Thinking Out Loud

September 8, 2021

The Misuse of Scripture in Political Discourse

This article was jointly published by Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201. The article is contextually rooted in one Canadian province, but similar discussions have happened all over North America. The particular focus here is on the use of certain scripture texts to support the main argument, and whether those are being used correctly.

by Ruth Wilkinson

Now that vaccine passports have been officially announced for the province of Ontario, coming into effect Sept. 22, the rhetoric is intensifying. We all have one more thing about which to feel strongly, and on which to fiercely hold opinions. Which is understandable, considering the human rights implications and the endemic emotional fatigue.

Aside from our own gut reactions, we are looking for leadership, information, and (hopefully) wisdom on which to base our decisions about vaccination and its documentation in our lives. Many will simply never be convinced that it’s in their best interests, and will hold the line on remaining un-shot. As I write this, 16% of eligible Ontarians are still holding out.

Based on some conversations I’ve had, it seems (anecdotally) that people who identify as Christians make up a larger portion of that percentage than other faith groups. They give a few different reasons that I won’t recount here, because this article isn’t actually about vaccination, or about passports.

In fact, it’s about those leaders and information sources who have so much influence on believers. It’s about pastors, bloggers, vloggers. Like the people who are responsible for this document that is making the rounds:

https://www.libertycoalitioncanada.com/religious-freedom-from-vaccination-coercion

It must be good, right? It’s “confessionally orthodox.” It’s got scripture verses. It’s signed by people who call themselves Reverend Doctor, and Pastor. Heck, it’s even got Joe Boot, a name that means something to many.

Problem is, however well-intentioned, this document is a really awful piece of Scriptural application. However you feel about the principles the Declaration espouses (some of which are, IMHO, sound), the way the authors have used isolated Scripture passages to try to support their arguments is, just (pauses for a minute to find a diplomatic word… can’t) inept. If I had turned in this piece to my hermeneutics professor at seminary, his head would have imploded. As I said above, I think some of the authors’ theses have merit. But their scriptural arguments have not.

I’ve chosen two of the whereases (is that a word?) as examples of how we need to do our own homework when reading something like this, and ask ourselves whether Scripture is being appropriately exegeted, or whether it’s being proof-texted in order to lend the writers authority that they haven’t earned.

____________________________

AND WHEREAS Christians are commanded to live in light of God’s moral commands, including expressing love for one’s neighbour by resisting oppression and injustice, whether it be as a result of individual conduct or the actions of any State, agency or bureaucracy – including any immoral or unethical development such as coercive vaccination programs (Isa. 1:17; Matt. 22:39; Jam. 5:14)

Must be true, look at all those verses! Well, let’s take them one at a time:

Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause. – Isaiah 1:17

In this passage God is speaking to Israel, who have been taken into exile as a consequence of their covenant breaking behaviour and hearts. Cut and pasted, as I’ve done here, it certainly says what the Declaration authors want it to. But the context of this one verse, in the middle of a longer passage, is a call for Israel to return to her place, to rediscover God’s will. To wash the blood from her hands, to stop being an adulteress. This has nothing to do with opposing government. It has nothing to do with standing up for one’s rights. It does have to do with taking personal and national responsibility for crimes and sins. If one agrees that vaccine passports are ethically wrong, this passage might be applicable to the government and administrators who made the rules. It simply doesn’t speak to you and me today.

Of course, there are passage in which Jesus models for us, and the writers of the epistles teach that we should be looking out for the vulnerable, providing for those in need. This isn’t one of them, and it’s not relevant to the topic.

____

The second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. – Matthew 22:39

Here Jesus is affirming the Jewish scripture’s teaching (Leviticus 19:18) (Look, now I’m doing it :-)). But again, the original passage discussed here is in a context of personal and corporate behaviour. How am I to treat the vulnerable around me? There is nothing here to support picket lines, civil disobedience, or making the hostess at Pizza Hut cry.

In my view, the most loving thing I can do is to make myself less of a threat to others by wearing a mask. And to make myself more useful by getting vaccinated in order to stay healthy. Loving my neighbour, in the teachings of Jesus, is a direct and personal duty.

____

Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. – James 5:14

What possible connection this verse has to “resisting oppression and injustice” I don’t have the foggiest idea. So I’m just going to move on.

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AND WHEREAS God created human beings and all the earth’s resources and called them to work and enjoy the fruit of their labour as a pre-political duty and right (prior to the existence of the state) and further clarifies this requirement by commanding people to work six days and rest on each sabbath in order to develop culture in obedience to God and provide for their families, thus freedom to work is an inalienable right that no person should be unjustly denied (Ex. 20:9; 1 Tim.5:8)

First of all, take a moment to look in the Bible for anything that looks like an “inalienable right.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

It’s not there. God never grants anyone an inalienable right. God grants us covenant. Grace. Partnership. Hope. Not rights. The basic premise of this thesis is unscriptural.

But, still, let’s look at these passages and see what they have to say about creation and work.

____

You are to labour six days and do all your work… – Exodus 20:9

As a click-bait reference, it accomplishes what the authors want it to.

In context, not so much. This is one phrase in one sentence taken from a paragraph:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labour six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. You must not do any work — you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. For the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy. – Exodus 20:8-11

What is this paragraph about? What is the core focus of this commandment?

Sabbath. Not work. The one day. Not the six.

If, as believers in the New Covenant, we opt to live according to some cherry-picked bits of the Old, our mandate here is to “remember the Sabbath.” Its importance to Israel is underscored in Exodus 35:1-2:

Moses assembled the entire Israelite community and said to them, “These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do: For six days work is to be done, but on the seventh day you are to have a holy day, a Sabbath of complete rest to the LORD. Anyone who does work on it must be executed…”

Nobody’s being executed for not working. Whether or not I agree with an employer’s right to demand proof of vaccination, this scripture passage doesn’t apply. There is no “right” granted here.

Neither is there in our final passage:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, that is his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. – 1 Timothy 5:8

Again, this is completely off topic if read in context. Timothy was giving leadership to a faith community who were figuring out how to support those among them who were in need, or vulnerable (ie “widows”). The passage is about how we should live in community, how anyone who can support themselves ought to, and how we are commanded to care for those in our biological and faith families.

When held in parallel with passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, it creates a framework of responsibility within which believers do what is necessary in order to live lives of accomplishment, altruism, and decency, thereby earning the respect of the broader community and avoiding bringing disrepute on the name of Christ, and on the gospel.

These passages about work are built on a foundation of covenant—we are part of the Body of Christ. As such it falls to us to do what we must in order to live up to the ethic that is presented here. If we refuse to make a personal sacrifice for the good of others, then that is “denying the faith” and “worse than an unbeliever.”

The Timothy passage has nothing to say about “inalienable rights.”

_____________________________

As Christians, living out our faith in a world that is decreasingly friendly to who they think we are, blindly accepting such spurious teaching as this makes us look foolish. We must each think through our stand on these significant issues. Do our research. Use our discernment. Question our teachers.

I repeat that I think some (not all) of the points raised by this document are valid. But I was appalled by the low quality of the ‘scholarship’ used as an excuse to present it as a “Christian Declaration.” The exegesis of Scripture and its application to how we live our everyday lives is not brain surgery, but it ought to be done wisely and with skill. That is clearly not the case here.

Brothers and sisters, please take the time to understand what Christ has actually called us to before making decisions that increase our loss of credibility in the world and in our communities.

August 16, 2021

8 Things Calvinists Stole from Evangelicals

A few of our favorite things seem to be in the process of becoming private property. This is a look at eight of them.

First of all, the title is deliberately provocative. When I say “stole” I mean something closer to “co-opted.” For example, I would argue that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter Day Saints co-opted the idea of doing door-to-door visitation in pairs. When Suburban Sam is getting ready to cut the grass on Saturday morning, and two people carrying literature walk toward his door, he doesn’t think. ‘Oh, look! It’s the Baptists’ annual visitation drive;’ even though that might possibly be true. He thinks, ‘Oh, it’s either JWs or Mormons.’

However, also true is that when I say ‘stole’ there is a sense in which I mean, ‘and we would like to have these things back.’ In most cases, anyway.

Finally, I need to say that this is reflective of the modern, internet-driven, modern Neo-Reformed or YRR (Young Restless & Reformed) movement of the past 20 years. This does not apply to members of more classical Reformed denominations such as the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) or Reformed Church of America (RCA), etc.

The Word “Gospel”

This one is a no-brainer. Think “The Gospel Coalition” or the “Together for the Gospel (T4G)” conferences. It is also increasingly used as an adjective. If you are part of the movement it is de rigueur that the term occur at least once per paragraph in your blog posts and if you get a book deal, it needs to be somewhere in the subtitle.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

It only stands to reason that people in the movement are going to latch on to the compatible writing of some classic authors who are no longer with us. But the situation with Spurgeon is somewhat unique in that, like the word “gospel,” familiarity with Spurgeon’s writing is necessary for the modern Reformed equivalent of cocktail party conversation. If you’re doing a podcast with video, the 5-volume set of Spurgeon’s Sermons should be visible on your bookshelf, or better yet, a hand-bronzed seven-inch (18 cm) bust of the man available from the website missionware.com.

The ESV

When the ESV was released in 2001, most of us knew Crossway Publishing of Wheaton, Illinois as the foremost producer of evangelistic tracts, sold in packs of 25; or as the go-to source for Max Lucado’s children’s book about wemmicks, the popular You Are Special. But they had strong Reformed roots, publishing works by Martin Lloyd Jones and the ever-prolific John MacArthur. When the ESV emerged, with endorsements from John Piper, Wayne Grudem, R. C. Sproul and Kevin DeYoung, it was clear that this tribe had their Bible, and if you were quoting a scripture passage in your blog, or getting a book deal, this was the version to use. Of course, the signature product is the ESV Study Bible and in the notes, you do see the doctrinal bias. I noticed it especially in the Olivet Discourse in John, and I’m willing to concede that the ESV was never ours to begin with, and was always intended as a denominational translation for the modern Reformed movement.

The SBC

Many articles have appeared over the past decade either celebrating or lamenting the fact that in many churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, the modern Reformed doctrine has become the default doctrine. With some churches, this is nothing new, and we have a number of Baptist groups (going back to the 17th Century) who felt the need to designate themselves as Free Will Baptists, in contrast to the idea of divine election or predestination. If a person is going to conflate SBC churches with modern Reformed doctrine and also conflate SBC churches with the current conservative political movement, then one might jump to conclusions which, even in an article like this one, might be a bit over-the-top. I’ll leave that one to Barna Research.

The Word “Grace”

In a meeting of The Inklings, C. S. Lewis is said to have arrived late, and asked what was being discussed. Told it was, “what separates Christianity from other religions,” he supposedly answered, without taking a breath, “Oh that’s easy, it’s grace.” Grace was already a popular name for some CRC churches, and it is a central Christian concept, but like the word “gospel” it’s been highly subscribed to by the modern Reformers and the phrase “doctrines of grace” is used in reference to 5-point Calvinism, as outlined in the acronym TULIP. Asking someone if a church teaches “the doctrines of grace,” is the equivalent to the Pentecostal question as to whether a church is a “full gospel church.” (If people in this movement could register both “gospel’ and ‘grace’ as trademarks, I’m sure they would.)

“In Christ Alone”

Most of us who grew up in the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement were, if we had a knowledge of what was going on in the UK, aware of Stuart Townend who, like Graham Kendrick, was a major force there in what became modern worship, and particular what we now call “the modern hymns movement.” Stuart teamed up with Keith and Kristyn Getty to write what is undoubted the signature song in the genre, “In Christ Alone.” Most churches embraced the song on its initial release, with some quickly skating past the line, “the wrath of God was satisified;” even as in 2013 the PCUSA requested a lyric change (to “the love of God was magnified”) for its hymnal. The request was denied and the song doesn’t appear. Eventually, the Getty’s position in the movement was clarified by other writing and speaking and elsewhere the song is now bypassed in creating set lists for weekend services.

John Calvin

If you separate out the five doctrines of TULIP, and type ‘Did John Calvin believe in ______’ into a search engine, you get articles which clarify that the beliefs held by the 16th Century French theologian were quite different that the Neo-Reformed movement we find in 2021. Not only are the nuances of each unique, but he faced great criticism on other matters, such as his attitude toward the Jews. Some have been bold to suggest that Calvin would not identify with the modern movement which bears his name. Still, in the aforementioned hypothetical podcast, you’d also want a copy of his Institutes of the Christian Religion visible on the shelf. Which brings us to…

The Word “Reformed”

In the introduction, I mentioned groups such as the CRC or RCA, and where I live, the CRC congregation has a female pastor, whereas one need only spend a few minutes looking at the writing of John Piper to know that people in this movement are fiercely complementarian. I am confident in saying that I expect people in classical reformed denominations cringe when they hear the word used in reference to doctrines which simply don’t apply to them. (This does not eliminate the possibility that some people within the modern Reformed movement cringe when they read Piper’s writing or social media output.) While I’m thankful for the Protestant Reformation and Luther’s courage, there is no doubt that today, the word ‘reformed’ has taken on entirely new meaning which limits its broader use. 

That’s my list. If you think of anything else I should have included, let me know, or better yet, if you have stories of trying to connect with someone who has already been influenced by the movement’s particular use of certain forms or terminology, feel free to share.

 

July 12, 2021

Spelling Counts

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:48 am

Clarke Bunch at The Master’s Table posted this today. He found this plaque in the discount bin at Hobby Lobby, marked 70% off.

But should it be sold at all? And how many were produced?

During my two short stints helping the Canadian Bible Society get product out the door (because I had worked as warehouse manager at IVP) any Bible which had the least defect was placed in a room within the warehouse. These were occasionally taken home by staff and at least one staff member removed pages and mounted them as wall décor. You might argue that yes, Bibles should be in a different category.

But this one? At least it wasn’t someone’s tattoo.

It’s not the worst, though. That honor belongs to Abbey Press, for its “You have blessed the work of his hands” series of Father’s Day products, including a pair of work gloves we still have. The text is taken from Job 1:10

“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.”

Good verse for Dads? It’s actually the devil speaking. Christian bookstores all around North America selling products containing a verse the writer of Job says is unmistakably the words of Satan.

Abbey Press was contacted twice at the time, and did nothing to remove the product.

 

 

June 29, 2021

Bible Was Once Held by Man Who Perished in the Titanic Sinking

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:19 pm

We’re not setting any speed records in going through boxes of things once belonging to my parents. Every so often, when inspired, a new item surfaces. While the significance of this Bible was probably pointed out to me by my father a few days ago, my wife cracked open the cover and read the inscription and started considering all the ramifications involved in its journey.

The woman named Bertha in the inscription was my paternal grandmother. If that name brings some stereotypes to mind, she wasn’t your typical Bertha but was a rather petite, soft-spoken woman.

My youngest son Aaron, whose writing we’ve featured both here and at our sister blog Christianity 201 before, has the heart of a poet and looked at this differently. For me it was about seeing the thing, but for him it was about holding it in his hands. He wrote on Facebook:

This handsome metal-bound Bible was given to my great grandmother by one F Smith who was later a casualty of the Titanic. Doing a little digging, it seems my great grandmother’s friend served on the ship as a pantry assistant (the “Victualling crew”). Kinda strange holding an object that was once held by hands now at the bottom of the Atlantic. Rest in peace, Frederick. Your gift is is in good hands.

“…Once held by hands now at the bottom of the Atlantic.” I would never think of that way. Except now I do. It’s interesting that we were talking a day earlier about degrees of separation and because Aaron knew my dad, and my dad knew my grandmother (his great grandmother) and she knew the man who gave her this gift, I think that’s considered only three degrees of separation.

Information about people who perished in the Titanic’s sinking is widely documented online, so as mentioned above, Aaron was able to find a picture of the man.

So Frederick Vernon Hilton Reeves, or Frederick Smith? Which was it? That was the challenge Aaron faced at the outset. He explained it to me: “His mother remarried a Smith, so outside of official documentation, he went by his step-father’s last time.”

He was 20 years old. His body was never identified and the lists that Aaron found only included identified bodies, which also slowed the search for more information; a search which, I need to say for the record, I would never have taken the time to embark on. Smith may have been “Body #216.”

His hopes and dreams were never realized. Did my grandmother fit into those dreams? It looks like it would have been a fairly expensive gift for those times. Unfortunately my grandmother and my father aren’t exactly around to ask, and previously, I was caught up in my own exploits and wouldn’t have been as interested as I am today.

So thanks, Aaron, for taking a second look at the inscription and being wiling to go the extra kilometer to learn more.

For the rest of us, don’t rush to donate books and Bibles to charity which belonged to parents and grandparents. Take an extra few moments to consider the inscriptions or dedications pages.

You never know what you’re holding in your hands.

Or who held it before.

 

June 28, 2021

The Christian Book of the Year for 2021

In 25+ years in and around Christian publishing, I’ve seen products come and go, but this is one time I think that a forthcoming retelling of the gospel story is going to be significant both in terms of sales and ministry significance.

The First Nations Version (InterVarsity Press) is just what the name implies. The term first nations is commonly used in Canada to describe the indigenous people and the term is catching on in the U.S. and other parts of the world. More than two dozen tribes had input into the production of this New Testament, which the authors claim is a dynamic equivalence translation containing additional words and phrases added for clarity as was found in The Voice Bible. However, I think of this as a contender for “Book of the Year,” and not “Bible of the Year” because it is simply so very different from other translations, particularly in its treatment of proper nouns (people and place names) that I expect that outside the communities for which it is intended, it will be studied more as an artifact of contextualization in sharing the Bible’s message. To that end, it belongs in a category with The Kiwi Bible or The Street Bible which we’ve covered here in years past.

Spearheading the project is Terry Wildman. As early as 2013, he published Birth of the Chosen One which was marketed for teens and described as,

A book for children of all ages. This is the story of the birth of Jesus retold for Native Americans and other English speaking First Nations peoples. The text is from the First Nations Version project…

In 2014, he released When God’s Spirit Walked Among Us, which was

A harmony of the Gospels combined into a single narrative. It retells the story of the Gospels using words and phrases that relate to the First Nations People, then also for English speaking indigenous peoples from all nations, and finally to all who want to hear the story in a fresh and unique way.

In 2017, he published Walking the Good Road: The Gospel and Acts with Ephesians. It was in delving into the annotation for this title that I found more information about the project:

The First Nations Version was first envisioned by the author Terry M. Wildman and with the help of OneBook.ca and Wycliffe Associates has expanded into a collaborative effort that includes First Nations/Native Americans from over 25 tribes. This book is the introductory publication of the First Nations Version of the New Testament. A translation in English by First Nations/Native Americans, for First Nations/Native Americans. This project was birthed out of a desire to provide an English Bible that connects, in a culturally sensitive way, the traditional heart languages of the over six million English-speaking First Nations people of North America. The First Nations Version Translation Council has been selected from a cross-section of Native North Americans-elders, pastors, young adults and men and women from differing tribes and diverse geographic locations. This council also represents a diversity of church and denominational traditions to minimize bias.

But who is Terry Wildman? It was only in the information provided for the forthcoming complete New Testament that I was able to learn more:

He serves as the director of spiritual growth and leadership development for Native InterVarsity. He is also the founder of Rain Ministries and has previously served as a pastor and worship leader.

The information above is on trade (book industry) pages I can’t link, but the website for Rain Ministries provided more details.

Rain Ministries is the home of RainSong Music and the First Nations Version translation.

Terry and Darlene currently live in Maricopa Arizona on the traditional land of the Tohono O’odham and the Pima. Terry’s time is divided between mentoring staff on Zoom for Native InterVarsity and working on the First Nations Version translation.

As RainSong Terry and Darlene travel North America and abroad, teaching, storytelling, sharing their music at First Nations gatherings, on Reservations, and also at Churches and Conferences…

Terry and Darlene founded Rain Ministries, a non-profit corporation based in Arizona in 2001, and have been actively involved in the lives of many First Nations people since 1998.

Their biography indicates they got their ministry start with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) and given their current connection to Wycliffe Associates and OneBook (both arms lengths organizations of Wycliffe Bible Translators) and their involvement with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship; I am led to believe that this is a well-anchored project theologically. Besides, I trust IVP to vet their books well.

Still there are going to be people who find things like the chapter titles (names given to the books of the Bible) and people names somewhat different. I would assume that, as with so many Christian endeavors, the people who might object the loudest are the people who are not the intended audience for this New Testament retelling.

I’d like to get into more stylistic details, but my exposure to the project is based on a sample booklet which only contained 19 pages of actual text, and was lacking the go-to chapters I look for in doing passage comparisons with new translations. I suspect that’s because so many people are asking for an advance look, they’ve decided to limit who gets what. Disappointing. I was also going to include an excerpt from the book at Christianity 201, but without a proper review copy, I decided not to discuss the actual content, and so you’re having to settle for this copy-and-paste presentation of information related to its publication so that you can keep your own eyes and ears open. Sorry I was unable to do more.

The book is being published simultaneously in hardcover and paperback editions. Where First Nations communities are nearby, I expect the FNV to be a popular outreach tool and as stated at the outset, perhaps the most significant title to be released this year, at least in North America.

 

 

June 17, 2021

My Pessimistic Rant on the State of Humanity

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:21 am

Two weeks ago I went for a walk around the longer block where we live. It should have been stimulating and inspiring, but ten minutes and a few snapshots of people doing things outdoors later, I came back mourning the state of the world.

I wrote down three things on a piece of scrap paper next to the computer.

People are stupid

Not very nice, I realize, but if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that people have no particular desire to better themselves or become better informed. Opinions rank higher than facts. Individual tribes outrank global consensus.

The circle of people with which I associate generally do not demonstrate this. I often meet people who are clearly committed to the idea of lifelong learning. But it does crop up. About twenty years ago I met a pastor who told me that in seminary he had read all the books he was ever going to read, and now he was done. Can’t remember my response, but today it would be, ‘That’s just so sad.’

People are selfish

There’s a similarity here to the first point, in that the individual (‘me’/’my’) takes precedence over the greater good. An awareness of what is taking place as the world turns boils down to one simple question, ‘How does this affect me?’

I’ve also said elsewhere that in all the places in the Bible where sin is mentioned, we could easily substitute selfishness and it would work in 90% of the sentences. Yes, sin involves those things which grieve the heart of God, but many of these involve failing to get the big picture. Six of the four Ten Commandments involve our relationship with other people and the inter-twining of our lives with those around us.

People are godless

One of my favorite definitions is from finedictionary.com, “Lacking the presence of God; removed from divine care or cognizance.” This isn’t exactly news.

The thing that amazes me is how people who have rejected God have also rejected the good things God has placed in the world. I’ve mentioned before my next door neighbor who hates trees. He has removed all of them from his property, and any branch on our side of the fence within his reach comes under the blade of his clipper. I’m not sure but I think his beef is with creation in general and maybe with God in particular.

So…

…I’m left as a somewhat intelligent, altruistic, God-focused person, living in a world that is often neither one of those three things. I long for conversation and fellowship with like minded people. Fortunately, the Church, consisting of people centered on Jesus, provides that opportunity, but sometimes there just aren’t enough of us, and very people I know in North America or Western Europe have the option of living in a Christian community.

The onus on me is to thereby learn how to interact with them. Scriptures teach I ought to love them. Dang, that’s difficult. But God places us situations that aren’t monastic communities separated from the world.

He places us in families, schools, workplaces and yes, neighborhoods.

I wish I was doing a better job.

June 13, 2021

I Have Become a Senior Ageist

I realized this morning that I have become an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms when it comes to which voices I look forward to hearing preach and teach each week.

For the record, an ageist is someone who is “Unfairly discriminatory against someone based on their age,” and while this usually is applied as working against the elderly, I suppose that reverse ageism is also popular.

Also for the record, I’ve reached an age where, when it comes to Bible teachers and authors I should be resonating more with the “men in suits” crowd. But I don’t. I gravitate toward younger communicators. John Mark Comer recently introduced me to Tyler Staton, and as an egalitarian, I will always tune in if Danielle Strickland or Tara Beth Leach is teaching.

I get what it’s like to be on the opposite side of this issue. A local church where we spent many years buys into the philosophy of, “Never put someone older 40 on the platform or picture older people on your website.” At least, they buy into it theoretically (and selectively) but both their own leadership and congregation is aging as well. Another local church member commented that he has a hard time picturing his church bringing back many of the younger families they had, because the Sunday morning services are planned and shaped by an older mindset.

And yet a third local church has now encountered a pastoral vacancy. In my heart, I keep hoping they can snag someone mid-to-late 30s. It would be a breath of fresh air. But then I ask myself why someone that age would want to move to the small town we’ve called home for the past several decades. True, we’re an hour from Toronto, but I know that many younger leaders want to stay close to the city and all the networking and potential it appears to offer.

So I am an anomaly; some type of reverse-ageist. But I’m not alone. I remember being a much younger person in churches in Toronto where the teens and twenty-somethings would grab all the front seats and the older individuals and couples would sit further back cheering them on. Okay, not literally cheering; maybe praying is more accurate. It was good to see. These churches had an enviable demographic for preachers.

If your church happens to have a younger teaching pastor, or lead pastor, you need to cheer them on.

I think the Bible’s word for that is encouragement.

 

June 10, 2021

The SBC: Breaking Up is Hard, But Necessary to Do

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:56 am

If we have an appliance that stops working, we face the decision as to whether we’re going to repair it, or if we are going to discard it. The surrounding questions include, “What are the costs of repair?” and “What are the advantages of starting from scratch with something new?”

To me, this analogy applies directly to the state of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. “If it ain’t broke…” goes the saying, but in this case many would argue that it is most certainly broken in many ways and that even as a loose affiliation of churches, its sheer size and media influence suggests that presently more harm is being done than good.

Dissolving the entire enterprise seems appropriate. End the capital “C” Convention and the small “c” conventions. Allow each church to go their own direction and find an accountability structure (denomination) with which they can identify in terms of doctrine and structure. I’m betting that each and every church now, if forced to, could name a denominational body for which a significant number of their leadership and parishioners have at least some admiration.

But keep the Department of Missions. This is the part of the SBC that even its fiercest critics admit “ain’t broke.” Give it a new name and allow it to continue to flourish in the various countries it presently serves. Keep those mission workers on the field and sufficiently funded and resourced.

But don’t call it Southern Baptist. My wife, who can be quite cynical, reminds me that if the status quo is maintained, all you are doing is going to other nations and “making more of them.” I did warn you she was cynical.

The analogy I wanted to work with here was Bell Telephone. Wikipedia explains,

The breakup of the Bell System was mandated on January 8, 1982, by an agreed consent decree providing that AT&T Corporation would, as had been initially proposed by AT&T, relinquish control of the Bell Operating Companies that had provided local telephone service in the United States and Canada up until that point… The breakup of the Bell System resulted in the creation of seven independent companies that were formed from the original twenty-two AT&T-controlled members of the System. On January 1, 1984, these companies were NYNEX, Pacific Telesis, Ameritech, Bell Atlantic, Southwestern Bell Corporation, BellSouth, and US West.

Is this a model that is applicable? It breaks down in several respects, and some question how effective the breakup was. It should also be said that the SBC is large, but nothing close to a monopoly — though perhaps it as a monopoly on political influence — but returning to my original analogy, it is broken. Smaller regional SBC-related associations already exist which could continue without a connection to the larger body; or again, each local congregation could be freed to chart its own course.

When the Ravi scandal escalated, there were questions as to the organization continuing to use his name, or continuing at all. If the SBC brand is tainted, I would say both questions are pertinent. Should the entity continue at all, and if it is deemed worthy of continued existence, should there be sweeping changes in hierarchy, policies, centralization, and branding?


Caveat: Assuming the premise as stated, many believe that in the past decade, Reformed or Neo-Calvinist doctrine as become the SBC theological default. If a significant number of churches moved toward those bodies, then you’ve just simply the concentration of ecclesiastic power and influence to a situation that I honestly believe would be worse.

Postscript: The appliance analogy is ironic. As I was typing this the motor in our table saw stopped working.

May 20, 2021

The SBC’s Old Guard | The GOP’s Old Guard

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:14 pm

Forgive the generalizations today.

Living one country removed from all the action means you form certain opinions and stereotypes without physically interacting with the people concerned. It also means that news and current events are distilled to their basic essence. True, we can tap into the legacy U.S. networks just by turning on the television, and we can find hours and hours of recent broadcasts by the U.S. cable networks just by doing a quick search on YouTube, but I think that if Americans really want to know what their country is up to, they should see how they’re covered by the BBC (U.K), CBC (Canada) or ABC (Australia).

These days, when I hear about Republicans, I immediately think of Mitch McConnell. If I found myself seated next to him on an airplane, I would not ask to change seats; I would ask to change planes. To view him on my screen casually, matter-of-factly proclaiming that black is white is usually more than either my brain or my spirit can tolerate.

Or the guy who said that the January 6th ransacking of the U.S. Capitol building was just some families out for a walk in the park. Okay, Andrew Cylde didn’t say those exact words, but it’s not much different:

“Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall, showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures. If you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from Jan. 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit,”

But later a picture surfaced showing him and others frantically trying to barricade the doors so rioters couldn’t enter. That’s the trouble with a lie, sooner or later you get caught.

I also get my U.S. religious news one country removed. Sure, the blog you’re reading right now has a 75% American readership and with American spellings and the use of words like freeway instead of the more common Canadian highway, I’ve blended in to the point many readers assume I’m writing from Dayton, or Sacramento, or Springfield (not that one, the other one); I still have stereotypes and caricatures of what the Evangelical landscape looks like when having those after-service conversations in the lobby (again lobby not foyer) and lunch at Cracker Barrel.

And in those terms, my mental image of Republican leaders ends up eerily similar to my mental drawing of Southern Baptist (SBC) leaders. I’m not saying that they would stand up and tell you that January 6th was just a walk in the park but rather … okay … that’s exactly what I’m telling you.

Their unwavering support for a recent leader of the free world, in spite of overwhelming evidence of a character that would disqualify the man from ever being hired by one of their churches, shows their willingness to disregard both facts and logic for the sake of … tell me again … what was it they chose to gain by backing him? Oh, right: Power.

[For those of you who disagree reading this by email, the unsubscribe prompt is at the bottom. I don’t mind at all.]

There have been and are still some exemplary SBC leaders. Billy Graham was a member of the party, er, denomination and so is Charles Stanley. But it’s others who make headlines and give Christianity a bad name, and wannabees of their ilk who pick all manner of fights on social media and constrain their subjects, er, parishioners with all manner of legalistic limitations.

And that’s the thing: I don’t understand how one actually does this. How do you look into the camera or stand up on the floor of the Senate Chamber or the House of Representatives and say things which your six-year-old grandchild would recognize as patently untrue?

I’m not saying that all Southern Baptists are Republicans or that all Republicans are Southern Baptists. From this perspective it simply appears that there are immense similarities — again in terms of the distilled images of America we see — that I would think a Jesus follower would want to distance themselves from; that a Christ follower would want to work tirelessly to compensate with extra doses of agape and hesed and shalom and charis and tov.

May 19, 2021

Denominations Losing Internal Influence

Saddleback Ordination Service; Screenshot via Baptist Standard; click image for story

In the last several days we’ve witnessed two serious breaches of denominational policies and protocols, both involving large, significant denominations and both involving gender issues.

In one, Saddleback, a California megachurch, which is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) ordained three women earlier this month. Albert Mohler, who just yesterday announced his resignation as President of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Committee, was quoted earlier by Religion News Service saying, “Saddleback has taken actions that place itself in direct conflict with the stated doctrines of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

In the other, members of the progressive wing of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) in Germany have defied a Vatican edict forbidding the blessing of same-sex unions. A Jesuit priest there told Associated Press, ““I am convinced that homosexual orientation is not bad, nor is homosexual love a sin.”

As denominations lose influence over their congregations, and an entire generation of Millennials and Gen-Z reject affiliated churches in favor of house fellowships or independent congregations, the open defiance is a serious crack in the denominational fortresses. Though the RCC and SBC are very different on many issues, the RCC is very hierarchical, with The Vatican seen as the supreme authority, even overriding scripture on some points.

By contrast, the SBC has always been a much looser network of congregations, though continuing to use operate under the SBC banner has always required absolute adherence to its statement of faith, which includes the position that women cannot be pastors.

In both cases, there are semantic elements, such as whether the role of pastor implies the title of Senior Pastor or Lead Pastor or whether the blessing of same-sex unions is the same as approving of same-sex marriage. The words marriage and pastor create both theological and emotional responses from people on both sides of the issue in SBC and RCC congregations and leadership.

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