The Fraud Running for President

celebrity-986838_1280There I was, watching the Donald Trump rally (not really by choice, but I was watching CNN and they cut to the rally). At the rally, The Donald was kicking out protesters left and right. Then he said something odd. He said that the people protesting were infringing on his freedom of speech, and that he was going to say what he had to say.

That was odd to me because, while the Bill of Rights does talk about the freedom of speech, it does NOT do it in the way Mr. Trump was using it. The 1st Amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

revolution-30590_1280Did you see the part about the freedom of speech there in the middle? The words are there, yes, but they have nothing to do with Donald forcibly removing dissenters from his rallies. What the 1st Amendment is talking about is how the GOVERNMENT cannot censor someone (and even then there are some places where freedom of speech is not an absolute). What Donald Trump is doing falls under the line about right to peaceably assemble (although that’s debatable, as his rallies more and more resemble gathering from dark days in our world’s past and not some peaceable assembly) and NOT about the freedom of speech. The government is not abridging his freedom of speech – individual dissenters are voicing opposition.

I recognize that The Donald is not a Constitutional scholar, but this misunderstanding of a basic freedom granted by the 1st Amendment just goes to show one glaring truth: Donald Trump is a fraud. He’s a poser. He’s a huckster. He’s a con man.

He has no real grasp of the Constitution or American freedoms. He has no real policy or position on any issues. There is no depth or substance. There is only hollow rhetoric. It fires up the masses, to be sure, but that’s all it does. To use a common catchphrase, Mr. Trump is just going to “fake it til he makes it.”

He does it with the Constitution. He does it with the Bible. He does it with every.single.issue of substance people ask him about. He’s a political cheerleader. And there is nothing Xian about any of it, so don’t play the Evangelical/Conservative Xian card here. It’s not about faith. Not one bit. Jesus isn’t in any of it.

Make America Great Again!
Build a wall!
Kick out illegal immigrants!
Make America Great Again! (wait, did I already say that one? Yep, The Donald is repeating himself again.)

Empty rhetoric to stir the base nature within us.

God have mercy on us all if we don’t wake up.

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Calvinist Heretics and Their Heretical Heresies

Burn her

Now that all of my Reformed friends are up in arms, let’s talk.

This post is the result of a conversation I saw the other day in which a group of Calvinists (I presume, at any rate) were discussing the false teaching and heresy of Arminianism.

Not being a Calvinist I took umbrage at the conversation. There is much to be said for Reformed theology. I very much appreciate its view of the supremacy and sovereignty of God. Too often Xians have such a small view of God and try to live life as though we ourselves are sovereign. We aren’t.

While I wouldn’t call myself a hard-core Arminian, I do believe that God’s initial action towards humanity requires a human response. In that sense, we are free to decide to respond positively towards God in faith or we can choose to reject the Gospel.

The biggest problem I had with the conversation I saw was the fact that these Xian brothers were labeling a position contrary to theirs as false teaching and possibly heresy. This was disheartening, for I have never thought of my Reformed friends as heretics or false teachers – simply people who disagree on some points of Xian theology.

We can still join together as Credal Xians and proclaim:

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
I believe in the Holy Ghost:
I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
The forgiveness of sins:
The resurrection of the body:
And the life everlasting.
Amen.

But labeling me, a pastor who leans towards Arminianism, a false teacher and heretic, removes me from the shared faith we proclaim in our creeds. It creates a barrier between good Xians who share a common core belief. I still preach Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected. I still preach Acts 4:12

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

We are often too quick to label anything that disagrees with us as heresy. We then quickly set up walls to separate ourselves from those who disagree with us. What I find humorous is that the Greek word for heresy (hairesis) developed in the Bible to mean schism or faction. Thus the Apostle Paul seems to suggest that a heretic is a person who is divisive or factious (see Titus 3:10).

So the Calvinists who seek to be divisive are being heretics…in the Pauline sense, of course. 😉

All said and done, I have no beef with Reformed Xians. I have found them to be good people who take faith seriously. But, while some people fear the word ecumenical, to some degree there needs to be leeway for us to disagree on elements of faith and theology while still holding to the essential core of Christian doctrine.

Because, to someone else, we’re all heretics in one way or another.

You’re #NotReallySaved.

salvation

So it started like this: an Anon friend of mine made a comment that he was going to go watch a Dexter marathon.

I jokingly said, “You say you’re a Christian but you watch those terrible shows. You must not really be saved.”

Then inspiration hit me.

Let’s face it ~ we’re masters at belittling the salvation and faith of those who don’t fit our own mold of what it looks like to be a Christian.

Then the game took off like wildfire. Dozens of people jumped in and came up with hundreds of ways we belittle others’ salvation. Here’s but a small sample of some of the things we came up with.

The list went on and on. In fact, people are still playing it today! Some are jokes (and quite funny). Some are serious. It’s clear to me that many people have been hurt by others who claim to be Christian but, for whatever reason, don’t allow certain behaviors to be part of their theological circles.

Most of the list really comes down to this:

And that’s a shame. The Bible is actually not as black-and-white about all of these side issues as Christians are. Salvation really comes down to faith in Jesus. Can you smoke weed and have a saving faith in Jesus? Can you vote a certain political party and have a saving faith in Jesus?

I think so.

In the end the “You’re not really saved” lists that we all have come down to us – what we dislike or disapprove of. Don’t get me wrong – the Bible does talk about sin and Christian behavior. But we seem to add a lot of things to the lists.

Won’t we be surprised when we reach eternity and find people who didn’t live the way we wanted them to live?

If you’ve ever had your salvation doubted because of this or other issues – I’m sorry. Christians mean well (usually) but we have a horrible way of judging anything that doesn’t fit our mold.

And if you’ve ever doubted or questioned the salvation of someone else because of some behavior you disapproved of it’s time to repent. The condition of someone’s salvation is really up to God.

Leave Your Bible On the Shelf

In a very short span I had a disagreement with a friend (yes, we’re still friends) about the importance of the Bible as text as opposed to the Gospel message. I also recently read a blog post admonishing pastors to bring their physical Bibles to church and to stop using electronic media instead. You can read that blog here.

I’ve don’t usually write posts directly responding to other bloggers, but I really felt that I had to this time. You see, I think that Dr. Barrett couldn’t be more wrong in his assessment of Scripture, technology, and culture – and the idea of reprimanding Christians based on his faulty assessment drives me up the wall.

Just so that you don’t think I’m some crazy, anti-Bible nut-job, let me write a couple sentences about myself. My first graduate degree was in Biblical Studies, where my Master’s work was on the authority of Scripture. My second graduate degree was in Pastoral Preaching. I am FULLY committed to the authority of Scripture in shaping the life, thought, and action of Christians. I am FULLY committed to preaching the truth of Scripture from the pulpit and not watering down the message and removing Jesus and his exclusive claims from God’s story. I have a deep love for the Bible. On my desk right now I have two Bibles (one English and one Greek New Testament). On my shelves I have 3-4 different translations, a Hebrew Old Testament, and two collector’s Bibles (a 1942 Bible produced for the Army and an 1895 printing of a Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament).

I love my Bibles. But the idea that using tech in the pulpit instead of one of my physical Bibles is doing damage is erroneous teaching and needs to be corrected. Dr. Barrett lists 5 “dangers” of using tech Bibles instead of print Bibles:

1. A Different Message: the tablet represents many things besides a Bible. It represents apps, magazines, games, and much more. “A print copy of the Scriptures in the pulpit represents something far more focused and narrow: a visible symbol of God speaking to his people….”

2. Biblical Illiteracy in the Pew: the tablet may…encourage biblical illiteracy in the pew. People won’t know where things are in their Bibles because no one is asking them to “turn to chapter such-and-such.” They fail to see the big picture of God’s story.

3. Flesh and Blood: reading from a tablet removes the reality of having something “there”. As physical beings who gather in a tangible place, God is really with us as Lord of space and time. “This God has made himself known by sending his own Son in flesh and blood.”

4. Visual Reminder: We risk the Word of God becoming lifeless when we take away the physical book. “And should an unbeliever walk in for the first time, would he know that we are a people of the book?”

5. Nonverbal Communication: Carrying your Bible around with you communicates to others that you are a Christ follower. Forget the physical Bible and we lose our witness to the world.

Now let me tell you why he’s flat wrong:

1. You cannot reduce the Living God to a symbol: If you believe that you need a visual symbol of God speaking to talk about God’s story then your god is too small. Yahweh cannot be contained or limited to a mere symbol. No matter what the delivery method, the power of the Gospel is not the literal word but in how the WORD of God pierces our hearts and souls. God can do that through a preacher who uses a print Bible, a Bible app, or an audio Bible while you listen to the Bible on CD.

2. Biblical illiteracy goes far beyond what happens on a Sunday morning: There are many people who love God dearly and live their lives to conform with the desire and will of God but don’t know that Lamentations is somewhere after Leviticus. The Gospel is not about knowing the order of the books of the Bible. It’s not about being able to find a particular passage whenever asked. The Gospel is about surrendering our story to God’s story. In the history of the world illiterate people have usually outnumbered the literate. For the first1600 years of Christianity most people did not even own their own Bibles. It was only after the advent of the printing press and Reformation that it gradually became commonplace for families to own Bibles. Dr. Barrett’s accusations create a false superiority of literate Christians over illiterate Christians. It says that Christians in underdeveloped nations are lesser Christians because they can’t read the Bible or know the order of the books. This mindset actually does DAMAGE to the Gospel.

3. A flesh and blood Savior does not necessitate a “flesh and blood” book: Jesus is the center of our faith – not the book. The Gospel is his story, not the black (or red) words printed on a page. The only flesh and blood that matters are HIS. Whether I am reading from the Bible or simply telling someone the story of Jesus, HE is all that matters, not the book. Books deteriorate, get torn, fall apart – but the Gospel will go on eternally.

4. No visual necessary: as stated above, the hard-text is not necessary for telling God’s story. In fact, holding TOO tightly to being “people of the book” places too much emphasis on the printed word – it elevates the book to the status of idol! It creates two Bibles: the “real” Bible that is printed and the “faux” Bible that comes in other media. It does damage to the Gospel to create this dichotomy.

5. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that people would know them because they carried Bibles: he said that people would know they are followers of Jesus by their love. Behavior is more important than outward symbols. We’ve all seen people who wear crosses around their necks or tattoo a cross or fish on their bodies. It doesn’t make them Christian. I once heard a pastor state that wearing a cross doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in the garage makes you a car. Outward symbols do not mean anything about the condition of our hearts. I would rather people see Jesus in my character and behavior rather than because I lug around a book.

There is a real function to the sacred text. As Paul writes:

For everything that was written long ago was written for our instruction, so that we might have hope through the endurance and encouragement that the Scriptures give us. ~ Romans 15:4

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17

There is a real purpose to Scripture, and that purpose involves shaping and forming the believer. There is a relationship between the text and our life. There is nothing neutral in claiming the Bible as Scripture. The Bible must be “normative and life-shaping” because the writers were commissioned by God (whatever your view of inspiration). The divine voice demands response.

I do not impugn the authority of the text for Christian life and thought. We must not, however, substitute true authority, i.e. the story of God’s redemptive actions through human history, for cheap bibliolatry. The printing press was revolutionary technology in its day, giving the common person access to words never dreamed possible. Technology today is no different, giving us the Bible in new ways. But it isn’t really a new Bible, is it? It’s still God’s story – unchanged. And when we learn this then we can access HIS story through any means.

The Bible doesn’t change. We do.

Are You Saved Enough?

In the beginning

Salvation is a funny word that Xians like to throw around. Sometimes it feels like we use it so much that we’ve lost the sense of what it really means. Put simply, salvation is the idea that this world is not the end but that there is an eternal afterlife. Those who are “saved” spend eternity in the presence of God. Those who are “unsaved” spend eternity outside the presence of God.

In honor of this week’s debate on the question of the origin of the world (creation vs. evolution) here’s a little reminder:

The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The Apostle Paul also writes in Romans 10:13

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Did you catch what the Bible lists as the requirements for salvation? It’s faith. Those who call on Jesus as savior are those who are saved.

Did you catch what the Bible DOESN’T list as a requirement for salvation? Your view of how the universe began. Or your view of how the universe will end. Or your view on what church should look like, sound like, feel like, etc.

That means that even evolutionists can go to heaven. GASP! I know this is really gonna tweak some people, but the Bible is clear that salvation is offered to those who believe. There is no benchmark of belief that says, “You start at saved level ALPHA but don’t have access to heaven until you reach saved level FOXTROT.”

If we understand what the Bible is saying then we see that there will be people in heaven who disagree with some of our most dearly held ideologies.

In the big picture, we need to be okay with that. It’s all about Jesus. I happen to believe that the cosmos has a divine foundation – that YAHWEH was the creative force driving the car. If someone else who calls on the name of Jesus says he believes that God started the evolutionary ball rolling, my disagreement with that issue should not prevent me from worshipping alongside him as a fellow disciple of Jesus.

Difficult as it may be, we are called to do better. It’s time to lay down our pet issues for the sake of the kingdom. The only real issue is Jesus Christ. If you’re with him, then you’re with me.

And one day we’ll be worshipping him together for eternity.

Come, Lord Jesus!