Archive for the ‘moralistic therapeutic deism’ Tag

Mandated Sexual Immorality   Leave a comment

My conversation with Thom Stark is touching on issues that I have touched on before. Rather than say the same thing in different ways, I’m reprinting the articles because I don’t think I can say them better in a different way.

 

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Last year, Masterpiece Cakes in Denver was told by the Colorado courts to bake cakes for gay weddings or stop baking cakes altogether. In August, the New York State Division of Human Rights fined Cynthia and Robert Gifford $13,000 for acting on their belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and thus declining to rent out their family farm for a same-sex wedding celebration, ruling that Christianity’s historical belief about marriage is now “discrimination”. Like Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Giffords are also required to institute anti-discrimination re-education classes and procedures for their staff.

http://dailysignal.com/2014/08/19/government-farmers-host-sex-wedding-pay-13000-fine/

It is now considered just to force citizens with moral objections to participate in what they consider to be sin if they want to stay in business.

We’ve lost the cultural war, folks. There’s no use arguing the point. My 21-year-old daughter (a Christian) thinks Jesus is fine with homosexuals’ marrying. She even believes that the Bible was tampered with to include anti-homosexual passages. I’m not going to argue with her about it. I’ve given her access to several books that show how reliable the Bible as we have it is and I’ll let God do the rest. Sometimes you have to know when to back off and let the Holy Spirit work.

But these two incidents bring us to a set of questions. Should the government of a “free society” be able to force family businesses to betray their consciences and participate in ceremonies that violate their beliefs? That’s an argument for another day. The more important discussion is – how did we get here?

Christians – how did we get here?

I’ve been posting on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and I suspect the church’s failure to reach our culture on a whole host of such issues is tied to that.

Twenty yeas ago, same-sex marriage was the least of all political concerns. Then Bill Clinton tried to fulfill a campaign promise with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which led to the Defense of Marriage Act. All of a sudden, we entered what historians will one day recall as a cultural revolution greater than anything that happened in the 1960s. By 1993, the cover story of The Nation identified gay rights as the summit and cornerstone of the culture war to forever change America. We’re now in the endgame and conservatives have lost. It is commonly believed that the only reason to oppose same-sex marriage is rank bigotry or for religious reasons and, the argument that follows is, neither of these has any place in determining laws or public standards.

In some ways, it’s a generational thing. Polls show that young people think homosexuality is normal and that opposition to it has the moral status of segregation in the late 1960s. In the 2010 book American Grace, political scientists Robert D. Putman and David E. Campbell noted that there was a marked change in attitudes around 1990. Young adults at the time were accepting homosexuality as a moral in increasing numbers while at the same time, they were falling away from organized religion. Religious disengagement and liberal sexual attitudes appear to go hand-in-hand.

The Pew Research Center’s Greg Smith conducted a 2012 study that showed this interaction as well. He asserted that this current generation is more religious unaffiliated than any on record and that there is no reason to think they will return to church in significant numbers as they age, as had been noted in past generations.

Putnam and Campbell were careful to say in American Grace that correlation is not causation, but they pointed out that the public role many Christian leaders took in opposing gay marriage alienated young Americans from organized religion and suggested that Christian churches would need to liberalize on sexual teaching if we hoped to regain and retain the loyalty of younger generations.

The problem with that suggestion is that Mainline Protestant denominations, which have been far more accepting of homosexuality and sexual liberation in general, are losing membership much more quickly than more tradition conservative denominations that oppose gay marriage and discourage sexual liberation.

Why? Maybe when people decided that historical normative Christianity was wrong about sex, they also decided that everything else was wrong about Christianity. Finding a church that agreed with their liberalism did not solve their basic problem of a lack of faith.

Folks, we’re losing the culture and it has almost nothing to do with gay marriage. That is a symptom, not a cause.

 

Thom Stark: In Praise of Open Minds   1 comment

Thom Stark and I continue our conversation on various topics. 

So, Thom, when you checked out my blog preparatory to the author interview, you noted immediately that we appear to be at extreme opposites of the political philosophy spectrum. That must have intrigued you, because we started this conversation.

Thom StarkI definitely was intrigued. I’m not certain, though, that we’re in complete opposition, politically. For instance, I’d bet a shiny, new, Ohio quarter that you’re a dedicated civil libertarian. So am I. I strongly believe that people ought to be free to do any damned fool thing they please, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else (at least, not without the other person’s freely-given consent). That includes taking drugs, participating in prostitution, advocating alternative lifestyles, wedding anyone to whom they’re sufficiently attracted to be willing to enter into a contract of marriage, or engaging in any form of advocacy that appeals to them. I’d be surprised to discover we disagree on any of those principles.

I can pray for your soul, but I have no right to dictate how you live your life unless it affects me personally and negatively. My faith dictates my morality, not yours. Morality (however we define that these days) shouldn’t be some arbitrary standard held by one slice of society (any slice of society) imposed upon society as a whole. As a Christian, I have it from God that drugs, prostitution or alternative lifestyles are not benefits to any society, but I think the state (government) should stay the hell out of the individual’s decisions because if I try to impose my morality on you, I risk having you trying to impose your morality on me. An example from headlines today —  I would abolish marriage by government entirely, so that we don’t ask individuals to affirm the actions of others that they don’t agree with. I think it is deplorable that a supposedly free society made laws against homosexual activity between consenting adults, but I also think it is tyranny for a supposedly free society to demand that I violate my religious beliefs to perform services at gay weddings against my will. Neither is right and a society that can’t see that is, in my opinion, tyrannical. The only workable solution I can conceive is for us to abolish government-sponsored marriage altogether and let groups and individuals make their own decisions. Of course, society would also need to stay the heck out of my decision to not rent an apartment to an unmarried couple or bake a cake for a gay wedding. Unfortunately, I don’t think American society at this juncture in history understand that liberty for all means actually freedom to make personal choices that someone else might not agree with.

What specifically motivated me to approach you about holding this conversation was an essay you published on religion as the key to culture:

https://aurorawatcherak.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/religion-is-the-key-to-culture/

In it, you talked about Philip Reiff’s analysis of the relationship between religion and culture. While you ended up rejecting his thesis on the grounds that he left out what to you, as a born-again Christian, is a central tenet of your philosophy – that God takes an active role in human affairs – I was impressed that you based your short essay on what was essentially a response to an obscure atheist philosopher’s view of the formative influence of religion on human cultures.

It might surprise you to know that I picked up Reiff’s book at my friend RV’s house. RV is a 70-some-year-old Baptist deacon and former pastor who reads absolutely everything — philosophy, politics, religion, science (he’s a retired chemist) — and you never know what you’ll find if you poke around in his bookshelves. I’ve got a history with finding obscure books in unexpected places. RV has been one of my mentors in Christian life, encouraging me to explore alternative ways of thinking as a means for strengthening my faith. One of his sons calls it “spiritual weight lifting”.

Down here in the Lower 48, it’s pretty unusual for someone of your religious profession to read the works of any non-Christian philosopher, much less an atheist of whom 99% of your readers probably have never heard. So that willingness to engage philosophies other than your own struck me as an earnest of an open and inquiring mind.

DSC01494I think it may be an Alaskan thing. I find a lot of people here are comfortable with pushing their own comfort zones. That might be what attracted them to Alaska in the first place.

I was raised in a very secular family in a very secular state. I don’t know what the percentage of atheists is here, but the percentage of regular churchgoers is tiny — less than 10 percent.  I grew up with a sort of rational deism. I wasn’t hostile to Christianity, but I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought. I believed that science more or less provided all the answers to most of the questions we might ask, so why look elsewhere? There might have been a little bit of transcendentalism in there — that’s kind of a common religion-adjacent viewpoint among Alaskans. I identified with On Walden Pond way more than I did the 23rd Psalm, which was the only Bible passage I knew at the time. My first step toward a faith profession actually started with reading a philosopher who presented something I had not considered before. Fog trapped me in a remote cabin and the only English reading material available was Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There, which had been published just months before. The miner-trapper fellow who lived in the cabin had been to L’Abri the winter before. Schaeffer encouraged me to reevaluate what I had been taught to believe in school — that science had all the answers for a reasonable person and, therefore, there was really no need to think much about God. That set off a 16-month journey to find out if Christianity was really a reasonable response to the world. In the end, I became a Christian because I had an open mind. 

I approve of open minds.

I approve of open minds too and don’t find that many of them. I know that people consider Christians to be close-minded because we believe we know the Truth and there are Christians who have never looked deeper than what they were taught in grade school Sunday School class. I know some of them. Their faith is based on a close-minded refusal to explore beyond that elementary belief. In my opinion, that makes their faith vulnerable to questions they can’t easily answer. My faith, perhaps because it didn’t start there, is not built on a stubborn refusal to explore beyond what I feel confident is true, but on a relationship with Jesus Christ that is as real and personal to me as the relationship I have with my husband. So I can explore the opinions of others and feel my faith being strengthened rather than threatened. There’s that idea of “spiritual weight lifting” again.

Reiff’s book just happened to deal with a subject I wanted to explore on the blog — moralistic therapeutic deism — the idea that Christianity (or any religion for that matter) is good for society if it suffuses us with warm-fuzzy feelings about ourselves. Reiff posited that religion is the mechanism for culture’s civilizing effects. It teaches kids not to lie and men and women not to cheat on their spouses in a way so that we hold it as a self-governing structure rather than as a mere philosophy. Although he was an atheist, he asserted that Christianity’s loss of influence in Western culture would have detrimental effects if not replaced with something else. I contend that traditional Christianity has largely been replaced with Moralistic Therapeutic Deism — the idea that Jesus is just all right with me, so as long as religion doesn’t burden us too much. We can indulge in it to make us feel good about ourselves, but we don’t really need to believe it. It’s about feeling good, but not about actually believing in an actual God Who Is There. From my perspective, that is not faith. It’s barely religion.

So, next week, let’s discuss what you believe, Thom!

 

Let the Dead Bury the Dead   Leave a comment

One day Jesus invited a man to follow Him and become His disciple—but the man refused. He said he would follow Jesus later, but first he wanted to go bury his father. Jesus responded, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22).

What did Jesus mean by that?

It brings up a rather ludicrous image of zombies burying dead people, if I approach it completely with my rational, human mind. That wouldn’t make sense, of course. We all know that the physically dead don’t do much, let alone bury others who are also dead. So, Jesus must have been talking about something else.

If you accept that Jesus is God (which is a prerequisite for being a Christian), it’s pretty easy to figure out what Jesus meant in this statement. He was talking about the spiritually dead — those who are alive physically, but unregenerated at the spiritual level and therefore, not alive unto Christ, but dead toward God in their souls. We can be strong and virile physically and still be spiritually dead, which is a much more serious condition than on death’s door.

There are those who might think Jesus was incredibly harsh to this man, but that’s because they (or we) do not understand what the man was really saying to Jesus. In 1st century Jewish life, to say “I want to go bury my father” did not necessarily mean Papa had ceased to breathe. It meant that they wanted to stay with their father until he died. That could be years away. This man was simply excusing his avoidance of becoming Jesus’ disciple.

Christians. we all have some dead man still clinging to our boots as we try to follow Jesus. We all have excuses for hanging back. I don’t want to insult the people I know who are not Christians, so I’ll not say what I know to be true about the sin they are living in. That’s my dead man, btw. I’m a lot bolder here than I am in my personal life when I might hurt someone I care about.

And, no, I am not calling for laws to legislate morality. Get over that, Church! It’s not our world any longer! I suspect we’ve done great harm to the cause of Christ by fighting to force others into our mold.

STOP!

Listen!

I am call for honesty with the world and Christians living the way we know God wants us to live. Yeah, that puts us at odds with the world around us and that will be uncomfortable. The world is becoming more secular and less moral everyday and very comfortable with redefining morality to its own design. The clarion call of society is “Christians, change with the times.”

But Jesus’ call to us hasn’t changed. “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Anything less is hanging back making an excuse for not following Him!

Seeking Treatment   Leave a comment

There are loud and persuasive voices who claim that Christians can save Christianity by turning away from the normative version of faith to a contemporary moralistic therapeutic deism that would necessitate also “getting over” the whole concept of chastity.

Tempting?

Conservative Christians have lost the cultural war. We lost it before we ever knew we were engaged in it. Our opponents were way ahead of us, promoting what most post-1960s Americans already believed about the meaning of sex and marriage. I suggest we stop fighting them and take a good look at ourselves.

Some of the articles I read in preparation for this series were downers. “Can Christianity survive the new societal order?” I’m not worried about that. Christianity will survive and I suspect it will thrive better outside of the limelight of acculturating agent. Like Christians around the world and in past centuries, we will focus on what is important – salvation, purity, sanctification, and passing our beliefs onto the next generation.

But the church as a cultural phenomenon may be in trouble. While we’ve been hammering away at the symptom of same-sex marriage and the related collapse of marriage among poor and working class heterosexuals, we were failing to recognize that the culture had already infected the church. Contemporary culture, including a large percentage of those who call themselves “Christians”, have sacralized modernity and embrace autonomous individualism. Christianity is seen as little more than a moralistic therapy program that is radically opposed to the current cultural disorder that reigns today.

We’ve already lost the culture, but unless we understand – as Francis Schaeffer warned – the nature of the fight and change our strategy to fight on foundational issues rather than moral ones, we’re going to return to the era of Christians meeting in basements afraid the guards might hear them.

“The death of a culture begins when its normative institutions fail to communicate ideals in ways that remain inwardly compelling,” Philip Rieff wrote.

Christianity in America is in mortal danger by that standard.

I believe renewal is possible. I look back at the historical Great Awakenings and know that it is possible for Christianity to revitalize and exert enormous positive influences on a culture that is largely secular, but only if we conclude that gay marriage and other sexual immorality, inside and outside of the church, are symptoms rather than causes. You don’t treat a terminal illness by ignoring its existence and acting like the symptoms are more important than the cause.

Posted September 19, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

Tagged with , , ,

THE Sexual Revolution   5 comments

It’s hard for contemporary Americans to understand why sex was a central concern of early Christianity. It is profoundly ignorant to think that the apostle Paul was a dour proto-Puritan ordering pagan hippies to stop having fun. Until we understand the culture that Paul lived in, we are judging what we do not understand.

Whether you read Paul’s writings or do a classical study as Sarah Ruden did in her 2010 book Paul Among the People, you learn that Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the sexually explotive Greco-Roman culture of the time. Especially for slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their reproductive and sexual abilities, Christianity was THE cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male lust, elevating the status of women and the human body and infusing marriage (and marital sex) with love.

Christian marriage, like the command to turn the other cheek, was different from anything before. “Within Christian anthopology, sex takes on a new and different meaning,” Ruden wrote. “It mandated a radical change of behavior and cultural norms. In Christianity, what people do with their sexuality cannot be separated from what the human person is.”

This is not to say that Christianity ever fully achieved a golden age of social harmony and sexual bliss. The Christian is a human being same as any other and harmony and bliss simply are not human attributes. Christianity however established a way to harness the sexual instinct, embed it within a community, and direct it in positive ways. Instead of women and slaves being objects of sexual manipulation and exploitation, they became brothers and sisters in Christ who deserved respect and agape — Christian love. It meant that the long-standing practices of extramarital sex, including adultery and divorce, as well as sexual immorality with children and the same sex, were now seen as degrading to the human soul not only of the victim, but of the perpetrator. Even consensual sex that broke the covenant between God and man was seen as manipulative and something to be avoided.

This view of sex turned women from virtual slaves to valued marriage partners and sanctified marriage as a lifetime commitment that the entire community was invested in preserving.

Clearly, that is no longer the case. So what happened?

Philip Rieff (The Triumph of the Therapeutic) wrote that we have ceased to believe in the Christian cultural framework, but that we also have made it impossible to believe in any other means to do what culture must do – restrain individual passions and channel them creatively so we can live in community. Human beings stink at community. Think about it — the first natural-born generation of the human race — one brother killed the other. We stink. Culture was created to mitigate that basic human nature — to channel our passion so that we can live in community. Unfortunately, modern Western society has inverted the role of culture. Our society no longer tells us to control our passions to be civilized, but that we find meaning and purpose by releasing ourselves from time-honored prohibitions.

Whoa! How’d that happen?

Religion is the Key to Culture   Leave a comment

According to observers at the American Conservative, the trends suggest that sex is the lynchpin of Christian cultural order. The polls and studies show that church membership declines as sexual liberation increases. Is it really true that casting aside Christian teaching on sexuality removes the power of Christianity as a social force?

Philip Rieff’s landmark 1966 book The Triumph of the Therapeutic suggested “yes”. Rieff analyzed what he called the “deconversion” of the West from Christianity. It’s a process that’s been underway since the Englightenment, but Rieff shows that it had reached a far more advanced state than most people, especially Christians, recognized.

An unbeliever himself, Rieff understood that religion is the key to understanding any culture. Every culture demands a series of moral imperatives on its members for the purpose of community and then provides support to help those members cope with those demands. A culture requires a sacred order, a cosmology that roots these moral demands within a metaphysical framework. You don’t pick and choose your behaviors based on what is good for you, but rather on a moral vision encoded in the nature of reality.  Rieff, looking at the start of the 1960s sexual revolution, saw the seeds of Christianity’s demise as a cultural force. He found that classical Christian culture rejected sexual individualism as a means of opposing the pagan culture surrounding it. It was this renunciation and redirection of the erotic instinct that gave Christianity its power. Rieff saw the West’s rapid re-paganizing around sensuality and sexual liberation as a powerful sign of Christianity’s demise.

While he had important things to say about sex and Western culture and the corrosive effects of re-paganization on Christianity, I think he was confusing symptoms with causation. Also, as a non-believer, Rieff did not recognize the power of God to work His will in the world.

Christian Discipleship   Leave a comment

That word “discipleship” is much on my mind these days. What does it mean? Are Christians simply saved when we say we believe in God and given a free pass to heaven with nothing further required or are we expected to conform ourselves to Christ’s image?

Depending on what church you become a Christian in, you may get either answer or something in between. Many emerging churches today teach an easy believism whereby if you feel good about your relationship with God, you’re good enough for Him.

I think that’s crap, honestly. There is more to it than that and if you don’t know it, you’ll miss out on salvation altogether.

Discipleship is the process of the Holy Spirit drawing Christians deeper into the life of the Trinity. It is a whole life response of Christians to Jesus Christ. Everything a Christian believes and does is an aspect of discipleship and the goal of discipleship is to grow ever more Christ-like in every aspect of life.

Christians sometimes distinguish between coming to faith and the process of maturing in the faith (discipleship). We use ‘discipleship’ mainly in this narrower sense to differentiate it from ‘evangelism, which encourages to the faith. The Bible doesn’t really make that distinction. Discipleship is the entire process by which people become more like Christ. Often the point where ‘evangelism’ ends and ‘discipleship’ begins is blurred.

Discipleship is a journey that starts before conversion. The Spirit was active in a person’s life before they came to faith – what theologians call ‘prevenient grace’. Effective discipleship listens to what the Spirit has already been doing in an individual’s life and builds on it. For me, I see that God occasionally put Christians, or books, or circumstances in my life all through my childhood before I encountered The God Who Is There in a trapper’s cabin in the Alaska wilderness. Now, that was a clear Holy Spirit moment — that I would be stuck at a remote cabin by freaky weather and the only book available to read that remotely looked interesting was a book that had only been published maybe six months before — the odds … I’m not that good of a mathematician, but high.

For other Christians, the first bread crumb was something different. My husband was drunk off his butt in a Houston apartment complex and a neighbor witnessed to him. It didn’t take until he got to Alaska and fell in with Christians, but he remembers distinctly that the neighbor prayed for God to follow him and speak to him when he was ready to hear it. My cousin the biologist listened to his roommate’s dad (a pastor) one time and then weeks later, in a biology lab on the cell, had God speak to him so clearly that he had to call that pastor and accept the Lord that very afternoon. Others, like my cousin the research doctor, take years of just gradually moving toward salvation before they accept Christ personally.

Modern churches often offer classes that are meant to drawn in the unsaved and unchurched Debt management, parenting, a food bank field, even a lady’s quilting club can all allow Christians and non-Christians an opportunity to interact and provide Christians an opportunity to show how a relationship with Jesus Christ might help with debt management, parenting, or hunger. I don’t know that God really has any quilting advice, but the ladies at my church produce some lovely quilts that they give to charity. It’s also given them many opportunities to share their faith with quilters who don’t know Christ.

Often the church tends to think of discipleship as something for young converts. A kid walks an aisle and we direct them into a “discipleship course”, but really, discipleship is a lifelong process that involves having your character formed by the Spirit. It is a response to God as you live in fellowship with other Christians, whereby you allow your entire personality to be shaped by Jesus. Increasingly, your character should reveal more of Christ. Such character develops by:

  • living ‘in Christ’, as the Spirit forms us through Scripture and the influence of fellow Christians;
  • becoming like Jesus in our attitudes and behavior;
  • growing in the fruit of the Spirit;
  • learning and living kingdom values, as we support God’s mission to the world;
  • discerning where the Spirit is at work in contemporary culture and where culture is a block to the Spirit;
  • dying to self so as increasingly to live a Spirit-filled life.

Discipleship is an individual journey. You must ask yourself ‘What does it mean for me to become more like Jesus?’ But it is also a church journey. The church (local congregation) should be asking itself ‘What can we do to help people become more Christ-like?’  Either way, it is a journey that is never complete. Whether you’re eight and just accepted the Lord two days ago or 80 and have known Jesus for 70 years, you should still be growing, still striving to be more Christ-like. There’s man in our church in his late-70s who recently made the statement that God had taught himself new that week. He’s been a Christian since he was nine, but he hasn’t stopped growing. Followers of Christ never stop being disciples. It is a task for life.

As they keep travelling towards God and become more Christ-like in the process, individuals will be at different stages of the journey. Some will have just entered the faith; others may have been travelling for a number of years.

In today’s church, the task of discipleship gets short shrift. We’re focused on other things — sometimes on evangelism and salvation, but for some churches it is all about the numbers. A friend of mine just quit the largest evangelical (and non-denominational) church in town because she’s been attending a year and nobody has asked her if she’s saved. She is, but that nobody would care if she is sort of freaks her out.

Jesus told His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20). This was to involve bringing people to baptism and teaching them to follow Jesus. He didn’t tell us to build massive edifices to our own egos and pack the pews. Marie discovered the challenge of emerging churches. With all their vitality and commitment to bring people in the doors, they sometimes fail to become communities that produce Christian disciples. When they do that, they fail at the deepest level to be true churches.

The Church of Christ (and the individual congregations that compose it) should never be a social club. Our calling is not to increase the number of attenders, notch up converts on an evangelistic score card or recruit more people to pay the church bills. Our calling is to make more disciples who can live out their faith in every aspect of their lives.

Count the Costs   Leave a comment

So, here I go calling for the universal church to turn toward discipleship and now I’m going to say “Count the cost!”

Most people don’t. American Christianity of the evangelical flavor tends to teach easy believism. We urge people to be saved and become disciples of our Lord, highlighting its benefits and blessings. In doing so, we conceal the true cost of discipleship and “the fine print” liabilities. Many churches don’t mention them at all.

This is completely different from what Jesus did. He repeatedly cooled the enthusiasm of eager candidates for discipleship by urging them to consider the cost. We shoud heed His words and do a cost-benefit analysis of being a follower of Jesus.

“Now large crowds were accompanying Jesus, and turning to them, he said “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it. Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him. They will say, “This man began to build and was not able to finish!” Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with teen thousand to oppose the one against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace. In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renouce all of his own possessions.” (Luke 14:25-33)

It’s vitally important that we understand that Jesus said this to “the multitudes”. His disciples were part of that group, but this was a large crowd of the uncommitted. It’s also important to remember that this is an English translation of Greek, which was a much richer language than English. So, for example, the word “hate” operates on a relative scale in Greek, meaning that we must love God more than family or self. The Greek translated “his own life” has the clear meaning of one’s own body. Verse 27’s reference to carrying your own cross is a reference to the common Roman crucifixion practice of forcing the condemned to carry their own cross to the place of execution. This was used by the community to show rejection of the prisoner.

So if your family is more important to you than God, you might want to reconsider whether you can be His follower. If you value comfort at all costs, then discipleship may not be for you. If you would be bothered by societal rejection, consider joining the Rotary as an alternative to accepting Christ.

The Christian church is not a social club. It’s a training ground for hard times.

Of course, everyone of us probably has in our pocket or purse two keys. One is to our home and one is to our car. Peter, James and John all returned to fishing right after Jesus died. How did they do that if they got rid of their boats and gave away the proceeds? Paul was living in Taursus when Barnabas came to find him. There’s no indication he was homeless or jobless for the 14 years that he spent studying to show himself approved. When Paul wrote those words to Timothy, there is no indication that Timothy was wandering around Ephesus living in ditches, naked.

Clearly this passage can be misinterpreted. It’s not about going to an extreme to prove your love of God. It’s about putting God first before all other things and standing the consequences for that commitment.

Discipleship centers upon the issue of dependence and submission. It involves a complete rearrangement of our priorities. To be a disciple of our Lord demands that He becomes the most important thing in our life.

Do we teach people that in the church when they walk an aisle or bow a knee? Or are we afraid that we’re going to scare them off if we tell them the truth.

  1. A disciple of Jesus Christ must put his Master above those nearest and dearest to him (Luke 14:26). We can continue to love our family (and in fact, Scripture speaks plainly of our obligations in that area), but our love for Jesus must hold precendence over any other attachment. No human relationship should be more intimate, no human bond more inseparable than that between the disciples and his Master. When my husband accepted Christ, the hardest thing for him was to tell his Boston Irish Catholic family (that included nuns) that he was submitting to full immersion baptism at an evangelical church. They still consider him a heretic, though they’ve given up trying to shame him out of his decision.
  2. A Christian must value following Jesus Christ above life itself. It’s a basic instinct to preserve you rlife. The history of the church convincingly proves that following Jesus can result in death. American Christians really don’t grasp the gravity of that … yet, but that could change. Our Chinese brethren have been praying for decades that we encounter some persecution to strengthen our faith.
  3. Our commitment to Jesus must come before material possessions. Ouch! For complacent, affluent American Christians, that’s a tough one! We all want eternal life, but not at the expense of the large screen television. The story of the rich young ruler (which follows on the heels of the subject passage) is often interpreted to mean that the rich cannot become Christians until after they dispose of all their material assets.  Every poor American I know has at least one of those two keys in their pockets and they are often far more materialistic than the “rich” I know. They tend to assign far greater importance to material things, perhaps because it costs them more effort to get them.  I Timothy 6:10 says the LOVE of money (not the possesion of it) is the root of all sorts of evil and that SOME have wandered from their faith by longing for it …. Paul instructed the rich in material things to be rich in good works and not trust the uncertainty of wealth. He didn’t say to destitute themselves financially, but to not make financial solvency their priority.
  4. Christians must die to self-interest. The cross we bear will not save us – only Jesus can do that – but every day, we must put aside selfishness and the ambitions of our old selves (Romans 6:1-14, 1 Corinthians 15:31, 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, Colossians 2:20; 3:11). As Christians we will suffer and be persecuted for the sake of Christ, but our suffering does not atone for our sins or anyone else’s. Our cross involves as much recognizing that central point of the gospel as it does suffering.

Salvation costs. There’s no doubt at that. Jesus warned those who would follow Him that it wasn’t going to be sunshine and lollipops. The world was going to hate them because they loved Him and the world hated Jesus. Nothing’s changed. And to teach otherwise, church, is to lie to people who want to follow Jesus. We can make church members that way, but church membership doesn’t save. Only Jesus Christ can save and He warned that there would be costs to accepting the salvation that He offers.

Losing the Culture   Leave a comment

Last year, Masterpiece Cakes in Denver was told by the Colorado courts to bake cakes for gay weddings or stop baking cakes altogether. In August, the New York State Division of Human Rights fined Cynthia and Robert Gifford $13,000 for acting on their belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and thus declining to rent out their family farm for a same-sex wedding celebration, ruling that Christianity’s historical belief about marriage is now “discrimination”. Like Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Giffords are also required to institute anti-discrimination re-education classes and procedures for their staff.

http://dailysignal.com/2014/08/19/government-farmers-host-sex-wedding-pay-13000-fine/

It is now considered just to force citizens with moral objections to participate in what they consider to be sin if they want to stay in business.

We’ve lost the cultural war, folks. There’s no use arguing the point. My 21-year-old daughter (a Christian) thinks Jesus is fine with homosexuals’ marrying. She even believes that the Bible was tampered with to include anti-homosexual passages. I’m not going to argue with her about it. I’ve given her access to several books that show how reliable the Bible as we have it is and I’ll let God do the rest. Sometimes you have to know when to back off and let the Holy Spirit work.

But these two incidents bring us to a set of questions. Should the government of a “free society” be able to force family businesses to betray their consciences and participate in ceremonies that violate their beliefs? That’s an argument for another day. The more important discussion is – how did we get here?

Christians – how did we get here?

I’ve been posting on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and I suspect the church’s failure to reach our culture on a whole host of such issues is tied to that.

Twenty yeas ago, same-sex marriage was the least of all political concerns. Then Bill Clinton tried to fulfill a campaign promise with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which led to the Defense of Marriage Act. All of a sudden, we entered what historians will one day recall as a cultural revolution greater than anything that happened in the 1960s. By 1993, the cover story of The Nation identified gay rights as the summit and cornerstone of the culture war to forever change America. We’re now in the endgame and conservatives have lost. It is commonly believed that the only reason to oppose same-sex marriage is rank bigotry or for religious reasons and, the argument that follows is, neither of these has any place in determining laws or public standards.

In some ways, it’s a generational thing. Polls show that young people think homosexuality is normal and that opposition to it has the moral status of segregation in the late 1960s. In the 2010 book American Grace, political scientists Robert D. Putman and David E. Campbell noted that there was a marked change in attitudes around 1990. Young adults at the time were accepting homosexuality as a moral in increasing numbers while at the same time, they were falling away from organized religion. Religious disengagement and liberal sexual attitudes appear to go hand-in-hand.

The Pew Research Center’s Greg Smith conducted a 2012 study that showed this interaction as well. He asserted that this current generation is more religious unaffiliated than any on record and that there is no reason to think they will return to church in significant numbers as they age, as had been noted in past generations.

Putnam and Campbell were careful to say in American Grace that correlation is not causation, but they pointed out that the public role many Christian leaders took in opposing gay marriage alienated young Americans from organized religion and suggested that Christian churches would need to liberalize on sexual teaching if we hoped to regain and retain the loyalty of younger generations.

The problem with that suggestion is that Mainline Protestant denominations, which have been far more accepting of homosexuality and sexual liberation in general, are losing membership much more quickly than more tradition conservative denominations that oppose gay marriage and discourage sexual liberation.

Why? Maybe when people decided that historical normative Christianity was wrong about sex, they also decided that everything else was wrong about Christianity. Finding a church that agreed with their liberalism did not solve their basic problem of a lack of faith.

Folks, we’re losing the culture and it has almost nothing to do with gay marriage. That is a symptom, not a cause.

Elephant in the Church   11 comments

The new form of deism is particularly distressing because churches have aided in its spread. LifeWay Resarch president Ed Stetzer, recently noted,

The elephant in the Christian church today is that we are not seeing robust disciple-making taking place. You are more likely to find evangelicals affirming that there is more than one way to get to heaven today than you were 15 or 20 years ago. Why? We’ve done great at getting them in the door and occupying their spiritual appetites, but we’ve done terrible at actually growing them up and grounding them in the faith.

There’s plenty of blame to spread around to all the denominations, but evangelicalism bears a large share of the responsibility. Many of our churches have wholly embraced therapeutic language and concepts while pretty much abandoning the role of catechesis.

Ooo, I used a Catholic/Episcopalian term. I’m still a firm evangelical. Bear with me!

Almost every nondenominational congregation has a worship leader and yet only a few have a catechist – or, more properly, a deacon (or deaconess) of doctrine. In many churches, Sunday school classes may teach the young the stories of the Bible, but few provide in-depth teaching on theology. We send our kids out into the world with little or no understanding of what we believe and why we believe it. Why are we surprised that they get lost out there when we haven’t provided them with an anchor?

New adult believers have it even worse, by the way. Most Baptist churches that I am familiar with will baptize anyone who asks for it without requiring any instruction between profession and baptism. New believers may be asked to attend a brief class, but doctrine is often given short shrift and may not be presented at all. The focus is on polity – church organization – rather than on doctrine. If these new adult believers do ask about the content of their faith — what they are expected to believe — they may be given a pamphlet or a book recommendation and a map to the nearest Christian bookstore. If they’re lucky, they end up in a great Sunday School or small group meeting run by a knowledgeable teacher, but — frankly, most don’t.

Evangelicals have mastered the task of making converts, but we are by and large failing in our duty of making disciples. Teaching the basic doctrines of the faith is not an optional task we can undertake if we have time left over from prayer breakfasts and small group meetings—it is a matter of eternal consequence. As Smith’s report shows, we no longer have the luxury of ignoring our responsibility to provide this desperately needed doctrinal instruction. We will either start making Christian disciples or our culture will continue to make deists who have a warm-fuzzy feeling for Jesus.

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