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Archive for the ‘F & L Insights’ Category

#1 Institution

What is the most powerful institution in the world?  The US government?  The UN?  A global business network?

The answer is the church.

That’s right.  The often seemingly puny, hypocritical, impotent, shrinking, divided, irrelevant institution—the church–is #1.  How do we know this?  Is this the result of social research?  Surveys?  Polls?  Membership?

We know this because Jesus said it.  In Matthew 16:19 he states that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church.

And they haven’t.  The Christian church is 2000 years old.  Think about that.  Civilizations, empires, global entities, have come and gone.  The church is still here.  Famous people—Alexander the Great, Julius Cesar, Constantine, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, JFK, Martin Luther King, Elvis, Nelson Mandela, Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali, and Michael Jackson—dominant figures by any measure—are not only gone, but they have largely faded from memory.

Humanly speaking, what are the chances the church would outlive all these entities and the vivid impact of all these people?

The sportsbooks of Las Vegas would not post a line on that.

Yet the church bells keep ringing.  And they will continue to ring.

Christ said so.  DC

[224] Impact

Despite all the problems with evangelicalism—its frequent self-righteousness, unnecessary divisiveness, and instances of troubling hypocrisy—I find myself more drawn to its camp than the less biblically orthodox churches.

I can state the reason in but a simple word: impact.

Despite our human flaws, all of which show up in our churches, those churches that sincerely attempt to be biblically orthodox pack a wallop.  People enter a relationship with Christ, believers are taught how to be disciples, and one can sense the power of the Holy Spirit in them.

These churches proclaim the foolishness of the gospel, often in less than intellectually sophisticated ways, but that foolishness continues to transform its people.

I do not see spiritual impact in more liberal, mainline denominational churches. I do not see transformed lives. I hear varnished, blurry, let’s-not-offend-anyone sermons, tired rituals, and happy coffee hours. I sense a warm, fuzzy feeling about God among those in attendance, but not one that has much impact on me, or my ability to have impact on the world.

DC

[223] Identity

There is a line in a contemporary Christian song that goes, “I know who I am because of who you are.”

Simple words, but profound.

Identity is a challenge for many. For the believer, the first answer to the “Who am I?” question is that I am a child God.  To understand one’s own self then, begins with an understanding of who God is–the one in whose image we are made.  God has taken much of the difficulty out of this endeavor through the incarnation of his son, the ultimate role model of all time, Jesus Christ.

Reading, studying, reflecting, and following Christ is the first step on the journey toward finding our ideal self—a journey that not only honors God, but is also the way in which we discover who we are. DC

[222] Silent Killer

There is a silent killer in the kingdom of God.  It is bad relationships—alienation–in Christian families. Almost every time I run across a Christian family who have “covenant children” who are not believers, I see relational dysfunction in the family.  This can take many forms, but often its genesis is an unhealthy relationship between the parents. I know one spiritually active Christian couple in which the husband—while staying married and getting along with his spouse on the surface—literally despises his wife.  I have a hard time imagining his children have not picked up on the scent.  Most of the children are either very quiet about their faith or have openly rejected it.

This happens over and over and over again.  Unhealthy families composed of spiritually disabled believers—if they are believers at all.

Why?

I think one reason is that the church has drifted away from focusing on the part of the Second Great Commandment that advocates love, forgiveness, and grace.  It is hard to get definitive stats, but many report the divorce rate among professing Christians is running close to the national average. I (and many of my Christian friends) have contributed to those statistics, and it is the biggest failing of my life. My concern is that the church seems to be looking the other way, more interested in discussing gay marriage and other “them” issues than the ever growing “we” issue of marriage breakdown among its members. And it’s everywhere.  People with television ministries quietly get divorced, and then reappear a few years later with a new spouse as if the previous marriage partner never existed.

Please understand, I am not advocating a reintroduction of the scarlet letter era.  I am saying that healthy disciples come from healthy families, and if the church really wants to make a difference in the world, a good place to start might be placing healthy Christian relationships at the top of its agenda. DC

[221] Distinction

Believers within the evangelical camp love to talk about salvation.  They are forever concerned that their family and friends are saved.

Salvation, however, is not the goal for humanity according to the New Testament.  Discipleship is.  In fact, discipleship is much more important because it not only includes salvation, it is the life purpose for every believer.

The Westminster Catechism states that the chief purpose of humankind is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  It is not to escape hell and be saved.  It is to be a disciple—the Lord side of the “savior and Lord” profession, and the works side of “faith and works.” Stated simply, believers–Christ’s body on earth–are called to build the kingdom of God.  The church needs to focus more on this, because disciples are the difference-makers for the faith.  They are the ones working toward effecting God’s will on earth.

I, like many other Christians, have spent too much time as a spiritual invalid, a believer but not really a disciple who makes working God’s agenda the direction of his life.

As important as evangelism is, it is step one.  Salvation is one-sided.  It is about us.  It puts us into his family. It is God’s gift to us. Discipleship is not about us.  It is about the one who put us into his family.  It is about the reason we are saved. DC

[220] Socialization

A few years back, Bart Campolo (son of pastor/activist, Tony Campolo) and Franky Schaeffer (son of the renowned Francis Schaeffer) sent spasms through the evangelical world with their public repudiation of the faith in which they were raised. For many, their apostasy was a faith-rattling experience.

How does this happen?  I do not claim to know the hearts of either of these two people.  I have read a good bit on each and am an acquaintance with the elder Campolo. I do know this.  It is easy to mistake socialization for commitment.  In simpler terms, it is easy to mistake the behavior from someone raised in the faith as evidence of a personal faith.

Take Bart Campolo.  He loves and respects his parents, and by all indications spent his youth engaged in the expected Christian practices for children of Christians. Nonetheless, he claims he did not become a Christian because of his parents’ faith, but because he wanted to be a part of a “cool” Christian group when he was 15.  He makes clear that he was not drawn in by a personal relationship with Christ so much as the desire to be a part of a group he admired.  Having been socialized (brought up, socially shaped) by Christian parents likely made that adolescent decision less difficult.  In any case, Bart’s “testimony” does not sound like a real commitment to the Christian faith ever took place.

Schaeffer seems filled with anger toward evangelical hypocrisy. One comes away from reading his rants with the sense that he is a troubled, disillusioned, and confused man.  As far as socialization is concerned, he clearly loved his now departed parents and early on served in his father’s international ministry, but again there is no real story of personal commitment.

The stories of Bart and Franky become a collective cautionary tale to Christians.  Socialization is not commitment. Being raised in the faith is not the same as a personal faith.  DC

[219] Two Reasons

Whenever you encounter people who claim there is no god, that life is random, and only science can speak authoritatively on what is true, I encourage you to consider two things.

Reformer John Calvin referred to a sensus divinitatis, meaning that humans are genetically endowed with a sense of the existence of a god.  Empirical studies support his claim. Religion is what sociologists call a “culture universal.”  Religion appears in virtually, every known culture.  Why would every society affirm the existence of a deity, if there were none?

Second, we live in a moral universe—at least in the human world.  While there is no evidence that rocks or trees or dogs or cats possess a sense of morality, there is prima facie evidence that humans do.  Rocks and trees do not decide on whom to fall, nor do dogs and cats consider the rightness of an attack on another creature.  Humans, however—even those who claim no religious faith—are forever assessing their own and others’ actions in moral terms.

Remember the old saying, “You can’t legislate morality.”

Nonsense. Every piece of legislation is justified on some moral ground. What can’t be controlled by legislation is human behavior.

Why would humans–world-wide—live in the context of some moral code, if our universe is totally random, a godless galaxy ruled by mechanical laws that just happen to be so precise that the solar system does not explode?

While the infinite is mysterious to the finite, and faith can be challenging to the believer, the argument that there is “nothing out there” is not a strong one. DC

[218] Dress Rehearsal

Recently I used this space to discuss why we never sermons about hell.  Let me say that I hear very few sermons about the afterlife at all.  The closest is the occasional reminder that this life is but a “dress rehearsal” for the next.  That’s about it.

In short, contemporary preaching is almost totally devoid of the eternal perspective.  It is temporal.  The eternal is crowded out by focusing on discipleship, practical applications of the gospel, and coping with life’s dilemmas with a Christian spirit.

In other words, the focus is entirely on this three-score-and-ten, which when you think of it, is but a mere snap of the divine finger when compared with eternity. It wasn’t always this way.  In grimmer—pre-internet, pre-cell phone, pre-SUV—times, when people were regularly wiped out driving on two-lane highways, acute epidemics tore through populations, and chronic diseases like cancer were death sentences, believers longed to escape the sorrows of the flesh and move into eternity. But life is very different now.  What were once luxuries are now take-for-granted necessities for many Christians, such that indeed (this) “life is good.”  In any case, other-worldly sermons apparently don’t go down very well with earthlings—even those who profess a faith in Christ.

This is not good.  And it is not biblical.  Christ spoke endlessly about “the kingdom of heaven.” Paul said to “die is gain.”  The scriptures tell us we are eternal beings, who should be longing to be “home” with the Savior.  In short, we are to look toward eternity, not our pensions. But that’s difficult to do when those who dispense the “counsel of God” seem all in on the dress rehearsal. DC

[217] Sex

Bill Hybels, Frank Page, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and who knows how many other well-known evangelicals, have been ensnared in real or alleged sex scandals. Forget about who is and is not guilty.  That is not the point here.  The point is that we are no longer surprised when a new allegation of sexual misconduct is leveled against a high-profile Christian.

It keeps happening and it ought not to be.

Why?

I think one reason is that many Christians are very uncomfortable about sex. In many Christian homes sex is not discussed.  Never brought up.  That was the case in my home. Nary a word from either of my parents. I found out the facts of life from a neighborhood peer.  Curious about the mysterious but much-used F-word, I asked what it meant, and taking me aside, he told me in a very candid and enlightening fashion.  I think you will find that in many Christian homes children learn two things when it comes to sex: don’t “do it” until you are married, and then only with your marriage partner.  So much for sex education.

Of course, that approach (or better yet, non-approach) prepares no one for real-time navigation in a secular world.  Yet courageous attempts to address the matter of sex in the Christian world can engender a peculiar form of bullying.  Decades ago Christianity Today published a sort of “sex and the single Christian” article. In it, were the results of a survey on the sexual behavior of single believers.  The purpose of this less than fully scientific survey was to get a sense of “what is,” not what should or should not be.  Not surprisingly, the results revealed that many Christian singles were having substantial difficulty managing their sexuality, with many having lived lives of less than vestal virginity.

The reaction to the article was radioactive.  The good folks at Christianity Today were all but damned to outer darkness by readers enraged that the magazine had the temerity to print the survey.  On the heels of these seething subscribers’ advocacy of the “Mushroom Syndrome” (keep them in the dark and feed them garbage), I don’t recall seeing many more such articles in Christianity Today.

Which brings us back to the question above. When Christians grow up in a sexually-repressive, paranoid environment the result is not always going to be restraint.  It is often going to be curiosity about this unspeakable, off-limits world, coupled with a lamb-like naivete upon entering what is a sexually wolfish culture.

But there’s more. Some of these same people grow up to become rather powerful “professional Christians,” frontrunners in Christian organizations.  Trained in leadership and other necessary skills, and ready to build God’s kingdom, too many go off into their careers still naïve–wholly unprepared to deal with the often very available sexual “benefits” of power.  Hence, as they—especially males—accumulate power and the elevated regard of others, they become prey to the Delilahs.  In fact, some may find themselves internally pulled in forbidden directiosn, growing out of lingering adolescent fantasies and excitement about exploring unbounded sex.

The point is this.  Seminaries and other Christian institutions cannot assume their students have a mature and comprehensive understanding of sex, all the while disregarding those students’ future vulnerability as they traverse a sexually-obsessed culture.  These organizations must address the issue of sex in their education and training. To do otherwise, is to ready their graduates to navigate God’s kingdom with their seatbelts unbuckled. The issue of sexual temptation and availability is as old as Samson and David, and as current as today.  It is time for Christians to cast off fear, paranoia, and Victorian discomfort, and–pulling their heads out of the sand–take this issue on. DC

[216] Arnold

My recent blog about the possibility of OJ Simpson having CTE got a bit of a reaction from the readership.  A discussion with a reader underscored how important it is to factor in possible brain abnormalities when we see aggressive acts. The case of my friend’s long-departed father, we will call him Arnold, offers a stark illustration of this point.

In his youth, Arnold had been hit by a car while walking his bike home at dusk. The pre-frontal lobe of his brain was severely damaged. His brain literally protruded through the gap in his forehead, the result of a severe skull fracture. The overmatched physicians tried to push the brain back inside Arnold’s skull, but could not stuff it all back in. They then cut off the part of the brain that did not fit back in. For years Arnold experienced fits of anger and emotional outbursts (normal symptoms for CTE), and at age 57 he was committed to a state mental hospital. Upon his death his brain was donated to a state university for further study.

What makes Arnold’s story particularly sad was that Christians in his small town felt Arnold’s wife had married a demon-possessed man. The result was overt and covert rejection for Arnold, his wife, and his family.  Yet today, if you speak with Arnold’s son, you will not hear about what a sadist his father was.  In fact, you will not hear a single negative word about Arnold.  Rather, his son will regale you with many happy stories of affirmation, encouragement, and father-son outings.  Arnold’s son did not live in fear of his dad. Yes, he saw some outbursts, but the son also sensed they were not the true Arnold.

Nonetheless, there are lifetime emotional scars for Arnold’s family. But they were not put there by Arnold. They were put there by the graceless judgments of the Christian community that did not make the effort to get to know him and his history. DC

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