The Day I Was Disinherited…

I love new yorkThis past Friday, while I was less than 100 miles away (in New Hampshire) from where I grew up in Schenectady, New York, I was disinherited. That’s right. Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of my birth State said this: “You have a schism within the Republican Party. … They’re searching to define their soul, that’s what’s going on. Is the Republican party in this state a moderate party or is it an extreme conservative party? That’s what they’re trying to figure out. It’s a mirror of what’s going on in Washington… Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.”

So while I was visiting my grandchildren I was disinherited and branded an extremist because I am a Christian who is Pro-life and Pro-heterosexual marriage. Thanks gov for being such a tolerant guy and for being such a good Catholic, like your dad. At one time Catholics and Prots saw eye to eye on most social issues, but no more. I loved what Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote about this in a National Review article. “Who is the worst enemy of religious freedom? The enemy is within. Andrew Cuomo is a professed Catholic proclaiming the Gospel of secularism. Just as many a professed Catholic whose names are on the case names of all the lawsuits against the Department of Health and Human Services abortion drug, contraception, sterilization mandate. Secularism is not just a religion for atheist and agnostics, but every practical atheist – every religious believer who doesn’t live any differently than the culture prescribes. Any Christian who isn’t constantly challenged by the mandates of the Gospel and the precepts of his faith contributes to the tsunami of secularism. Too many of us all too often fall into this category, some as a matter of fallen nature and bad habits, others as a matter of lukewarm faith and utter indifference. Make no mistake: We make it easier for politicians to push religious faith to the margins.”

As we celebrated right to life Sunday nearly a week ago, let us realize that this is more than just a political battle. These issues are at the very soul of our faith and if we become cafeteria Christians, like Cuomo, then people like Cuomo will continue to marginalize believers by calling them extremists and lumping us altogether with those who believe in Sharia Law.

By the way, Cuomo’s reckless dismissal of what he considers an “extreme” minority is not accurate picture of even in his own state when it comes to abortion. Michelle Mankin writes that in “a recent poll of New Yorkers showed that the vast majority ‘support sensible restrictions on abortions, with 80 percent opposing unlimited abortion through the ninth month of pregnancy and 75 percent opposing changes in current law so that someone other than a doctor can perform an abortion.’ Contrary to Cuomo’s distorted view, the 21st-century pro-life movement is a diverse convergence of increasingly young and minority activists, feminist pro-lifers, independents and social conservatives. And contrary to Cuomo’s reckless telling of history, pro-life activism is ingrained in New York history.” Even Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other women suffragists who met at Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1840 were clear in their stand for life. Cady Stanton condemned the “murder of children, either before or after birth.” Alice Paul, who crusaded for the Equal Rights Amendment, called abortion “the ultimate exploitation of women.”

So in a way, the governor’s words challenged me to continue to live out my faith according to the mandates of the Gospel. His rant also warned me of the dangers of a lukewarm faith which can cause me to be so easily sucked into the vortex of my culture that I become less like Jesus and more like Andrew Cuomo.

“Plural Marriage” the new normal?

plural marriageNew Mexico has now become the 17th state to recognize same-sex “marriage.” The dominoes are falling. Most of us knew this would happen, but many people did not recognize the other unintended doors of social change that might open as well.

Several months ago I wrote an article on “serial marriage” after seeing a program about a man living with two women. Only one was his legal wife, but he considered the other woman his “wife” as well. I had asked on what basis our society could deny the right of this man to marry both women if it has already crossed the line of redefining marriage. I suggested that there will be other attempts to press for individual rights in this area now that marriage has fallen from its created design between a man and a woman (see the words of Jesus in Matt 19:4, 5).

Yesterday, in the Chicago Tribune, there was an article titled Utah ‘plural marriage’ wins round in court. “Advocates for so-called plural marriages are applauding a ruling by a US District Court judge (who else?) that struck down key segments of Utah’s (where else?) anti-polygamy law, saying they violated constitutional rights to privacy and religious freedom.” The headline is a little misleading and we have to dig deeper to understand the significance of this decision. The ruling preserved the law against bigamy—being officially married to more than one spouse at the same time. However, the ruling claimed that the presence of additional “unofficial wives” in the same family should be recognized as “religious cohabitation.”

“Proponents say that polygamist cohabitation among fundamentalist Mormons traditionally involves one marriage certificate; and additional wives represent religion-based relationships that are protected under the Constitution. They say the judge’s ruling has preserved laws against bigamy, which involves more than one marriage license.” Essentially the judge ruled against the language of the Utah law that says, “or cohabits with another person.” Advocates have also said that “the judge’s ruling grants polygamists the same legal standing as same-sex couples.”

What we see here is a road to social and moral change that has been traveled before. A movement starts small merely advocating to be recognized; it appeals to legal and constitutional rights; it cries out for respect and dignity; it argues that the government should stay out of the business of defining “family”; it presents its case in the media (the TV reality series on TLC “Sister Wives”; and generally there will be some type of persecution of the movement that becomes a rallying-point (the Mormons have plenty of examples from the assassination of Joseph Smith to the “banishment” of Brigham Young); it appeals to the “civil rights” given to other minorities; and the movement usually finds its initial success in the courts, not with the electorate (e.g. Massachusetts became the first state to recognize gay marriage because of a 5-4 decision of the State Supreme Court).

There is one more ingredient for social change; an idea must have time to develop and trickle down to a new and more tolerant generation. (It should be noted that there are Christian polygamist groups who base their beliefs on the Bible, but they will always remain on the fringe and will never travel “the road” of social change.)

“He who stands for nothing will fall for everything.” The quote is attributed to GK Chesterton from a line in one of his Father Brown Mysteries. In a culture where truth is redefined as “truthiness” and conviction is regarded as bigotry, this quote sounds terribly intolerant. Nonetheless, mark my word; the dominoes will keep falling as our society continues to implode. The late Francis Schaeffer said that he no longer prayed for God to bless America, but for God to have mercy upon America. “Let your steadfast love be upon us, O Lord, even as we hope in you” (Ps 33:22).

LOSER!!!

Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute wrote her thoughts about this week’s passing of the Gay Marriage Bill in the Illinois House of Representatives. She shared some of the emails received from “ardent supporters of genderless faux-marriage. “You Lose. Loser!!!!!!!!” “How does it feel? Really bad? Imagine a lifetime of people as evil as you against birth of a child living in misery. No more! Retire, all your work did nothing and means nothing!!! Marriage equality wins!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yayyyyyy, slam dunk in your face, freak!!!! “Reminder, Score: equality 1…Illinois Family Institute and NOM – ZERO!!!!! F U !!!!” “Ha ha! Ha ha, Laurie. You do still have the blood of gay-bashing victims dripping off of your bigot fingers, yet you live in a state where the gay people are going to have federal level equality. Your life is a waste. I think it would be a good idea for you now to kill yourself.”

Certainly not all the supporters of gay marriage are as intolerant and hate-filled as the people who wrote the above responses. Ms. Higgins opined that the defeat of Biblical values was due in part to the fact that “far too many religious leaders claim the church should not be involved in political issues. But what if political issues are first biblical issues? During the slave era, should churches have remained silent as Scripture was twisted to justify slave-holding (just as it is twisted today to justify same-sex pseudo-marriage)? Was it right that so many Christians refused to stand for truth during Hitler’s reign of terror? Should Christians have refrained from participating in the Civil Rights marches in the 1960’s?”

Something in that criticism does not ring true anymore. The slavery issue, Nazi Germany, and even the Civil rights issue were played out against a Christian consensus. In other words, the dominant culture was Christian and functioned on a biblical value system. This is no longer the case today. Our culture has past the point of no return where decisions are no longer made on the basis of biblical morality. In fact, the time has now come when biblical values are not only seen as intolerant, but as bigoted and unjust. In the not too distant future, mark my word, Christianity will be targeted as uncivil and may even be legislated against (like it was in the 1st century). We already see this is small ways—a case before the Supreme Court where a town council in upstate NY was sued because they had prayer before their meetings that was of a distinctly Christian nature.

This cultural shift has been taking place for a long time and we need to see that is the pattern of rebellion against God’s truth that is present in every age. However, it will be more and more characteristic of every culture as we move towards the Day of the Lord. The Bible never gives us the idea that our world is going to get better and better before our Lord returns and yet somehow we are totally bummed when we lose a battle in the culture war. 2 Timothy 3 vividly portrays the godlessness of the Last Days, and Paul specifically says “in fact, everyone who wants to lie a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” It may be gay marriage 1 and biblical marriage 0, but remember the lions (not Detroit) always outscored the Christians in the Coliseum.

I was a pastor of a church in Massachusetts where on May 17, 2004, that state became the first one to legalize gay marriage. In spite of all our efforts, the measure was passed, not by the legislature, but by the State Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote. I know what it is like to be slandered and hated because I was not in favor gay marriage. I never thought it would be possible that such a situation would ever take place in America. However, I had a choice to make; either to seek victim status and try to distance myself and my church against my culture, or to see the increasing desperation of my culture to find happiness apart from God as a greater opportunity to live out and speak the gospel. I was reminded of that last night as I watched My Hope by Billy Graham. It is the message of the Cross that will change and transform. Somehow the darker things are, even the faintest light makes a difference.

How to prove a Wrestler is born that way…

wrestlers

Suppose my college wanted to do away with its wrestling program, and so I set about proving that such a move would discriminate against wrestlers because they were born that way. My proof would consist of the following:  (1) twin studies; (2) brain dissections; (3) gene “linkage” studies.

The basic idea in twin studies is to show that the more genetically similar two people are, the more likely it is that they will share the trait you are studying. So you identify groups of twins in which at least one is a wrestler. What I would probably find is that if one identical twin is a wrestler, his twin brother is statistically more likely be one, too. Let’s say I found a “concordance rate” of about 50% (the percentage of pairs in which both twins are wrestlers.) Pretty impressive, but unfortunately it wasn’t 100%. I can’t tell people the trait is inherited, but I can say it is “heritable.”

I call Sports Illustrated and tell them, “Our research demonstrates that wrestling is strongly heritable.” However, since people (like you) don’t know the difference between heritable and inherited, soon articles begin appearing in the school newspaper saying that wrestlers are probably born that way. No one other than people in the Biology Department notices the media’s inaccurate reporting.

Now the gory part—I move on conduct some brain research, which I can do because I minored in Biology. I perform a series of autopsies on the brains of some dead people who, I think wrestled at some point in their lives, and I measure the size of a certain part of their brain. Then I do the same with a group of dead non-wrestlers. I find that, on average, certain parts of the brain long thought to be involved with wrestling are much larger in the group of dead wrestlers.

The school newspaper goes crazy and carries a headline, “Wrestlers do not have a choice—even their brains are different!” At this news, basketball players everywhere have their suspicions confirmed about wrestlers. “I knew they were different.” However, even these basketball players are duped because what they are not told is that the brain changes with use. Those parts responsible for an activity get larger over time, and there are specific parts of the brain that are more utilized in wrestling. I know this, but I’m not going to tell anyone, certainly not basketball players, because we wrestlers have suffered at their hands for years having to practice in the cafeteria rather than in the gym.    

Finally, I will do a gene-linkage study. I gather a small number of families of wrestlers and compare them to some families of non-wrestlers. I already have a hunch that some of the genes  associated with wrestling (strength, athleticism, quick reflexes, good looks- maybe not), will be located on the x-chromosome. I cannot say these genes cause wrestling because such a claim would be scientifically insupportable, but the public thinks “caused by” and “associated with” are synonymous.

My research goes beyond the school newspaper and it gets picked up by a National Radio Affiliate and now my college can’t get rid of wrestling because everyone thinks wrestlers are born that way. No one pays attention to what the majority of respected scientists believe that wrestling is attributable to a combination of psychological, social, and biological factors.

I adapted this scenario from an article written on Narth.com Is There a Gay Gene?

Celebrate Our Godless Constitution

K-GodlessConstitutionYes, that was the title of a full-page add in the July 4 edition of the Chicago Tribune, sponsored by Foundation From Religious Freedom. It was entitled “Celebrate Our Godless Constitution.” Not only were many of the quotes of the founding fathers taken out of context, but the use of the term “godless” was very deceptive. It is like saying “so and so was sober today.” What does that lead you to think? It could imply that the person in question is usually drunk. It is true that not all of the founding fathers were Christians. It is also true that they firmly believed in the separation of church and state because of the religious oppression many of their forefathers and mothers experienced under a State Church in England. It is also true that many of the founders were not a part of any organized religion. However, to call them “godless” is simply a lie.

Among the signers of the Constitution quoted was Thomas Paine: “The revolutionary who gave the United States of America its very name and who fanned the flames of the American Revolution utterly repudiated Christianity and the bible. Paine wrote that ‘My religion is to do good’ and ‘My own mind is my own church.’” However to imply that he was godless is simply untrue. Paine was one of the founders of the Society of Theophilanthropists (lovers of God and man) which existed in Paris during and after the French Revolution. Their motto was “We believe in the existence of God, and in the immortal soul.”

Paine’s Age of Reason, which many believe to be an Atheistic work was written to oppose Atheism. In a letter to Samuel Adams, Paine said, “The people of France were running headlong into Atheism, and I had the work translated into their own language, to stop them in that career, and fix in them the first article of every man’s creed… I believe in God.” Though he is remembered for his vicious attack upon organized religion, he had a deep appreciation for the divine mystery and bristled at the way many religious groups demythologized God to achieve their own selfish ends at the expense of individual freedoms. There are some who believe that Paine recanted and had a death-bed conversion to Christianity, but there are no solid historical facts to back up that claim.

So why is it that so many people in our country were and are against religion and Christianity in particular? There are many reasons, but there is one that is hardly ever mentioned. In the closing chapters of CS Lewis’ Hideous Strength, Professor Frost is trying to initiate Mark Studdock into a diabolical movement designed to take over the world. On the floor lay a life-sized crucifix and Mark is told to trample on Jesus’ face and desecrate it in other ways. Mark is not a Christian and yet finds this command irrational and superstitious, so he refuses. Frost is angry and responds: “If you had been brought up in a non-Christian society, you would not be asked to do this. Of course, it is a superstition; but it is that particular superstition which has been pressed upon our society for a great many centuries. It can experimentally be shown that it still forms a dominant system in the subconscious of many individuals whose conscious thought appears to be wholly liberated. An explicit action in the reverse direction is therefore a necessary step towards complete objectivity.”

I am not going to tell you how the story works out, but in the helplessness of seeing Jesus on the cross, Mark begins to change. He begins to see what the diabolically crooked movements of this world do to those who are good and what they might do to him if he stepped on the “good man.”
Could it be that there is something diabolical behind the anti-Christian movements of our culture because “it (Christianity) still forms a dominant system in the subconscious of many individuals?” Could it also be that our Sovereign God is using this kind of “reverse direction” and irrational opposition to bring many to consider Christ through the “foolishness” of the cross?

The Icy Waters of Moral Decline

ice-rescue-two-img_0848In 1987, Robert Bork, a Reagan nominee for a Supreme Court Justice and who was not confirmed by the Senate (some say, “he was borked”,) wrote a book about our culture’s decline entitled, “Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and America’s Decline.” I am going to use another metaphor. This week the Supreme Court heard arguments against the constitutionality of two issues: 1) California Proposition 8, which says that marriage is to be between a man and a woman; 2) the Defense of Marriage Act, which withholds federal recognition and benefits to couples in same sex relationships and was overwhelmingly passed by Congress in 1996 to “express moral disapproval of homosexuality.”

The Court will vote today (Friday) and the outcome will be pivotal to our culture’s entire value system not to mention its understanding of marriage, which has from our nation’s inception been based upon the biblical mandate of Creation. Although this day has been coming for decades (and is already here in some states), it is sobering to see the direction in which the Supreme Court is leaning. And it will be the height of irony that the very constitution which provides us with freedom to worship the God of the Bible will at the same time render unconstitutional His very definition of marriage. It should be acknowledged that this is not an issue for the theologically liberal Protestant who believes that God is still speaking, and this new understanding of marriage is part of Her/His message.

Our culture has clearly broken through the ice of God’s protective care and is now struggling for survival in the icy waters of its own moral decline. Eradicating gender from the marriage equation is the tipping point to more confusion. Mark my word, the “polyamorous” relationships of today will cry out for constitutional freedom and equality and will produce the polygamous marriages of tomorrow—and so on. This culture cannot rescue itself; it needs the Church which has been marginalized and viewed as “out of step.” What an opportunity to have an impact and be the salt and light described by Jesus! The Church in every age should be out of step with its culture and increasingly so as the culture suppresses what it intuitively knows to be true about God (Rom. 1:18, 19). However, the American Church has no footing or place to stand in order to stage a rescue. Its own moral track record has given it little credibility with which to speak to the sins of the culture or to show the higher road of following the commands of Scripture.

Its own performance within the arena of marriage and family has been slip-shod. The Church matches the culture in its divorce rate and probably in the numbers of people addicted to pornography, not to mention other sexual abuses. It has more of a reputation for toxic church-splits than for being a loving and cohesive community. We have failed not only to do justly and love mercy, but to walk humbly with our God. Our dying culture has little reason to believe that we can offer much of an alternative. Every time the Church tries to pull the culture out (through political activism, culture wars, or legalism), the ice cracks underfoot and the Church itself is in danger of also slipping into the water.

The only hope of rescuing someone who has fallen through the ice is for the rescuer to get face down on the ice and move toward the helpless victim. The only way the Church can rescue the culture is by getting face down before God in repentance and moving humbly and slowly toward the helplessness of our culture. “If my people…” You know the verse I mean in 2 Chron. 7:14. It is as the people of God humble themselves, pray, and seek the face of God; it is then that their sins will be forgiven and their land will be healed. For when we are humble, the ice won’t crack beneath the weight of our own sin and we can go out onto thin ice and extend our hand to those who are slowly freezing to death in the icy waters of moral decline.

While we still have a voice…

I just received a time-sensitive letter from Leith Anderson, the President of the National Association of Evangelicals. I want to share a portion with you:

The United States Senate may vote Friday afternoon on several pro-life amendments to the Budget Resolution. Please consider calling your Senators through the Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 to express your support for these efforts to protect the unborn.

1. Senator Lee’s District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act Summary: This amendment expresses the Sense of the Senate regarding the abortion of pain-capable unborn children in the District of Columbia. As you may know, the DC Council repealed all limits on abortion, therefore making abortion legal for any reason to the moment of birth. The amendment states that abortion should be unlawful past 20 weeks fetal age (also referred to as 20 weeks post-fertilization age), except if necessary to save the life of the mother.

2. Senator Rubio’s Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act Summary: This amendment expresses the Sense of the Senate that legislation should be enacted to require that an abortionist, before performing an abortion on a minor from a different state, must first notify one parent, unless the minor is the victim of sexual abuse or faces a life-endangering emergency, or has received permission from a court. Further, it says that legislation should be enacted to make it a federal crime to transport a minor across a state line in circumvention of a state law requiring parental involvement in the minor’s abortion.

3. Senator Vitter’s Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act Summary: This amendment expresses the Sense of the Senate that legislation should be enacted to ban sex-selection abortions in the United States. There are now four studies from … academic institutions proving sex-selection in the U.S.: U.C. Berkeley, U. of Texas, U. of Connecticut, and Columbia University, whose 2008 report found that there is “strong son bias” within selected American communities as revealed in census data and “clear evidence of sex-selection, most likely at the prenatal stage.” The victims of sex-selection abortion are overwhelmingly female, and most sex-selection abortions are grisly, later-term abortions, likely occurring after the child becomes “pain-capable.” The United States is believed to be the only advanced country that does not restrict sex-selection through law. Sex-selection abortion bans consistently poll between 86% and 93% positively, making this initiative the most widely supported of all pro-life efforts.

One final thing: Next week the Supreme Court will hear two important cases concerning the legal status of marriage in our country. The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has prepared an excellent guide to prayer, which can be accessed here: http://erlc.com/article/a-call-to-a-week-of-prayer-for-marriage. I will be making some hard copies of this prayer guide available on Sunday at our services. Please join in praying for the these important decisions.

Thank you for your efforts to safeguard the sanctity of human life and to protect and strengthen marriage by using our rights as free citizens. We do not take this privilege for granted.

Easter Revisited…

Easter LilyLast week I wrote an article about certain Christians questioning the validity of other Christians celebrating Easter because of the claim that Easter has its origins in paganism. (Maybe you should take another look at that blog just to refresh your memory.) The main thrust of my argument centered on the freedom that we have to contextualize the gospel in ways that our target culture will understand. Thus the fact that we use an Easter egg hunt as an outreach to the community so we can share the gospel of the Resurrected Christ is a case in point. Our intent is to share the gospel not to celebrate paganism.

The issue of intent raised a few red flags with some of my readers, so I want to revisit that. In the Chicago Tribune yesterday there was an article about gun-rights advocates calling Mark Kelly (the husband of Gabrielle Giffords) a hypocrite for buying a AR-15 assault weapon in Arizona. As you remember, since Giffords was shot and nearly killed she and Kelly have engaged in a high profile campaign to curb military-style weapon ownership. His intent in buying the weapon was to show how easy it was to obtain one with a minimal background check. So, is the charge of hypocrisy accurate given his intent? Even in Old Testament, Israel recognized the difference between murder and manslaughter as one of intent. Also, the key to the sacrificial system was not the bulls and goats, but the heart (the intent) of the worshipper. There is a very interesting example of intent in 1 Kings 5:18, 19. A converted Naaman asked Elisha if he would be forgiven when he had to accompany his king to the temple of Rimmon and there help the old man bow in worship, “and [consequently] I bow there also.” Elisha, usually very sensitive to idolatry, simply told him to “go in peace.” Elisha knew Naaman’s action of bowing, even in pagan temple, did not carry with it the intent of worship.

As well-reasoned as I think my arguments are, I know they will not be sufficient to convince those who have a strong conviction to the contrary. In the same way, they could not produce sufficient data on Easter and paganism to change my mind either. OK, so we have a standoff. Let’s solve the disagreement the good old fashioned American-Christian way; break fellowship and go start your own church. I think the tragedy in all of this is that in our attempt to love the Lord Jesus and to be faithful to His Word, we end up not loving each other and, therefore, being unfaithful to His Word. If we really desire to be biblical in our approach to dealing with disagreements on non-essentials (things not having to do with the centrality of the gospel), then we need to read Romans 14. “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.”

This entire passage deals with disagreements between Christians in the church at Rome who were going after each other because of “disputable matters.” Luther called them “pebble in the shoe” issues; annoying disputes which cannot be settled because each person is convinced in their own conscience that they hold the correct position. There were those whose consciences were “strong” and were convinced that they had the freedom to eat the meat sold at the temple meat-market (the only one in town), even though the animals from which the meat came were first sacrificed to a pagan deity. There were others in the church, however, who became vegetarians because they had a “weak” conscience— they believed that eating meat sacrificed to idols would make them participants in the pagan worship from which they had been converted. Although Paul identified more with the carnivores, he believed they were both right as long as they were acting according to their conscience. Where they were wrong, however, were in their attitudes toward each another. “The one who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him… Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another… Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification… So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.”

According to the Scripture, then, being right about Easter and paganism takes a back seat to the love and unity which should be displayed by those who are in disagreement over the issue. If someone is fully convinced in his own mind on a disputable matter, even if we do not share that conviction, then God forbid that s/he should go against that conscience. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7).

Is Easter a Pagan Celebration?

home-easter-eggsThere are those who claim that Easter* should not be celebrated because of its pagan origin. Unfortunately, such teaching is not only semi-historical but creates division in the Church. The basic presupposition of such a view is that anything that is connected with paganism should be eschewed because God wants his people to be separate from the world’s thinking and practices. While this may have especially been true of ancient Israel living among the Canaanites, it does not seem to accurately represent the New Testament’s portrayal of infiltrating the world with the gospel.

What mattered most to the New Testament writers, especially the Apostle Paul, was the issue of intent. Paul used the method of contextualization in his ministry, especially in taking the gospel to the Gentiles. Some of his critics thought he was wishy-washy and inconsistent, but he believed he was exercising the freedom he had in Christ to frame the gospel in an understandable way to his hearers in order to win as many as possible. “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews… To those not under the law I became like one not having the law…, so as to win those not having the law… I have become all things to all men so that I might by all possible means save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Paul had the freedom to do or not to do because his intent was to preach the gospel and save some.

There is certainly a danger that Christians can over- accommodate with culture to the extent that they lose their distinctiveness. In missiological circles this is called syncretism; when the gospel loses its integrity and message because it has been blended into the practices of the dominant culture. Paul warned the Colossians against syncretism because they were being tempted to follow the elementary principles and deceptive philosophy (“Stoicheia”) of their culture rather than Christ (2:8). “If you have died to the elementary principles of the world, why do you submit to their decrees?” (2:20)

When it comes to Easter, the New Testament portrays it as the occasion for celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The time of Christ’s Resurrection is clearly shown in the New Testament to be the Sunday following the Jewish Passover. The fact that in previous and subsequent centuries the celebrations of other pagan spring rites, along with bunnies and eggs, have made their way into our culture’s understanding of Easter in no way makes Easter a pagan event for the Christian. Again, the issue is one of intent. Easter can (and has for many) become idolatrous because the gospel has been pushed into the background. Should our response be to do away with the bunnies and the eggs or should we proclaim the gospel of the Resurrection?

I believe that Christians have the freedom to color eggs and hide baskets of candy for their kids, as long as it is their intent to have fun and not to substitute these activities for the real meaning of Easter. I also believe that we have the freedom to contextualize the gospel by using an Easter Egg Hunt as a way to invite our community to our church so that they can also have fun and hear the message of Jesus.

In summary, since you can find pagan roots in just about everything we do, the issue for us is one of intent. In other words, I am not participating in a pagan ritual just because I use the calendar, even though the months of the year and even some of our days are named after Roman gods. Nor am I a syncretist just because I celebrate birthdays, even though such celebrations find their roots in ancient astrology. We should always be concerned about the danger of becoming like the world and losing our integrity as Christians to the culture. However, I think our materialism, divorce rate, and our divisions pose a greater threat to our distinctiveness than the Easter Bunny.

*”It would seem from the translations of Luther and Tyndale that by 1500, the word oster/ester simply referred to the time of the Passover feast and had no association with the pagan goddess Eostre. Even if the word had an origin in her name, the usage had changed to such a degree that Luther was comfortable referring to Christ as the Osterlamm…. “Resurrection lamb.” Likewise, Tyndale was comfortable referring to Christ as the esterlambe. To suggest these men thought of their Savior in terms of the sacrificial offering of a pagan goddess is quite absurd in light of their writings and translations of other portions of Scripture. Even the translators of the KJV, who relied heavily on Tyndale’s work, chose to use Easter in the post-Resurrection context of Acts 12:4. Using a word that means resurrection would not make sense to describe the Passover festivals prior to the Resurrection of Christ. (http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2011/04/19/name-easter-pagan)

Beer and the Bible?

guinnessOK, the Bible and beer do not ordinarily go together, but what I am going to tell you next will be intoxicating. Arthur Guinness (1725-1803) started a beer-brewing business in Dublin in 1760. Arthur was married to Olivia Whitmore and together had 21 children (10 of whom survived into their adult years). He died in 1803 and she in 1814. He was deeply inspired by the revivalist John Wesley to use his wealth and talents to make the world better. Taking scripture as his guide, Arthur served the needy of his time by making beer and worked to use his gifts to honor God. Guinness was also the founder of the first Sunday Schools in Ireland and started an organized effort to outlaw dueling. His son, Arthur, became an ardent defender of Irish Catholic civil rights, which was interesting because he was a Protestant.

I still don’t think that many of you are convinced that brewing beer would ever be a means of social reform and/or Christian witness. However, before you judge too harshly—— keep reading. Many people today do not even like the beer because it is so filling, but that was/is the genius of Guinness. He made his beer so full of minerals, barely, and iron that most people weren’t able to drink more than a couple of pints. In addition to being nutritious, because the alcohol content was considerably lower than whiskey or gin, it meant that fewer people were actually getting drunk. Curt Harding of Christian News Wire writes: “The water in Ireland, indeed throughout Europe, was famously undrinkable, and the gin and whiskey that took its place was devastating civil society. It was a disease ridden, starvation plagued, alcoholic age, and Christians like Arthur Guinness–as well as monks and even evangelical churches–brewed beer to offer a healthier alternative to the poisonous waters and liquors of the times.”

I am also impressed with the legacy of Olivia and Arthur. Their grandson was Henry Grattan Guinness (1835-1910), a famous evangelical preacher throughout Britain. He once said, “I do now most heartily desire to live but to exalt Jesus; to live preaching and to die preaching; to preach to perishing sinners till I drop down dead.” By the way, Henry was a teetotaler. His daughter, Geraldine (1865-1949) became a missionary to China at the age of 22, and there met and married the son of Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. She became known as Mrs. Howard Taylor and wrote the biography of Hudson Taylor as well as other significant books about the work of God in China. Finally, Os Guinness (1949- ) Christian author, apologist, and social critic, is Arthur and Olivia’s great-great-great-grandson. When he was two, Os was carried out of China in a basket on a pole by his missionary parents escaping the invading Japanese army. He is an excellent writer and speaker whom I have had the privilege of meeting.

Throughout history Christians have used their skills, gifts, and resources to glorify God and change the culture in some very unique ways. You may not have agreed with the way Arthur Guinness addressed an issue of his day, but what are you doing? I wonder if it will be a Christ-follower who will effectively address the issue of gun control?

You can read more about the Guinness family in THE SEARCH FOR GOD AND GUINNESS: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World (Thomas Nelson, October 13, 2009), Stephen Mansfield.