The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: The World (page 1 of 10)

Wedding Bells Are Not Ringing

I was surprised to read, “Religious congregations hosted (only) 22 per cent of weddings in 2017. . . ”  Then I read other interesting and concerning statements, so decided to send the whole blog by Jacob Lupfer.

 

(RNS) — As summer begins, another wedding season is upon us. The air is warm, the earth is lush and everything is as pretty as a June bride.

But for all our marriage cliches, one now belongs on the endangered species list: Wedding bells are not ringing.

We live atop shifting sands, at least as far as faith is concerned. Part of the change is that fewer Americans are Christians. Churches nowadays do not usually have bells, especially churches that meet in storefronts, rented school cafeterias or aluminum-sided monstrosities in far-flung suburbs. And the percentage of weddings that take place in churches has plummeted, dropping by almost half in less than a decade.

Reporting on a survey from a leading wedding website, the evangelical Facts & Trends discussed religion’s recession from the wedding landscape.

Religious congregations hosted 22 percent of weddings in 2017, down from 41 percent in 2009. Churches are losing ground to banquet halls, hotels, country clubs, wineries, rooftops and museums.

Clergy are solemnizing fewer and fewer marriages. Instead, couples are turning to civil magistrates or even loved ones who obtain credentials. In 2009, 29 percent of couples had a friend or family member solemnize their wedding. That number had increased to 43 percent by 2016.

What accounts for this dramatic change? Is anything lost? Does it even matter?

The main reason church weddings are dropping is that more people are raised without religion. This is something we can prove empirically: Though rates of belief remain persistently high, church membership, worship attendance and congregational participation are in decline.

Since the 1960s, social expectations concerning sex, cohabitation, childbearing and marriage have quietly undergone profound changes.

Religion is the great loser in that revolution, not only ceding its cultural influence, but also struggling to govern the lifestyle choices of its own adherents.

Clergy and churches, once gatekeepers to the social respectability that marriage afforded, are now often reduced to paid extras and photo ops.

Couples are increasingly choosing less traditional locations for wedding ceremonies. Photo by Ibrahim Asad from Pexels

It’s not just a decline in faith. With Americans more mobile, atomized and rootless than ever before, fewer have a connection to a religious congregation where they live or even “back home.” Thus, when rites of passage like marriage (or birth or death) come, we are less likely to turn to the church to help us mark them.

It would make sense that couples who lived together before marriage and/or have no intention of attending worship together thereafter are much likelier to skip the church wedding today than in previous generations.

In this way, it is perhaps a credit to young people’s integrity: At least they are not pretending to care about marriage as a sacrament or religious rite. Many just do not see marriage (or sex or childbearing) as bound up with religious faith anymore. We can debate whether that is god or bad, but it is undeniable.

This was certainly my own experience. My first marriage as a 21-year-old virgin was a traditional religious wedding, though held outdoors.

When I remarried following a divorce, my religiosity was at a low ebb. But having cohabited with my then-fiancee and having no intentions of being religious together, we were in no mood for pretending. We hired a notary public, had her say a prayer or two commensurate with my nominal religiosity and my unhealthy need for older folks’ approbation, and got married in a city park.

Lots of marriages today seem to lack a self-consciously divine character, and certainly not one mediated through the life of a religious congregation. They are not “Christian marriages” in any meaningful way.

So what, if anything, is lost?

I hesitate to admit it, as a person whose religious marriage ended in divorce, but both church and society are worse off as marriage has declined and shed its sacredness.

With no religious wedding, couples receive less marriage preparation. They have less access to marriage counseling from a clergyperson. They do not spend time thinking or praying about what’s distinctive about sacred marriage. They aren’t taught to embrace marriage as a vocation to a particular way of being in relationship as a symbol of Christ’s love for the world.

Marriage is a bedrock social institution. We all suffer if it is weakened. Civil marriage may have no sacred character, but strong, enduring unions are vital to our common life together. Sacred marriage builds social capital that benefits everyone.

Religion imbues marriage and families with value, commitments and permanence that neither law nor culture can confer. Society is impoverished when fewer couples enter marriage through this portal.

(Jacob Lupfer, a frequent commentator on religion and politics, is a writer and consultant in Baltimore. His website is www.jacoblupfer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jlupf. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

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How to Think Not

I don’t like being told how I should  think.  Yet that’s what Scripture does.  That’s what God does.  In today’s text (Ephesians 4:17-32), Paul does.  He tells us how to think and how not to think.  And gives us an implicit warning. It’s all part of walking worthy of our calling.

It’s vital to remember the call comes first . . .

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, . . . ” (Ephesians 1:18).

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received . . . ” (Ephesians 4:1).

We don’t merit God’s call in Christ by living worthy; we honor the call by living worthy.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (4:17-19).
The churches Paul addresses are made up largely of Gentiles.  Paul insists, as the Lord’s apostle, that they change their lifestyle.  Stop living “as the Gentiles do . . . ”
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).

They’re futile in thinking “being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God”.  Their understanding is “darkened” (Greek skotooo–used of the sun turning dark and of Gentiles’ inability to “see” truth. )  They’re excluded from God’s life.  Not physical life given in creation, but spiritual life given through Christ.

Paul gives two reasons for unbelieving Gentiles’ condition.  One, “because of the ignorance that is in them”. They’re ignorant, but can’t say, “We didn’t know.”  They’re liable for not knowing . . .

 “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” (Romans 1:19,20).

Two, their thinking is futile “because of the hardness of their heart”.   A hard heart is insensitive, obtuse, stubborn, resistant to the gospel.  The context implies they made themselves hard.  Every “no” to Jesus adds a layer of hardness.

Furthermore, they’ve become “callous”.  They lack moral sensitivity.  They can’t feel shame for their conduct. Their consciences have atrophied.

Moral callousness leads to “sensuality” and “impurity with greediness.” Aselgia and akatharsia are often found together in New Testament lists of vices.  They refer to debauchery, lewdness and unrestrained sexual immorality.  These vices, Paul charges, they pursue with greed.  The NIV captures the sense well:  “with a continual lust for more”.

As I see it, Paul’s concern for the church is two-fold.  First, that these Gentile believers not continue in their pre-faith sinful conduct.  Second, having surrendered to Christ, that they not be drawn into Gentile-unbeliever thinking.

* * *

Are unbelievers’  minds really morally empty?  Is their moral understanding as dark as a stormy night?  Are they really morally ignorant?  Do they have rock-hard hearts?  Are they immune to shame?  Do they really lust continually for more and more sensual and impure gratification?

Maybe Bill Cosby or Madonna.  But surely not most of our neighbors, even if unbelievers.  Paul’s diagnosis seems harsh.  Yet, this is God’s Word.

Echoes of a Judeo-Christian ethic still make our society less evil than Paul’s pagan one.  But those echoes are fading–most dangerously in worldview.

A worldview is a philosophical view of everything that exists and that matters to us.  A worldview defines our ethics and shapes our conduct.  The Christian worldview has dominated the West for centuries.  But recently it’s lost its dominance, and competing worldviews have become more prominent.  Here are a few . . .

    • Naturalism: there is no God; humans are just highly evolved animals; the universe is a closed physical system.
    • Postmodernism: there are no objective truths and moral standards; “reality” is ultimately a human social construction.
    • Pluralism: the different world religions represent equally valid perspectives on the ultimate reality; there are many valid paths to salvation.
    • Moralistic therapeutic deism: God just wants us to be happy and nice to other people; He intervenes in our affairs only when we call on Him to help us out.

How do each of these differ from a Christian worldview?  What kind of thinking and behaving do these worldviews promote?  Where are these worldviews increasing in our culture?

Are we prepared to let God’s Word tell us how to think?

 

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Alfie Evans

The case about which Dr. Albert Mohler (president Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) writes makes me angry (who does the government think they are to run roughshod over parents’ natural rights and let Alfie die “in his best interests”?) and frightened (how far will this kind of government travesty spread?) and sad (that Alfie, after surviving days without life-support, finally died.

Follow the link below for Mohler’s blog.

https://albertmohler.com/2018/04/27/life-balance-liverpool-alfie-evans-not-alone

Here are articles related to Alfie’s death.

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/live-alfie-evans-dead-tributes-12416526

 

 

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Today’s “Briefing”

I often listen to Dr. Albert Mohler’s “The Briefing”–a daily look at world events from a Christian worldview perspective.  Mohler first looks at Planned Parenthood.  It’s an organization I’ve come to despise because of its abortion and baby-part-selling industry–one we help support with our tax dollars!

By the way, the recent budget passed by both Repulican houses of Congress and approved by President Trump continues that massive support.

I suggest you listen to the first “look” and the other two as well.  Mohler, as usual, is insightful and clear about how our Christian worldview stands in stark opposition to non-Christian view.  This is almost a must for thinking believers in Christ.

https://albertmohler.com/2018/04/13/briefing-4-13-18/?mc_cid=e5e818b0cf&mc_eid=1095c65c2c

 

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Halloween 2

“The Bible tells us to shun the very appearance of evil.  So why should any Christian get involved in Halloween that glorifies witchcraft and death?”

I received that reply to my Halloween comments yesterday prefacing Dr. Al Mohler’s blog ( http://theoldpreacher.com/halloween/  ).

I understand this brother’s thoughts.  Indeed, he’s probably in the majority of those who think seriously about the holiday.  Many churches opt to host some kind of get-together for kids to keep them out of the “darkness”.  I respect their convictions, as I do those of this brother who replied to me.

I answered him, in part . . .

“I guess I just refuse to allow evil to take over what can be for my family and me an innocent enjoyment of our childhood. We do nothing that suggests participation in the works of darkness. In a way, we’re light.”

Maybe this debate isn’t worth another blog; but I want to expand my thinking . . .

First, I ask you to read this compelling article.  From it, I take this biblical truth:  the light overcomes the darkness.

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-waste-the-darkness

Second, I do see the darkness of Halloween, though I think many who dress up in “darkness costumes”, do it innocently, not intentionally participating in anything evil.  Even so, the darkness is real—and magnified by macabre costumes.

In the midst of it, down the street among all the other Halloweeners walks our gang.  (Age has now dwindled our numbers, though.)  We’re angels or soldiers or “good guy” characters.  We don’t fit into the darkness.  In fact, by our appearance and laughter, I hope we stand out as a bit of light.

In my mind, I envision other Christian families, similarly costumed, shedding more light in the darkness.  We can brighten the light by giving our neighbors gospel tracts or saying “God bless you” when we load up on their candy.  (This may be a bit much for kids!)

But, see what I see?  Little points of light shining in the darkness.  “Evil” costumes will always outnumber “good”.  Death and fright will always be “celebrated”.  But our presence can at least show there’s another way.  The True Light has come into the world!  Our little light may not overcome the Halloween darkness.  It may not convict darkness-doers.  But it will shine.  It will show there’s an alternative.

Do we only pray to protect our children from evil or also pray that they’ll be the light of the world (which presupposes being in a dark place)?  Like it or not, we are “the light of the world”.  Gotta let it shine (Matthew 5:14-16).  Gotta pierce the darkness for our Father’s glory

Obviously, this pertains to more than Halloween.  “ . . . let your light shine, so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  The world is dark.  Our good works shine like light.

Two postures prevent that.  One, we assume a defensive stand against the world.  It’s evil; we avoid it as much as possible.  The extreme of this is moving to the mountains, huddling up with other like-minded believers, and wait for Jesus to come.

Two, we take the world as it is without any moral judgments.  So, we go to church on Sunday, read our Bibles and pray, but we live no more holy than our upstanding neighbor.  The Sermon On the Mount captivates us, but doesn’t direct our behavior.

Obviously, avoiding the darkness has its place.  But so does shining like light in the darkness.  Each of us is responsible for deciding what when.

But I’m thinking our light will shine brighter if we’re out on the street on Halloween, rather than in our houses with lights off or in our churches with lights on all together out of the darkness.

 

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Halloween

I grew up “dressing up” for Halloween.  (I’m so old I  can’t remember even one costume.) We (my brother and I) knocked on doors so neighbors could fill our bags with candy.  When Lois and I married and had children, we continued the custom with them.  And, so far, they’ve continued with their children.  Innocent fun in non-evil costumes.

Then we began to  hear about the evil of the day.  Mohler examines Halloween’s dark roots below.  He notes that the world has secularized Christmas and Easter–and yet, from the Christian perspective, we celebrate them.  So why should we allow the world to steal the innocent fun of Halloween?  Knowing the world’s take on Halloween is important.  But I say, celebrate the night the right way.  And get as much candy as you can.  (I may dress up like an old curmudgeon in a wheelchair with a wig!)

Old man in wheelchair. Intentional motion blur


Christianity and the Dark Side — What About Halloween?

Over a hundred years ago, the great Dutch theologian Hermann Bavinck predicted that the 20th century would “witness a gigantic conflict of spirits.” His prediction…

Over a hundred years ago, the great Dutch theologian Hermann Bavinck predicted that the 20th century would “witness a gigantic conflict of spirits.” His prediction turned out to be an understatement, and this great conflict continues into the 21st century.

The issue of Halloween presses itself annually upon the Christian conscience. Acutely aware of dangers new and old, many Christian parents choose to withdraw their children from the holiday altogether. Others choose to follow a strategic battle plan for engagement with the holiday. Still others have gone further, seeking to convert Halloween into an evangelistic opportunity. Is Halloween really that significant?

Well, Halloween is a big deal in the marketplace. Halloween is surpassed only by Christmas in terms of economic activity. According to David J. Skal, “Precise figures are difficult to determine, but the annual economic impact of Halloween is now somewhere between 4 billion and 6 billion dollars depending on the number and kinds of industries one includes in the calculations.”

Furthermore, historian Nicholas Rogers claims that “Halloween is currently the second most important party night in North America. In terms of its retail potential, it is second only to Christmas. This commercialism fortifies its significance as a time of public license, a custom-designed opportunity to have a blast. Regardless of its spiritual complications, Halloween is big business.”

Rogers and Skal have each produced books dealing with the origin and significance of Halloween. Nicholas Rogers is author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. Professor of History at York University in Canada, Rogers has written a celebration of Halloween as a transgressive holiday that allows the bizarre and elements from the dark side to enter the mainstream. Skal, a specialist on the culture of Hollywood, has written Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween. Skal’s approach is more dispassionate and focused on entertainment, looking at the cultural impact of Halloween on the rise of horror movies and the nation’s fascination with violence.

The pagan roots of Halloween are well documented. The holiday is rooted in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which came at summer’s end. As Rogers explains, “Paired with the feast of Beltane, which celebrated the life-generating powers of the sun, Samhain beckoned to winter and the dark nights ahead.” Scholars dispute whether Samhain was celebrated as a festival of the dead, but the pagan roots of the festival are indisputable. Questions of human and animal sacrifices and various occultic sexual practices continue as issues of debate, but the reality of the celebration as an occultic festival focused on the changing of seasons undoubtedly involved practices pointing to winter as a season of death.

As Rogers comments: “In fact, the pagan origins of Halloween generally flow not from this sacrificial evidence, but from a different set of symbolic practices. These revolve around the notion of Samhain as a festival of the dead and as a time of supernatural intensity heralding the onset of winter.

How should Christians respond to this pagan background? Harold L. Myra of Christianity Today argues that these pagan roots were well known to Christians of the past. “More than a thousand years ago Christians confronted pagan rites appeasing the lord of death and evil spirits. Halloween’s unsavory beginnings preceded Christ’s birth when the druids, in what is now Britain and France, observed the end of summer with sacrifices to the gods. It was the beginning of the Celtic year and they believed Samhain, the lord of death, sent evil spirits abroad to attack humans, who could escape only by assuming disguises and looking like evil spirits themselves.”

Thus, the custom of wearing costumes, especially costumes imitating evil spirits, is rooted in the Celtic pagan culture. As Myra summarizes, “Most of our Halloween practices can be traced back to the old pagan rites and superstitions.”

The complications of Halloween go far beyond its pagan roots, however. In modern culture, Halloween has become not only a commercial holiday, but a season of cultural fascination with evil and the demonic. Even as the society has pressed the limits on issues such as sexuality, the culture’s confrontation with the “dark side” has also pushed far beyond boundaries honored in the past.

As David J. Skal makes clear, the modern concept of Halloween is inseparable from the portrayal of the holiday presented by Hollywood. As Skal comments, “The Halloween machine turns the world upside down. One’s identity can be discarded with impunity. Men dress as women, and vise versa. Authority can be mocked and circumvented, and, most important, graves open and the departed return.”

This is the kind of material that keeps Hollywood in business. “Few holidays have a cinematic potential that equals Halloween’s,” comments Skal. “Visually, the subject is unparalleled, if only considered in terms of costume design and art direction. Dramatically, Halloween’s ancient roots evoke dark and melodramatic themes, ripe for transformation into film’s language of shadow and light.”

But television’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (which debuted in 1966) has given way to Hollywood’s “Halloween” series and the rise of violent “slasher” films. Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff have been replaced by Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger.

This fascination with the occult comes as America has been sliding into post-Christian secularism. While the courts remove all theistic references from America’s public square, the void is being filled with a pervasive fascination with evil, paganism, and new forms of occultism.

In addition to all this, Halloween has become downright dangerous in many neighborhoods. Scares about razor blades hidden in apples and poisoned candy have spread across the nation in recurring cycles. For most parents, the greater fear is the encounter with occultic symbols and the society’s fascination with moral darkness.

For this reason, many families withdraw from the holiday completely. Their children do not go trick-or-treating, they wear no costumes, and attend no parties related to the holiday. Some churches have organized alternative festivals, capitalizing on the holiday opportunity, but turning the event away from pagan roots and the fascination with evil spirits. For others, the holiday presents no special challenges at all.

These Christians argue that the pagan roots of Halloween are no more significant than the pagan origins of Christmas and other church festivals. Without doubt, the church has progressively Christianized the calendar, seizing secular and pagan holidays as opportunities for Christian witness and celebration. Anderson M. Rearick, III argues that Christians should not surrender the holiday. As he relates, “I am reluctant to give up what was one of the highlights of my childhood calendar to the Great Imposter and Chief of Liars for no reason except that some of his servants claim it as his.”

Nevertheless, the issue is a bit more complicated than that. While affirming that make-believe and imagination are part and parcel of God’s gift of imagination, Christians should still be very concerned about the focus of that imagination and creativity. Arguing against Halloween is not equivalent to arguing against Christmas. The old church festival of “All Hallow’s Eve” is by no means as universally understood among Christians as the celebration of the incarnation at Christmas.

Christian parents should make careful decisions based on a biblically-informed Christian conscience. Some Halloween practices are clearly out of bounds, others may be strategically transformed, but this takes hard work and may meet with mixed success.

The coming of Halloween is a good time for Christians to remember that evil spirits are real and that the Devil will seize every opportunity to trumpet his own celebrity. Perhaps the best response to the Devil at Halloween is that offered by Martin Luther, the great Reformer: “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him for he cannot bear scorn.”

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther began the Reformation with a declaration that the church must be recalled to the authority of God’s Word and the purity of biblical doctrine. With this in mind, the best Christian response to Halloween might be to scorn the Devil and then pray for the Reformation of Christ’s church on earth. Let’s put the dark side on the defensive.

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Day of Terrifying Wrath

Talk of God’s wrath is so . . . so fundamentalist.  (A pejorative term used of  midwesterners who cling to their guns and Bibles!)  Well, God’s wrath may not pop up in elitist conversations on the east and west coasts; but Paul writes 63 verses about it in “the greatest letter ever written” (John Piper).

Starting chapter 2, Paul turns to the second slice of humanity facing God’s wrath—not the out-and-out Gentile “dirt bags” of 1:18-32, but the religious Jew.  (First century Jews—as those before them—divided humanity in two:  Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles).

Many readers of this blog are Christ-believers.  Even we—and certainly  those who aren’t—should soberly know that apart from Christ, we are, by application, among the people Paul addresses here.

You, the Judge?

You may be saying, “What terrible people you have been talking about!” But you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Do you think that God will judge and condemn others for doing them and not judge you when you do them, too?  Don’t you realize how kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Or don’t you care? Can’t you see how kind he has been in giving you time to turn from your sin?  But no, you won’t listen (2:1-5a, New Living Translation).

Condemn the terrorist-murderer, and you condemn yourself, Paul writes.  Oh, you  don’t behead an “infidel”.  But your anger kills (Jesus, Matthew 5:22).  God will justly punish anyone who does such things.

But your life is good.  Successful.  Pain-free.  That means things are good between you and God, right?  No, God is being tolerant and patient, withholding his wrath, “giving you time to turn from your sin.  But you won’t listen.”

In Paul’s day and view, this was the Jew.  In our day, it’s the moral person, probably a God-believer who criticizes the immoral “dirt bags”, but won’t admit his own sins and turn from them.  “The religious right.” Before we condemn these folks, let’s see that, apart from God’s grace in Christ, this is us, too.

Storing-Up Wrath

“So you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself because of your stubbornness in refusing to turn from your sin. For there is going to come a day of judgment when God, the just judge of all the world, will judge all people according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who persist in doing what is good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and practice evil deeds. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on sinning– for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.  But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good– for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.  For God does not show favoritism” (2:5b-11).

“So you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself” is a foreboding image. The Greek word translated “storing up”, thayraurizo, is used of storing up “treasures on earth” or“treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19,20).  Here, Paul is warning the unrepentant that they are storing up wrath against themselves.  In other words, day to day their load of guilt increases and, with it, commensurate wrath.  It will fall full weight on the “day of wrath” (2:5).

“For there is going to come a day of judgment”.  According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, 72% of Americans believe in heaven and 58% in hell.  I assume, then, that belief in judgment day falls somewhere within those percentages.  Surprisingly high.  Behind them, I think, lies sociologist Christian Smith’s research that shows “doing good” is the criterion—which is precisely what Paul writes .. .

He “will judge all people according to what they have done.”  Specifically, Paul writes, “He will give eternal life to those who persist in doing what is good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers.  But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and practice evil deeds.  There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on sinning—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.  But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.  For God does not show favoritism.”

Several comments are in order.

First, Jews would naturally presume they were God’s favorites as God’s called-out people, and therefore not subject to judgment.  But Paul will write, “[God] will punish the Jews when they sin . . .For it is not merely knowing the law that brings God’s approval” (212b,13a).  The God-believer today presumes he gets a “pass” because he believes in God.  But Paul warns God will pour out wrath on them all.  Only those who “persist in doing what is good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers” will receive “glory and honor and peace from God” on that day.

Second, why will God judge us “according to what [we] have done”?  The question is hotly disputed with, as expected, a variety of answers.  Some say Paul is contradicting himself (later he declares salvation is exclusively by grace through faith).  Others say Paul is writing hypothetically:  this is what would happen but for God’s grace in Christ.  Still others claim Paul is referring to God judging us for how we’ve lived as those justified by faith.  Others argue all humans will be judged according to their works and, of course, all will fall short and face God’s wrath—only those who believe in God’s grace in Christ will be saved.

My view is simple with two parts.  First, Paul is focusing  not on how we are saved from God’s wrath; he’s focusing on God’s wrath.  Therefore, he doesn’t go into detail about salvation from it.

Second, God will judge us according to what we do, because what we do proves what is in our heart.  Live for yourself, refuse to obey the truth, practice evil deeds—all is evidence of a heart without grace.  Persist in doing good, seek after the glory and honor and immortality God offers—all is evidence of a heart justified and being sanctified through Christ.

God will judge us “according to what [we] have done”, because our acts reveal our heart.  Later, Paul will write, “For God has done what the law could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (8:3,4).  Therefore, only those “in Christ” can “do good.”  Our outside actions reveal what’s inside.  So the “works judgment” is finally  a heart judgment.  Paul omits all that here, because his topic is God’s judgment coming to all.

God the Judge, According to Law

“God will punish the Gentiles when they sin, even though they never had God’s written law. And he will punish the Jews when they sin, for they do have the law. For it is not merely knowing the law that brings God’s approval. Those who obey the law will be declared right in God’s sight.  Even when Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong. They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them, for their own consciences either accuse them or tell them they are doing what is right.  The day will surely come when God, by Jesus Christ, will judge everyone’s secret life. This is my message” (2:12-16).

Regarding the Jews, Paul explains merely having and knowing the law isn’t enough to escape God’s wrath.  God’s approval requires obedience.  Then comes this strange notion that some Gentiles “by nature” (that is, as if by a natural action without having the law) do what the law requires, “they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts.”  That is, their conscience dictates their actions.   Notice, however, Paul isn’t saying that this justifies Gentiles, merely that doing God’s law is necessary to escape God’s just judgment.  ” . . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23) .  And that judgment day will surely come, bringing God’s judgment even on people’s secrets (kuptoshidden, concealed things).

Take-Away

This text offers no hope; Paul doesn’t intend it to.  Wherever we fit into the two great slices of humanity–Jew or Gentile–we are to realize we face God’s wrath of Judgment Day.  And whether we have God’s Law or our conscience, we are to know the Day of God’s wrath is coming.

I’m tempted to brush that away with the gospel.  Indeed, faith in God’s salvation in Jesus Christ does brush it all away.  But I think it best to end with God’s wrath like a dark, foreboding presence waiting in the future.  For, too easily we brush it away until it becomes only a gray, unpleasant presence awaiting humanity.

So I finish with a lengthy quote from Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, followed by a quote from the writer to the Hebrews . .

  • [The wicked]  are now the objects of that very same anger and wrath of God, that is expressed in the torments of hell. And the reason why they do not go down to hell at each moment, is not because God, in whose power they are, is not then very angry with them; as he is with many miserable creatures now tormented in hell, who there feel and bear the fierceness of his wrath. Yea, God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth: yea, doubtless, with many that are now in this congregation, who it may be are at ease, than he is with many of those who are now in the flames of hell.

    So that it is not because God is unmindful of their wickedness, and does not resent it, that he does not let loose his hand and cut them off. God is not altogether such an one as themselves, though they may imagine him to be so. The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them.

” . . . it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). 

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Moral Report Card

I usually don’t trust polls.  But this Gallup one, if at all accurate, is concerning.   Here’s the opening paragraph . . .

“Americans continue to express an increasingly liberal outlook on what is morally acceptable, as their views on 10 of 19 moral issues that Gallup measures are the most left-leaning or permissive they have been to date. The percentages of U.S. adults who believe birth control, divorce, sex between unmarried people, gay or lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage, doctor-assisted suicide, pornography and polygamy are morally acceptable practices have tied record highs or set new ones this year. At the same time, record lows say the death penalty and medical testing on animals are morally acceptable.”

You can find details at http://www.gallup.com/poll/210542/americans-hold-record-liberal-views-moral-issues.aspx.  It’s worth reading, even if rather discouraging.

For example, 69% of Americans say sex between an unmarried man and woman is acceptable.  An all-time high.  63% say gay or lesbian relations are acceptable–also an all-time high.  Polygamy is acceptable for 17%.

“Some of the largest changes in opinion reflect a transformation in Americans’ views about the institution of marriage and intimate relationships.”  Those changes are toward a moral liberal view.  Of the 19 issues questioned, none reveal a more conservative shift.

Gallup concludes these changes reflect a more “tolerant” view by older Americans and the younger, more liberal generations in our country.

The poll results don’t surprise.  The unbiblical worldview that pervades America (at least among the media, entertainers, and educators) spreads more easily than a biblical one.  Sin is like metastasizing cancer.  And (it seems to me) immorality increases like an uncontrolled truck racing downhill.

Poll results bring to mind Jesus’ words to us disciples . . .

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

Doesn’t Jesus mean we’re to have a “salty”, enlightening influence for morality in our country?  One would think.  And maybe we are.  Maybe the morally liberal (not a political statement) permissive view is so pervasive we are holding back the tide from sweeping higher.

On the other hand, a December 2015 Gallup poll reveals 75% of Americans “identify with a Christian religion.”  I know that doesn’t mean that many are what the Bible calls Christian.  Still, I can’t shake this sobering thought:  how many Christians were among the leftward, morally permissible respondents?   Instead of being “salt” and “light” to counter the moral decay and darkness, are some Christians being morally decayed and dark in their moral worldview?  Are we allowing “the world” into the church more than we’re taking the church into the world?  Is our younger generation “moving left” too?

Another poll (!) might give answers.  It’s not necessary.  We should assume that our children are being morally misled.  And we must keep them (or get them back) on track.  That means parents and church teaching them what Jesus taught is morally right.  And that teaching shouldn’t be a one-way lecture.  What do they see and hear?  What do they think–and why?  What “moral sense” lies behind biblical morality?

And, of course, we must hedge our children around with prayer.  The battle is spiritual and demands spiritual weapons.

I hope I’m not fear-mongering.  But I think the most dangerous reaction to the nation’s increasing immorality is this:  “My child could never think that way.”

 

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Moral Fact or Personal Opinion?

The State is indoctrinating our children–from as early as the second grade.  Beliefs, they are taught, are opinions, not truths to be explored and evaluated.  One set of beliefs (“opinion”) is no better than another. 

Our children are being raised in this educational environment.    If beliefs are just opinions, they  can be easily jettisoned if they aren’t working out for you or are too costly to retain.  Moreover, if beliefs are mere opinions, there’s no reality (truth) to hold on to in suffering or persecution.  Your beliefs are just your ideas.  

The implications of this indoctrination are far-reaching and frankly frightening.  Read and be wise . . .

What would you say if you found out that our public schools were teaching children that it is not true that it’s wrong to kill people for fun or cheat on tests? Would you be surprised?

I was. As a philosopher, I already knew that many college-aged students don’t believe in moral facts. While there are no national surveys quantifying this phenomenon, philosophy professors with whom I have spoken suggest that the overwhelming majority of college freshmen in their classrooms view moral claims as mere opinions that are not true or are true only relative to a culture.

A misleading distinction between fact and opinion is embedded in the Common Core.

What I didn’t know was where this attitude came from. Given the presence of moral relativism in some academic circles, some people might naturally assume that philosophers themselves are to blame. But they aren’t. There are historical examples of philosophers who endorse a kind of moral relativism, dating back at least to Protagoras who declared that “man is the measure of all things,” and several who deny that there are any moral facts whatsoever. But such creatures are rare. Besides, if students are already showing up to college with this view of morality, it’s very unlikely that it’s the result of what professional philosophers are teaching. So where is the view coming from?

A few weeks ago, I learned that students are exposed to this sort of thinking well before crossing the threshold of higher education. When I went to visit my son’s second grade open house, I found a troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board. They read:

Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.

Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.

Hoping that this set of definitions was a one-off mistake, I went home and Googled “fact vs. opinion.” The definitions I found online were substantially the same as the one in my son’s classroom. As it turns out, the Common Core standards used by a majority of K-12 programs in the country require that students be able to “distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.” And the Common Core institute provides a helpful page full of links to definitions, lesson plans and quizzes to ensure that students can tell the difference between facts and opinions.

So what’s wrong with this distinction and how does it undermine the view that there are objective moral facts?

First, the definition of a fact waffles between truth and proof — two obviously different features. Things can be true even if no one can prove them. For example, it could be true that there is life elsewhere in the universe even though no one can prove it. Conversely, many of the things we once “proved” turned out to be false. For example, many people once thought that the earth was flat. It’s a mistake to confuse truth (a feature of the world) with proof (a feature of our mental lives). Furthermore, if proof is required for facts, then facts become person-relative. Something might be a fact for me if I can prove it but not a fact for you if you can’t. In that case, E=MC2 is a fact for a physicist but not for me.

But second, and worse, students are taught that claims are either facts or opinions. They are given quizzes in which they must sort claims into one camp or the other but not both. But if a fact is something that is true and an opinion is something that is believed, then many claims will obviously be both. For example, I asked my son about this distinction after his open house. He confidently explained that facts were things that were true whereas opinions are things that are believed. We then had this conversation:

Me: “I believe that George Washington was the first president. Is that a fact or an opinion?”

Him: “It’s a fact.”

Me: “But I believe it, and you said that what someone believes is an opinion.”

Him: “Yeah, but it’s true.”

Me: “So it’s both a fact and an opinion?”

The blank stare on his face said it all.

How does the dichotomy between fact and opinion relate to morality? I learned the answer to this question only after I investigated my son’s homework (and other examples of assignments online). Kids are asked to sort facts from opinions and, without fail, every value claim is labeled as an opinion. Here’s a little test devised from questions available on fact vs. opinion worksheets online: are the following facts or opinions?


— Copying homework assignments is wrong.

— Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior.

— All men are created equal.

— It is worth sacrificing some personal liberties to protect our country from terrorism.

— It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.

— Vegetarians are healthier than people who eat meat.

— Drug dealers belong in prison.

The answer? In each case, the worksheets categorize these claims as opinions. The explanation on offer is that each of these claims is a value claim and value claims are not facts. This is repeated ad nauseum: any claim with good, right, wrong, etc. is not a fact.

In summary, our public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punchline: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths.

The inconsistency in this curriculum is obvious. For example, at the outset of the school year, my son brought home a list of student rights and responsibilities. Had he already read the lesson on fact vs. opinion, he might have noted that the supposed rights of other students were based on no more than opinions. According to the school’s curriculum, it certainly wasn’t true that his classmates deserved to be treated a particular way — that would make it a fact. Similarly, it wasn’t really true that he had any responsibilities — that would be to make a value claim a truth. It should not be a surprise that there is rampant cheating on college campuses: If we’ve taught our students for 12 years that there is no fact of the matter as to whether cheating is wrong, we can’t very well blame them for doing so later on.

Indeed, in the world beyond grade school, where adults must exercise their moral knowledge and reasoning to conduct themselves in the society, the stakes are greater. There, consistency demands that we acknowledge the existence of moral facts. If it’s not true that it’s wrong to murder a cartoonist with whom one disagrees, then how can we be outraged? If there are no truths about what is good or valuable or right, how can we prosecute people for crimes against humanity? If it’s not true that all humans are created equal, then why vote for any political system that doesn’t benefit you over others?

Our schools do amazing things with our children. And they are, in a way, teaching moral standards when they ask students to treat one another humanely and to do their schoolwork with academic integrity. But at the same time, the curriculum sets our children up for doublethink. They are told that there are no moral facts in one breath even as the next tells them how they ought to behave.

We can do better. Our children deserve a consistent intellectual foundation. Facts are things that are true. Opinions are things we believe. Some of our beliefs are true. Others are not. Some of our beliefs are backed by evidence. Others are not. Value claims are like any other claims: either true or false, evidenced or not. The hard work lies not in recognizing that at least some moral claims are true but in carefully thinking through our evidence for which of the many competing moral claims is correct. That’s a hard thing to do. But we can’t sidestep the responsibilities that come with being human just because it’s hard.

That would be wrong.

Justin P. McBrayer is an associate professor of philosophy at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. He works in ethics and philosophy of religion.

The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless.

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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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