Is the Church Supposed to be a Persecuted Minority?

Different Person

The idea of Jesus as a persecuted minority and therefore the founder of a persecuted minority group, i.e. the Church, has become common currency in theological circles. The basic idea has been around in different forms for a long time in ideas such as the remnant, some Reformation era Anabaptists, and die-hard dispensationalists. But recently minority groups have used this idea to put themselves in the same category as Christ and to defend their particular cause.  We are told that if we care about the Gospel and follow in Christ’s footsteps then we will have compassion on and help minorities. Therefore I found this section of Andrew Fulford’s book, Jesus and Pacifism, helpful.  He is talking about the command in Matthew 16:24 to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. First he says,

Dr. Yoder [a pacifist] argued that this command was essentially a command to be a faithful minority community under persecution. [Fulford footnotes Yoder’s The Original Revolution and The Politics of Jesus]

Yoder does not mean what many current social justice warriors mean. But his perspective fits in nicely with SJW thinking. Yoder views the command through a political lens. Taking up your cross means you are willing to be associated with those on the edges and fringes of society,  those currently defined as weak, maligned, and persecuted. Fulford goes on to explain the command differently using Jesus’ own words and the context. He then says this:

In sum, this command requires nothing more of us than the Greatest Commandment does. To be commanded to serve God with everything one has, means being willing to obey him even to  the point of death…And this was not merely a teaching on this part; Jesus practiced what he preached. The cross was of course the means by the Lord himself would choose to lay down his life in order to obey his Father…When the Lord commands us to not just to pick up a cross, but to follow him while doing so, we can see what he means. He calls us to make the exact same choice he did: to accept death from the hands of God if providence gives us no choice between it and sin. It means, in essence, to be willing to give up everything and to endure anything rather than disobey God. His command goes to the very heart of the problem with the human condition. From the first sin, human beings have been choosing sin for the sake of some lesser good rather than obedience to their Creator. Jesus calls us to finally do what we were made to do, serve God above all things.

Fulford then discusses II Corinthians 4:5-18 and Paul’s description of his own sufferings. Here is the concluding paragraph.

Paul’s reflections on these themes are profound, and warrant many books dedicated to them entirely. But the important point for our purposes here is to note: for the apostle joining in the sufferings of Christ was not simply about being a persecuted minority in society. It was about enduring the effects of the curse; it was about accepting death in all its forms (literal and figurative) from the hand of God, and living in a certain hope that one day we will be redeemed from it, just as Christ has been. Refusing to take up the cross is not essentially about the minority’s temptation to take political and social power; refusing the cross is essentially repeating the sin of the Garden. Rejecting one’s cross is an action rooted in distrust of God’s goodness, leading to an attempt to minimize our pain and maximize our happiness by making moral compromises and breaking God’s commands.

Taking up our cross is not about whatever particular social justice cause we are currently pushing. It is not about a refusal to take up positions of power, as Anabaptists often interpret it. It is not even about our daily struggles with life in general. It is about belief in God and obedience to his commands no matter the cost. Most days that will look normal. On a few days it will be extraordinary.

One might argue that this is just one passage. There are other passages that make it clear Christians should care about minorities. Certainly there are passages to debate and discuss, but in the end we would probably end up at the same place. Minority status, however that is defined, is not a virtue in the Christian faith. Trust in God and obedience is.

Nowhere to Hide

Question-Marks-1024x600.jpg

Earlier this month, Eugene Peterson, a former pastor and prominent Christian author, who has written numerous books including The Message, was asked about same-sex marriage in an interview. In that interview he said he would be fine with performing a same-sex marriage. When word got out there was an uproar. He quickly retracted the statement, but of the retraction one friend said:

Peterson’s retraction was not clear, Biblical, or faithful to Christ especially when there is so much confusion and false teaching on homosexuality. Al Mohler wrote a piece outlining the situation, but it is his final three points that I want to repost here. They are worth pondering as all of us will eventually be forced to answer the question, “What do you think about same sex marriage, homosexuality, and gender?”

Consider these lessons from Eugene Peterson’s ordeal.

First, there is nowhere to hide. Every pastor, every Christian leader, every author  — even every believer — will have to answer the question. The question cannot simply be about same-sex marriage. The question is about whether or not the believer is willing to declare and defend God’s revealed plan for human sexuality and gender as clearly revealed in the Bible.

Second, you had better have your answer ready. Evasive, wandering, and inconclusive answers will be seen for what they are. Those who have fled for security to the house of evasion must know that the structure has crumbled. It always does.

Third, if you will stand for the Bible’s clear teachings on sexuality and gender, you had better be ready to answer the same way over and over and over again. The question will come back again and again, in hopes that you have finally decided to “get on the right side of history.” Faithfulness requires consistency — that “long obedience in the same direction.”

That is what it means to be a disciple of Christ, as Eugene Peterson has now taught us—in more ways than one.

If someone asks what you believe about same-sex marriage, sodomy, and gender are you ready to give the Biblical answer? If they ask again will you give the same answer? If they ask during an interview that will be published will you give the same answer? If your boss asks during Gay Pride Month will you give the same answer? Or will you evade, wiggle around, refuse to be clear, put it off to another day,  or act embarrassed about the Scripture’s teaching?  If you don’t know what the Bible teaches, figure it out. If you know, but don’t have the backbone to say it out loud, then you better grow one. Because one day the mic will be in front of you.

Book Review: Adam & Eve After the Pill

Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual RevolutionAdam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution by Mary Eberstadt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent book that covers the consequences of the sexual revolution and in particular the connection to birth control and pornography. She explains how the sexual revolution has harmed women, men, and society as a whole. As another friend commented, her chapter on food and sex was an eye opening chapter. She writes about how we now treat food like we used to treat sex and sex how we used to treat food. She is surprisingly optimistic about the ability to combat the sexual revolution. She believes that as studies continue to accumulate the sexual revolution will start to die, though the consequences have been and will continue to be heartbreaking.

The chapter on pedophilia feels dated even though the book is only 5 years old. She notes that prior to the priest-pedophilia scandal, sex with children was gaining steam. The scandal slowed that train considerably. But now, here in 2017, the objections to sex with children continue to erode.

One does not need to condemn birth control in all circumstances to see that easy, cheap contraceptives have dramatically altered our sex lives, including most importantly our approach to marriage and children, and not for the better. Thus we have a culture where the basic building block of society, a biological man and woman married and having children, is not the norm. She noted the upsurge of Protestant evangelicals who are questioning the rampant use of birth control. Since 2012 I have noticed an increase in pastors and leaders having 5, 6, 7 children and in writing more on birth control. This is encouraging and I hope it continues.

All in all, a book I would recommend though those who are conversant with more recent literature will have heard much of this before.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Single, Gay, Christian

Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual IdentitySingle, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity by Gregory Coles

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This type of book is becoming more common: a professing Christian struggles with gay/homosexual desires, etc. He comes to realize after some study that gay sex is wrong (for them), but gay desires are not. They chose to remain celibate, but admit that others might disagree and pursue homosexual/lesbian relationships and even marriage in some cases.

Several things stuck out as I read.

First, gay, celibate Christians regularly discount the homosexual agenda in the world as not worth worrying about and even downplay same-sex relations in general. Reading them it is difficult to believe they take I Corinthians 6:9-11, the threat homosexuality presents to Biblical sexuality, or the threat it presents to society seriously. Preston Sprinkle tries in his book, but qualifies it to death so that it is hard to imagine he would ever say a gay (not-celibate) Christian is outside the Kingdom.

Second, they often create two ways when there are more than two. For example this author gives the illustration of two lesbians who love Jesus and get married and a straight Christian girl who struggles with fornication, as if these are the only two options. He says while his theology might line up with latter he believes the lesbians are actually loving Jesus better. He also brings up hetero porn as proof that heterosexual desires are twisted. But this is like saying drunkenness makes the desire for wine twisted. The idea that “we are all sinners” and therefore we needn’t be too hard on gay folks is an underlying assumption

Third, I know this is not intentional, but these guys come off condescending. Sprinkle’s book gave me the same vibe. For example the author basically says that gay Christians have to struggle while hetero Christians can get married, “join a country club,” go to a church that welcomes them, and live a comfortable middle-class life. Really? All of us hetero Christians are just out here living the dream? There is a subtle sense you get reading these guys that they have unique insight into following Christ that us “normal” Christians don’t and that their path is more difficult than the path others have to take.

Fourth, they live in the land of “unanswered questions,” “we can’t really know,” and “there are no easy answers.” It is all so vague. For some reason Christians for 2,000 years knew exactly what the Bible taught, but now we don’t anymore. It hard to see this as anything other than a capitulation to post-modern thinking.

Fifth, another assumption in these books is that gay desires are not sinful. This is at the center of the whole debate and I don’t have time to go into it now. But the idea that gay desires are neutral while gay lust and gay sex is sinful must be challenged.

Finally, the story is really what matters. There is little discussion of what the Bible, natural law, or the Church teaches. Instead the focus is on his journey, how he felt, who helped him, who didn’t, and what God said to him when he prayed. In other words, it is highly subjective. He says at one point, “If you really love someone you would find a way of expressing that love that they would recognize as love.” In other words, “I must feel loved in order for it to be love.” An action is not either loving or unloving. It loving or unloving based on how I feel about it. Autobiography of course is not inherently bad. But when it is used to shape truth and emotional stories are used to tip you one direction or the other without reference to Truth then it becomes deadly. Of course, it is hard to fault Coles for this. Christians have been doing this for quite some time.

I am sure this review makes me sound mean and cruel. However, I have sympathy for his struggle. It is the struggle we all have against indwelling sin and God not answering all our prayers. But that is nothing special to those who struggle with gay desires. It is what all faithful Christians should be doing.

I got this book free from Netgalley for an honest review.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Jesus and Pacifism

Jesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical InvestigationJesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical Investigation by Andrew a Fulford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I rate a book based on its stated aim. I do not expect a book of 100 pages to accomplish what a book of 500 pages will. If the book is about Calvin, I do not critique it for failing to adequately discuss Luther or the Westminster Assembly. Fulford’s brief, but clear and precise critique of pacifism is excellent and accomplishes perfectly its stated aim. Three things stick out.

First, the initial chapter is a brief lesson on hermeneutics or how to read the Bible charitably. So many authors refuse to look at the Biblical, historical, and social context thus they end up reading Paul, Moses, and Jesus in ways that are directly at odds with how their contemporaries would have read them. Fulford begins by laying out the context in which Jesus spoke. Once this is done pacifistic readings of the Sermon on the Mount become less plausible.

Second, Fulford lists the six key arguments pacifists use and refers to these throughout the book. This is helpful in keeping up with the various arguments as well as his own refutation of them.

Third, he does a good job with his analogies between war, police work, excommunication, and even parenting. In other words, coercive force of various kinds is necessary and commanded by God in a world of sin. Once this premise is granted pacifism becomes untenable.

For a book of so few pages it does the job. The foundations on which pacifism are built slowly erode through careful exegesis and logical thought. I would highly recommend the book for those who are looking for a short introduction to the subject. He said he is writing a full length treatment. I am looking forward to that.

View all my reviews

Too Many Christian Misfires

One final set of quotes from David Wells’ book The Courage to Be Protestant before I put it back on the shelf. In this section of the book he is discussing the lack of discipleship in the church. He uses the parable of the seed and sower in Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23 to illustrate his point. Here is Matthew 13:18-23 for reference.

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

He notes that the different categories of “Christians” are always represented in the church, but in 21st century America

The first two [actually categories 2& 3]-the stone in the heart and the weeds that choke the seed-are so abundant and so disproportionately represented. They are the exemplars of “Christianity Lite” that so many evangelical churches are propagating. What catches our attention-and our breath-are the vast numbers of Christian misfires Almost half of America is claiming to be born again, but fewer than one in ten has even the foggiest notion of what it means to be a disciple of Christ in biblical terms.

Wells goes on to blame two things: the love of affluence and comfort and the business model that pervades evangelical Christianity. Here are two quotes that address both of these.

In the West we have not the slightest inkling that, in reveling in affluence as we do, we are playing with fire. This affluence so easily becomes an alternative Way, Truth, and Life, a counterfeit gospel in which to have is to be saved and to have not is to be damned. Unfortunately, la dolce vita, is not itself satisfying, not in an enduring way. It tends to make us shallow, self-absorbed people who give ourselves to chasing what is superficial by way of styles, fads, and what is pleasurable provided there are no demands for commitments. The styles quickly become obsolete, the fads are forgotten, and the pleasures fad like the morning mist so that this kind of life constantly has to be reinventing itself. Those who fashion their lives around these things die of emptiness. The pains that linger in the soul like  a bad headache stay for a long, long time.

Later:

The church has been like a shortsighted business CEO who goes for quick profit and puts off the long-term considerations of these business decisions.So it is in American evangelicalism today. Far too many leaders and churches are out for the quick kill, the instant success, the enviable limelight, the flattering numbers, the bulging auditoria,  the numbers to be boasted about-“my church went from ten to ten thousand once I arrived!”-the filled parking lots, the success story all dolled up for the pages of Christianity Today or Leadership. All of this is about the short-term interest  of the pastor(s), not the long-term health of the church. In Christianity, cut rate products bring a cut-rate future.

Our failure to disciple, love of numbers, love for affluence, adaptation of the business model of church, and general worldliness have left us impoverished and unable to pass on the faith in any substantial way to those sitting in the pews.