The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: November 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Grace-Rich Thanks

By its completion in 1980, the Crystal Cathedral cost $18 million. Ten thousand glass panels “opened to the sky and the world” as televangelist Robert Schuller wanted.  Opulent  Lavish.

Image result for crystal cathedral

The Corinthians couldn’t have imagined such a building, Yet, they “have been enriched in every way” (1 Corinthians 1:5).  For this, Paul tells them how he thanks God.

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:4, NIV).

 In this thanksgiving paragraph, Paul accomplishes two goals.  One, he tells the church how he gives thanks to God for them.  He wants them to know, despite their problems, that he’s genuinely thankful for God’s grace among them.  And, two, he redirects the Corinthians’ focus from their giftedness to the Giver, and from the present to the future.

He gives thanks to God, he explains, because God has lavished his grace on them in Christ Jesus.  He has acted in great mercy to redeem these undeserving, guilty sinners.

By “grace” (Greek charis) Paul often means God’s free justification through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24)—what we often call “saving grace.”  But here he means more–spiritual gifts (charisma) God has given.  This is obvious from his following comments:  “For in him you have been enriched in every way . . . Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift (charisma) . . . “ (1:5,7).  The reason Paul thanks God for them, then, is the charis he has given them in Christ Jesus, specifically in the charisma. 

For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge (1:5, NIV).

God’s grace in Christ, says Paul, has made the Corinthians rich “in all your speaking and in all your knowledge.”  “Speaking” is the Greek logos ,“knowledge” the Greek gnosis.  Why does Paul thank God for these graces in particular?  Probably because these “graces” are the most evident among them.  (Their abuse of these graces he will later reprove them for.)

What does Paul mean by “speaking and knowledge”?  Later, in chapters 12-14 he uses both words of spiritual gifts (charisma).  For example, in 12:8 he identifies “the message (logos) of knowledge” (gnosis).  Other gifts (such as wisdom, prophecy, the ability to distinguish between spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues) also involve speaking knowledge one has been given.  Such spiritual gifts are the specific “graces” God has given the Corinthians.

 . . . because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you (1 Corinthians 1:6, NIV).

Paul is especially thankful because these charismata are evidence that “our testimony about Christ was confirmed”. They are signs of the Corinthians’ genuine faith in the gospel.

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed (1 Corinthians 1:7, NIV).

With “you do not lack any spiritual gift”, Paul negatively repeats what he affirmed positively in 1:5, “For in him you have been enriched in every way . . . “

Here, though, he adds “as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed”.  Why add this?  Two reasons.  One, for Paul salvation began with Christ’s incarnation and will be consummated at his return.  Salvation, then, is eschatological.  Two, the Corinthians are behaving as if everything promised in Christ is theirs now.  Theologians call that “overrealized eschatology”.  This has led to “triumphalism” (the idea that they will be “winners” in every life-situation) and, unsurprisingly, to spiritual pride.  So Paul refocuses them on the coming revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ when salvation will be consummated and every promise fulfilled.

He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:8, NIV).

To continue refocusing them on the Lord, Paul assures them the Lord, not their “spirituality”, will cause them to be firm in the faith, so that on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ they will not fall under condemnation but be guiltless before God’s Law.

God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9, NIV).

With this statement, Paul summarizes everything expressed in this thanksgiving.  The Corinthians will be found blameless on the day of Christ because God is faithful.   God is faithful to save them by grace.  God is faithful to give them grace-gifts for serving him and each other.  God is faithful to keep them blameless in the judgment.  For all this grace, God has faithfully put them “in Christ”.

Including into “fellowship with his Son”. They are not only positionally “in Christ”, they are relationally “with” Christ.   Old believers spoke of this as “communion”—intimate sharing—with Jesus.

Give Thanks for “Grace-Rich”!

That’s my take-away from Paul’s thanksgiving prayer.  His prayer should move me to pray . . .

O God, I thank You because of the grace You’ve given in Christ Jesus to my family, to so many I was privileged to pastor over four decades, and to my blog-readers (over 3,000 subscribers, most of whom I don’t even know!).  I include myself with them when I thank You for enriching us in every way, so that we don’t lack any spiritual gift of Your grace as we wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.  I also thank You that we have his revelation to look forward to.  And I thank You that is not a day to dread—because You will keep us stumbling believers firm to the end, so that we’ll be without blame on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God, I am often ambivalent; but You are always faithful.  You must be true to Yourself and Your promises.  And I thank You, too, that by Your grace You have not only put us positionally in Christ, but You have called us relationally into fellowship with Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

In His name I pray.  And in His name I give You thanks.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hidden in the Hello

Who writes letters anymore?  Now we tweet or text.  Paul wrote letters in the old Greco-Roman form:  writer’s name, addressee’s identification, greeting.  This we typically skim.  But there’s a rich message hidden in the hello.

PAUL

“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes . . . ” (1 Corinthians 1:1)

In two earlier letters to the Thessalonians, Paul identified himself simply by name.  Here he identifies himself as Paul “called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus”.  Why? Were so many named “Paul” he wanted his readers to know which one?  The reason: even though Paul planted that church just a few years earlier, a faction now questioned his apostolic authority.

So he claims to have been “called”.  He didn’t choose to switch from Jewish rabbi to itinerant Christian preacher. As Abraham and Moses and David had been called, Paul claims he had been.

“ . . . by the will of God”.  The call came in history.  In a particular time and place.  The origin of the call came from outside history, outside time.  From eternity it was God’s sovereign will to call Paul. This is his claim.

“ . . . to be an apostle of Christ Jesus”.  “Apostle” has become a vague, almost “technical” title.  But its simple meaning packs a wallop. The Greek apostolos refers to one sent on a mission with full authority of the sender. Here Paul claims to have been called by God’s will to be sent on a mission to speak for Messiah Jesus with the full authority of Messiah Jesus.  He writes in 1:17, “For Christ did not send (apestellen) me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.”

This leads to the question, “Who has authority to speak to the church?”  Others possessed Paul’s authority, men like Apollos and Peter.  (Certain factions in the Corinthian church favored them.)  But there were also false apostles deceiving the church (2 Corinthians 11:1-15).

The question lingers today.  “Who has authority to speak to the church?”  Or, to ask it from the other side, “To whose voice should the church listen?”  The simple answer is, apostles.  Trouble is the original apostles are no longer with us.  But God has providentially preserved their words in the Scriptures.  So, as Paul will argue in this letter, it’s apostles who have authority to speak to the church.  It’s apostles to whom the church should listen.  Today, that means men who speak (and properly interpret and apply) the apostles’ words.

Furthermore (as Paul will later imply), authority to speak and attentive listening aren’t determined by the number of followers or the “charisma” or fame of the speaker.  It’s whether or not he speaks the apostles’ words.  He may have relatively few followers, little “charisma” and no fame.  No matter.  The question is, Does he speak the apostles’ words?  If so, we can be reasonably confident he has been called by the will of God to speak the message of Messiah Jesus.

Who’s “Sosthenes” and why does Paul mention him?   He may have been the ruler of Corinth synagogue, beaten by Paul-hating Jews (Acts 18:16).  If so, he’s become a believer and Paul’s co-worker.  I don’t know why Paul mentioned him, so we’ll move on to . . .

THE CHURCH

“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours . . . ” (1 Corinthians 1:2).

Many metaphors in Scripture define the church.  Here Paul uses several phrases . . .

“ . . . the church of God . . . “  Who owns the church?  To whom does the church belong?  God.  Not Paul, Peter, Apollos, not any faction within the church nor all the members together.  The church is God’s. 

 “ . . . those sanctified in Christ Jesus . . .  The Greek word is“hayagiosmenois”—“made holy, consecrated”.  Jesus uses it of a gift offered on the temple altar (Matthew 19:23).  And Paul uses it to describe the change Christ brought to them:  “ . . . neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will in inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:10,11).  In other words, in union with Christ Jesus they were set apart, consecrated to God for his use and his glory.  The church, however, is not only “those sanctified in Christ Jesus” but also they are . . .

“ . . . called to be saints . . . “In Christ the church is sanctified; in practice the church is called to be hagiois.  Because “saints” contains misleading connotations, “holy” is a clearer translation.  God has called us to be and to live as his holy people.  Given what these church members had been (see 1 Corinthians 6:10,11 above), this is no small change in identity and no minor adjustment in behavior!

“ . . .. together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours”.  Many Corinthians had become overly fascinated with the work of the Holy Spirit, which led them down an independent path.  Paul reminds them here that they are part of a larger picture, that specifically they are people of the new eschatological creation God is creating “in every place” who name Messiah Jesus as their Lord.

More than a theology lesson about a first-century church, this description paints our picture.  We who are “in Christ Jesus” joined to his church belong to God, are consecrated to God in Christ Jesus, are called to be and live set apart to God, and are part of the eschatological community God is creating throughout the whole earth who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 GREETINGS

In Greco-Roman letters the traditional greeting was “Greetings”, as used by the apostle James:  “James, a servant1 of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings” (James 1:1).  But Paul Christianizes it with”charis” (grace) and adds the traditional Jewish “shalom” (peace).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:3).

Instead of simply “Greetings”, the apostle greets the church with “Grace to you.”  Here is Paul’s theology in a word.  Nothing must be observed.  Nothing must be achieved.  “ . . . from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ grace to you, church.” 

 John Wesley wrote of that grace . . .

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love!  How can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me?

He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace.
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.

And “peace” sums up the church’s grace-benefits.  Greek eiraynay means “well-being, wholeness, welfare.”  First, this describes the church’s standing with “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Second, this describes the church’s condition because of grace from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  And, third, because it’s Paul’s greeting to the church, he gives it as a blessing/promise for continued grace and peace from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

* * *

 

A lot hidden in the hello, no?  What shall we do with what we’ve found?  Read and listen to the apostle’s words as words from God to us.  See ourselves for who we are in Christ.  Not just ordinary humans struggling to survive life, but God’s consecrated-to-him people called to be and behave holy with all his new, last-days people in Christ.  And praise him that today and tomorrow his grace is ours, so we are put at peace.

 

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Thank You, Turkey

Once I preached a Thanksgiving sermon entitled, “Thank Who?”  I thought it raised a serious question about people who didn’t believe in God.

Turned out I was wrong.  Increasingly, atheists, secularists, humanists, agnostics, and other types of “nones” are giving thanks.  American Humanist Association executive director Roy Speckhardt explains, “Thanksgiving is a uniquely secular holiday, as gratitude is a universal human emotion.  This special day of the year is a chance for humanists and other nontheists to express gratitude . . . ”

Austin Cline, agnosticism and atheism expert (what’s an expert on what isn’t?) argues somewhat cynically . . .

“There’s a popular belief among some American Christians that the American Thanksgiving holiday is necessarily religious.  Aside from the apparent desire to turn everything into an expression of their religion, the primary reason behind this seems to be that the whole point must be to give thanks to their god–not other gods, just theirs–thus making it a Christian holiday too.  If this is true, then it makes no sense for non-Christians, or at least non-theists, to celebrate Thanksgiving.

“It is undeniable that non-Christians and non-theists all over America participate in Thanksgiving observances.  This proves that the insistence on the religious or Christian nature of Thanksgiving is false.  It simply can’t be true, but this doesn’t tell us why it isn’t true.  For that, it must be shown that giving thanks to God is unnecessary or senseless, or that there are others to whom we can give thanks, or preferably all three.”

Speckhardt is right; gratitude is a universal human emotion.  Why?  Did we just happen to evolve that way?  Or did our Creator use the same mold for us all?

Cline’s argument that non-Christians and non-theists “all over America participate in Thanksgiving observances” proves that “the insistence of the Christian or religious nature of Thanksgiving is false” is nonsense.  Does the fact that theists observe Thanksgiving prove it’s a religious holiday?

My biggest disagreement with Cline, though, is his unconcern for truth.  It’s the “Christians’ god” and the atheists’ god.  Both are “true”.  “You create your reality and I’ll create mine.”  Bit delusional, no?  For the theist, there is a God; for the atheist there isn’t.  Alternate realities.  Yet even the atheist feels compelled to offer thanks.

But, if not to God, to whom?  Here are their suggestions . . .

  1.  People who help us live or live better.
  2. Farmers who provide food we eat.
  3. Soldiers and veterans who keep us safe.
  4. Doctors and medicine to fight disease.
  5. Engineers and modern technology that improve how we live.
  6. Friends and family who help support us.
  7. Truck drivers who deliver food.
  8. Turkeys who gave their lives for us to enjoy a feast.

Secularists even have Thanksgiving prayers . . .

For the food . . . for the sun and earth, farmers and cooks . . . We give thanks . . . For family and friends . . . For ____________ (this is the interactive part; the leader of the prayer names person to right, who says, “and for ________ naming person to the right, and so on, till back to leader; or the leader could just name everyone . . .  We give thanks . . . For the time to gather and the leisure to sit and the spirit to celebrate . . . We give thanks . . . We pause to remember those who cannot be with us today . . . And those who live more in famine than in feast . . . May our sense of good fortune overshadow our daily troubles . . . And yet cast light on the struggles of our neighbors . . . For life’s great bounty and the will to share it . . . We give thanks . . . And in gratitude we eat . . . Amen.

(Information above from the following web sites . . .

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/11/20/thanksgiving-is-a-uniquely-secular-holiday-atheists-have-a-message-about-how-non-prayers-can-replace-holiday-grace/

http://religionnews.com/2013/11/27/grateful-without-god-secular-thanksgiving/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/11/26/grace-for-an-atheist-thanksgiving/

http://www.eloquentatheist.com/2007/11/secular-thanksgiving/

Commendable.  Gratitude is far better than greed.  But, if the Bible is true, the thankful secularist is playing with fire . . .

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:18-23, ESV).

Non-theists have no excuse.  God says he’s clearly seen “in the things that have been made”.  So non-theists “know” God, but “did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.”  That refusal leads to mind and heart problems—futile thinking, darkened hearts, ignorance about their foolishness and idolatry.   Such is God’s wrath on those who will not acknowledge him.

We may shake our heads in scorn.  But we have to admit, “except for the grace of God”, there we go too.  So here’s a Thanksgiving prayer in addition to “thank you for the food” . . .

“Father, thank you for calling me to yourself through your Son.  I admit I honor you not because I’m wise or good.  Apart from your grace my thinking is futile, my heart darkened, my “wisdom” foolishness and my worship idolatry.  Only because of you I’m in Christ Jesus.  He alone is my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.  Thank you for opening my eyes to see you in creation, and to see you in Christ Jesus as my sacrifice on the cross.  Thank you that I have far more for which to give you thanks than a turkey” (from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

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Further Thanksgiving Thoughts

“Further” because I already shared some yesterday.  Surprisingly my old mind has a few more.

Memories.  Cheering our local high school football team.  Worshiping at the community
Thanksgiving services.  Eating feasts—one with Lois’ parents, one with mine.  So many blessings with our young family.  Wish I could go back.

I think today, too, of suffering people—parents grieving over a child lost to war or gun violence; the widow with the love-of-her-life’s chair empty; the father diagnosed with cancer afraid this may be his last Thanksgiving with his family.  Hospitals are filled today.  Today, on Thanksgiving, people will die.

Morose?  Guess I’m emotionally caught between the blessings of younger years and so much suffering I see.  Into that unsettling mix comes the apostle Paul’s admonition . . .

Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, GNT).

This is what God wants from us:  always joyful! at all times praying! in all circumstances thankful!  Whether stuffing down a Thanksgiving feast surrounded by our young family or chomping down a peanut butter sandwich alone and hurting.

God wants this from us, not to earn points, but because he’s made this possible for his honor and our joy.  “This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus.”  Our Holy Spirit-connection with Christ has not only given us reasons to “be thankful in all circumstances”, but power to “be thankful in all circumstances.”

Reasons?  Regardless of circumstances, we are God’s children in Christ Jesus.  He’s with us in Christ Jesus.  He’s coming for us in Christ Jesus.  We’ll live with him forever in a new creation in Christ Jesus.  I could go on . . .

Awareness of those reasons helps us be thankful in all circumstances.  “Count your many blessings; name them one by one” we used to sing.  Good advice.  There are times, though, when present pain smothers good reasons.  Reasons make it reasonable to give thanks in hard times.  But hurting can overpower logic.  It’s then we need power to give thanks.  And in union with Christ Jesus, we have it.

May I make a confession though?  Sometimes, for me at least, power isn’t there.  What then?  A suggestion:  since we know giving thanks is what God wants (for his honor and our good), but the circumstances strangle the thanksgiving in our throat, pray for the Spirit’s power!

“O God, I know you want me to be joyful today.  I know you want me to give thanks today even though my body aches and my mind is filled with doubts.  And I know I have good reasons (yes, plural) to do what you want.  But I can’t.  Not by myself.  So please, Holy Spirit, empower me.  Give me a ‘shot’ of joy.  Grant me a grateful heart that overflows with thanksgiving from my lips.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

What’s the “big deal” about “thank you, God”?  In his latest blog (http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/11/23/thanksgiving-theological-act-mean-give-thanks/), Dr. Albert Mohler, calls thanklessness “the primal sin” . . .

“After making clear that God has revealed himself to all humanity through the created order, Paul asserts that we are all without excuse when it comes to our responsibility to know and worship the Creator.  He wrote:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. . .  [Romans 1:20-22].

This remarkable passage has at its center an indictment of thanklessness. They did not honor Him as God or give thanks. Paul wants us to understand that the refusal to honor God and give thanks is a raw form of the primal sin. Theologians have long debated the foundational sin — and answers have ranged from lust to pride. Nevertheless, it would seem that being unthankful, refusing to recognize God as the source of all good things, is very close to the essence of the primal sin. What explains the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden? A lack of proper thankfulness was at the core of their sin. God gave them unspeakable riches and abundance, but forbade them the fruit of one tree. A proper thankfulness would have led our first parents to avoid that fruit at all costs, and to obey the Lord’s command. Taken further, this first sin was also a lack of thankfulness in that the decision to eat the forbidden fruit indicated a lack of thankfulness that took the form of an assertion that we creatures — not the Creator — know what is best for us and intend the best for us.

They did not honor Him as God or give thanks. Clearly, honoring God as God leads us naturally into thankfulness. To honor Him as God is to honor His limitless love, His benevolence and care, His provision and uncountable gifts. To fail in thankfulness is to fail to honor God — and this is the biblical description of fallen and sinful humanity. We are a thankless lot.

Sinners saved by the grace and mercy of God know a thankfulness that exceeds any merely human thankfulness. How do we express thankfulness for the provision the Father has made for us in Christ, the riches that are made ours in Him, and the unspeakable gift of the surpassing grace of God? As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift'” [2 Corinthians 9:15].

So there they are—“further thanksgiving thoughts”.  I’m done.  Thanksgiving Day is just about over.  All that’s left, then, is to give thanks . . .

 

 

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God in a Letter

The Bible isn’t a theology book. At least not a typical one.

Take Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, for example.  It’s divided into seven major doctrines:  The Doctrine of the Word, of God, of Man, of Christ and the Holy Spirit, of the Application of Redemption, of the Church and of the Future.  Each doctrine-part contains five to eleven chapters with detailed discussions around appropriate Scriptures.

Open the Bible to the “Contents” page and, instead of theological topics, we find “books”.  A “Study Bible” may group them by genre:   law, history, poetry, prophecy, gospel, letters, etc.  In vain we look for a chapter devoted to God’s grace or the work of the Holy Spirit.  Doctrinal teachings lie scattered throughout the pages in all sorts of settings—from the garden of Eden to Israel’s wilderness wanderings to the reigns of kings to prayers, wars and the new creation.

God revealed himself not in sacred lecture, but in words spoken and works done in “ordinary” human life.  True, he ordained law on the summit of the fearful “mountain of God”.  And, yes, he gave the Book of Revelation in a bizarre vision to the apostle John.  But the majority of his Old Testament revelation came in words and works among the nation of Israel.  He supremely revealed himself in the person of his Son who “became a human being and lived among us” (John 1:14).  And the majority of God’s New Testament revelation came in letters.

Which brings us to 1 Corinthians.

Traveling through Acts, we last left Paul in Ephesus.  While there (53-55 A.D.), he was prompted to write to the Corinthian church he’d left in 51 or 52 A.D.  That letter is lost to us.  We know of it because Paul’s referred to it in 1 Corinthians 5:9—” I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people . . . ”  (For more information about Corinth, see  http://theoldpreacher.com/welcome-to-corinth/.)

Some time later, three men arrived in Ephesus with a letter from the Corinthians (“I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus . . . “—1 Corinthians 16:17). Dr. Gordon Fee comments:  “Given the combative nature of so much of [Paul’s response to that letter in 1 Corinthians] it seems highly likely that in their letter they [took] considerable exception to several of his positions/prohibitions [in the “lost” letter]” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 7).

Not sitting on the edge of your seat wondering what happens next?  Why am I risking yawns with this nail-biting information?  To point out the remarkable way God revealed himself.  In a letter about church conflict, sexual immorality, marriage, idolatry, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts and resurrection!  With no thunder and lightning, no earth quaking, no roped-off mountain.  (Like the Law-giving revelation at Mount Sinai.)  Just a letter.  A letter to resolve problems.

And, let’s not sugar-coat it: this was a church with problems.  In his little book, The Corinthian Correspondence, Russell P. Spittler, asks us to . . .

“Imagine a church like this one:

Members sue each other before civil courts.  Others habitually attend social banquets honoring strange gods, mere idols.  One brother lives in open immorality—and the church tolerates it.  Others think it would be better for Christian couples to separate so they could be more ‘holy’.

Their worship services are shocking, anything but edifying.  Speakers in tongues know no restraints.  People come drunk to the Lord’s Supper, where they shy off into exclusive groups—each bragging about its favorite preacher.  Visitors get the impression they are mad.  Some doubt the Resurrection.  And many have reneged on their financial pledges.”

Why so many problems?  A brief look at Corinth city history will provide one answer . . .

When it was a Greek city-state, Corinth had been destroyed by Rome (146 B.C.)  In 44 B.C. Julius Caesar refounded it as a Roman colony and populated it with freedmen. (Freedmen were slaves who’d found a legal way to be liberated.)  Regarding populating Corinth with freedmen, Fee observes:  “a convenient way for Rome to rid itself of trouble” (p. 2).  (Freedmen often fueled moral corruption.  In fact, Rome freed so many slaves some claim it led to Rome’s downfall.)

Corinth’s location was ideal for commerce.  Fee:  “Since money attracts people like dead meat attracts flies, prosperity returned to the city almost immediately.  Corinth quickly experienced a great influx of people from both West and East, along with all the gains and ills of such growth . . . vice and religion flourished side by side . . . Sexual sin [was] of the same kind that one would expect in any seaport where money flowed freely and women and men were available . . . All the evidence together suggests that Paul’s Corinth was at once the New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas of the ancient world” (p. 2,3).

Not surprisingly, then, the Corinthian church endured more than its share of troubles.  What is surprising is the Holy Spirit directing Paul to preach the gospel in such a sin-hardened city.  (We usually plant a church in a comfortable, growing, middle-class suburb.)  And it’s remarkable that God chose to reveal himself in a letter written to the saved-from-sin of that city.

Why in an ordinary letter?  The answer, I think, lies here . . .

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,  so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

The people God chose to save in Corinth couldn’t boast they were picked for their wisdom or power or noble birth.  The glory of salvation belonged to God alone.

In the same way, God chose to reveal himself through an ordinary (though Spirit-inspired) letter.   God humbles himself to make himself known to us through ways open to the lowest–and the most ordinary–of us.

Here on my desk lies my Bible, looking like any other book.  Yet God has chosen to reveal himself through it.  An ordinary means to an ordinary person.  God is in those pages.  Just as God was (and is) in the letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

And here is part of God’s message . . .

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

He is God in an “ordinary” letter with extraordinary good news to ordinary sinners like us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Psalm 2 Reflections: Why Do the Nations Rebel?

This psalm shocks.  Not if we skim it, but if we ponder it. .

First, the psalmist claims the world’s nations are rebelling against the Lord’s chosen ruler.

Why do the nations plan rebellion? Why do people make their useless plots? Their kings revolt, their rulers plot together against the Lord and against the king he chose. “Let us free ourselves from their rule,” they say; “let us throw off their control” (Psalm 2:1-3, GNT). 

Paranoid psalmist seeing Israel’s enemies revolting against God’s chosen king?  We might presume so, except that author Luke cites the plot to crucify Jesus as the fulfillment of this psalm.  In other words, it’s ultimately about the world’s rebellion against the Lord Jesus . . .

As soon as Peter and John were set free, they returned to their group and told them what the chief priests and the elders had said.  When the believers heard it, they all joined together in prayer to God: “Master and Creator of heaven, earth, and sea, and all that is in them!  By means of the Holy Spirit you spoke through our ancestor David, your servant, when he said, ‘Why were the Gentiles furious; why did people make their useless plots?  The kings of the earth prepared themselves, and the rulers met together against the Lord and his Messiah.’  For indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together in this city with the Gentiles and the people of Israel against Jesus, your holy Servant, whom you made Messiah. They gathered to do everything that you by your power and will had already decided would happen” (Acts 4:23-28, GNT).

Represented by Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and Israel’s people, the nations gather in rebellion against the Lord and his chosen ruler.  God has come in human flesh and blood and the nations reject and execute him.  Furthermore, the powers that be forbid his followers to even speak in his name.

Second, the psalmist declares rebellion is futile.  So much so that the Lord mocks their feeble schemes.  Hard to imagine the Lord mocking anyone, isn’t it!  No tougher a stretch for some, though, to imagine God angrily terrifying anybody with his fury . . .

“From his throne in heaven the Lord laughs and mocks their feeble plans. Then he warns them in anger and terrifies them with his fury.  ‘On Zion, my sacred hill,’ he says, ‘I have installed my king'”(Psalm 2:4-6, GNT).

The nations’ plots are “useless”.  Their plans are “feeble”.  Set aside for a moment that these plots and plans are against the Lord and his chosen ruler.  See them simply as the plans for world leaders to govern.  All government isn’t bad.  In fact, the apostle Paul urges Christians to obey the state authorities because God established them (Romans 13:1).  But look at world conditions.  Threatened by nuclear powers.  Refugees fleeing the burning Middle East.  Terrorists killing innocents and hacking into critical computers.  Corruption common wherever you look.  Governments holding it all together with duct tape.  Ordinary people cry out for “good” government.  Might the world’s be “bad” because they’ve “killed” the Lord’s chosen leader?

Third, the psalmist  warns earth’s rulers to bow down and serve the Lord or else his anger will flare and kill them . . .

“‘I will announce,’ says the king, ‘what the Lord has declared.’ He said to me: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.  Ask, and I will give you all the nations; the whole earth will be yours.  You will break them with an iron rod; you will shatter them in pieces like a clay pot.’ Now listen to this warning, you kings; learn this lesson, you rulers of the world: Serve the Lord with fear; tremble and bow down to him; or else his anger will be quickly aroused, and you will suddenly die. Happy are all who go to him for protection” (Psalm 2:7-12, GNT).

Jesus is the Lord’s son.  He’s the king who receives all the nations whose military force he shatters like a clay pot.  Therefore, the psalmist warns the nations’ “kings” to fearfully, humbly serve the Lord, lest his anger flare and kill them.

Sounds more like radical Islam than Judaism/Christianity, doesn’t it!  To a world that views God as overseer and therapeutic helper, this God’s a stranger.  A warrior.  A world government leader.  A potential killer.

Let’s make no mistake.  When Egypt and Babylon and Assyria marshaled armies against Old Testament Israel, they fought the Lord’s chosen ruler.  When Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and Israel sentenced Jesus to death, they rebelled against the king the Lord had chosen to one day rule the world.

In Psalm 2 the psalmist doesn’t pray about personal salvation; he prays about world politics.  And he warns the world’s rulers now to serve the Lord.  For the whole earth will be his.

“Lord Jesus, your Father will give you all the nations.  The whole earth will be yours.  You will shatter their rebellion like a clay pot.  Herein lies the ultimate failure of human government.  Not faulty policies, but misplaced faith–faith in false religions, faith in godless worldviews, faith in economic programs and military might.

“Lord, mercifully gather world leaders to the foot of your cross.  Bring them to saving faith and then to righteous rule.  And may that repentance begin with ordinary people like us.  May we serve you.  With reverence.  May we bow down to you.  And show by our lives that our citizenship is in heaven, that we belong to the kingdom not of this world.  May we go to you for protection we need.  And find our joy in living under your rule.”

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The End of White Christian America (Finale)

What can we take away from our brief overview of The End of White Christian America?

A Changing America.

For me, the biggest take-away is this:  we live in a changing country.  Here, from the book’s dust cover, let’s read again the change author Robert P. Jones writes about.

“For most of the country’s history, White Christian America—the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals.  But in recent decades new immigration patterns, changing birth rates, and religious disaffiliation have transformed the United States.  The year 1993 was the last in which white Protestants constituted a majority of the population.  Today, even when Catholics are included, white Christians make up less than half of the country.”

White Protestant Christians have pretty much from the beginning “set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals.”  Now the U.S. has been transformed by immigration, lowered white birth rates and the exodus of young adults from the church.  For the last thirteen years white Christians have been less than half of our population.  Projections promise more of the same tomorrow.

” . . . Jones shows how today’s most heated controversies—the strident rise of a white politics of nostalgia following the election of the nation’s first black president; the apocalyptic tone of arguments over same-sex marriage and religious liberty; the stark disagreements between white and black Americans over the fairness of the justice system—can be fully understood only in the context of the anxieties that white Christians feel as the racial, religious, and cultural landscape has changed around them.”

Jones implies that we “white Christians” are huddling  together, trembling as we watch our familiar world crumble around us, leaving  ever-shrinking, safe ground on which to stand.  We may not understand these changes.  We may wish for the Sheriff Andy in Mayberry days.  We may be unsure of our next step.  But we’re not biting our nails afraid of apocalyptic disasters.  Though we are anxious about America’s future . . .

Today, although they still retain considerable power in the South and within the Republican Party, white Christians lack their former political and social clout . . . ”

Hear the sigh of relief from many of us after Trump’s election victory?  Maybe God gave us a reprieve!  Perhaps Ozzie and Harriet live for a little while yet!  The fact that many don’t know who Ozzie and Harriet were shows how far we’ve come.  A reprieve–maybe.  But “white Christians lack their former political and social clout.”  And, if projections are correct (polls couldn’t be wrong, right?), there’s no going back.  The tide of transformation is relentless.

Misplaced Reliance on Government.

Majority or minority, we’re right to use our religious freedom for life and against abortion, for the sanctity of man-woman marriage and against same-sex marriage, for Christians to practice the faith in the market place and against the progressive view that sexual “freedom” trumps religious freedom.  But we can’t rely on the government to be salt and light. 

Who knows what a Trump presidency will bring?  We can hope for conservative constitutionalist nominations to the Supreme Court.  For an improved economy that will lift people out of poverty and even quench fiery race relations.  For a world somewhat safer from terrorism.  But faith in human government (even headed by not-a-politician) will be misplaced and futile.

Rather than breathing that relief-sigh, expecting that a new political administration will “make America great again”, The End of White Christian America should not only inform us of being a country in flux.  It should also move us (however many of us there are!) to live radically as devoted followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A Colony of Heaven.

Stanley Hauerwas, is a United Methodist theologian and ethicist, currently the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC.  In The End of White Christian America, author Jones cites Hauerwas’ call for the church to be “‘a colony of heaven’ comprised of Christians who are ‘resident aliens’ in a strange land.”  Hauerwas (in his book, Resident Aliens:  Life in the Christian Colony) “emphasized Christianity’s function as an institution separate from politics and worldly affair, not an insider in the halls of power.

In Hauerwas’ vision, the demise of the ‘Christian century’ aspiration was actually an opportunity for a new, truer Christian faithfulness:  ‘The gradual decline of the notion that the church needs some sort of surrounding “Christian” culture to prop it up and molds its young is not a death to lament.  It is an opportunity to celebrate” (p. 213, 214).

Here are several additional quotes from Hauerwas’ book.  They form a fitting way for our “take-aways” from The End of White Christian America—a launching pad to thrust us into the new era of this country as the church of Jesus Christ.

“The loss of Christendom gives us a joyous opportunity to reclaim the freedom to proclaim the gospel in a way in which we cannot when the main social task of the church is to serve as one among many helpful props for the state.”

“We believe that many Christians do not fully appreciate the odd way in which the church, when it is most faithful, goes about its business. We want to claim the church’s “oddness” as essential to its faithfulness . . .

“The church is not to be judged by how useful we are as a ‘supportive institution’ and our clergy as members of a ‘helping profession’.  The church has its own reason for being, hid within its own mandate and not found in the world.  We are not chartered by the Emperor.”

“The cross is not a sign of the church’s quiet, suffering submission to the powers-that-be, but rather the church’s revolutionary participation in the victory of Christ over those powers. The cross is not a symbol for general human suffering and oppression. Rather, the cross is a sign of what happens when one takes God’s account of reality more seriously than Caesar’s. The cross stands as God’s (and our) eternal no to the powers of death, as well as God’s eternal yes to humanity, God’s remarkable determination not to leave us to our own devices.”

“We would like a church that again asserts that God, not nations, rules the world, that the boundaries of God’s kingdom transcend those of Caesar, and that the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price.”

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The End of White Christian America (Part Five)

“Why can’t White Christian America understand how African Americans feel about the black men who have died at the hands of white police officers?”  So wonders author Robert P. Jones (p. 155).

Racial Perception Gap.

Shortly after the Baltimore riots in April 2015 a Public Religion and Research Institute (PRRI) found that 74% of black Americans thought “the recent killings of African American men by police in Ferguson . . . New York City and Baltimore . . . were part of a broader pattern of how police treat African Americans” (p. 153).  Many white Americans see these killings as “isolated incidents”.

https://www.amazon.com/End-White-Christian-America/dp/1501122290/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1479382454&sr=1-1&keywords=the+end+of+white+christian+america

America’s Still-Segregated Modern Life.

Jones sees “America’s still-segregated modern life” marked by geographic segregation, an overwhelming majority of white Americans not having a close relationship with a non-white, and no institutions to resolve “systemic social segregation”.

For example, in 1911 Baltimore’s mayor signed an ordinance designed to “promote the general welfare of the city by assigning separate blocks for the city’s black and white residents”.   Such segregation spread and persisted over the years through housing codes and and property owners’ associations that blocked blacks from moving into white neighborhoods.  It’s resulted black Americans having only 72% of the well-being of white Americans—“as measured across . . . economic well-being, health, education, social judgment and civil engagement” (p. 157).

Second example.  A 2013 PRRI survey found that “on average, the core social networks of white Americans are . . . 91% white and only 1% black” (p. 161).

Third example.  Public schools are the primary institution to bridge this racial divide.  Yet “the average white student today attends a school that is 73% white” (p. 162).

What about the church?  Jones argues that, while a small number have successfully integrated, “the church is still the most segregated major institution in America”, as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. charged in 1963.

The Role of White Christian America.

Jones asserts, “No segment of White Christian America has been more complicit in the nation’s . . . racial history than white evangelical Protestants” (p. 167).  He indicts Southern Baptist churches as the guiltiest, but notes that recently SBC churches are leading the way regarding integration (p. 174).

Can the church “desegregate”?  To “reinforce the current racial isolation” would “ensure White Christian America’s declining relevance”, according to Jones.  Better, as some churches are doing (Middle Collegiate Church, New York City and Oakhurst Baptist, Atlanta), to “pioneer a new kind of Christian community that transcends the color line” (p. 179-188).

On her “Huffington Post” blog, Reverend Jacqui Lewis described a transcending-the-color-line service at Middle Church:  “A tall gorgeous Black gay man from our congregation led with One day, when the Glory comes, it will be ours, it will be ours, while his petite white husband played the Hammond organ.  The choir–directed by a Mexican American man, accompanied by a lesbian Black woman–filled with the voices of Chinese, Japanese, White, Black, Puerto Rican, married, and single folk who span generations rapped like Common–in unison!  They wept, they stomped their feet as though they were stomping out injustice.  Our congregation was on fire with deep feelings of both sorrow and hope.”

The church we planted in North Jersey in 1973 grew to be about 25% non-white.  Not by our planning.  It just happened.  We all treated non-whites the same as whites.  We aimed at loving each other as Jesus loved us (John 13:34).  We realized Christ’s cross made two (or more) races one . . .

“But now, in union with Christ Jesus you, who used to be far away, have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies.  He abolished the Jewish Law with its commandments and rules, in order to create out of the two races one new people in union with himself, in this way making peace. By his death on the cross Christ destroyed their enmity; by means of the cross he united both races into one body and brought them back to God” (Ephesians 2:13-16, GNT).
So we tasted the adventure of bridging the racial divide.  But we couldn’t foster unity at the expense of biblical morality.  Nor can we now.  The Bible condemns homosexual practice.
(Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God”–1 Corinthians 6:9,10, ESV).  Unity must be in Christ.  A practicing “gay man” and “his husband” and “a lesbian woman” cannot have unity in Christ.
I add a third reason:  the church has the Holy Spirit’s power to obediently live out the unity we have in Christ.  We have no excuse for racism.  For in the end Jesus will be praised for, by his blood, ransoming people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,”and making them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9,10, ESV).
Given the racial divide in America and the church’s lingering segregation, we can’t simply wait for more integrated churches to “just happen”.  Is it time to prayerfully consider merging-as-equals with a mostly-black church?  Might the Lord lead some of us in that direction?  I don’t know.  And since I’m retired due to disability, I don’t have to wrestle with that question!  But it may be time for us to take deliberate steps to live out the unity we have in Christ.

The subject demands far more thought than I can give to it here.  Suffice it to generally agree with Jones” conclusion . . .

 

“The road under White Christian America’s descendants’ feet must lead first through the uncharted terrain of remembering, repentance, and repair.  Given White Christian America’s long history of complicity in slavery, segregation, and racism, we are at the beginning, not the end, of the journey across the racial divide” (p. 195).
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The End of White Christian America (Part Four)

June 26, 2015.  The U.S. Supreme Court declared all bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.  It symbolized more than any other culture-change  White Christian America’s loss of power.

“Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy declared that  ‘the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex cannot be deprived of that right and that liberty.’  But marriage is nowhere to be found in the Constitution.  As the Chief Justice asserted in his dissent, the majority opinion did not really make any serious constitutional argument at all.  It was, as the Chief Justice insisted, an argument based in philosophy rather than in law . . .

“Justice Antonin Scalia offered a stinging rebuke to the majority. ‘This is a naked judicial claim to legislative–indeed super-legislative–power; a claim fundamentally at odds with our system of government,’ he stated. Justice Scalia then offered these stunning words of judgment: ‘A system of government that makes the people subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy'” (http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/06/27/everything-has-changed-and-nothing-has-changed-the-supreme-court-and-same-sex-marriage/).

Discrimination.

Pro-same-sex-marriage folks have charged “discrimination.”  Why should heterosexuals legally marry, but not homosexuals?  They believe homosexual practice (including same-sex marriage) is “morally right”.  Disallowed marriage is discrimination.

So was President Eisenhower’s executive order that anyone engaged in “sexual perversion” (homosexual practice) could not hold a job in the federal government.  Through the 1950s and 60s the FBI “hunted down” and fired thousands of gay and lesbian federal employees.

In  the 1970s “gay rights activists” began “an ambitious crusade:  passing laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment and housing” (The End of White Christian America”, p. 116).  They’ve succeeded.

Public Opinion.

Public opinion has changed remarkably.  In 1988 the “General Social Survey” found only 11% of Americans supported same-sex marriage.  By 2003 45% of young adults (ages 18-29) favored it, while only 13% of seniors (age 65+) did.  By 2014 only seven states had a majority of residents who opposed it.  And only four major religious groups (white evangelical Protestants–66%, Mormons–68%, Hispanic Protestants–58%, and African-American Protestants–54%) oppose it today.

Author Robert P. Jones predicts, “[even among these groups] generational differences make it clear that opposition to gay rights will ultimately lose its power as the culture war weapon of choice” (p. 129).  Why?  Because younger Americans “abandon traditional religious institutions” that mark homosexual practice as “sinful, immoral or perverse” (p. 131).  The public increasingly supports same-sex marriage.

Reevaluate?

Jones opines:  “The generational divides over LGBT  rights are momentous for the evangelical branch of White Christian America and for conservative religious groups generally . . . Conservative religious groups’ very future hinges on how willing they are to navigate from the margins toward the new mainstream . . . Refusing to reevaluate . . . may relegate conservative religious groups to cultural irrelevancy and continued decline, as more and more young people leave church behind” (p. 133).

Can we–should we–“reevaluate”?

Russel Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in 2013 said, “The Sexual Revolution isn’t content to move forward into bedrooms and dinner tables.  The Sexual Revolution wants to silence dissent.  The religious liberty concerns we are grappling with already will only accelerate . . . If we have to choose between Jesus and Millennials (who favor same-sex marriage), we choose Jesus” (p. 142).

Confession:  some Christians have treated same-sex marriage proponents unChristianly.  We must repent and reevaluate attitudes and actions.  We must learn to love the sinner.  We must be graced by God to “speak the truth in love.”

Homosexual practice is not an especially egregious sin.  It’s one among many.  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God”–1 Corinthians 6:9b,10, ESV).

But it is sin.  That we can’t reevaluate.  No matter public opinion.  No matter our minority status.

The Future.

The big burden of these end-of-white-Christian-America blogs is knowledge and preparation.  To know the cultural change in which we live.  And to prepare for living in it as Jesus-followers.

In a later book (Onward:  Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel) Russell Moore writes:  “Above all we must prepare people for what the future holds, when Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality aren’t part of the cultural consensus but are seen to be strange and freakish and even subversive . . . for a world that views evangelical Protestants and traditional Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews and others as bigots or freaks” (quoted in The End of White Christian America, p. 143).

Are we ready for that?  Are our young adults?  Are our children and grandchildren?

Not Dead Yet.

This blog (link below) may soften my blog’s blow a bit.  Reading it is worth the risk.

http://religionnews.com/2016/11/14/the-last-hurrah-for-white-christian-america/

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Electoral What?

So what’s this “electoral college” thing?

I’m weary of election news, but here I am writing about it again.  This, though, is purely informational.  The two links below will help us understand the electoral college.  If it’s something that doesn’t interest you, trash it.  (This doesn’t count toward my blog-for-the-day.)

The first, by Hillsdale College President Larry Arn, is quite readable.  The second is more like a text book.  If you go for only one, I’d pick the first.  Hope the information helps.  No test.

 

http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-electoral-college-is-anything-but-outdated-1479168669?tesla=y

https://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/about.html

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