Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dean McConnell on Romney

Dean McConnell raises some valid concerns for Christians to consider before deciding to support and vote for Governor Romney.
When we vote for someone for office, we are voting for the entire person. We should consider what they believe, what they know, what their skills, gifts, abilities, talents and virtues are. We should also consider the evidence of their particular addictions, vices and shortcomings. I would not vote for anyone for public office who holds beliefs about reality that are absurd or who does not know information necessary to be an effective office holder. ...

Within the core of what someone believes are their religious beliefs. What someone believes about God, human nature, the origin of the universe, the order of the universe, the source of moral law, the source of rights, why human beings can learn language or learn anything at all, whether there are spiritual forces at work in the world, what factors affect human behavior and decision making, and what factors affect group behavior and decision making, are all of great importance and are all tied to one’s religious faith and belief. If one claims they are not tied to one’s religious faith and belief, that says something very clearly about what that person actually thinks and actually believes. What some Mormons believe about foundational ideas, as individuals, may be laudable. But what the Mormon Church historically has believed is not always Biblical, praiseworthy, or sensible.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Gun Fairness

The argument over guns and gun control in the United States always flairs after a high profile shooting. This argument over whether it is safer to allow more guns or whether it is safer to allow fewer guns does not seem to have a resolution. Some people feel safer with less guns being sold and owned while other people feel safer having the right to own and use their guns for self defense.

Conflicting studies have shown both points of view to be true. Gun violence has gone down in some places when tighter restrictions on gun ownership were implemented and gun violence has gone down in other places when gun ownership restrictions were eased. Some of the most violent areas of the United States are the urban areas with the strongest gun control measures, yet rural areas where guns are part of the culture still have a share of gun crime.

Perhaps the argument needs to shift from which position creates the most safety to which position is the most fair. Is it fair to allow citizens to own guns that could be used in a gun crime? Is if fair to restrict citizens from owning guns that could be used for self defense?

We live in a country where freedom occasionally produces some very bad characters. We can and should sacrifice some privacy in order to stop some of the bad guys before they commit gun crimes. However, we won’t have fairness and we will eventually lose most of our freedom if we aren’t allowed to protect ourselves from the bad guys with our own guns. The ability to protect ourselves from crime is the only fair solution to the gun problem.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Attributes of a Serious Church: Respectful

“Respectful” makes the list of attributes of a serious Church.

Respectful: Do the leaders of a Church make unnecessary demands on the members of a Church? Do the members make unnecessary demands on their leaders? Are visitors treated as honored guests or are visitors treated as sales prospects? Are those who disagree with the Church leaders given a fair hearing or are dissenters automatically condemned? Are non-believers treated as lost souls or are non-believers treated as less intelligent than believers? Does a Church treat those in and out of the Church with dignity?

Marriage counselors claim the first crack in a marriage is when the couple quits treating each other with respect. Most humans start every relationship with respect for each other; even more so for relationships that could lead to a marriage. Over time though, the closer we become to someone, the greater is our tendency to become more selfish and less respectful of the other person. We let our guard down and become who we really are where our primary concern is our own wants and needs. Long term relationships require a commitment to maintaining long term respect. Perhaps this is why so many marriages fail and so many friendships wither.

Relationships within a Church are no different. New Pastors and new members get treated with lots of fanfare, but over time, the daily grind usually takes its toll as individual wants and needs start to surface and become a priority. Sometimes Pastors end up making demands on members as if the members were employees who couldn’t survive without their next paycheck. Sometimes members end up treating Pastors like employees who should feel lucky just to have a job.

Serious Churches do not treat their Pastors as employees. The role of a Pastor is a calling to a particular place at a particular time. The responsibility of the Pastor is to minister to the Church and the Churches community. The responsibility of the Church is to take care of the Pastors and their families in a way that will allow the Pastors to accomplish their ministry. Serious Pastors do not treat the members of a Church as employees either. Volunteers in ministry are not pawns that need playing. Volunteers are the soul of a Church; they should be honored, not taken advantage of.

Belief in Christ can be supported with some very solid evidence, but belief in Christ is not solely a function of brain cells. Smart people can sometimes come to wrong conclusions. Mentally handicapped people can sometimes come to correct conclusions. There are plenty of very bright people throughout the world who do not believe in God or Christ the Savior. Many believers are under the illusion that spreading the Gospel is just a matter of educating the poor souls who have never been taught the truth. However, the minute we assume a superior to inferior relationship with non-believers, we usually eliminate the chance that they will hear what we have to say because we come across as disrespectful to their intelligence.

Serious leaders of serious Churches do not consider non-believers to be foolish. Serious leaders respect the intelligence of non-believers. Churches with leaders who use multi-level marketing techniques instead of Biblical evangelism are not serious.

Churches, like all organizations, have a tendency to become inbred over time. People tend to associate with like minds and leaders tend to identify others for leadership who agree with their point of view. Inbreeding can be an asset in maintaining high standards, but inbreeding can also be a detriment to making necessary changes. There are enough stories in the Bible of individuals stepping away from the crowd in obedience to God to remind Church leaders of the importance of contrarian views. Serious leaders of serious Churches encourage and respect dissent as much as they encourage and respect conformity.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Attributes of a Serious Church: Humility

“Humility” makes it onto my list of the attributes of a serious Church.

Humility: Does a Church know what it doesn’t know? Is a Church careful to differentiate between opinions and facts or does a Church present opinions as facts? Can a Church demonstrate the claims it is making with solid evidence or does a Church consider evidence and proof unnecessary?

I love hearing personal testimonies just as much as I love a solid Bible teacher. The lives of believers can illustrate many of the principles contained in the Bible. All believers have a story to tell about the interaction we have with our living Savior. In our stories, we have a tendency to give God credit for the good that enters into our lives. God is good; he does control the universe; he does deserve the credit. However, knowing that God is good is not the same as knowing that God wants everything we want.

The Gospel is not a method for getting what we want. Last week I heard Joyce Meyers, number seven on the Church Report list of the fifty most influential evangelical leaders, say she knows God exists because of everything HE has done in her life. Using her own logic, she would also have to know that God does not exist if she was murdered in a concentration camp because of everything HE did not do in her life.

Joyce Meyers’ egotistical lack of humility completely misrepresented the Gospel. I’m sure there are people who believe in God because they want to be like Joyce Meyers or other well known and successful evangelical leaders, but the God who makes people healthy, wealthy, and happy is not the God of the Bible. People in the Bible tremble in humility before an all powerful God. They do not pray as though they were rubbing a Jeannie in a bottle.

My wife thinks that I think I am always right. I know I have many doubts and uncertainties, but I choose not to talk about my doubts because resolving my doubts are part of my thought process before topics leave my mouth or keyboard. My self censor method still does not make me always right. I can be almost certain all of my individual opinions are right and still know that at some point some of my opinions will prove to be wrong. After all, I am only human and this is a site for my opinions.

Churches are led and comprised of humans as well. There is not a single human who will be right all of the time, but the credibility of humans and their institutions is based on being right most of the time. Serious leaders of serious Churches are obsessed with maintaining the highest standard of credibility. Serious Churches do not mix the timeless truths of the Gospel with evolving personal opinions.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Attributes of a Serious Church: Integrity

Today, “Integrity” gets added to my list of the attributes of a serious Church.

Integrity: Is truth the highest value? Are the orthodox essentials emphasized more than the less important beliefs or are all beliefs considered equal? Is the Pastor clear about the difference between provable facts and arguable opinions? Does a Church practice what the Pastor preaches?

Several years ago Greg Koukl wrote a piece about the six essentials of Christian faith. The whole piece is worth reading, but here is the summary:
The six essential doctrines would be: the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Christ, the bodily resurrection, man's fallenness and guilt, salvation by grace through faith by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, and belief that Jesus is the Messiah. And you have a seventh doctrine that strikes me as a functional necessity, that is the ultimate authority of Scripture without which none of the other truths can be affirmed or asserted with confidence.

Christianity has become the ultimate cafeteria religion with each individual believer picking and choosing what to believe and what to ignore. In some ways this is good. God did not create any of us to be robots or carbon copies of other believers. Through our physical, mental, and emotional differences and gifts, we become the earthly representatives of Christ as the body of Christ.

However, in other ways, Cafeteria Christianity has neutered the transforming power of the Gospel when there is no clear distinction between essential beliefs and non-essential beliefs. Churches really start to develop problems when personal opinions get raised to the level of essential beliefs. My passion and your passion can be completely different and together we can form the body of Christ if and only if we have the essential beliefs in common.

Obviously, the Gospel contains more than six or seven truths. Many Churches consider baptism by emersion an essential truth. I don’t see anything wrong with a few items being added to the list of essentials as long as a good argument can be made that the added item truly is an essential. Bible versions, dress codes, worship styles, as well as unique interpretations of Scripture are not essentials and should not be considered essential by a serious Church.

Most sermons and most discussions in Church involve non-essential beliefs. Our wisdom increases as we live and learn all of the truths of God contained in Scripture. However, there are many debatable interpretations of parts of Scripture. Pastors who give a fair representation to views other than their own are serious teachers. Pastors who can only present one point of view, which is their own, are not serious about teaching. I will have more to say about this in a later attribute.

A Church can only get where it is going if it knows where it is going and if it is committed to getting there. In most Churches, the Pastor is figuratively the leader of the band; the lighthouse illuminating a clear path; and the football referee resolving conflicts. There is absolutely no point in having a person spend hours and hours each week preparing and delivering a sermon if the sermon is not followed by actions on the part of the believers in the Church. Serious Churches have serious Pastors who deliver serious sermons for serious believers to follow and act. Churches that ignore the teaching of the Pastor are not serious.