Friday, January 23, 2015

Hobbies, Hobbies, Hobbies,

The Christian life. It's one of absolute supreme pleasantness and beauty. One where we can all just sit back, pray to ask the Lord for guidance throughout the day, and be sure to attend church on Sunday, and we will have lived a successful Christian life. We don't radically need to change our lives; we just need to add another hobby on our list of life habits. 

So you would think at times when looking at least at the caricature of the church today. Though I must be careful to admit that there are obviously individuals and churches who are preaching the gospel in an accurate way, we must admit there is a consensus among individuals among the church that this seems to be the way we live. 

"So it is with our Christian worship services. We, too, have wings, we have imagination, intended to help us actually rise aloft. But we play, allow our imagination to amuse itself in an hour of Sunday daydreaming. In reality, however, we stay right where we are – and on Monday regard it as a proof that God’s grace gets us plump, fat, delicate. That is, we accumulate money, get to be a somebody in the world, beget children, become successful, and so forth. And those who actually get involved with God and who therefore suffer and have torments, troubles, and grief, of these we say: Here is proof that they do not have the grace of God."

 What a waste of a life! What a way to not live as a Christian. Let's try to actually attempt to sacrifice as needed to actually live for Him. Christianity is about having something to both live and die for. It's about having something so meaningful that you give up everything you possess. Christianity is not about having something so important that you dedicate a day out of every week and a portion out of every day.

Living a victorious Christian life is an all-encompassing goal that we must work at in everything.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Respect for Authority

Imagine this: you have a friend who sits down one day and just rants and rants and rants about how restrictive his parents rules are. After he finishes blasting them with insults (and not even addressing the rules), it becomes clear to you that regardless of how wrong his parents are, he is more wrong to disrespect his parents because they are his God-ordained authorities.

Clearly we can see that while we might be able to give some friendly criticism to show the flaws in those that have been placed as authorities before us, we should know not to ridicule, we should know not to constantly complain, and we should know to respect them in all that we say and do.

But among certain groups (of otherwise amazing people) here at my college you would guess that this particular respectfulness and willingness to criticize without mocking has not been understood.

There is nothing wrong with pointing out some things that you find weird about the viewpoints of the authorities in your life. If you think it's weird for instance that this university does not let women teach men in Bible classes (I tend to agree, but I've heard compelling arguments for both sides), then you can say so.

What you can't and shouldn't do, of course, is say that this action obviously proves the current administration to be a collection of sexist pigs who simply want to keep women in the kitchen. (Food for thought: if they really believed that, why would they hire any female professors at all?)

This attitude of name-calling and exaggeration of an issue is disrespectful to an organization that you just happen to disagree with. Regardless of the intentions that these students had in the first place, their comments ultimately just smell of the same bigotry and intolerance that they accuse the university of.

Perhaps another example may illustrate this point further. It is acceptable for one to express disagreement over chapel speakers, but it is disrespectful to make those same speakers the butt of jokes throughout the entirety of the semester (and beyond). They're human; they'll make mistakes, say some things that they regret; some may even change their minds about what they say later. If you were in their position, you wouldn't want to live in infamy for your comments the rest of your days.

While we're on the subject of chapel, why is it that we think we have the right to avoid punishment when we skip chapel? Don't get me wrong, if you want to skip chapel, you have a right to do that. But if you are going to go past your 8 allowed unexcused absences (as well as that 5 absence grace period), then you should submit to the authority of the university and pay the fine. You should not falsify excuse forms or "scan and scram" in order to avoid the consequences. We should not defiantly refuse chapel "because the university has no right to force mature adults to attend a worship service every day."

At the end of the day, students here (and everywhere, I assume) have accepted the authority of their college. Disrespecting the authority of one's parents is one thing, but we do not typically think that disrespecting a university is really bad. But this becomes especially bothersome when you consider that most students specifically chose this specific authority in their life.

When you agreed to come to this university, you agreed to respect and accept their authority. That's not even in the fine print. So can we all just take a moment to purge the wonderful community here of this one glaring problem and start to change our attitude of the current administration and beyond.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Aren't Life's Little "Coincidences" just Amazing?

"Isn't it great how God works little things like that out all the time?" 

So said a good friend of mine this last Monday night as we randomly sat in the foyer (as it were) of our dormitory here. It was a comment that is going to be the main thrust of our brief discussion today.

The comment's context came after I explained the amazingly encouraging conversation that I had at lunch that day.

The wonders of college cuisine here is that we're not just limited to a cafeteria for our meal plans, but also can use transfer meals to get meals from this fast food type place that is catered by the same food service.

Monday was the first day of the semester that it officially opened, so I thought I would repay my visits for this semester because it's slightly better than a cafeteria.

I sat down with a former fellow Biblical Studies major who is not studying Nursing and we have a chat about nice good Godly things. I phrased that sarcastically probably because I'm not used to saying it in a serious manner. #confessingyourfaultsonetoanother

So as he asked me about my devotions, I mentioned essentially what I wrote last week and how I saw it as a theme for the early chapters of Proverbs.

This was rather exciting for him because it just so happens, he was reading in the early chapters of the book of Proverbs and was hearing the same message.

The end of the lunch was then the opportunity to really get a conversation going about the spiritual walk that the Lord has with us accordingly. It was a wonderful little thing that the Lord worked out in my life precisely when I needed it.

Then of course the conversation which spurred our thesis statement was another example of it. So much that could be said about that conversation and so much that the Lord was able to work in both of our hearts at a time when both of us would normally be studying then prepping for bed (we tend to sleep early) is maybe more than a little thing that God ensured happened just right for my edification.

How exactly are we suppose to top that in our service to God?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Why State and Church should be Separated

I apparently can't count my weeks or know the difference between a politics post and an ethics post because I just did two ethics post in consecutive weeks. Whoops-a daisy. So I guess this leaves me answering the question three weeks after I promised to answer it in two weeks. My apologies.

So why does the state need protection from the church while the church needs protection from the state?

We shall once again look to history to see why. Let us begin with why the church needs protected from the state.

The year is 1547 and the country is England. Thirteen years prior, the Act of Supremacy had been passed. This act gave authority over the church (papal authority) to the monarch.

In 1547, under the reign of the first largely radical protestant monarch, Edward VI, the Act is used to make supreme changes to the official Church of England to make it more protestant. At which point, of course, protestants consider England to be a safe haven and openly worship there.

But then Edward VI dies. He is succeeded by Queen Mary I. If there is one word to describe Mary's religious leanings, it would be simply -  Catholic. Mary uses her new-found power over the church to drastically undo all of Edward's reforms. But most dreadfully of all, she uses her power to persecute and even kill protestants who would argue with Catholic doctrines.

At which point, we can see clearly two pitfalls of a state-dominated church, or put another way, two reasons why the church needs protected from the state. First the political whims of the state can easily destabilize the church. Second, free exercise of religion is not protected because the coercive power of the state is used to persecute religious minorities.

I'm hoping that with my audience, I don't need to argue that persecution of religious minorities is a bad thing, but if I do: dehumanization, tyranny, oppression, suffering, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, etc.

But perhaps we don't see a reason why state must be protected from the church. After all, the state is under the authority of God, so why shouldn't they also be under the authority of the church?

To see the pitfalls, we need look no further than the Middle East. (Note: many oversimplifications will emerge in this post as Middle Eastern politics is just simply complex.)

In the Middle East, many countries are controlled either officially or unofficially by the church within that country. Ultimately, most of the tension politically both within and between nations comes as a result of tension between the two major Islamic denominations: Sunni and Shiite.

And of course, one need not look far to see the persecution that Middle Eastern countries tend to place upon religious minorities, whether within the religion of Islam or not.

Thus, we see the problems with a church-dominated state as well. First, the whims of the church can destabilize the state. Second, free exercise of religion is not protected because the coercive power of the state is used to persecute religious minorities.

So yes, we need to protect both entities from each other because without that, we see no true stability. More importantly, we see no true protection for the freedom of religion.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Warring Influences

The very beginning of the book of Proverbs starts as most would expect. There is a discussion of wisdom and how one may attain unto it. Proverbs 1:7 clearly explains, 
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction"

At this point, Solomon begins constructing a discussion of how "his son" should heed the instruction of "thy father." There is at this point shown that good influences are placed before our lives to aid us in avoiding the enticement of sin.

Later, we see a stronger look at positive influence when wisdom begins to cry out in verses 20-33. Here wisdom begs to be understood, begs to be known, and begs to have a chance to save others from the foolishness and simplicity of the world.

In between these two positive influences though, Solomon pens in verses 10-19 a very different type of influence. Here we read,
"My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird. And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives. So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof."

The placement of this selection makes a great case for the idea that Solomon is trying to get us to understand that wisdom is helpful in avoiding the enticements of sin and the negative influence of those participating in the activity of sin.

After all, if you are in a chapter that both begins and ends by talking about the positive influences of wisdom, why would you decide to take a detour through the negative influences of the world, unless you were trying to show a contrast between the two?

That's what I see Solomon doing here. Further, I see Him placing it rather obviously before us that we will be met with both positive and negative influences throughout our days and as such, if we want to avoid sin, or if we want to actually attain unto any sort of wisdom, we must be able to discern which is the good influence and follow it.

We must do as Solomon declares in verse 5-9, and later in verses 23 and 33,
"A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck....
Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you....But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil."

Monday, January 5, 2015

Why You Shouldn't want to Wield the Power of the Spirit

Yes, I have indeed done this very thing again. I keep telling myself that I should stop, but it is just too appealing. I have titled my blog post in such a way that the casual reader just automatically thinks I'm a heretic. This means the responses of those who are reading this fall into one of three camps.
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
  1. Oh, what has that dastardly college been teaching that boy? He used to have so much potential and now he's getting destroyed. I need to find out just how messed up he is.
  2. Wait, what type of church did he come from before hitting college that he thinks this is ok? I need to read this post to find out just how I can help him see the light. 
  3. Goodness, why does he think he's so clever with his titles? I really don't want to read this, but I can't move on without knowing what "clever" word play he's used in his title today. 

Well, to those who fit into the third category (and for intellectual honesty), the alleged wit is not something I can claim as my own, which might mean it's actually worth listening to. 

If asked by anyone whether they want to wield the power of the Holy Spirit in their life automatically affirm that such a desire would be quite noble. Who shouldn't want to wield the power of the Spirit? 

The notion does make a good deal of sense. After all, we all know that the flesh is weak, We all know that the flesh is incapable of serving and pleasing God. We all know that the Spirit is necessary for living the victorious Christian life. I can say nothing against any of these things because they're kinda in the Bible. I feel like I shouldn't try to take on the author of all truth on any position. 

I am more convinced than most that the flesh is unable to do anything but sin, so you once more can know that I am not taking apart any big doctrine here. But here's the thing. Do you notice what words we keep using for this? 

We need to wield the Spirit so we can live our own life in a way pleasing to the Lord. I don't know about you, but I see a couple of problems with this. 
  1. First, the emphasis of what we are doing here is very much based on what we are doing, rather than the Spirit. It basically makes it about just supplying a little help to our efforts rather than allowing the Spirit to truly shine. 
  2. Second, the Spirit is seen as something that can be manipulated easily for our ends. No goal or direction of the Spirit is provided for whatsoever. 
Mainly the problem with these phrases and the issues with the way Christians view this subject of the Spirit is that they want to wield the power of the Holy Spirit. They see that power of the Spirit as a tool to put in their arsenal against the attacks of the wicked. How disrespectful to the Creator of the universe. 

Hey, I want to please you, but I want to retain control of my own life, so you know can you just give me your power every now and then. I mean, I know you saved me and everything and have done much to ensure that I am convicted of sin in my life, but I still need to try my hardest to supplement the weakness of my own flesh with your indescribable and unlimited power. 

It also inevitably gives too much credence to the power of our flesh itself to think that we simply need a "supplement." We are completely lacking in our ability to please the Lord. The flesh is powerless, not an insufficient power. Furthermore, the flesh battles against itself. 

We are not called to wield the Spirit. We are called to be led by the Spirit. We are called to live in the Spirit. That is our defense against the attacks of the flesh. That is what we see from Galatians 5:16
"This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh."

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Happy New Year, Have You

Well, 2014 is no more. 2014 was a monumental year for this here blogger. I mean, I officially let the world know that I had been called into pastoral ministry, I began college to train towards that goal, I grew a beard and found out that trimming is harder than shaving, and I entered the now technologically with my first new computer and a smartphone (what?). 2014 was also the first complete year that this blog ran. So now, what will 2015 bring for me or for the wonderful reader of this here post (see, I'm not against flattery in all circumstances!)?

I have a New Year's Resolution! It's to not stay in bed until late morning/early afternoon when I am on break! I mean, seriously, that shouldn't be a thing that happens ever. But I guess I didn't do well when it came to that. But I feel really refreshed now. 

No, seriously, let's look at New Year's Resolutions a bit more specifically (Yes, when I started writing this post, I had no idea where I was going; yes, it happens a significant amount). So what should we all have as a New Year's Resolution? 

Hey, losing weight or getting all muscular ain't the best goal to give yourself for the new year. How about these goals and resolutions coming from my own repertoire? 

1. You may have gathered that I journal pretty much everything that deals with spiritual disciplines. This was true long before my Spiritual Formation professor made it a class assignment. Thus, I have an opportunity to look back and see how many days I missed reading my Bible this past year. Regrettably, that number is 17. Seeing as how I find that completely unacceptable, I want to set a goal of missing fewer days this year. But more importantly, I want to make sure this goal is actually measurable, so I am going to say that I should not skip more than 10 days. Of course, fewer is always good. 

2. On a similar note, I am looking to get more study of the Bible that goes beyond the "minimum daily devotions requirement." I am in the midst of a lifetime project to... I guess sort of in a way create a biblical resource book. But it has been stagnant for a very long time, as I have let my educational studies stand in the way. So I would like to find a better way of balancing my time now. I mean I can hardly expect more free time as a pastor, so I need to find the time to get more and more biblical study.

3. I want to stop procrastinating/forgetting about my blog posts and then end up posting rather boring blog posts that are more academic than relatable. I'm starting this out well by writing this blog post on New Year's Eve even when I won't be posting it until January 2!

4. While we're on the subject, maybe I should stop switching what I mean by now when writing these blog posts between time of publication and time of writing. That can't be very easy for you to understand.

5. Finally, broaden my influence. Not in the sense necessarily of finding more people to influence, but maybe just actually ensuring that I have a greater depth of influence on each person (and of course that that influence is actually good). That is something that I desperately want to see happen, and I look forward to the opportunity to have more chances (and more help) to accomplish those goals.

These are my resolutions and except 3 and 4, which I put in half-jokingly, they can be yours as well. But you should probably try to personalize it to your own walk with the Lord. All I challenge you to do is to make a resolution to ensure your relationship with the Lord grows this upcoming year. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Battle of Scriptural Interpretation: Luther v. Erasmus

Here we are in the last post of the year 2014. It's been an interesting year all things considered, as this blog has become completely changed in its importance to my life. Due to time restraints, much over the last few months, my blog posts have been edited (ish) out of my college assignments. Unfortunately, today is no different.  I hope you enjoy a rather academic discussion of who has a better biblical argument: Luther or Erasmus on Free Will. One good way of reading this would be as a case study of what makes proper biblical interpretation.

Luther’s arguments were often in contrast with those of the established church. Such was the case with Luther’s arguments against the free will of man. The church beseeched Erasmus to write a response to Luther’s argument, which in turn elicited a further response from Luther. Upon analysis of their works, it becomes evident that Luther provides a better biblical argument (please note that this does not mean I agree with his arguments whole-heartedly. To demonstrate this, we will first evaluate the criteria by which we shall judge who has a better biblical argument, and then look at Erasmus and Luther’s arguments through that criteria.

Criteria - Proper Biblical Interpretation

From a definitional standpoint, a better biblical argument is one that is better supported by Scripture. But as these two giants (or maybe an elephant and a fly) both quote biblical passages in their arguments, there needs to be an analysis of what constitutes valid biblical support in the first place. Dr Jason Lee, Dean of the School of Biblical and Theological Studies at Cedarville University, says that in evaluating doctrinal debates, one should evaluate biblical support in accordance with whether or not the author was intending to express doctrine (twas a personal communication). In determining such intent, it is helpful that we follow the entirety of the author’s thought process, as well as how any other biblical authors respond to it. Naturally, there are no direct verses regarding free will in the Bible; otherwise, there would be no need for this discussion at all. Thus, we will see both sides arguing from inferences, but we should evaluate whether those inferences are built from interpretation of passages based on the intent of the biblical author.

Of course, according to Erasmus, the differences in opinion about unclear scriptural passages ought to be evaluated by the church alone, rendering our criteria irrelevant, as whatever the church says, must be deemed as correct. Nevertheless, as Luther points out, the Bible is written so as to be approachable to the common man, and thus, a specific authority in the church is not needed to evaluate which of these two men has a better biblical argument.

(This does not discount the importance of communal interpretation of the Scripture. There is one correct interpretation of the Bible, and collaborating with other members of the body of Christ is essential to a proper interpretation. However, church authorities are not needed to rule on differing interpretations directly, as the Bible is understandable by all of the church, not just a select few. For further development of this idea, see my later analysis on Deuteronomy 30.)

Erasmus' Misinterpretation of Scripture

Erasmus begins by quoting a passage from the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus. Unfortunately for Erasmus’ argument, at the time when he was writing, Ecclesiasticus was not even formally recognized as canonical by the Catholic Church.  In a world where even the established church who was supporting Erasmus in this argument doesn’t say that Ecclesiasticus is Scripture, it’s hard to consider it as biblical support. Thus, Erasmus’ argument from this passage is excluded from our analysis.

Even still, Erasmus quotes over 25 passages from the universally accepted biblical canon to support his logical arguments. Erasmus, for instance, argues that the commands in Scripture all imply the existence of free will. After all, one does not tell someone bound and unable to move, “Come.” Erasmus feels promises of rewards imply the same as one doesn’t reward someone for something he had no choice but to do. Still, it is difficult to argue that the authors of these verses were intending to promote the doctrine of free will. For instance, was Paul really making a statement about free will when he challenged Timothy to “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ?”

The closest Erasmus comes to our intent-based criterion is Deuteronomy 30:11-19, in which he talks about total depravity. In this text, Moses seems to tell the Israelites that the law is very nigh unto them, “that thou mayest do it.”  Erasmus concludes that this means that men have the ability and will to obey the law. Yet almost everything in this passage gives us reason to think that Moses was writing about the approachability and understandability of the law, not about the ability of the Israelites to follow it.

Indeed, Paul uses this very passage to indicate that the message of the scripture (specifically the gospel) is clear and understandable. This is within a chapter declaring the futility of an attempt to obey the law.  This demonstrates at least that Paul, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, thought that Moses was only intending to speak of the approachability of the law, rather than the Israelites’ ability to obey. As an inspired author, Paul must know what the passage means; thus, Erasmus’ contradictory interpretation must be wrong. As this is the closest Erasmus comes to proper interpretation of Scriptures, this leaves Erasmus with little more than human rationalization, rather than true biblical support.

Luther's Slightly Better Biblical Interpretation

Far too often, Luther also relies upon implications of passages, rather than authorial intent. Nevertheless, Luther does include some proper biblical support. In relation to Erasmus’ arguments from Deuteronomy 30 (as well as Erasmus’ conclusions from the rest of Old Testament commands), Luther argues that the law’s sole purpose was to show us our need for Christ. He specifically cites Romans 3:20, which states,
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” 

It is evident that Paul is making a doctrinal point about the nature of the law. If Luther really wanted to solidify this authorial intent, he should have cited the many other selections of Paul’s writings,  where this theme is developed. Even still, Luther’s counter-argument on the law’s purpose has better biblical support than Erasmus’ original argument did.

Luther’s arguments against free will are largely predicated on his belief in total depravity. Luther’s main proof for this is from Romans 1. Here we see Paul explain that the men of this world are ignorant of righteousness. According to Luther, one cannot act righteously if he does not even know what is righteous.

Ultimately, it is hard to give this verse much credence in its efforts to prove the depravity of man, as Paul never gives any clue that the sin he is discussing here is completely universal. Luther reads this into the text himself, by saying that the word “all” in the clause, “All ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,”  modifies the term men. A grammatical view of the text, on the other hand, would indicate that “all” modifies the words closest to it, namely, “ungodliness and unrighteousness.” Thus, we see no reason that Paul was intending this passage as a statement about the sinfulness of all men.

Even so, Luther’s argument from Romans 3:9 provides a stronger indication of the depravity of man. Here Paul declares that “all are under sin.” It is Luther’s contention that this excepts none, and is a great indication that ultimately that “all are under sin.” This takes the sin shown in Romans 1, and makes it universal.

Indeed, directly thereafter, Paul starts a long soliloquy that includes such statements as, “There is none righteous,”  “There is none that seeketh after God,”  “All the world may become guilty before God,”  and “For all have sinned.”  Thus, Paul intended the selfsame doctrine that Luther interprets from the verses. It is here that Luther argues that the depravity of man prevents him from choosing God (seeking after Him, perhaps?).Thus we see Luther’s use of implications to prove his argument. However, unlike Erasmus he does at least have a biblical foundation upon which to build his logical arguments.

Ultimately, both men present logical arguments, but only Luther has proper biblical foundation upon which to build his arguments as a whole. Erasmus’ implication-based style of argument simply ignores authorial intent. Thus, it is evident that Luther provides better biblical support for his argument than Erasmus did.

Friday, December 26, 2014

It's the Day After Christmas

It's the day after Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. For everyone all through the house is sitting a bit sleepy as they discover that they ate too many double chocolate chip cookies the day before. Or maybe that's just my house. 

It was a wonderful Christmas for me, as family members crowded yonder small house to enjoy quality time with each other (and a light meal). Weirdly, I got 4 pieces of Doctor Who merchandise, which begs the question, am I really that obsessed? 

Now, of course, it's also Boxing Day, but I don't know much about the culture of Canada, UK, and Australia as it pertains to Boxing Day, so I'll stick to the more obvious holiday around this date - Christmas! 

I have decided that I am going to try to go as many Christmas posts as possible without going to one of the two classic Christmas passages. I'm not entirely sure why I'm doing this, but it's happening. 

So, John 1:1-14 tells us a few special reminders for the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, 
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. hat was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."

So, yes, obviously tells us of the incarnation of Christ with the discussion of the word becoming flesh, but it further highlights that which I tried to demonstrate last year - Christ's life didn't begin with His birth. That was not a beginning, but rather, "In the beginning was the Word."

That means that saying that Christ's life is sacrificial is not out of place at all. Because He agreed to be made in the likeness of man, He agreed to be "made flesh," despite the fact that He made the world. As one of the thousand Christmas songs so eloquently puts it, "He laid down His golden crown."

Of course, discussion of Him laying down His crown would be useless without explaining why He would decide to come to Earth as a lowly carpenter's son. He came because Someone who had no sin was needed to die for atonement of the sins of the world, so that man who believed may "become the sons of God."

 Yet, despite the fact that the world was made by Him, the world received Him not. Throughout the entirety of His life, Jesus Christ, God Himself, was considered by many to be a raving lunatic. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not."

But praise the Lord, that He still considered both sacrifices worth the price for the sake that "As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, not of the will of man, but of God."

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Battle for Supremacy: Church v. State

During the time of a unified Catholic church before the Reformation, there was a controversy that still holds some weight today. A controversy dealing with the scriptural understanding of who actually holds supreme authority on earth - church or state.

With such decisions coming from the government on freedom of religion, the question must again be asked - who has that control? Since the question is not new, let's spend some time examining the history of the viewpoints.

The argument between church and state authority stemmed first of all from an understanding that both the church and the state did have legitimate authority. To prove this, the two camps misused Luke 22:38, where Jesus proclaims that two swords is “enough.”

However, this misinterpretation does not answer the question of which “sword” had the higher authority. Of course, both the church and the state wanted to exert that influence themselves and thus had “biblical support” for the supremacy of their authority.

The legal rulers used Romans 13 to illustrate that the members of the church were to be “subject” unto the authority of the government. Furthermore, Romans 13 clearly states that to resist this authority is to resist God Himself. Taken with Romans 13's labeling of government officials as "ministers of God…for good,” this passage, according to the rulers, provided ample support that the government was a high authority on earth, and indeed higher even than the church.

On the other hand, the church used support from the book of Matthew. In chapter 16, Jesus tells Peter that He will build his church “upon this rock.” This the church uses to indicate that Peter is a representative of the church itself. Thus, when within the same verse, Jesus promises to give Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” the church finds this to mean that the church has immense authority upon earth. Further support can be garnered for this from the fact that Jesus goes on to explain, that whatever Peter shall “bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,” and the same for that which he shall loose on earth – a sentiment that is repeated later on in Matthew 18. This according to the church, means that everyone (even government) is bound to follow the edicts of the church.

As we examine these arguments as we approach today's questions, I think we should clearly see the varying difficulties that both of these positions dictate. If we are honest in our interpretative framework, at best what both of these positions are able to prove is simply that both the church and the state should have legitimate authority.

Romans 13, as stellar as it is to show Christian's obligations to government, does not give the government control over spiritual concerns. It doesn't give the government control over the church itself, only over the members of the church in the sphere of politics.

The verses in Matthew honestly don't mention government subservience to church either, or any reason why governmental affairs should be handled by the church. At best, the church could only use this to claim authority over the life of the Christian. Even that interpretation takes a few giant logical leaps away from the text itself.

Thus, it is my contention that both the church and the state are wrong in this viewpoint. Ultimately, the church should have its authority over its own members and spiritual concerns, but the state should have its own authority over political and legal issues. An argument can be made that both should be concerned with moral concerns (but then the question becomes, how much authority over morality do you give to the slimy government?).

Of course, keeping the divide between the two authorities is much easier said than actually done. The fact is, that each of the two authorities have a desire to control the other from time to time, such as demonstrated by this very argument.

In actually solving this conflict then, it becomes necessary to write (and have an enforcement mechanism for) a separation between church and state. Ultimately, there is no perfect solution, but I believe that the United States system is probably a fair model to emulate in creating a new one.

In it, both the church and the state are ultimately protected from each other. In the “free exercise” clause, each individual is given the opportunity to choose for themselves which religion they want to enter or even to not be religious at all, whereas the “establishment” clause gives a practical application to the free exercise clause broadly speaking.

These work to protect the church from the state, as well as the harmful effects of the church controlling the state in that there is no way to use the coercive power of the government to violate the freedom of conscience. It's a win-win for all.

Oh, and since you're probably wondering why the church needs protected from the state, and the state needs protected from the church, let's just say, there's another politics post in two weeks, and it might just be related to this one...