomplished through Christ? Greek: "katallage" - "atonement" or "reconciliation". It appears to be another accounting word. Where OS is imputed, death is exchanged for life. It's another way of saying redemption. However, the implication is that this death is the separation from God and when we are reconciled to God it is that we are no longer separated from Him. This reconciliation is not from death but rather through it. We move from being dead in our sins to being dead to our sins for death is separation from God, but since we have sin, we who also have Christ have an identity other than the sin that also lives in our bodies. Where we formerly identified with our sin and live apart from Christ, we now welcome the death of our former selves and embrace the life that has been created for us in Christ. That is the exchange.

When Adam sinned God God moved away to prevent the total destruction of His creation. This separation doomed all of creation to death. All who were born were born apart from God and had not the power to be righteous although a law was known and could be followed. Apart from God the propensity to sin is too great for nearly all of us and we are doomed to remain apart from God. This is how we are imputed with the condemnation of death from Adam's Original Sin. However, God fulfilled His promise of reconciliation by taking flesh in the person of His eternal Son. Where He had the appearance of flesh and will return in flesh, He is also fully God and therefore was not born separated from God. Being limited by His flesh, He did not come to condemn. He hid the full power of His righteous might and refrained from displaying the wrath which is to come. Instead, He himself took on the wrath of death and for a time undertook the unthinkable pain of separation from the Father. However, inasmuch as He is one with the Father, we who are given His Holy Spirit who join with Him in death - for us, our death to sin - we have also new life in Him because we are no longer separated from Him.

That, I believe, is the key to understanding Original Sin.

So how does this answer the artificially created life question? Any life artificially created is likewise brought into existence under the curse of death - the separation from God.

Labels: , ,