Ecumenism


There is no one, and that includes Glenn Beck despite my respect for him, who will ever convince me that Jesus’ call to radical discipleship omits advocating for social and economic justice in the world.  However, I will admit that I am greatly troubled by those who think that it is the sole component of following in the Nazarene’s steps.  We lose sight of the fact that humanity’s physical needs are for a corruptible body which will one day molder in the ground when we focus solely on Jesus’ admonition to meet the physical needs of our fellow-man.   When Jesus calls us to promote justice, and yes I know that phrase is not explicit in the Gospels, He does so as a means to evangelism.  Let us be honest, people will be more likely to hear the Gospel call if they first see that we care about them and are not simply trying to get them in our churches and get their money.  Accordingly, churches should be prepared to spend money without expecting an immediate return as building this amount of trust takes time, but is not seeing even one soul come to redeeming faith worth every dime we might spend?  It is this soul saving aspect that fires my passion for social justice.  After all, the story of Good Friday and Easter morning is the story of God providing a means for saving the lost.  So, when I read yesterday an article promoting “Barefoot Sunday” on Easter Sunday I was appalled.  Easter is the pinnacle of the church year.  It is why we mark Christ’s coming at Advent, why we spend Lent’s 40 days preparing our hearts for the glory of Easter, and why we spend the remaining period of Pentecost continually being reminded that as the blood bought children of God we are to fight against sin and live in what Paul called “the power of the His (Christ’s) resurrection.”   Dr. Bart Ehrman said it best when he told our New Testament class at Carolina that without Easter there is no Christianity.  I do not believe anything should compete with preaching the hope of Easter to our fallen world and I find it mind-boggling that Christians are promoting such a cause that day.  The only feet we should be drawing attention to are the nail scarred feet of Jesus and there to offer our grateful obeisance for the gift of salvation.  Please, let me be clear, I think that the Samaritan’s Feet program is wonderful program that should be supported.  I believe that using the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination to remind the world of his call to fight injustice is normally a proper tribute to his life.  However, April 4th commemorates something far bigger than the plight of the world’s shoeless and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., though he gave his life for the cause of justice, combined.  The whole of humanity’s hopes, dreams, and eternal destiny hang  on hearing the glorious news that the God-Man, Jesus Christ, arose from Joseph’s cold, dark tomb.  Indeed, as Robert Lowry penned so perfectly, “He arose with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.”   If we could let the world hear that oppression and enmity have already been defeated, that we do not have to search aimlessly for new solutions, we just have to fix our gaze on the resurrected Lord, then things will start to change in our world.  If we lose sight of this great truth, we can have barefoot Sunday every week while sitting the dark because we have given every dime we have to the poor and the world will still be going to Hell.  Let us rally around the cry, “Christ Above All” and see our world change.

Peace be with you.

Advertisements

Fawn Brodie’s “No Man Knows My History” is considered by many to be the definitive work on Joseph Smith’s life as it intricately details the events surrounding the creation of the Mormon religion.  Brodie’s work is by far one of the most intriguing religious biographies I have ever read and should be a must read for Evangelical pastors everywhere.  The Mormon faith is one of the fastest growing religions in the world and its strenuous morals and family values emphasis makes it attractive to many in America.  Evangelicals should realize that Mormonism is not just another form of Protestantism, but is a separate religion unto itself.  Brodie’s book details the almost God like status that Joseph Smith attained with his followers and provides light on the origin of many Mormon practices and beliefs.  People who believe they are finding the true church of Jesus Christ should be made aware of some of the more obscure of these beliefs such as the doctrine of eternal progression which asserts that ultimately a devoted Mormon will become part of the Godhead.  Brodie’s recounting the creation of the Book of Mormon, during a time of great religious upheaval in upstate New York, should give every Mormon adherent pause about the veracity of their faith’s Scripture.  Smith is portrayed as a grand storyteller who uses the events of the day to create the Book of Mormon’s masterful tales.  Indeed, Brodie points out that the Book of Mormon could be considered simply part of the canon of myths and tales New Yorkers spun to explain the existence of Native American burial mounds scattered across the Upstate.  I find it odd that given Brodie’s retelling of the Book of Mormon’s creation why one does not hear more about the same scrutiny being applied to it that is so often applied to the Christian Scriptures.  Do scholars simply find it fantasy and choose to ignore it?  If so, why do they not choose to treat the Scriptures in the same manner, after all I would think a person “deluded” in one religion deserves to be saved from their delusion just as much as one in another.

I think the greatest danger that Brodie’s book exposes is the that the Mormon religion is an American creation, grounded in the American dream.  Smith’s continued quest for power and fortune is often depicted to be central to his actions, as if he needs these things to find fulfillment.  True Christianity teaches that the pursuit of power is not what our Saviour intends for us.  We must remember to follow His example, that He came not to be served, but to serve.  Joseph Smith’s life tragically proves that to fight against Christ’s example will lead a person down a path of destruction.  It was Smith’s grab for power that ultimately cost him his life and forced his followers to barren Utah.  The American Church would do well to heed Smith’s warning before it follows him down the same path.  Finally, Brodie’s work should awaken within every pastor a desire to provide their flock with theological tools to combat Mormonism and other new religious movements.  Pastors are supposed to be God’s under-shepherd and part of our job is to protect our flock from outside attack.  A failure to teach the errors of Smith’s “taste like chicken” theology and those like it is a failure to protect our own.  For example, the Mormon doctrine of eternal marriage, an essential plank in their very attractive family values position, flies in direct opposition to Jesus’ teaching that there is no marriage in Heaven.  The average Christian I know would not even think about making that point and the blame for that starts in the pulpit.  Now, let me be clear, I do not mean that we should step into our pulpits and rant against these groups.  I think such actions are counterproductive.  I do believe though that we should once more teach clear doctrine from our pulpits to the point that people will know when they are hearing unorthodox theology.  We must recall that just as Joseph Smith will one day have to account for his misleading people, we will have to account for failing to simply lead people.

Peace be with you.

Our current series on the Church has been quite edifying to me as I have discovered some great quotes from various authors.  I thought I would share one from A. W. Tozer that hit home on how our spiritual health affects the spiritual health of the Body.

Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all
tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other?
They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but
to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So
one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away
to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could
possibly be were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn
their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.
Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified.
The body becomes stronger as its members become healthier. The
whole church of God gains when the members that compose it
begin to seek a better and a higher life.

Peace be with you.

I’ve been reading a bit on the Church universal in preparation for my upcoming sermon on that topic January 31.  I came across a great quote by Lesslie Newbegin that I thought I would share.

“The Church is the pilgrim people of God. It is on the move–hastening to the ends of the earth to beseech all men to
be reconciled to God, and hastening to the end of time to meet its Lord, who will gather all into one. Therefore, the nature of the Church is never to be fully defined in static terms, but only in terms of that to which it is going. It cannot be understood rightly except in a perspective which is at once missionary and eschatological, and only in that perspective can the deadlock of our present ecumenical debate be resolved.”

I realize that there are several issues which will forever divide the Church, but I also know beyond any shadow of a doubt that there is a lot more that we can agree on than we do.  The simple fact is that our fractious state will continue to weaken our witness unless we determine to present a more unified front.  It is as Ben Franklin said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “we must all hang together or we will surely hang separately.”  However, as much as I would like to see it happen, I am uncertain if it ever will as I daily experience how hard it is for even Baptists to agree on that which they believe.  Yet, our prayer must be continually focused on being one, for that was after all the prayer of our Lord as well.

Peace be with you.

I have serious problems with the fact that in the intensely partisan and politically correct era in which we live, a public discourse about religion is unwelcome.  I cannot comprehend why commentators, such as Bill Maher, think it is open season to ridicule not only religion, but religious adherents as well.  I completely understand that they believe that all religions are little more than myths and fables that separate us and cause so much of the terror in our world today.  Yet, I think to blame religion for the world’s problems is an oversimplification of the situation.  Yes, religious fervor has played a role in some of the most horrific events in world history, but a closer examination of many of those events would find other factors that outweigh religious fervor.  How can the most gruesome of the 20th Century’s events be ascribed to religion?   I cannot find any religious motives in the actions of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot or the Rwandan genocide.  I only see a desperate need to fulfill selfish ambition.  Indeed, if religion had been regarded in Rwanda the genocide may not have occurred.  Rwandans claims to be over 90% Christian, yet how many of Christ’s teachings on loving your neighbor and lifting up the dispossessed were adherred to in the Hutu rampage? I know that many would point to the Balkan wars and use that as the perfect example of religion run afoul, but given the dynamics of European politics at the time, I still can only ascribe the wars to the base political ambitions of Serbian nationalism.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that will Congress neither establish a national religion, nor prevent the free exercise any religion.  If these commentators are going to wrap themselves in the First Amendment, let them understand that if part of it is removed, some part of them may be exposed.  It is time that we have an active dialogue about faith in our country and allow adherents to defend their beliefs without ridicule.  The last time I checked, such open discussions were the promise of our democracy.  I know, that to have such an open discussion can allow for some off the wall statements, but I will deal with Pat Robertson later.  Ross Douthat had a wonderful article in the Sunday New York Times dealing with the fact that we should have an open discourse.  I will commend it to your reading.

Peace be with you.

We have all been shocked by the widespread devastation that is being broadcast from Haiti.  The death toll is  enormous and rising and already includes the Archbishop of Port-au-Prince.  Haiti is 55% Catholic.  The need for prayer is certainly great and the urgent prayer request sent from the International Mission Board provides an adequate guide to lead in our prayers.   The Baptist State Convention of NC has reported that it has a team ready to fly in to provide medical assistance and certainly other teams will be sent as soon as the situation becomes less fluid.  Please be in prayer for them as they travel into a chaotic situation.

Peace be with you.

“Devastation is the word that comes to mind as we watch the news of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti. On the island of Hispaniola, the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, is facing a major catastrophe. Please intercede for the injured, as they must patiently await treatment; for those still trapped as they hope for release; for first responders as they struggle against time and exhaustion. Pray for the families and friends who are grieving the death of loved ones. As the days progress, pray continually for relief workers as they survey the affected areas and seek effective means of providing comfort. Pray for believers in the area to be filled with the gift of mercy as they show the love of Christ through serving others.”

Old Well My alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, celebrated its 216th birthday today.  It was on this day in 1793 that William R. Davie laid the cornerstone for Old East, which would become my dorm some 206 years later.   The four years I was privileged to be at Carolina were some of the most formative of my life and central to those years was the spiritual growth I experienced.  I was able to participate in Baptist Campus Ministry, which opened a door to other faith traditions with which I was inexperienced, and Music Makers Christian Fellowship, a gathering of Christians associated with the UNC Marching Tar Heels and with whom I led a small group Bible study.  These groups provided me not only a safe environment to work out my personal theology for the first time, but a place to meet with fellow believers for fellowship and encouragement in what sometimes seemed like hostile territory.  I firmly believe in the work of campus ministries to not only provide similar safe havens for young Christians, but to seize these formative years to capture questioning hearts with the Gospel.  One of the best organizations I know that accomplishes this task is Campus Crusade for Christ.  The Four Spiritual Laws have been used thousands of times to help bring another sinner to the foot of the Cross.  I can still recall hearing the praise music from Campus Crusade’s meeting resounding from Gerrard Hall as I returned from practice at Hill Hall and the encouragement it often provided.  Campus ministry is difficult work in a tough environment, but it insures that there is a Christian witness in the next generation.  I would encourage everyone to pray for those involved in campus ministry and if you know have a student from your church in college, drop them a note and let them know you are thinking about them.

Peace be with you.

Next Page »