Thursday, January 14, 2010

Proclaiming The Gospel

Quite a bit has been written, pro and con, about Brit Hume’s public recommendation to Tiger Woods that he take advantage of the forgiveness and redemption available through faith in Jesus Christ as a route to starting over. Some have objected to his use of the airwaves to make such a personal statement, to the advice itself, or to the implication that any one religious faith has an advantage over others. Mr. Hume is not backing off or apologizing. Some say the uproar and objections are not fair because people often get away with publicly mocking Christianity while freely advocating or openly respecting other faiths while Christians sometimes cannot talk freely in public about their faith without being criticized or ridiculed.

Of course the United States was founded on religious freedom as one of its pillars, but the focus was on freedom of the various Christian groups from being dominated by whatever Christian group was in the majority and might possibly be established as an official state religion. Such freedom was not a sure thing. Before the English took over in 1664 and adopted a policy of toleration of other churches, the Dutch Reformed majority along the Hudson River prohibited Lutherans from bringing ordained pastors from the Netherlands to the new country and from free practice of their religion. We have Roger Williams, libertarian in spirit, to thank for founding Providence, the first colony based on the principle of religious freedom, in the mid 1600’s. It had nothing to do with Islam or mysterious Indian or Eastern religions. Catholics, Protestants, Lutherans, and Baptists had all fought and died and killed and suffered persecution in an environment not too different from that in the Middle East today, and many coming to the new world wanted to be free of that and free to worship as they pleased without any laws establishing one faith over another. They wanted to be free to worship, not free from worship.

So, with fundamentalist radical Islam having no interest at all in separation of Church and State, we have to leave them out of this discussion. But among the other faiths, perhaps the reason Christianity is singled out for restraint and abuse and disgust is because, for Christianity, the final bottom line is not, “Well, whatever.” Christianity makes claims of truth that cannot be denied if one is to remain true to the faith.

Maybe this problem is aggravated by the fact that we Christians sometimes present the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a threat or as a self improvement program of some kind. “Believe in Jesus or you are going to Hell!” Or perhaps, “Believe in Jesus Christ and you will be healthy and wealthy and wise the rest of your days.” Well aside from the fact that believing in Jesus with the very selfish intent of avoiding Hell seems to be an un-Christian thing to do, it does not represent a true and full presentation of the Gospel. Nor does the Gospel promise a life of prosperity and good health and happiness. It seems to me that the true presentation of the Christian Gospel, or good news, is that Jesus is God among us, come to show His love for us and to show us the way to have abundant life now. And there is no promise that the descriptor “abundant” rules out suffering and sacrifice. I don’t believe Jesus came saying, “Man, these people are going to Hell if I don’t do something,” or “These folks are poor. We need to show them how to make some money.” I prefer to think he came saying that, rich or poor, we are living selfish lives, wrapped up in meaningless selfish activities and worrying about ourselves primarily and mistreating each other and always trying to pile up wealth and accumulate more toys and looking for satisfaction in all the wrong places and wrong ways etc.

I believe he came saying, “I will show them what I intended life to be. I will show them that if they want to be first, they have to be last and be a servant to all. I will show them that they serve me by serving the least among them. I will show them what it means to have abundant life.”

If we Christians show a little evidence that we have heard that message and realize our shortcomings and are asking forgiveness for them, we will have a much warmer reception from hearers of The Gospel than we will ever get with a self righteous “I found it!” approach. ("I Found It" was the poorly chosen name, in my opinion, of an interdenominational Christian evangelistic campaign in the 1970's.)  Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus should not include the pronoun “I” except one time followed by the verb “believe.”

After all, that is the pattern established by the original proclaimers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who wrote in the third person about what Jesus said and did and not in the first person about what it meant to them. The only first person quote I found in a quick search of those Gospels was this: Luke 1:3-4 "I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed." So, we 21st century believers should investigate carefully as well so that we can give orderly accounts of the Gospel. I personally have done a good bit of the investigating but am woefully short in the giving of orderly accounts and will be found standing in line asking forgiveness for not having faithfully done so.

Here are links to what some have written sympathetically about Mr. Hume’s statement. 

Ross Douthat

Bill O’Reilly

Matt Barber

Brent Bozell

Michael Gerson

Tim Graham

Monday, January 4, 2010

Church Statements on Homosexual Behavior

Many Christians are upset over endorsement of homosexual behavior in some Churches. Some of us argue that the problem is that endorsement is a positive judgment that goes beyond (violates) Jesus’ warning against judging, but I suspect it is often just a case of seeing specks in the eyes of neighbors while ignoring the logs in our own eyes. (Matthew 7:1-3)

In the summer of 2009 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for example, voted to allow ordination of practicing homosexuals in monogamous relationships and to allow the blessing of such unions. Some see that decision as indecisive since it does not endorse but allows endorsing. Whatever one’s positions on these issues, it is difficult to deny that many churches and church people have, with an unjustified attitude of self righteousness, brought focus and pressure on homosexual behavior, and sometimes even on homosexuality itself, while paying scant attention to explicit teachings of Jesus himself who said nothing at all about either.

For example, Jesus commands us to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, follow His commandments, feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, eat His Body and Blood, follow the two greatest commandments (love God and neighbor), follow the Great Commission (go, make disciples, baptize, and teach), be last of all and be a servant to all. He tells us not to cast stones unless we are without sin, to avoid anger and swearing and to trust in our Heavenly Father and not worry about tomorrow. He teaches us to avoid adultery and lust and divorce and greed. He even tells us we have to die to ourselves and give up everything to follow him and that it is not going to be easy.

Well, when is the last time the Church came down hard on somebody for being greedy or selfish or for getting caught up in adultery or for failing to show up for Holy Communion or for never telling anyone about Jesus or for criticizing and judging others or for not dying to themselves and giving up everything for Jesus.

In Matthew, Jesus tells us that we are made unclean by evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander but doesn’t seem to say that any one of these is any worse than the others and says nothing specifically about homosexual behavior.

And it’s not just Jesus. We find in Leviticus that anyone who curses his mother or father or commits adultery is to be put to death, exactly the same punishment some like to point out was prescribed for two men who lie together. Exodus 35:2 tells us that anybody who does any work on the Sabbath must be put to death! In the past century or so the Church has not been too tough on cursing of parents, working on the Sabbath, or even committing adultery. In spite of the fact that we don’t normally take these prohibitions in Leviticus very seriously, parts of the church have tended to get very stirred up and begin quoting Leviticus in cases involving two men found lying together.

In the first chapter of Romans, St. Paul gives a little overview of human history with a pretty impressive list of sins including failure to glorify God and give thanks to him, sexual impurity, worship of created things rather than the Creator, shameful homosexual lusts, wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness, disobedience of parents, faithlessness, heartlessness, and ruthlessness. Why do we read this and just see the phrase, “shameful homosexual lusts?” Paul didn’t rank these sins but wrote that everybody knows that all who do such things deserve death but they just keep on doing them and approving of others doing them. Has anything changed?

So, to those of us who would rather not see the churches adopting more liberal stances on homosexual behavior, or anything else for that matter, because we think the job of the Church is forgiveness more than granting of permission, it shouldn’t be difficult to see why homosexual Christians might feel justified in saying, “Hey, we know you think we are wrong, but how about cutting us a little slack. You’ve been cutting yourselves and everybody else but us plenty of slack for centuries.”