Combating Independence Day Anxieties

On Monday, July 4th, 2016, Americans will celebrate the 240th annual Independence Day. On July 4th, 1776, the United States declared its independence from England. Americans will gather in various locations to watch fireworks and cook outdoors to celebrate their freedoms. However, this Independence Day is marked by various anxieties. Americans have watched many of their cherished freedoms diminish at the altar of political correctness. Many are uncertain about what lies ahead for their beloved nation which has served as a bastion of freedom for 240 years. Bible-believing Christians comprise many who hold such concerns. How is it possible to truly relish in Independence Day with such anxieties tormenting us? I would like to suggest four ways to combat anxiety on Independence Day.

1. Combat Independence Day anxieties by trusting in
God’s sovereignty.

The sovereignty of God is more than a doctrine of a solid systematic theology. God’s sovereignty provides a distinguished trust. When a person acknowledges that God is in control, worries and concerns tend to fade away. Divine sovereignty is tied-in to God’s omnipotence. John S. Feinberg notes that God’s sovereignty means that “God is the ultimate, final, and complete authority over everything and everyone…God’s sovereign will is also free, for nobody forces him to do anything, and whatever he does is in accord with his purposes and wishes” (Feinberg 2001, 294). If we were to understand that God is moving to bring about a certain end in mind, saving as many people that He knows would be saved, then the anxious times we currently experience would lose the power of uncertainty. For nothing is uncertain with God.

2. Combat Independence Day anxieties by remembering the Church’s past redemptions.

If you are like me, then you have a long-term memory problem. By that, I mean to indicate that I often find myself forgetting about the ways that God has moved in my life before this time. I eventually worry about things that God has already delivered me from in the past. A classic example of this behavior is found with the disciples. Jesus had fed 5,000 men along with countless women and children with a few loaves of bread and fish (Matthew 14:13-21, ESV). The sum total of those fed that day probably ranged in excess of 20,000 people!

Interestingly enough, the disciples were met with another instance where their food supply had dwindled. Jesus told the disciples again, just as He had previously, to feed the crowd. The disciples, yet again, said, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place” (Matthew 15:33, ESV)? I can imagine Jesus saying, “Seriously?!? Are you kidding Me?!?” Well, that would be my response nonetheless. It’s easy for us to forget about how God has moved in the past.

As the modern Church faces restrictions in religious freedoms, it is important to note that the Church has experienced situations like this in the past. In fact, the Church was born in a hostile society where believers comprised the vast minority. God has delivered the Church in uncertain time. Naysayers who claimed that the Church would not make it 100 years from their time have been greatly disappointed countless times over. Voltaire is such an example. Before worrying about your present, remember the Church’s past.

3. Combat Independence Day anxieties by working the present calling.

Many modern Christians are tempted to become calloused and angry over the situations arising. While it is imperative that we stand up for religious freedoms and take our voting responsibilities seriously as Americans, we must not forget the primary calling upon our lives. We are not called to be patriots first, Christians second. Rather, we are called to be Christians first, patriots second. Often believers are tempted to focus more on the things we oppose than the things for which we stand. It must be remembered that the entire law of God can be summarized into two commandments, as Jesus masterfully put it, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT).

Our first love must be for God and God alone. But in addition to this, we must remember that we are called to love our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? It is the Christian: both conservative and otherwise. It is the Arab and the Jew; the Muslim and Hindu. It is the Buddhist and Sikh. It is the Wiccan, the Atheist, the Agnostic, and Secularist. It is the Republican and the Democrat. It is the Liberal and the Conservative. It is the White person, the Black person, the Asian, and Latino. It is the American, the Canadian, the Russian, and the Mexican. It is those who live like you and those who do not, those who share your values and those who do not. All of the aforementioned individuals are made in the image of God…even if the person mentioned doesn’t realize that fact.

This brings us to the issue of calling. What is the primary calling for the Church united? Jesus has told us from the beginning that our primary calling is to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT). Does this mean that we still stand for the truth uncompromisingly? Absolutely we do! But one’s stand must never be allowed to waver one’s commitment to love others the way Christ instructed. If we remember to see others through the lens of Christ, then we will be better focused on the task at hand.

4. Combat Independence Day anxieties by acknowledging future victory.

Beloved, I was reminded of a great truth the other day in my devotions. I came across Paul’s reminder to the Church of Rome where he notes that “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are…And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:18-19, 28, NLT). Russell D. Moore tells us that a good way to remember the future coming is to walk around in an old graveyard and while doing so, he writes,

“think about what every generation of Christians has held against the threat of sword and guillotine and chemical weaponry. This stillness will one day be interrupted by a shout from the eastern sky, a joyful call with a distinctly northern Galilean accent. And that’s when life gets interesting” (Moore 2014, 721).

Undoubtedly, we live in uncertain days. But the promise that our heavenly Independence Day brings us is that we are redeemed to live a life without worry and anxiety. Our sins have been forgiven. We have a purpose and a high calling upon our lives. So, this Independence Day, instead of mourning the things we have lost as Americans, why not focus on the things we have gained through our risen Lord Jesus?

© July 3, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Moore, Russell D. “Personal and Cosmic Eschatology.” In A Theology for the Church. Revised Edition. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014.

Scripture marked ESV comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013.

Do Thomists and Molinists Hold Better Alternatives than Calvinists and Arminians in Understanding the Balance Between Sovereignty and Freedom?

If one engages in theological studies, one will be met with two main theological paths: that of Calvinism from French Reformer John Calvin and that of Arminianism from Dutch Reformer Jacob Arminius. Calvin’s theology can best be summarized by the acronym TULIP (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints). Arminius, while not taking an extreme course as believed by some, took somewhat a different route. For he still promoted total depravity (with some distinctions), but also taught conditional election (based on divine foreknowledge), unlimited atonement (free for everyone), resistible grace, and leaving open the possibility of apostasy (while he did not explicitly teach that one would fall away from grace, he left it open as a possibility).

As I have deepened my studies in Scripture, I have noticed glaring holes in both systems. For Calvinism, there are undeniable problems related to the character of God. Calvin did not focus so much on the love of God as he did the grace of God (for more information see my paper Evaluation of John Calvin’s Views on Election here on the website). There are clear-cut problems with Calvinism (at least the extreme forms) when it comes to understanding a person’s responsibility to respond to the Spirit of God. For example, Paul writes explicitly “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). This indicates that one can resist the Spirit of God. God also says, “…“I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Romans 10:20-21).Notice that God states through Paul and Isaiah that He reached out to others not associated with Israel while continuing to reach out His hands to those who were disobedient and contrary. Why would God do this if His Spirit were irresistible? Obviously God knew they would resist, but He still tried to reach them.

There are great problems with Arminianism, as well. If you read some of my earlier posts, you will note that I previously identified myself as a classic Arminian Baptist. However, I am not so certain that Arminius holds the best answers either. While Arminius holds fewer problems than extreme Calvinists, Arminianism is problematic in the sense of Romans 9. Many Arminians would hold to what is called corporate election, meaning that God chose to save a group of people through Christ. Christ was the person that was elected and not necessarily other individuals. This is extremely problematic. For, one will note that if God foreknew the people who were going to be saved, God would have known the individuals that constituted that corporate group before they were created, as well as those who were not chosen. Why then did God still create those who were not going to respond?

Luckily, other systems can be discovered that help one wade through the depth of these theological issues. In fact, two other systems are preferred over both Calvinism and Arminianism. These systems are less stringent than those of Calvin and Arminius which leaves more wiggle room, therefore holding less problems. The two systems stem from the uber-intellectual Christian giant known as Thomas Aquinas (Thomism) and from one of Aquinas’ followers, Spanish theologian Luis de Molina (Molinism). Both systems hold similarities with some stark differences.

 

Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas

Basics of Thomism

Thomism does not have a catchy little acronym to demonstrate the basics of the system. However, for the purposes of this article, it is important to understand two basic principles that Thomas Aquinas taught in his classic writing Summa Theologicae. First, Thomas believed in the sovereign reign of God. In fact, God is responsible for the creation of all things. For Thomas, God is the necessary “efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name God” (Aquinas, Summa I.2.3, 67). Therefore, God is the prime mover when it comes to salvation. However, Thomas seemed to hold to a form of the human will in the process of salvation. Thomas writes that

“just as it is impossible for a thing to be at the same time violent and natural, so it is impossible for a thing to be absolutely coerced or violent, and voluntary. But necessity of end is not repugnant to the will, when the end cannot be attained except in one way: thus from the will to cross the sea, arises in the will the necessity to wish for a ship. In like manner neither is necessity repugnant to the will…For what befits a thing naturally and immovably must be the root and principle of all else appertaining thereto, since the nature of a thing is the first in everything, and every movement arises from something immovable…” (Aquinas, Summa I.82.2, 290).

So for the Thomist, God is the ultimate mover and humans respond to the movement of God. Later, it was added that efficacious grace, or “grace that effects the purpose for which it is given” (Hughes 2001, 521) was necessary for one to be saved. In other words, efficacious grace is grace that plays out to its end. This is somewhat similar to the doctrine of irresistible grace with some differences. It is here that Molina would have issues with the classic Thomist view.

Luis de Molina
Luis de Molina

Basics of Molinism

Luis de Molina, a Spanish theologian and knew and taught from Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologicae extensively. However, Molina held some issues with the two forms of knowledge promoted by Thomas Aquinas and in his view of efficacious grace. Molina held that while humans were free to respond to the grace of God, God knew how a person would respond under certain circumstances. Molina held that in addition to God’s natural knowledge (things that are) and free knowledge (things that could be), God also possesses middle knowledge (or the things that might be under certain circumstances). So, in other words, Molina believed that God knew how a person would respond to God’s grace under certain circumstances. Therefore, God places people in events and places that would bring the person to His grace without impeding upon the human will. This differs from Arminanism because God absolutely knows what it takes to bring a person to faith and knows those of whom no amount of persuasion would influence. This holds a greater balance in the context of Scripture than one might think. The Scriptural support for Molinism will be argued in a future article. Because of middle knowledge, Molina did not see efficacious grace as necessary.

Robert Bellarmine
Robert Bellarmine

Congruism

Finally, future Molinists would create another version of the Molinist system. Robert Bellarmine and Francisco Suarez developed a system called Congruism. Congruism fits well in both Calvinist and Arminian perspectives. In this system, God knows individuals before creation. God’s knowledge of the individuals includes the knowledge of what the person would do in certain circumstances. Therefore, those who would respond to the grace of God were placed in positions that would lead the person to respond to the grace of God. Efficacious grace re-enters this version of Molinism. While more study of Bellarmine and Suarez’s theology is necessary before expounding on their systems extensively, the Congruist system is explained by Millard J. Erickson as “a mild Calvinism…that gives primary place to God’s sovereignty, while seeking to relate it in a positive way to human freedom and individuality. This theology is a dualism in which the second element is contingent on or derived from the first. That is, there are realities distinct from God that have a genuine and good existence of their own, but ultimately received their existence from him by creation (not emanation)” (Erickson 1998, 448). Erickson also writes that Congruism was the position of B.B. Warfield who termed the position as congruism as it “holds that God works congruously with the will of the individual; that is, God works in such a suasive way with the will of the individual that the person freely makes the choice God intends” (Warfield, in Erickson 1998, 385).

B. B. Warfield
B. B. Warfield

Conclusion

While any of these three systems work well in dealing with the sovereignty/free will conundrum, it is in this writer’s opinion that Congruism works the best. However, I would disagree with Warfield, Erickson, and Norman Geisler that Congruism is a version of mild Calvinism. Congruism should be noted as being mild Molinism. For Congruism seems to fit the system of Molina more than Calvin. In fact, Congruism seems to fit the systems developed by Bellarmine and Suarez even more as these two theologians presented their own twist to Molinism. I would add one small detail to Warfield’s description of the system, however. It is God’s will that all should be saved. It has been written many times before, but it bears repeating that Peter wrote that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). In fact: if Congruism is true, then God has not only a purpose for each life, God holds a purpose in an individual’s existence in a particular timeframe. In which case, you have a purpose not only to God but also to the world in which you are placed.

So to answer the question presented in this article; do Thomists and Molinists hold better answers in solving the conundrum of God’s sovereignty and human freedom in regards to salvation than do Calvinists and Arminans? My answer is a resounding…YES!!! Regardless of where one finds oneself on the theological spectrum, it is important to find balance. While we may strive to understand the ways of the infinite God and the workings of God’s creation, it is important for us not to become so obsessed with the differences in the theological systems that we forget the clear commands of God in that we are to love God with all our being and to love one another as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39-40).

 

Francisco Suarez
Francisco Suarez

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologicae. Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1920. In Summa of the Summa. Edited and Annotated by Peter Kreeft. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990.

Hughes, P. E. “Grace.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Warfield, B. B. The Plan of Salvation. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1942. In Millard J. Erickson. Christian Theology, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

Ten Great Challenges Facing the Church in 2014

2014-v1    While many are thinking about what resolutions they wish to make for the New Year, Christians find themselves facing many difficult challenges as they face the upcoming year. Many challenges exist for the Christian church. However, one will find that the following challenges rank among the most important as the church enters its 1,984th year of existence. The following is a top-10 list of challenges that this writer sees as the most pressing issues facing the church in 2014. The reader may find other issues to add to this list. Feel free to add any additional challenges and how the church can meet those challenges in the comment box.

10.       Apathy

apathy

The tenth challenge according to this writer that the church faces in 2014 is the challenge of apathy. Apathy is defined as, “lack of interest or concern” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). When it comes to issues of God, there are a growing number of individuals that have become apathetic. There is even a term for this called “apatheism.” Apatheists are just disinterested in issues pertaining to God. How does one reach such individuals? William Lane Craig suggests that the Christian defender shows the apatheist the importance of such issues. As Craig states, “…’IF Christianity were true, what consequences would it have for your life? What difference would it make?’ I think that if Christianity is true, then it is hugely relevant to our lives” (Craig 2013, 56). Craig also suggests, “I strongly suspect that the self-styled apatheist is usually just a lazy atheist” (Craig 2013, 58). I would agree.

However, more troubling is the apparent apathy that exists among many Christians today. It appears that many church-goers have become apathetic when it comes to doctrinal truth. Others had rather “go with the flow” or simply do not care to know the truths of Scripture. This really came alive to this writer with issues concerning the theology of popular televised teachers. This is especially troubling when considering that cults have risen out of popular teachers who are opaque and require blind faith. This is something that must be confronted by biblical teachers and preachers.

9.         New Age Infiltration

gautam_buddha_in_meditation

A growing influence upon the church is that of New Age doctrine. Dan Story defines the New Age movement as,

Actually, the New Age movement is not new. It is simply the resurgence of ancient occultic practices mixed with Eastern pantheism (in particular, Hinduism) in a recipe tailored specifically to feed the spiritual hunger of Western secularized man. The New Age movement is secular humanism with a cosmic ingredient. It maintains the humanist motto that “man is the measure of all things” and the humanist goals of global peace, prosperity, and unity, but, to make humanism more spiritually palatable, it sugars it with ‘God’ (Story 1997, 189).

 One does not need to look far to find New Age infiltration. Powerful entertainment icons such as Oprah Winfrey and elevated teachers such as Deepak Chopra promote New Age ideology. A case could be made that such an effort seeks to promote a one-world religion.

To combat this infiltration, it is not necessary for one to become obsessed in ultra-legalism and conspiracy theories, which in this writer’s opinion can become dangerous as it could lead to unnecessary paranoia. Simply getting back to the basics of truth and doctrine will help one stay within the boundaries of biblical teaching. But this requires work. Quite frankly, many a modern Christian has become lazy and disinterested in biblical truth (as addressed in the section speaking on “apathy”).

8.         Changing Ministerial Demands

Evangelism

I read somewhere that even newly established churches begin to adhere to church traditions after about 20 years. The problem is that ministerial demands change with the times. The message of the gospel never changes, but the methodologies used to reach individuals for Christ must change. At a recent Baptist associational meeting, it was projected that half the churches in the particular association was not expected to be operating in 20 to 50 years. Why? It was due to the fact that churches are not equipping themselves to meet the needs of current and future generations. Certain statistics show that an average of 75 churches closes their doors each week. Thom Rainer said at the beginning of the year, “I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the numbers reach the 8,000 to 10,000 level” (Rainer, “13 Issues for Churches in 2013”). There are many issues involved in this problem. One, the society has become so fast-paced that one set time on Sundays and Wednesdays does not always meet everyone’s needs. It could be that alternative services need to be held. Also, online communities are imperative in this technical day and age. Two, many churches tend to zealously hold to unnecessary traditions. Bluegrass gospel is a beautiful form of music. However, it may not be the best thing to employ if you are trying to reach urban youths. Three, there are issues with the lack of apologetic training in leaders. This, however, will be dealt with in more detail later.

7.         Youth Exodus

youthrunningprogram2009

Recent studies have shown that 75% of young adults leave the church when they leave for college. A substantial number of these young adults do not return. This has been labeled by some as the Youth Exodus. Could it be that these young adults are unprepared for the onslaught of anti-Christian attacks from secular humanism? Or could it be that the young adults are caught up in the fast-paced nature of society? It could be that they are simply “sowing their wild oats” as some call it. Whatever the case, the church must seek to minister to these young adults by providing them with the ability to ask questions and search the deep truths of the faith. Churches near educational institutions have especially a good chance to minister to collegiate adults.

6.         Anti-Intellectualism

head in cannon  

Anti-intellectualism is a rejection of higher learning and/or a rejection of learning deeper truths concerning the Bible. Fields that are rejected sometimes include the learning of biblical languages, systematic theology, apologetics, philosophy, biblical historical studies, and scientific fields. According to the anti-intellectual logic, one must only read the Bible, particularly a certain translation, to understand the Bible. The problem is that in order to properly conduct biblical exegesis, one needs to understand the history and languages of the text. This movement probably came about because of the liberal movement that influenced many seminaries and universities in the early 1900s. One older church member explained years ago, “I have seen good men leave to go to college or seminary, and then come back teaching garbage.” The liberal movement in some colleges and seminaries created distrust among many in rural areas. In Baptist life, there arose two systems of tradition: the Charlestonian tradition (highly educated clergy and more liturgical) and the Sandy Creek tradition (less educated clergy and more emotionally driven). This, along with the Revised Standard Version’s break with tradition in translating the Hebrew word “almah” as “young woman” instead of “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14, probably helped stir the King James Only controversy that still affects some rural areas today.

More serious is the lack of ability for the anti-intellectual to answer the challenges of the skeptic. Worse yet, some educational institutions educate their students to become non-intellectuals…particularly in unaccredited church colleges. Educating to be uneducated…that would seem to be a self-defeating principle. This is even more serious when one understands this writer’s predicament. I left the ministry for seven years due to doubt. When I asked church leaders, some who were anti-intellectual, on how to answer the challenges of the Jesus Seminar (a seminar that charged that the words of Jesus in the New Testament were inauthentic), I received the following answer, “The Bible is the Word of God because it says so.” That answer not only did not help me resolve the issues that were being faced; it propelled me to a level of doubt that led me out of the ministry. It was by the Spirit of God leading me to the works of Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and a host of others that my faith was strengthened, and my love for theology and apologetics blossomed. The church must meet the intellectual needs of its congregants.

 

5.         Syncretism

COEXIST  

Syncretism is the blending of multiple religious thoughts together. This stands opposed to tolerance. Tolerance is defined as, “the allowable deviation from a standard especially: the range of variation permitted in maintaining a specified dimension in machining a piece” (Merriam-Webster). By definition, tolerance allows for differences in opinion. To be tolerant does NOT indicate that one agrees with the conclusions of another. It does indicate that one can (to use cliché) “agree to disagree.” Tolerance is promoted by this writer and this website. However, it is something entirely different when individuals seek to combine differing opinions to create a non-exclusive thought pattern. It is not feasible. In the end, these attempts are performed by individuals who show no real passion for truth and a passion to keep from offending. We should not seek to offend anyone. Don’t miss the point. However, every person has the responsibility to seek the truth and discover it for him or herself. As David said,

“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9, NIV).

God reveals His truth and the person responds likewise. However, when we find the truth, it is irresponsible to think that the truth is not the truth. If the truth is not the truth, then it was never true. We should respect individuals of different perspectives. Actually, it shows a lack of trained understanding of one’s own perspective when conversations denigrate into shouting or violent spells. The church must stand steadfast to its convictions while loving others of different perspectives. It is imperative that the church gets this right.

4.         Lack of Trained, Empowered, Apologetic Leaders

Gary Habermas

Recently a friend of mine on social media asked for prayer. He said that a local pastor had been bombarded with a verbal assault by an atheist. The pastor did not have anything to offer except, “You have to believe in the Bible and in the Lord Jesus Christ.” He was unable to offer why one must believe in the Bible and in the Lord Jesus Christ. The atheist said that he was coming back with some friends. The pastor said, “Okay, I’ll have a trained apologist here with me (my friend) when you come back.” The atheist did not return. This showed me something that I have already been convicted of in past days. We must have more trained leaders IN THE CHURCH!!! Perhaps it is due to the anti-intellectual movement among some in the church, but there seems to be a disconnect between apologetics and church ministry. THIS MUST CHANGE!!! Apologetics is the new form of evangelism and church leaders must be trained to handle the problems brought forth by earnest seekers. Remember, Peter said,

“But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame (1 Peter 3:14-16, NASB).

For the church to minister to a growingly secular community, the leaders must be able to provide such a defense for their faith as Peter states. Gone are the days where one could simply say, “You know you need to be in church” or “You know you need to come to God.” There may be a desire to know God within the person, but whose God are they seeking? Why should they be in church? Why should they trust the Bible? These are issues that pastors, youth leaders, and the like must address.

3.         Issues of Marriage

gods_design_for_marriage_umjr

The issue of marriage has become a “hot-button” topic in recent days. Marriage is being re-defined by organizations like the LGBT and GLAAD organizations. However, the issue of homosexual marriage is not the only issue where marriage is being redefined. If same-sex marriages are allowed, the next issue on the books will most likely be that of polygamy and polyamory. Polygamy is where one person has multiple wives or husbands. Polyamory is defined as multiple lovers within or without a marriage connection. My question is this: where does it end? The church must define the biblical roots of marriage and where it stands on these issues. The church must ask such questions as: What is marriage? Why is there a marriage covenant? What is this church going to recognize as marriage? Regardless of whether you like it or not, your church is going to deal with this issue sooner or later. Ministers must also decide what constitutes a biblical marriage. Some ministers have even noted that their days of marrying anyone may come to an end (this writer included, although I have not settled my intentions completely). In a land where bakers are being sued for not obliging certain forms of marriage, ministers must ask themselves what they will do if they are approached by a couple desiring to marry and the couple is in a relationship that the minister cannot approve. One thing can be agreed upon by everyone in ministry; it is far more complicated to be a minister in our modern times.

However, on the flip side, Christians need to watch how they address these issues. The worst thing that can happen is for the Christian to make a homosexual person an enemy. Too many times, Christians have hammered on the issue of marriage so much that gay and lesbian individuals have committed suicide and have felt like outcasts. Let us not forget that we are called to love each other, especially those whom we have differences. Remember the words of Jesus, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45a, NIV). This is not to say that homosexuals are Christian enemies. This is to say that the Christian must not make an individual his or her enemy. We stand against principles and principalities…not people.

(Note: an example of an organization that supports polygamy and polyamory can be seen in the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness. According to their website, Harlan White delivered the first sermon advocating polyamory on Sunday, July 10, 1994 at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu. For more information, see their website at: http://uupa.org/index.)

2.         Religious Freedom

supportreligiousfreedom

In the United States and across the world, the church has dealt with increasing restrictions placed upon its religious freedom. The United States of America was built upon the principle of religious freedom. However, those freedoms are being impeded by secular organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. Christian businessmen and women like Elaine Huguenin of Elane Photography in New Mexico and Jake Philips, a baker from Colorado, have been sued and, in Philips’ case, could face jail time for exercising their freedom of religious expression. (For more information concerning the Philips’ case, see http://christiannews.net/2013/07/12/attorney-for-colorado-christian-baker-jail-time-possible-for-denying-wedding-cake-to-homosexuals/, and http://www.christian.org.uk/news/us-baker-faces-jail-over-gay-wedding-cake-refusal/. The church has survived times of religious restriction. Consider that Christianity was not an officially recognized religion of Rome until the 300s. The church began with the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus circa 30AD. Someone once said, “We’d better proclaim the gospel message while it’s still legal.” But, my question is, will the true Christian keep proclaiming the message even when it’s not?

1.         Religious Persecution

Christian-persecution-India   christian-persecution  christian persecution_burned victim

Lastly, the global church must deal with persecution. The second problem leads into the first. The lack of religious freedom almost always leads towards religious persecution. In Kenya, 59 Christians were slaughtered in a shopping mall. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have suffered some of the worst times of persecution since the 1300s. In Syria, Christians have been killed in numbers, many by being beheaded. One cannot forget Saeed Abidini an American Arab pastor who is imprisoned for his faith in Iran. In Iraq, churches have been bombed. These are not distant individuals. They are our brothers and sisters in the faith. Yet, many American churches remain silent as these atrocities occur. We should…and in fact must…lift up one another in prayer. As Kirsten Powers writes,

“Lela Gilbert is the author of Saturday People, Sunday People, which details the expulsion of 850,000 Jews who fled or were forced to leave Muslim countries in the mid-20th century. The title of her book comes from an Islamist slogan, “First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People,” which means “first we kill the Jews, then we kill the Christians.” Gilbert wrote recently that her Jewish friends and neighbors in Israel “are shocked but not entirely surprised” by the attacks on Christians in the Middle East. “They are rather puzzled, however, by what appears to be a lack of anxiety, action, or advocacy on the part of Western Christians.” 

As they should be. It is inexplicable. American Christians are quite able to organize around issues that concern them. Yet religious persecution appears not to have grabbed their attention, despite worldwide media coverage of the atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East” (Powers 2013).

 Again, may I remind Christians worldwide…we are ALL brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. We will all go to the same heaven. We must pray for our afflicted siblings in Christ. It may one day be us. As this website has reached the world, I want to remind our brothers and sisters that you are not forgotten. May I remind American Christians that we need to wise up. Christian persecution is a serious thing. All the disciples, save the apostle John, died as martyrs. If it affects a Christian brother or sister, it affects all of us regardless of his or her location.

Conclusion

The church faces some daunting challenges in the year ahead. However, God will see us through. For as the apostle Paul writes, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NIV). Let us prayerfully join together and meet these challenges for the cause of Christ.

Praying God’s blessings upon you in the upcoming year,

Pastor Brian

Bibliography

Craig, William Lane. A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity and the Bible. Chicago: Moody, 2013.

Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

Rainer, Thom. “13 Issues Facing the Church in 2013.” ChurchLeaders.com. Accessed December 29, 2013. http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/164787-thom-rainer-13-issues-churches-2013.html?p=1.

Powers, Kirsten. “A Global Slaughter of Christians, but America’s Churches Stay Silent.” DailyBeast.com. (September 2013). Accessed December 30, 2013. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/27/a-global-slaughter-of-christians-but-america-s-churches-stay-silent.html.

Scripture noted as NASB comes from New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

Scripture noted as NIV comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Story, Dan. Defending Your Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1997.

Has the Dream Been Realized? Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

marchonwashington     Today (August 28th, 2013) marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.    Although it must be admitted that our society has advanced by great leaps and bounds, one must ask; has the dream been realized?  In this article, two of Dr. King’s emphases in his “I Have a Dream” speech will be examined as the question will be asked: has the dream been realized?

Kids Holding Hands

Dream of Equality

One of the core tenets of King’s speech was on the equality of all people of various races.  King stated, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” (King 1963, 5).  This is a biblical theme also.  Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).  Paul stated concerning the church, “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, NLT).  James, the brother of Jesus, even wrote, “Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law” (James 2:8-9, NLT).  Therefore, Dr. King’s voice of equality was a very biblical message.  Are we where we should be in this regard?

We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.  In some regions, the role of race is not as much a factor as it is in others.  But, let us be honest.  There are still tensions.  Perhaps the passing of time will in the future mend the wounds suffered in the past.  In order for this to occur, people must be diligent in building bridges with others of different races.  Christians should lead the way.  The evangelical Christian should realize that God created all of us.  Yes, we all have weaknesses and faults.  But, we are all creations of God and have a purpose for being here.  This should help the Christian, of all people, to understand the necessity of loving others.  If a person is loved by God, who are we to act any differently?  Yes, if a person strays, kind-hearted corrections should be given with the best interest of the other in mind.  But, nothing should surpass the love that we are commanded to possess for people of all skin tones.  As the Gospel hymn is sung, “Red, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight…Jesus loves the little children of the world” (Hymn: “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” Public Domain).  We are not there yet, but we should judge more by the “content of their character” (King 1963, 5) rather than the color of any person’s skin.

freedom

Dream of Freedom

King said, “When we allow freedom to ring when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholic, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, Free at last, Great God almighty, We are free at last” (King 1963, 6).  The area of freedom is one that brings great concern for many people today.  Are we still the “land of the free”?  Considering the fact that individuals are losing the right to publicly profess their faith, one must wonder whether the First Amendment rights of all Americans will stand after the next century has passed.

jesus-statue in Montana     In Montana, a statue of Jesus, which held significance for the veterans being commemorated, was challenged by the Freedom from Religion Foundation.  The American Center for Law and Justice reports, “Part of a war memorial on Big Mountain at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana since the 1950s, the statue was inspired by monuments the soldiers – who were also members of the Knights of Columbus – saw in the mountains of Europe during the war” (ACLJ, “ACLJ: Federal Court in Montana Keeps War Memorial in Place – “Win for Protecting Religious Heritage and History of our Nation”).  Is this really freedom?  It seems that we have taken a different turn than what Dr. King had imagined.  King said, “With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day” (King 1963, 5).  The great irony is, Dr. King, if living on earth today, might find that his dream of freedom was gained on the racial spectrum, but would be losing ground on the religious spectrum…the very fuel that sparked the fires of his bravery and fortitude.

Conclusion

A lot of good was done on August 28, 2013.  Dr. King reminded us of the great kinship that we all hold together.  We have many problems in our day and time.  The United States of America is more divided than ever before.  However, Dr. King reminded us then, as we need to be reminded now, that we are all creations of God.  Every life has a purpose and value.  The world may look at you as a loser.  You may have been called a mistake.  But, God sees you as a winner.  God sees the person you could be.  Despite the differences that many possess, let us be reminded of the value of life as we celebrate the work and message of Dr. King.  For Dr. King reminded us of what the Christian should have already seen…that every person of every race is made “imagio dei” (in the image of God).  As God told Samuel, “The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, NLT).  As the realm of freedom is addressed, may it be reminded to the reader that true freedom comes through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Paul writes, “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 7:24b-8:2, NLT).

free-in-christ

Seeking to love all…red, yellow, black, and white,

Pastor Brian

Bibliography

ACLJ, “ACLJ: Federal Court in Montana Keeps War Memorial in Place – “Win for Protecting Religious Heritage and History of our Nation”, (ACLJ.org, June 25, 2013). Accessed August 28, 2013. <http://aclj.org/american-heritage/jay-sekulow-aclj-federal-court-in-montana-keeps-war-memorial-in-place-win-for-protecting-religious-heritage-history-of-nation>.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “I Have a Dream,” Washington DC. March on Washington, delivered on August 28th, 1963.  Accessed August 28th, 2013. <http://www.archives.gov/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf>.

New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007.