Friday, January 18, 2019

When Political Activists Take over your Church


The views in this article are solely of those making them, and do not represent any organization or institution. 
Have you ever noticed how ministries can become politicized over time?  It's a real concern in our day and age, where political ideology has the country polarized, that same political activism can push its way into the church.  

I've noticed this particularly in inner-city churches, where political ideology begins to take over as the driving force behind the church, and the Christian faith begins to take a back seat to the latest political cause or social theory that is going around.  

It's ironic that churches in the heart of major cities, where hundreds of thousands of people don't know Jesus lose their way in this manner. It's a sad irony that churches positioned so perfectly for ministry to so many lost souls would instead focus their attention on identity politics, dividing people up by skin color, presidential politics, perceived wealth inequality, war of the sexes, racism, sexism, and all the various isms of secular-progressive political discourse.  With so many millions without the light of Christ, shouldn't evangelism, discipleship, and worship be front and center for these inner city churches?  

Unfortunately, it seems that political activists often work their way into churches, organizations, and institutions. Indeed, in the area of social work, many social justice and socio-political activists get involved to distribute social services, and advocate for victim groups and so on.  

Oddly enough, over time we find that many people in key leadership positions will use those positions to advocate not for the proclamation of the gospel, but for the proclamation of their political beliefs.  

With evangelical Christians there is always the danger of moving too far conservative on the political wheel.  So it becomes more about patriotism, presidential elections, campaigning for candidates, or worse: The gospel can be drowned out over time.

With mainline protestants, it's moving in the other direction, toward secular progressive ideology. Soon ministry becomes more about political ideology. Instead of the gospel it becomes social justice, racial identity politics, liberal feminism, wealth redistribution, attacking traditional culture, gay pride, and fighting perceived power structures.  The gospel gets drowned out, it's a secondary concern to the political ideology. 

I just want to raise a warning flag for people out there who may have noticed this activism begin to take place in their church, or in their church headquarters.  I want to indicate some warning flags to watch for, and I want to indicate some ways to push back against it. 

Let's look at three warning flags: 

1. Buzz words like "Intersectionality, multiculturalism, micro aggressions and trigger warnings."  
These sort of social theory buzz phrases are appearing more and more in church movements.  These ideas are a mixed bag, there are some good points to them certainly, but also some negatives. 

Overall diversity is a good thing.  But enforced diversity is something different all together.  When quotas are being instituted, and when the language becomes more and more about politics, power structures, and “white privilege” then it’s fair to recognize that secular social theory/ideology has begun to infiltrate the church.

In the Bible, in the New Testament, do we ever see God dividing people up in this way?  No.  God's body is a unity in diversity of different peoples and nations all coming together to form one unique body, the body of Christ.  One of the strengths of the body of Christ is diversity.  

Multiculturalism, once again, not an inherently negative concept, churches are very often self-segregated, and multiculturalism is the idea of bringing various cultures together, and different ethnicities together in a single church, to worship together.  That's biblical!  It's definitely a good thing.  But once again, there are excesses to multiculturalism, like the idea of rejecting any assimilation to American culture, or the idea of blending disparate cultures together on a political level through mass immigration, has been in some cases disastrous for different parts of the world.  

2. Dividing People Up into Groups - When people are divided up into groups, and then pitted against each other, you are beginning to see something called "identity politics" at play.  

This is an ideology where white people are pitted against black people. Women are pitted against men. Black people are told they are victimized by white people.  White people are told they're racist and privileged.  Hispanics are told Americans hate them, young people are told old people are the problem, the economically impoverished are told that rich people are the reason they are poor.  It's all about dividing people up, and pitting them against each other.  And it leads to division, anger, and even violence.  But it's part of something called "community organizing."  Community organizing is something done in inner cities by some organizations. The goal in community organizing is to gather people together in outrage against perceived injustices.  They look to the concept of "self-interest" that these groups have interests that are common, and they need to be organized to fight against systemic oppression.  

Now the scriptures do talk about advocating for the poor and the powerless, but I don't think God had in mind dividing people up into victim groups and turning the oppressed into the oppressors.  God's purpose in society is that we would do justice, and show no favoritism for or against any people.  (Deuteronomy 16:19). 

“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” – Leviticus 19:15, NIV


3. Theology and Doctrine begin to be changed - This is really more than a warning sign, it's a sign that the end is near. Your movement or denomination is now openly changing their viewpoints on key concerns, and even core doctrines of the church are suddenly thrown into question by these political / social justice activists.  Their concern for the Bible and theology is secondary to their political ideology, that is the main issue. They don't care about historic doctrinal views or even about what the Bible says, what they care about is their social ideology and their political positions.  If the Bible conflicts with their ideology, it has to be changed. 

Those are three common warning signs, but there are many others.  Watch the publications of your movement or denomination.  Watch their magazines and online articles.  Stay up to date with the leaders of your movement and what they share on their social media accounts.  And keep an eye on what is being taught at your denominational conferences.  Often times political activists who are at work in your organization are strategic climbers, they know how to get into positions of authority, and use those positions to bring in more like-minded individuals to push their agenda.  Often times these sort of mass-changes in church movements will manifest from the top, and be forced downward from there.

Now let's look at three things you can do to make a difference. 

1. Write a Letter or Email to your Leadership - Write out a well thought out letter, and make sure you use clear evidence when you are detailing what you've noticed.  Maybe you've noticed something at a conference, or something at your local church, or something on social media, and you're concerned.  Document your evidence, write out a letter, and send it to your leadership, either at your local church, or to your headquarters.  

Believe me, there are a lot of good people out there in high up positions who just don't know what they don't know.  They haven't noticed the activism.  They don't deal directly with that person or ministry.  Let them know!  If you’re afraid to go down on record, send it anonymously, but I think it's wiser to go down on record and show them you're a caring member of a body of believers.  Just remember to be kind, encouraging, and detailed in your communication.  

2. Organize with like-minded individuals - It's important to organize in your own denomination when you find yourself threatened by political activists. Gather together in your community or if necessary on a Facebook group.  Discuss what is happening, share information, get organized, and begin to speak up for biblical truth.

3. Become a Leader Yourself - You can make a difference as a leader. Of course this is a calling, it shouldn't be done for any other reason, but as a calling to ministry.  But perhaps you are called for just such a time as this. We need godly Christian leaders who love the word of God, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

But even if you aren't a leader, you can still speak up.  If something bothered you at the conference, or event, let leadership know.  If something seemed wrong, or unbiblical, communicate with your pastor or leader, and ask them to pass your concerns on to their leaders.  If you’re in a break out session or group and something non-biblical is being pushed, don't be afraid to raise your hand and ask a question, or if necessary, simply walk out. 

In conclusion, we have to be very cautious in our current age of moral relativism, post-modernism, and political polarization that the ideologies of the surrounding culture don't take over and subvert our churches. Our mission is too critical. The world needs Jesus, all peoples, of all cultures, and all nations. We can and should engage in biblical justice in society.  But that should always be secondary to the gospel.  Don't ever let politics, ideology, or social theories separate you from the holy love of Jesus Christ.


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Friday, January 11, 2019

Living in a Broken World with the Spirit of God


John 6:63 "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life."

I'm always amazed at the fact that I exist. I'm a being created by God. I'm a soul designed by God for his world and his purposes. Often times I demand my own petty purposes. But God sets me right. Christ lives in me. Yet here I am in a broken world.  I try to live free from evil. I try to live for Christ.  The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is so weak. 

Here we are amongst the chaos of Earth.  We live with the Spirit of God within us.  We're called to carry the message of hope to the world.  Yet we face a world of confusion, and false ideologies, and differing viewpoints.  We struggle within even, to understand how life really is, and how Christ is the true center of life.  We struggle against our own selfishness.  We struggle against the world.  Thankfully the Spirit helps us in our weakness, as we battle as reconcilers, reconciling the world to God.  

"God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God."
-2 Corinthians 5:19-20 NIV


I recall in my early twenties there was this growing sect of young men like myself, in college, who I strongly disliked, and found myself regularly disagreeing with.  They were the cynic hedonists. Have you ever encountered this herd?  They always have these devastatingly depressing one liners. And this dismal attitude about everything, as if nothing matters, and only self service and self indulgence is of any value. 

It was an oppressive cloud of broken philosophy.  But it was everywhere.  It was all surrounding.  So many believed it.  It was great to discover that they were quite wrong. And it makes me angry when I think about it, that I couldn't counter their stupid arguments. 

We live in an age where men must destroy anything that smells of hope or goodness. It's like a dark field, and a beautiful white flower grows up, and they walk over and step on it, and stomp it into the ground. They can't allow anything good or right, because it instantly disproves their ideology.

It reminds me of the universe of Game of Thrones.  Nothing good or righteous or heroic can exist in that author's world.  And that's not reality.  There are good, decent people who fight for good in the world, but it can never exist in George R. R. Martin's universe.  If that's reality, or an accurate depiction of humanity why do people like Gandhi, MLK Jr, or Margaret Thatcher appear in history?  Why do charities exist that raise money to end cancer and sponsor children in 3rd world countries?  Ridiculous, and frustrating.  

When you hunger and thirst for something, anything righteous, it's frustrating when people live lives bent on destroying and snuffing it out.  

The ache of the heart for our age is not as it has been in past eras. In past eras the woes were the black plague, or endless violent wars, or child-sacrifice, or brutal society-wide poverty.  Many of those things do still exist in the world.  But in my little corner of the world, the United States, the agony of the heart is the struggle of information and disinformation.  

The struggle is prevailing opinions that drive society away from Christianity. There are millions of people see it as one of their goals of life, to extinguish Christianity, for what they perceive to be the good of humanity. The struggle is watching a television screen that corrupts the minds of youths.  The struggle is remembering how the television poured confusion into my own soul at a young age, and led me away from the faith of my forefathers.  

Then again, this entire system is the way God designed it to be, though it is marred by sin and chaos.  And now controlled by the enemy of humanity, Satan.  It's quite a saga. And quite a dire predicament for humanity.  We face a jungle of uncertainty before us. If we move to the left or to the right, we may slip into the pits of hell for all eternity.  It's a terrifying prospect.  Many allurements and deliciously intoxicating temptations bombard our senses each day, attempting to drive us to betray our God and compromise our dearest convictions for the gift of fleeting pleasures.  Can we make it home?  And if so, how can we be blameless along the way?  Spotless?  Only by the Spirit of God. 

Meanwhile, the war for the souls of humanity rages ever on in this place. The mind is attacked. The allurements are placed always before us. Christ appears, a flickering light, a twilight in the shadows. Lights appear along the dark roads. Shifting shadows and droning noises burst forth in the dark woods of reality. Long periods of quiet eventually come. Twilight comes as the sun sets in reds and golds. A full moon hangs in the night sky.  Mystery, intrigue, and wonder are emotions that play off our minds in the daily life. Another day on Earth passes.I'm haunted by this mysterious life we live on Earth.  It's beautiful, yet sorrowful.  It's joyous, yet shaded. There is good and evil, at war. There is culture and conflict, and science and truth.  There is great peril, and great hope for the future.  

Sometimes when I pause, wherever I happen to be, at work, in the gym, in bed at night... And I turn my attention to the presence of God.  And I can almost see that spot... that place of power, emotion and spirit, where God's presence pierces the vale of this life.  My family says I bring the presence of God with me.  They say to be with Christ was to be in the presence of sunshine.  I'm sure it's true. But I don't bring the presence of God, God is present.  He is active in the world.  The only issue is whether we are able to perceive it, and tune ourselves to God.  Then, God willing, if we give our whole selves to God, then we will make it home, spotless, blameless, and clean. 



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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

If God loves us Why would He send anyone to Hell?


Have you ever been asked the question: “If we believe God loves everyone, do you really think He would send people to Hell if they were a good person?” 


It's a very good and reasonable question.  Let's look at how we could respond.  Here is how I would respond...

First of all, I would thank the individual for the question, let's say its a young adult in his twenties.  I would ask him if he had some time to sit down and talk about this in greater detail. We would meet, and I would explain to him that there is no easy answer to the question of “hell.”

I would explain to him that according to the Bible, we do believe that we are immortal beings, and that our bodies will be resurrected at the end of time. We believe that there will be a day of accountability, when God will judge all peoples. God is the only one who has the authority to render judgment on humanity, because God is holy, timeless, and perfect.

When we see on the news that someone does something wrong, we are pleased that this person is brought before a judge, and punished for their crime. And when you’re at school, and you see someone who is bullying another student, or cheating on a test, and they get caught and are disciplined, you are glad about that right? We all want justice in the world.

The Bible, our guidebook to who God is, says that no one is a good person, not really (Romans 3:9-20). Each of us have sinned. And if we want to test that out we can look to the ten commandments that God gave Moses. God said you must not lie. God said you must have no other gods before me. God said you must honor your father and mother. God said you must not bear false witness. Have we ever done these things? If I’m testing myself I have to say “yes.”

So on judgment day, God is required by the standard of his own righteousness to judge us. And with all of those sins piled up, he would have to send us to hell. But the truth is, God has made a way for each of us to be pure and blameless on judgment day.

God sent his son Jesus Christ into the world, who was Immanuel meaning “God with us.” Jesus Christ was God come into the world (John 1:1-5). God so loved the world that He gave his only son, that anyone who would simply repent and believe in Him don’t have to go to hell, but instead will have eternal joy in heaven (John 3:16).

No one wants to go to hell. But many in this life choose to reject God and live their own way. And those ways are often very destructive to society, and to the world.

God wants everyone to be saved. He holds out his hand all day long, for their whole lives. But often these people still choose to reject God. And in the end they get what they want: Hell is a place where God is not there. Or perhaps better explained, hell is a place where only the wrath of God is present.  Hell is eternal, and it is quite scary and the Bible depicts it in vivid form. 

We should take as much time as we need to wrestle with the concepts of heaven and hell. This shouldn't be quick or easy.  It should be done in weeks, months, and years of prayer, scripture study, and long talks with friends. We should wrestle with God about it, and He will will enter the discussion. 

Honestly, I can't even think on the concept of hell for very long and I just want to break down crying.  It breaks my heart, and it should break our hearts.  It's a place that no one should go when Christ Jesus is available for salvation.  If we aren't willing to cry over hell, then we probably shouldn't be giving answers about it.

The reality of hell should be a reminder to us that God has called us to Christ, and so we should continue to walk with Christ, and live in holiness.

God loves you. And he has gone to prepare a place for you in heaven. The reality of heaven and hell should drive us to evangelize the lost, disciple our people in holiness, and look forward to our eternal future of joy in the eternal city of God.



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Thursday, January 3, 2019

What does the Salvation Army believe about Sacraments?


The views in this article do not necessarily represent the positions or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's partners or affiliates.  The statements made belong solely to those making them.

The Salvation Army has a unique viewpoint on the practicing of sacraments. Today we’re going to explore the viewpoints of the church in general and then consider and understand the unique viewpoint of the Salvation Army in the administering and practicing of sacraments.  The Salvation Army’s long held belief is that there is no particular outward observance (such as water baptism or the eating of bread and wine) necessary to inward grace, and God’s grace is freely available and accessible to all peoples in all places everywhere (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 296).  Additionally, the Salvation Army affirms the freedom of salvationists to share in communion and water baptism at other Christian services (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 296). 
In Across the Spectrum (Boyd & Eddy, 2009) the authors outline two primary viewpoints of the Lord’s Supper, the spiritual presence viewpoint and the memorial viewpoint (p. 215-226).  This dichotomy could be further broken down to four categories: Transubstantiation (the Roman Catholic viewpoint), Consubstantiation (the Lutheran viewpoint), the Reformed view (Calvinist viewpoint), and the Memorial viewpoint (Protestant evangelical, Baptist, E-free, etc).  The Roman Catholic view sees the body and blood of Christ as physically present in the wine and bread, but it cannot be tasted or seen physically.  The Lutheran and Calvinist viewpoint both are variations of the “spiritual presence” of Christ in the wafer and wine, with Lutherans leaning toward more physical presence and Calvinists leaning more toward a spiritual/dynamic presence. The viewpoint of many protestant denominations is the memorial viewpoint, that the elements of the sacraments are symbols only. The practicing of the Lord’s supper and water baptism are then seen as representative outwardly of inward realities of Christ in salvation and being reborn in the washing of the Holy Spirit.  In regard to water baptism, there are two primary viewpoints regarded by the Across the Spectrum book, those being “the believer’s baptism” viewpoint and “the infant baptism viewpoint (Boyd & Eddy, 2009, p. 214-225).  Some Christian’s (protestants) believe only a believer who is old enough to have made a personal decision for Christ should be baptized (the believer’s baptism) while other Christians (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox) believe that infant baby’s should be baptized and then brought up in the faith through catechism and confirmation (the infant baptism viewpoint). 
Now that we’ve explored the larger universal church viewpoints on the sacraments, let us consider the Salvation Army’s viewpoints on sacraments in greater detail.  According to Call to Arms (2014) a resource for soldiership training in the Salvation Army, the Salvation Army’s viewpoint on the sacraments is unique in the church, and in fact is only shared by one other subset of the universal church, known as Quakers.  Most protestant denominations see the sacraments according to the memorial viewpoint, and thus see sacraments as symbols.  The Salvation Army and Quakers took this even further to mean that since these practices are only symbols, they are not intrinsically necessary to salvation (Call to Arms, 2014).  The non-practicing of sacraments was instituted to emphasize the importance of each believer individually encountering Christ (Call to Arms, 2014).  Each Christian individually must see their need for real, internal salvation, rather than adherence to rigid sacramentalism.  The Salvation Army in effect sees the practice of the Christian life as an expression of the true sacrament: A lifestyle of obedience to Christ.  In other words, the Salvation Army sees the way a Christian lives as a “set apart” holy life before God. This is then a true expression of living a life of sacraments. Therefore, the Salvation Army does not actively practice sacraments like water baptism, the taking of the Lord’s supper through wafers and wine, confirmation, ordination, last rites, or other practices typically considers sacraments by other church denominations (Call to Arms, 2014).

Discussion Questions:
1. Do you think the Salvation Army’s viewpoint on sacraments is correct? Were you baptized or did you take bread and wine in other churches prior to the Salvation Army? How did those things impact your experience of salvation?
2. Why do you think the Salvation Army wanted to make it clear that salvation was about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and not outward symbols?
3. Do you think the best interpretation of Luke 22:17-20 sees the bread and wine as the institution of a sacrament or a symbol of an inward reality? Explain your answer.
4. Read 1st Corinthians 11:17-34. What is the biblical principle in this passage in regard to eating together in fellowship?
5. If you were attending a different church service would you be able to partake of the bread and juice during the giving of sacraments?  Why or why not?
6. How can you live a lifestyle of sacramental set-apartness toward God almighty? Think practical weekly activities.
7. If you were a Salvation Army officer would you be free to baptize or administer the bread and juice as a sacrament? What about as a “love feast”? 

References
Bible Gateway. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2018, from https://www.biblegateway.com/
Boyd, G. A., & Eddy, P. R. (2009). Across the spectrum: Understanding issues in evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Call to Arms: Soldiership Training for the Salvation Army. (2014). Retrieved October 11, 2018, from https://www.sarmy.org.au/Global/SArmy/Resources/training/call-to-arms/CTA-Supplementary-Doctrine7.pdf
Salvation Army. (n.d.). Why does The Salvation Army not baptise or hold communion? Retrieved October 11, 2018, from https://www.waterbeachsalvationarmy.org.uk/what-to-know-more/why-does-the-salvation-army-not-baptise-or-hold-communion/