Archive for February, 2009

A First Sunday of Lent Reflection

“When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:17)

I like to wonder sometimes exactly what life was like ‘inside the narratives.’ Man, I have been reading these stories in the Bible since I learned how to read. Trouble with me is that I have never spent a day outside the church. There’s never been a doubt. That’s not to say I didn’t wander at times-for large swaths of time. It is to say, however, that ‘church’ has always been my life. I knew, or at least had inklings, that I would be a preacher from a very early age of my life (like around the age of 6 or 7 when I ‘preached’ to my school bus driver one day after another student got all excited about finding a dollar bill on the floor.) So I like to wonder and wander. I stay near the center, but like one of our bloggers here says, I try to stay close enough to the edge to matter.

I mean it must have been crazy living in those days and experiencing what they experienced. Who can understand it? All of the sudden a man walks up to John the Baptist and asks to be baptized. The next day John points at him and says, “Behold the Lamb of God!” which is something closer to, “Hey, you people, you people, wake the hell up and look at the One God has provided! Shake yourselves out of your stupor and Look at this One among you! If you can believe it, if you can accept it: The Lamb of God!” I’m sure not a few laughed a serious belly laugh that day. If the eleven could stand on the mountain with Jesus after his death, burial, and resurrection and doubt what they saw then imagine how it must have been for those that day when John simply said, “Behold!”

“They worshiped…some doubted.” Doubted. Indeed. They worshiped; some doubted. Yet none were excluded, all were commissioned. And Jesus, perhaps not ironically, didn’t condemn them for doubting.

Commenting on the book The Resurrection of the Body LaVonne Neff writes, “This, I think, is the book’s chief charm: it re-creates some of the bewilderment people surely felt in Jerusalem during the weeks following Jesus’ crucifixion.” Bewilderment? That’s an understatement. She titled her book review “Giving Up Certainty for Lent.” When I first saw it I thought, “Ha!” Then I wondered, “Do I have the courage to give up certainty…forever…until at last my eyes behold him?”

But you know what? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Struggling mightily to overcome something inside that has stirred up all sorts of strange feelings and ideas. And I cannot (overcome it). It’s that perpetual ‘what if?’ I don’t like it because, and this is the truth: I don’t have the courage to doubt. I like certainty, knowing. I like the world devoid of doubt. I don’t like uncertainty. I don’t like thinking: Oh my God, what if I am wrong? What if my wrong is too much? What if I am not right enough? Of course, this is where grace comes in and rescues us. It doesn’t matter how hard I try to outrun grace. I can’t. I. Can’t.

You know how much courage it must have taken for those disciples standing right next to the resurrected Jesus to worship and doubt? Sadly, we have made it the job of theologians and preachers and apologists to work hard, ever so hard, to go about erasing all those doubts instead of creating a space where that worship and those doubts are held in tension. We feel like we need to fill the void that exists between worship and doubt. Jesus said, “You believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” What he didn’t say is, “Blessed are those who have the courage to eliminate all doubts in order to believe” (John 13:29). But Jesus also said, “Stop doubting and believe” (John 13:27). Yet, Matthew 28:17 evidently occurs after this exhortation. I’m not interested in the nature of or the reason for their doubt. All I know is that Matthew had the courage to tell us that even those theological behemoths had the courage to doubt–standing right next to Jesus no doubt.

William Willimon wryly notes, “God is proved only by God’s speaking, not through natural theology arguments of God’s existence. Since the unbeliever lacks the one requisite for true knowledge, that is, faith, there is no wonder why apologetics, which tries to get around the need for faith, doesn’t work. Where God fails to convince the unbeliever, there is little that we can do to convince” (Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 178). That’s not all. It gets worse, far worse:

“The only means we have of making sense of the gospel is Christ. Apologetics tends to speak and reason as if the cross and resurrection of Christ were incidental to comprehension of what we have to say, as if Christian claims can be comprehensible even if one rejects the Christian world. In other words, if we ever devised an effective apologetics that enabled us to present the Christian faith without recourse to a God who speaks for himself, then all we would have done is, through our apologetics, convinced people that there is no God who speaks. To put it in another way, apologetics is a sort of backhanded way of saying that what we believe about God is not really true. We have no weapon to defend Christ; he can only defend himself. We have no weapon to defend Christ; he can only defend himself. We have no ‘knock down’ arguments for Christ; he himself is the only argument” (Conversations, 178)

What? Not one? Upon what shall I base my, uh, belief then? Faith? Pshaw! Thus the door is open to doubt. And doubt opens the door to faith. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” and “the righteous one will live by faith.”

I have a confession to make: I wish I had that kind of faith. That is, I wish I had the courage to doubt. I wish I had the intestinal fortitude to doubt, say, the literal reading of certain books of the Bible. Part of the ongoing experiment that God undertook when he called me was to lead me to the sort of faith that gives me the courage to doubt. In this I have discovered why I went from being an avid reader and cheerleader for certain blogs to fierce opponent: that which is based upon absolute certainty is not based on faith; that which has all the answers has not asked enough questions, let alone the right questions; that which knows and sees beyond doubt cannot be that which lives by faith or perhaps has passed on from this world already. Only that which is found in confusion, perplexity and doubt can truly be said to be that which is by faith. It’s like believing in bodily resurrection and still having the courage to be cremated. It’s like believing in bodily resurrection, being cremated, and still having the courage to have your ashes scattered in the wind.

I guess even that kind of faith has courage to face death doesn’t it?

You know where certainty comes from though, right? It comes from fear: Bold, unashamed, unmitigated fear. It comes from the sort of fear that actually prevents us from growing. It is the sort of fear that stagnates us, leaves us on the plateau of certainty. Fear is, I’m convinced, the catalyst for works righteousness and the complete abandonment of faith as life and grace as salvation. Fear believes it is saved because of certainty. Faith believes it is saved in spite of doubts.

Doubts don’t arise from fear, but faith. I’m not talking about the sort of doubt that leads to apostasy or blasphemy. I’m talking about the sort of doubt that can only lead to faith. I’m talking about the sort of faith that doesn’t resort to mere apologetics but is willing to live in the place between worship and doubt, between seeing and not seeing, between wisdom and foolishness, between weakness and strength.

I have a confession to make. God is leading me there and the journey is not easy and not without resistance from me. I like certainty. I like answers. I like knowing. I told someone in a thread the other day, “I’m not confused at all.” Well, that was a lie I told to cover up all sorts of fears, not to cover up all sorts of doubts. I wish now I hadn’t said that. Doubt is not sin. Doubt doesn’t necessarily lead to death, but perhaps it does lead to a deeper faith in the One who overcomes death.

God is leading me to a place where I don’t have to be right. He is leading me to a place where I can be wrong. He is leading me to the place where He is, to Jesus. Being courageous enough to doubt, to live in uncertainty, to not know all the answers, is the courage to live in His grace and find it sufficient. Doubt, then, is the catalyst for salvation by grace, and grace alone.

You could say I lost my faith in science and progress
You could say I lost my belief in the holy church
You could say I lost my sense of direction
You could say all of this and worse but

If I ever lose my faith in you
There’d be nothing left for me to do.

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Those that want to go back to the 1950s are numerous. Those that oppose this idea note that it was, among other things, a very racially bad time in America’s history.

Arguments for and against can be made. Very few of them are very Biblically-based. This is.

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Hello family! Sorry I’ve been away for so long. I’ve had alot of really incredible opportunities over the last few months that have needed my full attention. It’s nice to have a few weeks off to breathe.

I recently heard news about a new policy that LifeWay is implementing. For those of you that do not know, Lifeway is the publishing company of the Southern Baptist Convention. They have decided to place “Read with Discernment” labels on materials from select authors that they feel “may have espoused thoughts, ideas, or concepts that could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology.” Info on these labels can be found here and here.

Among the authors on the list are Rob Bell and Donald Miller (no surprise there). The bios that LifeWay supplies for these authors are far from biased. They also leave the door wide open for more authors to be affected by this spiritual witch hunt. “You may contact [them] anytime to notify [them] if you encounter a title that you have a concern about. If [they] agree that it is not appropriate, [they] will remove it from the website immediately.”

These labels actually say so much about modern Christianity. They imply that there are books that can be read without discernment. As if there are certain authors with whom we should all just sit back and soak everything in as truth – no questions asked. This isn’t surprising though, right? I mean, most of the Christian subculture banks on the facts that its followers are not going to think for themselves and ask tough questions about what they are hearing. If people did, Christianity and the church might look dramatically different. So, when books that question any part of our traditions, the leaders must warn the followers to “read with discernment.”

I really hope that we can eventually find ourselves in a place where we read everything with discernment and compare everything with the scriptures. A place where Christians don’t need warning labels from publishing companies about authors that may find fresh insight in ancient and true scriptures.

Anyhow, I just feel like these labels are a huge step back for the faith. What’s next – approved book lists so we ONLY read the truth that the denominations agree with?

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Discern Your Doctrine (Mark Dever)

Trevin Wax: What is at stake in this debate over justification? If one were to adopt Piper’s view instead of yours, what would they be missing?

NT Wright: What’s missing is an insistence on Scripture itself rather than tradition . . .
Kingdom People (NT Wright) or here Unfinished Christianity.)

I spent some time yesterday, a little more than an hour, listening to a speech by Mark Dever. The speech was delivered at the 2007 New Attitude conference-a conference featuring the likes of Joshua Harris, John Piper, Albert Mohler, and CJ Mahaney, all well respected Evangelical Christians. Dever’s speech, or sermon if you like, is titled Discern Your Doctrine. It is worth the hour to sit and listen to it. I will provide a synopsis and attach a few brief comments before concluding with a call to love.

As most of you know by now, or have wondered, I am a member of the so-called Restoration Movement Church of Christ (not a Capella; that is, my church uses instruments in worship). Our ‘movement’ (we have eschewed such cumbersome boxes as ‘denomination’ or ‘tradition’ thinking them too slow or stagnant; we are a ‘movement!’). Our movement has, at least at its inception, been controlled by an unofficial creed, not called a creed, but a slogan. Actually, there have been several of them along the way, but I think the one I will mention stands as the most prominent. So it was much to my surprise when listening to this speech by Dever that I heard him quoting our slogan and then wrapping his entire speech, or sermon if you like, around it: “In opinions liberty, in essentials unity, in all things love.” Why you…that’s our slogan!!! (spoken as a remarkably Homer Simpsonesque threat.)

Well, it is a fascinating idea; although, it is necessarily, as I have read recently in a history of the Disciples of Christ (Disciples of Christ, a History, Garrison and Degroot) a flawed idea. But I digress. This slogan is the hub around which Dever built his speech even though he didn’t really get to the slogan until the end of the speech and then attributed it to some Germans (!) instead of to my beloved Restoration Movement forefathers. In leading up to this fascinating announcement of what should motivate all of our discernment activities, Dever makes six rather important points. I found that the first 2 were the most important and took the longest (if I recall he spent about the same amount of time on the last 4 as he did the first 2), but I will list all six points he made and offer only the briefest of points about each.

First, he asks: Do we follow commands in order to purify or unify? Here I found Dever’s most compelling argument. He notes that Jesus himself said we must ‘be on our guard’ against all kinds of teachings and teachers. In other words, discernment is not a bad idea. In fact, we should discern because if we don’t we are likely to fall into all sorts of dangers. Dever points out, however, that discernment always runs the risk of extremes and that there are basically (I hate the word basically) two opposite, but equally dangerous, extremes.

On the one hand, some tend to be too inclusive for the sake of unity. These are folks who ramble on about things like ‘no creed but Christ, no book but the bible’ (Ha! Another RM creed…slogan.) These are folks who think doctrine doesn’t matter all that much as long as we are united, answering Jesus’s prayer for unity (John 17), etc. Dever says these folks might be just as judgmental as anyone else because they tend to ‘undervalue God’s truth.’ Ooooh. That stings.

On the other hand, some tend to be too exclusive for the sake of purity. He says, “They are ready to quickly declare something wrong, or someone wrong or maybe even declare someone not a Christian. They neglect the wideness of Gods love that he shows in Scripture. They neglect seeing examples of his work when he has been at work.” He also said, that “we threaten our humility when we become self-righteous about this.” He noted that “truth and humility are not enemies” and that “knowing the truth will humble us.” He warned about those who are so exclusively concerned about purity that they think they have a “prophetic ministry of correction.”

In his second point he asks, “What are some common fights that we Christians have?” He goes on to note many and concedes that the list is virtually endless. I won’t bore you; his list is impressive.

In his third point he asks, “What are we together for?” In this point he notes that different levels of agreement are needed for different levels of cooperation and that agreement is not essential in all areas in order for Christian fellowship or evangelism to exist.

In his fourth point he asks, “What are the things we must agree upon?”  That is, what are the essentials that we, as Christians, must necessarily agree upon to be considered Christians? I thought his best point here was when he noted that all of us will be “corrected at some level.” But I think the gist here was that there are some doctrines that can be dismissed (bad choice of words here) without sacrificing Christian orthodoxy or severing Christian fellowship.

His test pattern for discerning such agreement for essential doctrines is as follows:

1. How clear is this doctrine in Scripture? (I assume here he means ‘to me’.)
2. How clear do others think it is? (that is, other Christians)
3. How near is it to the Gospel? (that is, which instructs us about salvation)
4. What would be the doctrinal and practical implications if we allowed disagreement on this particular issue?

I think this is a fine test, and when it is done Dever concludes that there are three areas upon which we must agree as Christians: God. Bible. Gospel. Of course, within these terribly vague ideas he breaks it down even further. Not only must we agree about God, but we must believe certain things about God. Not only must we believe in the Bible, but we must believe certain things about the Bible. Not only must we believe in the Gospel, but we must agree what constitutes the Gospel. (Here I think the flaw of ‘in essentials unity’ becomes apparent.) Dever narrows the Gospel down to 1 Corinthians 15:1-9:

1Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 1 Corinthians 15:1-9

He notes that for 14 chapters Paul had pointed out all the unnecessary things that divided the Corinthian church and points out that here, in chapter 15, is the one thing we should stand for: ‘Contend for this truth,’ Paul seems to be saying. Here is the Gospel in a nutshell, the essentials upon which we must agree. Thus Paul reminds the Corinthians of this core of beliefs.

In point five, Dever asks, “What are some things we may disagree about?” He cites Romans 14:22: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” He also takes four test cases and notes that we can indeed disagree about some things without compromising faith, the Gospel, or Christian fellowship. Encouraging indeed. (His section about ‘egalitarianism’ is rather brilliant.)

In his last point, Dever asks, “How can we disagree well?” Again, Dever makes two solid points to consider when having a conversation with someone with whom we disagree. I should ask: 1. What can I learn from this one with whom I disagree? Well, this requires a great deal of humility, and can be difficult to navigate since we may have to finally admit that we are wrong. 2. What do I owe this person with whom I disagree or who disagrees with me? Again here is required a great deal of humility. We owe them love. We owe them respect. We owe them the courtesy of making it evident that we care about this person and that we are not just trying to win an argument with them. In other words, we should try to understand what they are saying. I think this point often gets lost on me. Much of the time, I care more about winning an argument with someone than I do about the person. This is dangerous ground upon which to tread.

So what is the point here? I think the point is clearly this: Disagreement is not bad; discernment is required. Those who point out our errors are not our enemies. “The opposite of your friend is not your enemy, but your flatterer.” So it is good, it seems to Dever (and I agree), that there are those who are willing and able to engage one another in hardy, healthy debate and conversation. Disagreement is not the end of the world, and there are some areas where our error clearly needs to be pointed out in order that we might be saved (Jude). However, it is better to engage in debate and conversation with humility, with love, with an eye and ear for learning and not just winning. Best line in the speech was this, “We want to be known for what we are for rather than what we are against.” (Hmmm…someone recently wrote a post about this very point.)

Here’s what the apostle wrote to the church at Ephesus:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:11-16

If some are given to this and some are given to that, I think this means that the Lord fully expects we will correct and rebuke one another (and often Scripture may do that very thing). Scripture may bite hard, but we should not. (Although someone said to me the other day: “I’m not nice when it comes to gross misrepresentations of the genuine Christian faith. And, I’m not supposed to be.” Indeed!) This does not mean, however, that we abandon the overarching command to love. Love. Love. Love. This is what distinguishes the church from everything and everyone else in the world (as far as organized religion is concerned). If we are not known by our love for one another, then we will be known for something else. And if we are known by something else, can we legitimately call ourselves Christians? Can we who fail to love even begin to think we have a right to do evangelism and call people into this story? (I’ll say this, there are times when I know I am loved more by people outside the story than I am by those inside the story. There are times when I love those outside the story more than those inside it.)

So, “In opinions liberty, in essentials unity, and in all things love.” It seems to me that love can go a long, long way towards correcting our errors-and who among us desires to remain in error? Dever ends by quoting from John Wesley, “I shall thank the youngest man among you to tell me of any fault you see in me. In doing so, I shall consider him by best friend.”

It remains to be seen, however, if love will win the day, especially in the world of blogs where, for example,  just the other day, a couple of the writers here were called Pharisees because we “make grace too wide.” It remains to be known if love truly conquers all. It remains hidden as to whether or not we can love. Maybe there is something to this slogan after all. It remains to be seen if we will be known by our love and not our hate. It remains to be seen if love can truly bring together those who are concerned with unity and those who are concerned with purity and conclude that the two need not be mutually exclusive. Maybe Alexander Campbell and Barton W Stone weren’t wrong to adopt this slogan and hoist it high even if the opinions and essentials part is practically impossible. And maybe, just maybe, if we pay attention, close attention, to love we will see that what matters most is not our opinions, not our essentials, but our love.* After all, Jesus himself said that it was by our love for one another that the world would know we are his disciples.

Not opinions. Not essentials. But love.

And so it remains, can we disagree and still love? Can we disagree and maintain Christian fellowship? Will we love? How will we be known? Can we discern with more concern for the person than for winning? I ask all who visit and read: Can we, will we, discern with love?

Will we love?

*Which is not to say that we abandon essentials at all, but does mean that we should be far more concerned about humility. Fact is, I could be wrong. We could all be wrong. And all theology is a matter of opinion. Maybe there is something to the vaguery of Dever’s ‘God, Bible and Gospel’ regardless of how we formulate our opinions about these essentials from Scripture. Maybe there is something to grace after all and its wideness is not the real problem, but its narrowness.

**word count 2494

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This morning on CBS’s Morning Show.

A beautiful portrait of God’s ability to heal and restore. And timely with Eugene’s post.

Notice what the interviewer says at the 4:40 mark.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Grace and Peace.

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A Manly KincadeBrant Hansen has truly outdone himself this time, demonstrating what awesomely awesome parody looks like.  In a week that I can use the extra laughs, Brant has delivered.

Apparently, Brant visited a “Books-a-Million” this past week, and his visit required Extra Discernment (TM), particularly when he picked up the John MacArthur Study Bible.

There’s this “John MacArthur Study Bible”.  I don’t know much about John MacArthur, but apparently, he likes to kinda dilute stuff.  I flipped open to Matthew 23, where, as everyone knows, Jesus climbs the turnbuckles, and goes off the top rope onto the religious teachers who thought they were big stuff.  Or, at least, that’s what I thought:

But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

MacArthur says that doesn’t really catch it, though.  Jesus really meant that religious teachers shouldn’t tie up loads that aren’t Bible-based and put them on people’s backs.  Biblical loads?  Go ahead.

So I guess Jesus wasn’t so rad after all.  He was just saying they were putting the wrong loads on people.  Bible-centered weights?  Well, hey, you need those, and that’s what we teachers are for, I reckon.

And, as only a denizen of Kamp Krusty can do, Brant finishes up with a flourish that ought to be recognizable to any casual ADM reader:

I don’t want to criticize this fellow’s Study Bible. Everybody has a God-given right, in this country, by golly, to write their own Study Bible, and I will defend that right — the one to write a Study Bible — to the death. I just don’t think people should water down the Truth. They shouldn’t make it less dangerous, or less scandalous, or less offensive, or less shocking. Or less bold. Or — you know– less manly. I’m not saying he’ s a false teacher, but beware false teachers.

That’s my opinion.


And even the comments are worth a good read, with this gem by Kate:

Kind of a wimpy way to critique it, if you ask me. A less wimpy way to put it would be, “Those who read and follow the notes contained in The MacArthur Study Bible will be led to the same place MacArthur is going, that is, the blackness of darkness (2 Peter 2:17), where all unbelievers go, the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8).”

(I googled MacArthur and this is what came up)

Who knew that even MacArthur had been consigned to outer darkness by his own ADM’s?

[Well, other than the all-knowing Template of General Disdain, Chris P...]

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Some Background about Apartheid

HF Verwoerd, Prime Minister of South Africa 1958-1966

HF Verwoerd

The word apartheid is an Afrikaans word meaning apartness or segregation, to keep apart. Apartheid initially was the manifest that the Herenigde Nationale Party (Reunited National Party) entered into the general elections of 1948 against the other big party in South Africa at the time, the United Party. The Hereningde Nationale Party won the elections and became the ruling party in South Africa with Apartheid as a ruling creed which called for the prohibition of mixed marriages, for the banning of black trade unions and for stricter enforcement of job reservation. The party changed its name to the Nationale Party and ruled until 1994 expanding the ideology of Apartheid to just about every sphere of life in South Africa. HF Verwoerd became prime minister in 1958 and under him Apartheid became the extreme oppressive system that made South Africa a notorious name associated with racism throughout the world.

Lizzie van Zyl - A victim of the British concentration camps

The Afrikaner (Afrikaans speaking white people) tasted what oppression was like during the colonisation and rule of South Africa under Britain, especially during the second Anglo-Boer war. They lost their farms and houses that were forcefully taken and often burned down in the scorched earth policy Britain followed. It is estimated that more than 26 000 women and children died in the British concentration camps and more than 25 000 men were sent overseas as prisoners of war. The Afrikaner was a deeply religious nation grounded in the Christian faith as expressed through Calvinism. Through this lens they saw themselves as the elected nation to rule in the Southern tip of Africa and after 1948 the previously oppressed became the oppressor. (I would like to note here that not all Afrikaner clergy went along with Apartheid but there where people like Beyers Naudé who opposed Apartheid and paid a high price for his convictions.)

Steve Biko died in captivity under the Apartheid regime

Steve Biko died in captivity under the Apartheid regime

My experience with Apartheid was one of mainly ignorance for most of my life up to the age of about 13. The news media was strictly controlled by the government so we only got the “good” news. Whenever people of colour were shown they were portrayed as of lower class – rags for clothes, missing teeth, dirty and less intelligent. There were words that went with this image of them meant to demean as well (I only mention them here to give a fuller picture, they are considered VERY demeaning): kaffer, houtkop, hotnot, meit, booi… White people were seen to be superior in all spheres of life. While in high school (grade 7 to 12) we had what they called Kadettes when the local commando officers of the South African Army would come to train and give us lectures on the Swart Gevaar (black danger) and Rooi Gevaar (red danger – communism). During these lectures they would tell us how all black people opposing the Apartheid government wanted to make South Africa a communist state. All who fought the Apartheid system were seen as terrorists not deserving to live. The history handbooks that we had excluded the history of the Black, Coloured, Indian and Asian people of South Africa except where it clashed with the white man’s history and then we were taught how brave the white men and women were who fought off this danger to the plan of God to let the Afrikaner rule in South Africa. We were utterly indoctrinated.

Whoopi Goldberg in Sarafina!

My eyes were slowly opening to the truth when I left home and went to University. Some of my friends went to the army or police force as part of compulsory conscription of two years to “serve” our country. They came back with many horror stories of raids that they participated in. I couldn’t believe my ears and my heart told me that something was seriously wrong. After I saw the movie Sarafina! together with some other members of our youth group we fell to our knees, repented to God for the sins we and our fellow Afrikaners perpetrated against our brothers and sisters and asked for the healing of our country. Suddenly my eyes were open to all the lies that were told to keep the system of Apartheid going.

Nelson Mandela walking out of prison a free man

The years just prior and after 1994 was one the most wonderful times in history to be alive in South Africa and see how God could change a nation divided by colour and bring healing to many. The un-banning of the ANC, the release of Nelson Mandela, the peaceful elections on 27 April 1994, the smooth transition of government, the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission all stand out as special moments during this time. Amazing stories of forgiveness and reconciliation was born out of this dark time in South African history like this one about Ginn Fourie and Letlapa Mphahlele.

Apartheid in the Body of Christ?
It is with much sadness that I notice a form of Apartheid growing in the Body of Christ lately and the internet has become a tool to spread the propoganda of this Apartheid. This post about the Neo-Reformed in two parts, here and here, shows a prime example of this. The Neo-Reformed is not the only ones guilty of it and I think we need to look closely among ourselves for signs of this oppressive system.

Let me highlight a few dangers that I see that correspond with the characteristics of the Apartheid system (I would like if we could discuss it further in the thread as I am sure I only see a small tip of this iceberg from my perspective and are probably blind to those in my life.):

  • The idea that one expression of the Christian faith has the monopoly on Truth and that it should be defended against the danger of the ………….. Gevaar.
  • The notion that I am part of a small elect called to bring God’s rule into this world system (culture, governments, moral values) and that this must be defended by all means.
  • The broad brushing of people by labelling them and then assigning the worst of those who fit into that label to the majority.
  • The dehumanising of the above. When we do not know people personally or view them as a group it is easy to vilify them.
  • The debasing names that are being thrown around to demean Christians who think and do differently than we do.
  • Hate speech is acceptable when directed at those outside our expression of Faith or sympathisers of them.
  • The ignorance towards other expressions of Christianity and the caricature following it.

If these things are allowed to continue in the Body of Christ we are entering a new dark age. Who will the world turn to for guidance toward Christ Jesus when His followers can no longer be recognised as there is no love to be found between us?

Moving Towards Truth and Reconciliation
One thing I have learned is as I got to know people of colour personally the idea that was programmed into me about them changed. I met intelligent, righteous, truthful people not different from me as the Apartheid system taught me. The same is true when we get to know Christians from other expressions personally. Personal knowledge of such a person also has a radical impact on our perspective of the group that person belongs to. We learn the truth about people different from us and that helps us on the road of reconciliation. I now purposefully make an effort to meet people of different races than me and of different expressions of Christianity and even Faith than mine.  I found that there are many Christians in all denominations who long for unity. Last week I had the privilege to be part of a Learning Community made up of people from many denominations and with differing backgrounds. We talked, listened and learned from each other and dreamt of how church should and could be in the world today. There are also many community blogs on the Internet where Christians get together and talk about their backgrounds, experiences and hope for the future. These give me hope, my life is being enriched by relationships with people I would previously view with suspicion and I see God work his miraculous power all over.

May we see the truth about ourselves in the body of Christ and reconcile to each other.

May we be freed from this Apartheid system that keeps us apart and from seeing the good in a fellow brother or sister.

May we be known for the love between us.

May we be made one as the Father and the Son are one!

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An observation from the mailbag (along w/ my own thoughts):

One ADM writes:

I have observed a strange thing. Churches will spend time and money on the most shockingly moronic videos of their pastors engaging in things like shaking their fannies into the camera (a memorable church-produced “Christmas” video) and worse. The videos are posted on YouTube, available to the entire world. Some of them are up for more than a year. Then, when I post a link to this infamy on Slice to demonstrate the shambolic state of evangelicalism, there is a sudden embarrassed rush to hide the videos as “private”, or to remove the videos altogether. One church just kept editing out the comments from Slice readers who pointed out the disgraceful behavior of a so-called “pastor.” Why is this? Are these people suddenly overcome by something called shame?


1) She overlooked another possibility. No one wants to deal with her or her readers. Its easier to pull a video down than to talk to the unpleasant Slice of Laodicea hordes. That’s something to be really proud of.

2) She also overlooked that many Christians have an ability apparently missing from her gene pool – the ability to laugh at themselves.

3) Shame is an unhealthy byproduct of guilt, both of which are derived from sin. The last time I checked, producing sub-par-quality art (or high-quality silliness) was not enumerated in a list of biblical sins. Rather, acting peaceably w/ brothers & sisters IS something desired, and thus, the churches who pull down/privatize videos and erase anti-Christian vitriol (from other Christians) are following Christ’s example far more than the harpies and vultures who’ve ascended from the Sludge of Laodicea to stab them in the back…

And more bitter slicing:

it is difficult to imagine that Christianity used to produce some of the finest minds in the world. The brilliance of men like John Owen and Jonathan Edwards who submitted their minds to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, continues to shine down through the centuries. Harvard and Yale were at one time Christian institutions, dedicated to the Gospel and developing minds to the glory of God.

Fast forward to 2009 and the rotting corpse of Western Christianity. This buffoonery is what now fills churches today—the entire idiotic scene inspired by a children’s cartoon of singing and dancing vegetables. Infantalism rules, literacy is dead, and God-given intellects are dead, suffocated under years of video game playing, movie and television watching. Hard to believe that Christians used to produce books like “Bondage of the Will”, and translations of the Scriptures from the original languages. Today, pastors and church laity are reading “graphic novel” (comic book) versions of the Bible because they struggle to grasp anything beyond a one syllable word.


1) Where to even begin? Apparently historical criticism was not taught in the Milwaukee schools years ago, as the writer cannot seem to discern cultural shifts from theological shifts to save her life. Moaning that the digital age doesn’t meet the success criteria of the print age – and that this is, somehow, a theological issue is more pathetic and sad than frustrating. The shift from modernist print means of communication to post-modernist visual means is a cultural one, that no amount of “spiritual maturity” (neither the author’s definition, nor the actual definition) will “cure”. Which begs the question – must one convert to modernism before one can legitimately accept Jesus? Apparently, one shrill voice believes so…

2) Buffoonery is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I find much of Christian Talk Radio to fit the bill of “buffoonery” and irrelevancy than a YouTube video parodying VeggieTales – the key difference being that the folks in the video are purposely acting a certain way to reach a certain audience, whereas many in CTR are buffoons without purpose or method to their madness.

3) We’ve covered Manga and Graphic Novels before, but perhaps it should once again be underscored how silly and stupid the screeching about this form of art/communication is. Graphic novels have become an effective means of storytelling in modern culture. Much like translating the scriptures from a hodge-podge of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin documents into English, translating the scriptures from words into pictures is not going to be a perfect translation – however – it takes the most important story we have to tell and puts it into a format that can best be understood by a certain audience of people. So again, must we convert the “illiterate” pagan from visual media to written media before they can be converted to Jesus?

To sum it all up, it just seems that the shrewish nattering from Laodicea is primarily an elitist, snobbish, country-club view of Christianity – far more in danger of missing Christ in this world and the next – that the targets of its poison-tounged diatribes.

But all hope is not lost.

Even Saul, on his walk to Damascus, was converted from a slanderer and persecutor of Christians and Christ to a living testament to the ability of the Messiah to change hearts and minds…

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Sardis BathsTo the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Revelation 3:1-6

This is fifth of seven articles on the seven cities mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3.
Part I: Ephesus
Part II: Smyrna
Part III: Pergamum
Part IV: Thyatira

Sardis was a key Roman city in the Hermus valley.  This city sat at the mid-point in the mail route that comprised the Seven Churches in Revelation.  Mount Tmolus rises above the city, with the remains of a protective fortress high upon it.

Sardis became wealthy and powerful as a result of gold recovered from the Hermus River, which flowed through it. (One method of recovery included using fleece placed downward on the riverbed and recovered later, full of gold particles. This was possibly the origin of the legend of the Golden Fleece.) This gold, when combined with Sardis’ strategically safe position and location right on a major trade route, made it a powerful and wealthy city.

Like a Thief in the Night

King Croesus, potentially an archetype of the legendary King Midas, ruled Sardis in the sixth century B.C., but his kingdom came to an end when it was destroyed by Cyrus, the king of Persia.  The story of its fall was well-known, even centuries later. Mount TmolusFirst outwitted on the battlefield by Cyrus (who used his camels to spook Croesus’ horses), Croesus’ army holed up in the citadel on Tmolus, and would have been able to outlast a siege, except for one soldier name Hyroeades, who saw one of Cyrus’ guards climb down from the ‘impregnable walls’ to recover a dropped helmet. Using the same treacherous route, Hyroeades led Cyrus’ troops into the fortress in the middle of the night, and in doing so, overthrew the powerful kingdom of Sardis with little struggle.

Proving that lightning can strike twice, almost 200 years later the city was conquered again via the same strategy by Antiochus. Thus, the Sardinians’ faith in their own wealth and strategic safety was more than once the source of their own demise.

Could it be that Jesus, through John, was using this imagery in his message to Sardis?

Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. (emphasis mine)

The gymnasium at SardisIn addition to its wealth and power, long before Christ’s birth, there is evidence that Sardis was one of the centers that Jewish people settled during the diaspora. The Jewish synagogue discovered in Sardis is the largest yet found in Asia Minor, decorated in elaborate mosaics and marble. There is evidence to suggest, as well, that because of its high concentration of Jewish citizens, Christianity was able to make a strong foothold in Sardis, as well. Why, then, Jesus’ message to ‘Wake up’?

One hint may be the placement of the houses of worship found thus far in the excavation of Sardis. In this city, the synagogue was located directly adjacent to the Roman gymnasium and its grounds – where students were taught Greco Roman culture (in the nude, of course), and where perfection of the body was seen as all-important. The church built into the Temple of Artemis The ruins of early Christian churches in Sardis have been found near (or directly adjacent) to the Temple of Artemis, and a fourth-century chapel was built into the back of the remains of this temple.

Could it be that the Christians and Jews in Sardis had become far too comfortable in their own wealth and safety?  Could it be that they were becoming indistinguishable from the followers of the false gods of their culture?

Strengthen What Remains

Another hint from history reflected in the text is that after it was leveled by the earthquake of 17 AD, Sardis was only partially rebuilt.  Like an actor/actresses whose glory days have long passed (but who still lives as if they were in their prime), those in Sardis were encouraged to

Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.

It may also be of note that the textile industry in Sardis was a source of its wealth, and to say that few people in Sardis had not soiled their clothes would have been striking for such a proud people. And the source of this soiling? There is a good deal of speculation, all of which may be true – including those outlined above – the wealth, comfort, price and false security of the people in Sardis led them to be ‘fat and lazy’ spiritually.

But perhaps the final nail in the coffin was in their worship of the Emperor – etched in the doorways and arches of their architecture, declaring Caesar to be ‘King of King and Lord of Lords’ – a title demanded by the Caesar Domitian, to whom much of the imagery in Revelation seems to apply, even from his wife.

John makes it abundantly clear who the real King of Kings and Lord of Lords is in Chapters 17 and 19, but the Sardinian participation in worshiping Caesar as God was surely one of their sins – as it was also hinted for churches mentioned earlier in Revelation.

Dedication to CaesarPerversion in High Order

We, in the west today, are quite sheltered from exposure to evil on the order as was commonplace in Asia Minor in the first century.

Sardis was a center of worship for the Greek goddess Cybele and, eventually the goddess Artemis, as well.

According to legend, the god Agdistis was originally born from the earth where Zeus’ semen fell as a hermaphroditic demon. The other gods were afraid of Agdistis and severed its male sex organ, which fell to the earth and grew into an almond tree. After this, Agdistis became the female goddess Cybele. Later, Cybele fell in love with her son/grandson, Attis, and took him in as a lover. One day, in a fit of jealousy, she drove him mad and he castrated himself and died, but was resurrected as a pine tree.  [Is it just me, or are Greco-Roman myths the most bizarre bedtime stories you've ever heard?]

In response to these legends, the people of Sardis worshiped Cybele and held almond and pine trees in reverence, while also holding fertility festivals in celebration of Attis’ re-birth. In these celebrations, all the people of Sardis would wear white robes, and the worshipers and priests of Cybele (called ‘galli’) would parade down the main street of Sardis, cutting themselves in ecstasy until they reached the shrine of Cybele (later integrated into the temple of Artemis in the Third Century B.C.), where a few of the worshipers would castrate themselves and offer their severed parts to Cybele. Those along the parade route (or within the parade, itself) who had the blood of the worshipers sprayed upon their cloaks were said to be favored by the goddess. This practice continued well into the First and Second Centuries.

And so, when John writes:

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.

Were John to write to us today, would our clothes be soiled from participating in the worship of other gods of this world, or would we be ones who have overcome?

So what?

In applying the lessons of Sardis to our lives, perhaps we need to ask ourselves if we are so blessed with the abundance of the West, if we are so secure in our safety from invasion (despite occasional terrorist attacks), if we have placed our faith in our security and become fat and lazy, spiritually. Have we decided to worship the Caesars and gods of today – wealth and power – and, in doing so, soiled our robes beyond recognition? Would John be able to write of us:

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.

I pray it would be so, but I struggle with this, myself. Lord, provide for me what I need, but do not let me be so comfortable that I do not need You… THAT is a difficult prayer to pray, at least where I live and breathe – saying it and meaning it.

Grace & peace,


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Let me start by saying that I think * I agree with the overall point of this C?N post — publicly using others’ material without acknowledging the source is a Bad Thing ™.

But two things about this article give me pause — one serious and one kinda funny.

—- Seriously (in the literal sense) —-

The title of the post is “Sermon Copying: When The World Has More Integrity Than The Church”.

Now, it’s ridiculous to compare a Christian with an unsaved person to show when the Christian is better than the unsaved person.  Even comparing Christians with each other is silly.  The only relevant measuring rod for the Christian is Jesus Himself.  We all fall short, but (thankfully) the Christian has Christ’s righteousness attributed to him.

So why isn’t it just as ridiculous to compare a Christian with an unsaved person to show when the Christian is worse than the unsaved person? Again, the only relevant measuring rod for the Christian is Jesus Himself.  Whether the Christian is better or worse than another person is beyond irrelevant.

A less charitable person would note that a lot of the ADM posts seem to have a subtext of “Luke 18:11" href=";&version=50;" target="_blank">at least I’m not that bad“.

—- Seriously? (in the facetious sense) —-

In support of this (fallacious) comparative point, the author asks three rhetorical questions early in the post.  In order to coincide with this point, the answer to the questions must be “no”.  Let’s look at the first two and the implications of assuming that the answer is ‘no’:

… can you imagine a member of congress standing up and saying “Last night I was doing some research and 74% of …” when he didn’t, but was reciting another person’s experience?

I would like to welcome the author to America.  This is the only explanation that I can fathom.  Who else but a person new to this country wouldn’t know that 99% of what congresspersons claim as their own, isn’t really?

Or what about a CEO standing in front of his board of directors saying “I remember it like it was yesterday,” while every word he speaks is another person’s history?

This question makes me happy for the author.  It’s quite clear that he has not spent one day in corporate America.  Spending time in corporate America is not something that I’d wish on my worst enemy, so I’m glad that he hasn’t had to endure this grotesque, soul-sucking torture.

* I say “I think” because I (admittedly) didn’t read every one of the 2653 (!) words of that post.

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