Thursday, February 23, 2006

Eugene Robinson and the Death of Theological Liberalism

The Washington Post reports that the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, Vickie Eugene Robinson, is being treated for alcoholism. You may recall that Robinson divorced his wife to live with a gay lover and instead of being disciplined was elevated to the office of bishop.

When asked if his sexual behavior required repentance, Robinson replied, "It is not something of which I should repent and I have no intention of doing so. I have been led to understand that I am loved by God just as I am. That is not to say I am perfect but it is my belief that my orientation is value-neutral. It is what I do with my relationship that God really cares about."

So his "orientation is value-neutral." It's only his "relationship" that is of concern to God. Robinson then gets to the crux of the matter, the abandonment of Scriptural authority. "We worship a living God," says Robinson, "not one locked up in the Scripture of 2,000 years ago." What does it say about a church that one of its bishops can make such a remark?

For more good stuff from Robinson, you can check out his interview with the butchers over at Planned Parenthood where he defends the "right to choose" and compares his trip out of the closet with the Exodus story.


Let's see, what did Paul say were the qualifications for an
overseer?

If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.


On the plus side, Robinson is apparently "well thought of by outsiders." He was greeted with hosannas at New York's gay pride parade last spring.

Pagan Church USA

Wow, this is hard to believe. According to "number crunchers," the Presbyterian Church (USA) is projected to lose record numbers of members in 2005 and 2006. The report provided no comment as to why folks are leaving the PC-USA in droves.

The PC-USA lost 1.3 million members between 1965 and 1992. But other liberal denominations face similar travails. The Episcopalians, United Churches of Christ, Evangelical Lutherans, American Baptists, and United Methodists all had significant declines during the 1990's.

Meanwhile, more orthodox denominations, such as the SBC, PCA, Alliance churches, etc. all experienced significant growth.

Why has this occurred? I would argue that it has to do with the growing apostasy in liberal denominations. The rejection of the authority of Scripture and the divine and all-encompassing claims of Christian truth is leading to the death of liberal Protestantism.

The PC-USA, for example, has made peace with radical feminism, various strains of paganism, and homosexualism--going so far as to condemn homophobia and "heterosexism." The PC-USA is also a member of the Religious Coalition for
Abortion Rights
.

On the issue of homosexuality and the broader matter of the purity of the marriage bed, the PC-USA issued a report called "Sexuality, Spirituality and Social Justice, in which was written the following: "The moral for Christians ought not be marriage, but rather justice-love. ... Where there is justice-love, sexual expression has ethical integrity. That moral principle applies to single, as well as to married, persons, to gay, lesbian and bisexual persons, as well as to heterosexual persons." So shacking up is OK, including with members of the same sex, as long is it is done in the spirit of "justice-love." What?

The same pattern of Biblical infidelity is present in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The "Task Force for Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Studies on Sexuality" issued a report last year attempting to avoid dealing with issues of gay ordination and same-sex marriage. The report asked, but did not answer, the fundamental question:

Many people have asked for a simple answer to the question: Does the Bible say that sexual activity between two people of the same sex is always a sin? This question is near the heart of the division of opinion in our church because Christians who are faithful to God’s Word give different answers. Among other responses that could be mentioned, some say the teaching of the Bible is clear and condemns such activities as sinful, while some say that the verses in the Bible usually cited do not apply to a love relationship between two consenting adults in a committed relationship. In this matter the ELCA needs to continue in prayerful study of Scripture with one another.


Boldly on display for all to see is the attack on the authority of Scripture that is at the heart of the homosexualist assault. The equivocation on display reveals a deeper divide over fundamental issues of doctrine, biblical authority, and ecclesiology.


In prior statements, the ELCA defined marriage as "a lifelong covenant of faithfulness between a man and a woman." And the task force itself said that same-sex unions are "quite distinct from and in no way equivalent to marriage."

So marriage is the cleaving together of a man and a woman, but the ELCA needs more time in prayer and study because sodomy might be just dandy as long as it is part of a "committed relationship." How much study is required to figure that out? Didn't anyone have a Bible on hand?

The Tower of Psycobabble

II Cor. 6:14
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

I John 2:15
15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.


Usually when the subject of "unequal yoking" is broached, the implicit assumption is that the discussion is centered on the issue of marriage. But I want to consider it in something of a broader context.

I contend that much too frequently, the church makes peace with alien and hostile worldviews, allowing the true and undiluted faith to be polluted and ultimately weakened. For example, the importation of Hellenistic and Aristotelian thought into Christianity via the vehicle of Scholasticism had a harmful impact on the faith and ultimately led to antinomianism, mysticism, asceticism, etc.

Today, various ideological enemies do battle with Christianity. Here at Dow Blog, I have been particularly concerned about the heresies of Egalitarianism and Statism. But the church has also been infected with the virus of contemporary popular culture and the poisonous sophistries of humanistic psychology.

According to Scripture, the church is the body of Christ (I Cor. 12) and performs particular functions. Luke provides details in Acts 2:41-42: "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." We see here that evangelism, instruction, and participation in prayer and fellowship are central tasks of the church.

Though evangelism is biblically mandated (Matt. 28:18-20), we don't see that as a central function of the gathered church. In other words, when believers come together, they do so for the purpose of worshipping and glorifying God, encouraging and spurring their brethren, and being taught the undiluted Word of God. It is as the church disperses into the world that evangelism properly takes place. In fact, the Great Commission can be translated as a command to make disciples as you go.

Yet, the contemporary church in its desire to build a body acceptable to Saddleback Sam and unchurched Harry and Mary has turned worship into an entertainment spectacle and the proclamation of the Gospel into little more than the ravings of the high priests of modern psychobabble.

Part of the problem is television. Neil Postman, no Evangelical Christian to be sure, helpfully explained the cultural impact of television on various facets of contemporary life, including Christianity, in his brilliant book “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” "Christianity is a demanding and serious religion," says Postman. "When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether… There is no doubt, in other words, that religion can be made entertaining. The question is, by doing so, do we destroy it."

Jewish media commentator Neal Gabler argues similarly to Postman: "Evangelical Protestantism, which had begun as a kind of spiritual entertainment in the nineteenth century, only refined its techniques in the twentieth, especially after the advent of television. Televangelists like Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggart recast the old revival meeting as a television variety show, and Pat Robertson’s 700 Club was modeled after the Tonight Show, only the guests on this talk show weren’t pitching a new movie or album; they were pitching salvation."

Watch much of what passes for "Christian Television" these days and you will see vividly on display what Postman and Gabler are talking about. Many contemporary pastors and churches have more in common with Dr. Phil and the Church of Oprah than the Apostle Paul and the Church of Jesus Christ. In the hands of such men, Christianity is reduced to "living your best life now" or a Peale-esque power of positive thinking.

The Gospel calls believers to suffering and self-denial, not autonomous self-fulfillment. Even the call to exercise dominion is ultimately a call to servant-leadership where authority is derived from God. The message of the Bible is about God's redemptive work in creation, not about life's purpose. The most essential elements of Christianity are the cross and the resurrection, an event that goes unmentioned in a book outlining God's purpose for man by America’s best-known Evangelical pastor.

The mutilated, seeker-sensitive gospel sees individuals as seekers coming to Christ in order to find purpose in life rather than to receive forgiveness from sin and the righteousness of God. There is little here of sin, grace, faith and repentance or the person of Christ and his atoning death and victory in resurrection. The need of the hour is to reform our churches, to recover the simple message of the Gospel and place it at the center of our preaching. The church must be about the business of preaching the glory of God's redemptive program and the wonder of God’s grace coupled with the necessity of repentance. Let’s leave the psychobabble behind and end our captivity to the things of this world.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Final Ethiopia Update Posted

Read all of Dave and Becky Black's reports on their last trip to Ethiopia:

It's Not Easy Being Green

There are some prominent Christian leaders who believe that we aren't doing enough to protect the environment. The Evangelical Climate Initiative issued a statement entitled "Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action," reminding us that it is our duty as Christians to practice good stewardship.

How do we do that? By following a few helpful tips, like switching to fluorescent light bulbs, using public transportation and learning to "study the Bible in light of the impacts global warming will have on people and God's other creatures."

But let's not forget that really good stewardship means more socialist government regulation:
    In the United States, the most important immediate step that can be taken at the federal level is to pass and implement national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through cost-effective, market-based mechanisms such as a cap-and-trade program.
It isn't enough to exercise personal responsibility and encourage others to do the same. No, we must call upon the power of government to force people to respect God's creation. Never mind that the "science" upon which global warming fears are based is dubious at best. The important thing is that our lives appear to be "purpose-driven." And what better way to do that than to champion a social cause like radical environmentalism in the name of saving the poor people of the world from complete annihilation?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Ecclesiatical Follies

As an intrepid chronicler of the cultural landscape, I must occasionally do some unpleasant and reprehensible things, including watch "Hannity and Colmes," listen to Rush Limbaugh, and read Ann Coulter.

Then there are those fun projects that lead to the emission of giant belly laughs, such as reading the Louisville Courier Journal and watching Christian television. I can always find something on TBN to scare the kids. Jack Van Impe carrying on about human/animal hybrids or Benny Hinn knocking down half an arena with a little bit of hocus pocus. Ah, good stuff!

Saturday evening, I was channel surfing quickly before hitting the sack and stumbled across "The Hour of Power." The Rev. Robert A. Schuller was speaking about his plan to increase membership at the Crystal Cathedral to one million. Yes, you read that right, one million members.

I was concerned that a fairly serious building project would have to be undertaken, and then I read an L. A. Times article that explained Schuller's scheme. According to the Times, "The other main goal of the new senior pastor is to recruit as church members a million people around the world who watch the 'Hour of Power' broadcasts or view church programs on the Internet."

That begs the question: Does it matter if a Christian joins a local church?

Church membership entails a commitment to formally join a body of believers for the purpose of living visibly obedient lives before Jesus Christ, and the world. The people of God exist to demonstrate God's glory (I Peter 2:9, Is. 43:6-7). While we are called as individuals to live in obedience before God (Rom. 6:1-4, Rom. 12:1-2, Col. 3:5-11), there is also an affirmative duty to be part of a COMMUNITY in obedience to God. The Apostle Paul says, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). Christians are to be "kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other" being "imitators of God" (Eph. 4:31-5:2). In short, we are to be together.

The New Testament is also filled with numerous "one another" commands. We are to be "devoted to one another" in love, "honor one another," "live in harmony with one another," be at peace with one another, and so on (see Rom. 12:10, 16; 14:13, 19; 15:7, 14; I Cor. 6:7, 7:5, 12:25, etc.)

Likewise, the author of Hebrews commands us to meet together, for the purpose of spurring one another to love and good deeds. These things cannot be accomplished from behind a television screen.

As the church of Christ, we also have practical obligations to one another's souls. In my church we speak of formative and corrective church discipline. Formative discipline is inherent in the preaching and teaching of the word and the exercise of church ministries. The goal is to conform ourselves to the image of Christ.

Corrective discipline occurs when a member is found in sin and the church seeks his/her repentance and restoration. One problem with Dr. Schuller's plan is that it makes corrective discipline impossible. How are elders in California going to care for the souls of viewers in south Florida, or London?

But discipline is largely ignored in the church anyway, as I noticed in this article in the Louisville Courier Journal. According to the C-J, a local man, Kevin Talley, scored a centerfold layout with Playgirl magazine in the spring of 2005. The Playgirl spread brought a small amount of local fame to Talley, who attended several red-carpet affairs during the Kentucky Derby festival. Talley also spent weekends signing pictures of himself and copies of Playgirl at a seedy local establishment.

In December, Talley received an email from Playgirl editor in chief Jill Sieracki indicating that he been voted Playgirl's Man of the Year. He was offered a cover and photo spread, a contract worth an estimated $25,000 to $30,000.

Talley ultimately turned down the offer, after asking "What Would Jesus Do?" Really. Here is how the C-J tells it:

Talley also considered his faith. Baptized at Southeast Christian Church in 1996, Talley attends Saturday evening services. As he grappled with how to proceed, he thought back to what he'd been taught in the church.

"We are all given challenges in our life that we can overcome if we just ask for help. I'm definitely not a holy roller, but it became more and more evident that this wasn't the right path," Talley said.

"I've got my morals. I know what's right and what's wrong in my world."

Baring it all -- again -- was decidedly the wrong thing to do, Talley decided.


But don't misunderstand. Talley isn't sorry he posed. "Would I do it all again? Yes, because I didn't know (then) what I know now about myself."

Southeast Christian Church, where Talley is a member, is a mammoth local mega-church, complete with a retreat center, 400-person chapel, newspaper, and racquetball courts. When asked about Talley's previous involvement with Playgirl, Southeast administrator Cindee Coffee said that while they were disappointed, "We're encouraged that he is attending Southeast, growing spiritually and beginning to make wiser choices."

While church discipline takes a back seat in our Arminian dominated churches, America’s religious leaders are discussing weightier matters. A group of 86 evangelical bigwigs issued a "call to action" on global warming. At a press conference in Washington, "the signers urged U.S. lawmakers to pass a law requiring that emissions of carbon dioxide be reduced."

Among those signing the statement were several Southern Baptist leaders, including pastor Rick Warren, Timothy George, dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School and David Dockery, president of Union University. Hmm, just think of all the trees that could have been spared if the "Purpose Driven Life" had never seen the light of day. Other signers included Todd Bassett, national commander of The Salvation Army; Paul Cedar, chairman of the Mission America Coalition; Jack Hayford, president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action; and Richard Stearns, president of World Vision.

The climate initiative was undertaken after other prominent Evangelicals sent a letter to the National Association of Evangelicals urging that no official possition be taken on global warming because there is disagreement among on the severity of the problem. Signers included James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family; Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; the Rev. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University; Donald Wildmon, head the American Family Association; the Rev. Louis Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition; and Rick Warren.

Finally, there is John Hagee. In the bizarro world inhabited by the likes of Hagee, American foreign policy is driven by striped-pants Arabists who have an anti-Israel, and probably anti-Semitic bias. To stem the anti-Israeli predisposition of American institutions and defeat the various pro-Palestinian parties that are obviously dominating the scene, Hagee has teamed up with the likes of Benny Hinn, Rod Parsley, and Jerry Falwell to launch Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

CUFI, says Hagee, will be a "Christian version of AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee]. The goal is to organize Christians to put pressure on Washington "to stop pressuring Israel to give up land for peace."

A 2002 analysis by economist Thomas Stauffer, which likely won't interest General Hagee and company, calculated that since 1973, Americans have poured $1.6 trillion dollars into Israel. Yeah, sounds like they're getting a raw deal to me.

So there you have it. To be a Christian in this day and age, one can attend a giant church on Saturday night, or simply watch the festivities on the tube, and have no contact with other believers or church officers. Posing nude once for all the world to see is troubling and disappointing, but surely no cause for church discipline. I mean really, didn’t Jesus have a relaxed attitude about sin? As long as we’re taking care of the important matters, like sending letters to your congressman expressing support for onerous environmental regulation or demanding perpetual war on behalf of another nation, everything will be just fine.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Reminder of Whose We Are

John Piper weighs in on the Muhammad cartoon controversy:
    Being Mocked: The Essence of Christ's Work, Not Muhammad's

    What we saw this past week in the Islamic demonstrations over the Danish cartoons of Muhammad was another vivid depiction of the difference between Muhammad and Christ, and what it means to follow each. Not all Muslims approve the violence. But a deep lesson remains: The work of Muhammad is based on being honored and the work of Christ is based on being insulted. This produces two very different reactions to mockery.

    If Christ had not been insulted, there would be no salvation. This was his saving work: to be insulted and die to rescue sinners from the wrath of God. Already in the Psalms the path of mockery was promised: "All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads" (Psalm 22:7). "He was despised and rejected by men...as one from whom men hide their faces...and we esteemed him not" (Isaiah 53:3). ...

    ... How should his followers respond? On the one hand, we are grieved and angered. On the other hand, we identify with Christ, and embrace his suffering, and rejoice in our afflictions, and say with the apostle Paul that vengeance belongs to the Lord, let us love our enemies and win them with the gospel. If Christ did his work by being insulted, we must do ours likewise. ...
If the reaction (or overreaction) to these cartoons is an indicator of anything, it's that the world is still in need of Christ. Let us be reminded of whose we are and what we are called to do.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Humor Break

Reported by Marc over at Purgatorio:
    Inflammatory Cartoon Draws Intense Reaction from Reformed Baptists

    A cartoon depicting Puritan author and allegorist John Bunyan as a thelogical terrorist has brought bitter and acrimonious responses from Reformed Baptists around the globe. The image, originally published in the Presbyterian denominational magazine Paedo, has been circulated widely and has been decried by religious leaders of all faiths as abhorrent. ...
It's a good thing Christianity is a "religion of peace." No riots, just a lot of Baptists "not smiling more than usual."

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