Thursday, September 29, 2005

Family News

My wife, Dawn, and I have begun the process of adopting a little girl from China. To keep friends and family updated--and perhaps to educate others who are also interested in adoption--we have started a family blog (http://thesheltonfamily.blogspot.com). Lord willing, we will be welcoming our new daughter into our home in about a year to a year-and-a-half.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Grace vs. Greed

Should churches be compensated for charity work?:
    FEMA Plans to Reimburse Faith Groups for Aid

    After weeks of prodding by Republican lawmakers and the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said yesterday that it will use taxpayer money to reimburse churches and other religious organizations that have opened their doors to provide shelter, food and supplies to survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

    FEMA officials said it would mark the first time that the government has made large-scale payments to religious groups for helping to cope with a domestic natural disaster.
At least there are still a few voices of reason out there:
    "Volunteer labor is just that: volunteer," said the Rev. Robert E. Reccord, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board. "We would never ask the government to pay for it."
You know the church is failing in its mission when it seeks taxpayer reimbursement for doing what churches are supposed to be doing.

The Crank-Driven Life

It seems the woman who used one of Rick Warren's books to thwart her kidnapper wasn't exactly forthcoming when it came to the details of her experience--until now:
    Celebrated Hostage Gave Crystal Meth to Captor

    Ashley Smith, who was held hostage in her apartment in March by the man now charged with murder in the Atlanta courthouse shootings, was hailed as a hero after she disclosed how she had persuaded her captor to surrender, partly by reading to him from the spiritual best seller The Purpose-Driven Life.

    But in a memoir released yesterday, Ms. Smith also recounts that she gave the kidnapper some of her supply of crystal methamphetamine during her captivity and that she did not tell the police for some time afterward.

    In the memoir, Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero, Ms. Smith recalls that Brian Nichols, who has been charged in the death of three people shot at the Fulton County Courthouse and a fourth killed elsewhere in Atlanta soon before her kidnapping, asked her if she had any marijuana. She answered no but said she did have some "ice," or crystal meth.
Apparently, Rick Warren is more persuasive when his readers are under the influence of illicit drugs. That explains a lot.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The American Empire: An Unholy Alliance between Church and State

The man hailed as the first Christian emperor of Rome was Constantine, whose alleged "conversion" in 312 A.D. came on the eve of a great battle for the Roman throne. In the simplified version of the legend, Constantine saw a flaming cross in the sky emblazoned with the words "In hoc signo vinces," meaning "By this sign, conquer"--and he proceeded to do just that.

Constantine the Great, however, was far from Christian. Throughout his life, he remained a worshipper of Sol Invictus (the Invincible Sun) and retained the title of "Pontifex Maximus," which meant that, in addition to his duties as emperor, he served as the chief priest of the Roman pagan religion. (Ironically, the Catholic Church continues to bestow that title on its popes.)

Although Christianity was not the official religion of the Roman Empire during the reign of Constantine--that came later when Theodosius took the throne--it was tolerated and protected, which explains why so many Christians in the fourth century readily embraced their new emperor. How could anyone view the end of brutal persecution as a bad thing? In addition, Christians had a strong ally in government.

From Constantine's perspective, his acceptance of Christianity was probably more a marriage of convenience. There were numerous external and internal threats to the empire, so it was naturally easier to work with the Christians than to eliminate them. Their religion was spreading throughout the empire, so why not use that to his advantage? He could win over a growing minority segment of the population by ending their persecution while at the same time appeasing the majority by maintaining the old pagan practices. One of the ways he accomplished this was to merge Christianity with certain aspects of paganism, not the least of which included the celebration of Christmas and Easter.

But the acceptance of Christianity as a legitimate religion by the Roman Empire had its downside. Alistair Kee, in his historical treatise Constantine versus Christ: The Triumph of Ideology, noted that Constantine's reign was "a fundamental turning-point," adding, "From that time the imperial ideology, with all its implications for the accumulation of wealth and the exercise of power over the weak, was given religious legitimation by the church."

Over the centuries, Constantinian Christianity spread like a cancer. Christians became more militant and took up the sword to advance the Kingdom of God. Churches were no longer merely bodies of believers gathering together for worship and fellowship; they evolved into huge, elaborate cathedrals built on the backs of the poor. Popes, cardinals and bishops ruled as merciless tyrants, waging war, imposing burdensome taxes and executing those who dared to challenge their authority. Worst of all, the Bible was kept out of the hands of the layperson; only the clergy had the right to read and interpret scripture.

Christendom brought with it a renewed persecution of Christians. As we saw during the Reformation, believers were martyred not because of their "unbiblical" beliefs, but because they were seen as a threat to the social, political and economic hold the church-state had over the people.

It was this hold that led the framers of our Constitution to establish a separation of church and state. The separation they envisioned, however, had nothing to do with removing the Ten Commandments from courthouses or banning prayer from schools. They merely wanted to prevent government from interfering--both negatively and favorably--with the religious practices of its citizens.

Baron de Montesquieu, who was an inspiration to many of America's Founding Fathers, addressed the issue of the separation of church and state in his book The Spirit of the Laws. He saw the greatest threat coming from those in government who would embrace religion as a matter of official policy:
    A more certain way to attack religion is by favor, by the comforts of life, by the hope of wealth; not by what reminds one of it, but by what makes one forget it; not by what makes one indignant, but by what makes men lukewarm, when other passions act on our souls, and those which religion inspires are silent. In the matter of changing religion, State favors are stronger than penalties.
Within the last few years there has been a strengthening of the bond between church and state. Thanks to President Bush's "Faith-Based Initiatives," Christian organizations have been reduced to little more than political special interest groups. Call me cynical, but I just don't see how the church can honor God when those who should be trusting Him to meet their needs are scrambling for government handouts.

Not surprisingly, the result of this alliance isn't a more God-honoring system of government. In fact, there are some striking similarities between the Roman Empire of Constantine and the United States of America. What we are witnessing is the rise of a modern Constantinian church-state, characterized by a shift among Christians toward a more militaristic worldview.

You may recall Lt. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, who stated unequivocally that terrorists are "after us because we're a Christian nation." Boykin implied that our "Christian nation" is leading the charge in what is in fact a spiritual war against Satan, and he also said that Bush is "in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this."

It seems George W. Bush, also a professing Christian, agrees. During a 2004 campaign meeting with an Amish group in Lancaster, Penn., the president said, "I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job."

"Christianese" is like a second language for Washington politicians. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush (or was it God speaking through him?) announced the beginning of his "war on terror," claiming that it wouldn't end "until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make: Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

Compare Bush's statement with the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 12:30: "Whoever is not with me is against me …" It was no coincidence. Bush knew that his worldwide crusade could only work with the support of his evangelical Christian base. And, sad to say, those on the "religious right" were all too eager to join in the bloodshed.

But none were content to limit the fight to terrorists. Bush expanded the conflict to include nations that had not even attacked our own. When he labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "Axis of Evil," he was sending the nations of the world a not-so-subtle warning that they dare not mess with America. In essence, Bush was securing his place in the hearts and minds of Christians as Emperor of the Holy American Empire.

It's as if our leader received a divine revelation and we are simply following along, thinking that we are doing God's will. As Constantine's armies rallied behind the cross, we hold aloft the American flag as our sacred symbol--and by this sign, we conquer.

Unfortunately, what Constantine claimed to have seen was not a sign from God. It goes against the words of Jesus, who said to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world" (John 18:36).

The Apostle Paul reinforced this when he wrote, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12). And yet American Christians today praise the holy crusade against terror as if the spiritual forces of evil can be defeated with troops, bombs and democracy.

We Christians need to realize that even though the American flag is displayed prominently in so many church sanctuaries, Christ does not share his throne with the state. When lying politicians invoke the name of God as they are sworn into office, we should be offended that our Lord's name is being taken in vain. When people criticize U.S. policies, we need to consider that America isn't the church, and the Body of Christ isn't bound by national borders or restricted to any particular geographic location. And when the government promises financial incentives to churches, we must remember that we cannot serve two masters.

Failure to distinguish between God and country, church and state, can be a deadly sin. As Alistair Kee wrote of Constantine the Great:
    He conquered the Christian church. The conquest was complete, extending over doctrine, liturgy, art and architecture, comity, ethos and ethics. And this is the greatest irony, that Constantine achieved by kindness what his predecessors had not been able to achieve by force. Without a threat or a blow, and all unsuspecting, the Christians were led into captivity and their religion transformed into a new imperial cult. … But this achievement, unheralded then, unrecognized now, represents Constantine's greatest conquest, the one which has persisted largely unchallenged through the centuries in Europe and wherever European Christianity has spread.
Who knows? Future generations may one day read about the rise and fall of the American Empire. If that happens, let us hope and pray that they learn the lessons from history that we did not.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Justice System with No Prisons?

Gary North, in his essay "I'm Behind Bars," makes an argument for eliminating the American prison system in favor of a more biblical approach to justice:
    In the Bible, the only prisons are in the empires: Joseph in an Egyptian prison, John the Baptist in a Roman prison, Peter and Paul in Roman prisons.

    There was no prison system in Mosaic Israel. This was no accident. There were punishments in Mosaic Israel: restitution to the victim, whipping, and execution for certain crimes. But there were no prisons. Why not? Because there was no need. The criminal owed no debt to society.

    If a person stole and then got caught, he paid double restitution to his victims (Exodus 22:4). He did not owe anything to society. He had not committed a crime against society. He owed money to his victims. ...

    ... The prison was supposed to reform men, to make them good. This was part of the Grand Idea: salvation by legislation. The public school system was part of this same messianic program.

    Now that Grand Idea looks less than grand. The results are in. Mankind has not yet been reformed. Taxes are a lot higher. Crime rates are a lot higher. Literacy rates are a lot lower. But the bureaucratic heirs of the original reformers still serve as caretakers of a clearly botched series of systems.
Worth a read.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Silent Victims of Hurricane Katrina

It seems everyone wants to lend a helping hand during times of disaster--even child killers. According to Abortion Clinics Online, a directory service for wholesale human slaughter houses, a number of clinics are offering FREE abortions to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

No, this isn't someone's idea of a sick joke. It's just another example of how these murdering savages will look for any excuse to satisfy their bloodlust.

God help us.

Monday, September 19, 2005

On a More Personal Note...

As some of you already know, my lovely wife released a vocal jazz album last year. The CD, Because I Love You, can be purchased from CDBaby.com and is also available for downloading from iTunes and a number of other digital distribution sites.

For more information and audio clips, check out my wife's website at DawnShelton.com. Even if you're not a jazz fan, you will thoroughly enjoy this collection of classic and contemporary love songs.

Oh, did I mention that you'll get to hear yours truly singing along on one of the tracks? Now that's an incentive!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Worshiping Uncle Sam's Golden Calf

One of the things we saw in New Orleans over the past weeks is the result of idolatry. The idol? The golden calf of big government, of course.

Joel Belz had some sobering words to say in his latest WORLD Magazine editorial, "Unquenchable Appetite":
    Happiness with the results of any big government effort, of course, is almost an oxymoron. The reason is simply that when people start putting their trust in big government, they've attached themselves to a false god. And false gods can't produce the goods.

    What we saw in New Orleans last week was the pathetic picture of people whose expectations in a false god had been so enhanced that when the false god stumbled for a day or two, some of his worshippers flew into a rage. They'd been betrayed, they said. Not only had their god failed to tend to their obvious physical needs in prompt style; he had made them look weak and foolish in the process.

    Note this well: A people who cannot, even while in dire distress, minister to the weakest and the dying among them; a people who do not, even while waiting hungrily for help they desperately need, respectfully and reverently take care of the bodies of those who do die; such a people will be known to history as frighteningly farther down the road to decadence than most of us want to admit.

    And then remember this: That such a people will in the days to come develop a bigger and bigger appetite for gods who promise them everything. And then they will show a lower and lower tolerance for gods who do not perform.
Ironically, the president last night promised to make that golden calf even bigger than before. If God's chosen people didn't learn from their mistakes after leaving Egypt, what does that say about our nation? I guess when people have been wandering aimlessly long enough in a spiritual wasteland, they'll fall for anything.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Repackaging the Gospel

The mega-church message being preached today has reduced the gospel of Christ to little more than a recipe for health, wealth and happiness. All you need to know is that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. If you just accept what He has to offer, all your troubles will melt away. Don't you want the happiness you deserve?

In an age when men like Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen and Rick Warren are regarded as great spiritual leaders, is it any wonder why mainstream Christianity has become virtually irrelevant? Why do so many of us insist on repackaging the gospel in an effort to make it more palatable?

Scripture tells us that Christ was to be a "stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense" (Isaiah 8:14, Romans 9:33, 1 Peter 2:8). Yes, faith in Christ promises the blessing of eternal life. But the Bible also says that the believer will face persecution (John 15:20).

Consider the words of C. S. Lewis: "I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity."

Let us preach Christ and him crucified. Let us call others to repent and believe. Let us not rob the gospel of its offense.

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