Coming Alive

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I was watching a video clip the other day of Dr. Ravi Zacharias, the popular Christian Apologist.  He said something that struck me as a powerful summary of what Jesus has done for us:

Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead people come alive

I have been in dialog over the last year with a few people who are struggling with their faith because they know how hard it is to overcome their sin nature and they feel they are not worthy enough.  Zacharias’s statement is on point in that what Jesus has done for believers has nothing to do with whether you are bad or good, or worthy, or saintly.  Jesus has given the believers the gift of salvation, of wiping the record clean on our behalf so we can have eternal life.

Paul tells us in Romans 3:21-26 that no one deserves this gift:

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Not one of us deserve it.  Not one of us can earn it by being good.  Salvation is a free gift from God.  Paul reminds the Christians in the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 2:1-5) that they were all dead in their sin before believing in Jesus:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

So Paul tells us that we have come alive through Jesus.

Jesus himself says as much during his ministry.  He describes himself as “the resurrection and the life”.  John records in his Gospel (John 10:10) that Jesus says that he came to bring life to all of us:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

So as we come to Easter, the most important and holy day of the year for Christians, we need to remind ourselves of what Christ’s death and resurrection really means.  It means that as Christ is risen from the dead, we have risen with him.  We rise out of the trap of our sin nature.  Christ makes us new.  We “put on” Christ.  Christ works within us.  We are no longer “dead in our trespasses.”  We are new Sons and Daughters of God through Jesus Christ.  The process of becoming more and more Christlike, called the process of sanctification, will not be complete during our brief time on Earth.  But the process will continue after death until we are made perfect.

Do not let your past sins weigh you down by playing that endless audio loop in the back of your head, “Don’t pretend you are holy or something, if everyone really knew how bad you are they would despise you.  This Christian thing is not for you.”  Christ gives you a new life, a new identity, allowing you to not be trapped by who you were.  Remember that who you are now is defined by an empty tomb that was carved in a Judean hillside two thousand years ago.  Have a blessed Easter.

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Blessings,

Pete

Fun with Greek

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In this post I want to share with you my adventure in learning Biblical languages and then a shameless plug.

I am on the back slope of completing my Master of Divinity (MDIV) and my concentration is in Church History, specializing in the Early Church (33 AD- 500 AD). I opted for the biblical languages track as part of the MDIV program. So for the last 18 months or so I have been studying Koine (common) Greek that is the form of ancient Greek that the New Testament is written in along with a large part of Christian writings from the Early Church period. So given my intended specialty in the Early Church, I really am putting a lot of effort into getting proficient in Koine Greek. In this effort, I have run into an interesting dilemma.

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Just like at almost all seminaries, my Koine Greek courses at school are taught in what is known as the “grammar-translation” method. This originated way back in the middle ages as a way to teach Latin once Latin fell out of favor as an everyday language to English, French, German, etc.  Latin was still taught, but not as a living language used to communicate in everyday life, but as an academic language so one could read Latin writings. There was no emphasis put on speaking and listening, and little on composing. The aim was to give you the rules of grammar and vocabulary so you could translate existing documents.

Fast forward to today. Practically every seminary in the world uses the grammar-translation method to teach Koine Greek.  There are multiple pronunciation schemes, Erasmian, Koine Era, even pronouncing it like modern Greek. But for the average Koine Greek student in seminary, it does not really matter since you are not learning how to speak it anyhow. Essentially what happens is you learn the alphabet and then you start memorizing seemingly endless charts of word endings and verb conjugations, vocabulary, and then practice by translating passages from the New Testament, all without having to speak it. At first glance, this seems like a reasonable approach in that most seminarians are only taking Koine Greek so they can read the New Testament in the original language, or at least be able to look up the Koine Greek words in a lexicon.

The reality is that this approach of cramming down grammar rules and charts down your throat in multiple 8-week courses means you memorize everything for the tests and then a month after the course you remember 50% of it. It you are not using the language on a daily basis, after a year or two, it is like you never took the courses. You remember nothing. I have asked every pastor I know and the ones I get to have small talk with at conferences whether they still remember and use their Koine Greek from graduate school. So far, every single pastor has said a version of, “Well I really don’t remember hardly anything.” This is depressing and a big problem in my opinion. We are supposed to be equipping men and women to teach and preach the Word of God and this “inoculation” of Koine Greek (i.e. “You took your Koine Greek requirement so you don’t have to do it anymore”) does not help in this mission.

I have a bit of professional perspective on this. I spent nine years in the US Air Force as a Russian Linguist. I had the good fortune to attend the Defense Language Institute (DLI) for Russian in Monterey, California to learn Russian. I went to the basic Russian course where we studied Russian eight hours a day, five days a week with one to three hours of homework every night, for a year. We spoke it, listened to it, wrote it and read it along with staudying all the grammar and vocabulary. I then went back for the intermediate Russian course that was another year of study. Of course Russian is a living language and I was taught by native speakers. But the emphasis was in using the language to the point you started to internalize the grammar rules instead of just memorizing them.

Let me give you an example. If I want to say “I see the book” in Russian I would say “Ya vizhu knigu.” The word for book is “kniga”. Now if I had been taught just in the grammar-translation method, I would have to stop and think what the ending for kniga would be in this sentence. Well, it is a feminine, singular noun which should be in the accusative case as the direct object so the “a” at the end of kniga would change to a “u”. But this is not how a native speaker constructs a sentence. A native speaker would say “knigu” because intuitively they know that it sounds right. When I say it, I also don’t have to think about the grammar because I have studied and used it enough that I have internalized the grammar rule for it and it just sounds right: “Ya vizhu knigu.”   The grammar-translation method does not help you get to this point of internalizing the grammar.  It also does not give you a sense of the rhythm and sound of the language.

So what to do about this? I knew this was a really screwed up way to learn a language based on my Russian experience as well as the studies I did in German and Japanese. So I googled to see if there were any tutors or courses I could add to my seminary studies to get a better grasp of Koine Greek. (Shameless plug starts here) I ran into something called the Conversational Koine Institute (CKI) run on-line by a talented linguist, Dr. Michael Halcomb.

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Dr. Michael Halcomb

Dr. Halcomb is passionate about two things. First he fervently believes that the standard (Erasmian) is incorrect and uses the Koine Era Pronunciation that is probably very close to what Koine Greek actually sounded like when the New Testament was written. The second thing he is passionate about is that he thinks that the grammar-translation method used to teach Koine Greek in school is completely broken (I agree with him!). So he teaches Koine Greek as a living language in real-time video conference calls with small classes. He teaches the language using the language, limiting the use of English that forces you to start absorbing and using the language just like in the way I learned Russian. There are no tests, he does not want you to take notes or memorize things.  The point is just to immerse yourself in the Koine Greek until it starts clicking. In my opinion, this is how it should be taught in seminaries. I look forward to a long association with the CKI and Dr. Halcomb. The website for the CKI is Conversational Koine Institute. He also offers other languages like Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin and a host of modern languages. I urge you to check it out.

Blessings,

Pete

A Post-Christian Society?

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Hey everyone, I’m back after a hiatus so I could concentrate on my seminary work for a while.

In this blog, I want to explore this concept of America becoming a “post-Christian” society.  A lot of people are starting to recognize that the Judeo-Christian worldview and the moral underpinnings that go along with it cannot be assumed anymore in America.  Evangelical Christians in particular feel themselves under siege by the society in general today.  Basic assumptions about things like sexuality and marriage are being overturned and one cannot just disagree about them with the arbiters of popular culture.  If one takes a stand against, say same-sex marriage, then one is labeled a bigot by popular culture.  There is a growing chorus, especially in colleges, to stifle opposing views to the current secular worldview.  Christians are bemoaning the loss of traditional values:  “I can see little consistency in a type of Christian activity which preaches the Gospel on the street corners and at the ends of the Earth, but neglects the children of the covenant by abandoning them to a cold and unbelieving secularism.”

Well actually that quote is from J. Gresham Machen from the 1920s.  In some sense, every generation looks back at some previous “Golden Age” that we are now losing.  To what Golden Age would we like to turn back to in American history?  How about the 1950s?  It was a Golden Age as long as you were white.  If you were black, you could not even sit at a lunch counter with whites.  How about earlier in the 20th century?  Two bloody World Wars with a Great Depression in the middle of them.  The 20th Century was the bloodiest century in human history between the wars and the genocides of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.   Was there a Golden Age of Christian society anywhere on the planet in the 20th Century?

I attended the Together For the Gospel conference in Louisville recently.  One of the speakers was Albert Mohler Jr., who is the President of the Southern Theological Seminary. One of his breakout sessions was a talk about America becoming a post-Christian society.  He said that sociologists had identified Europe and Canada as becoming very secularized 50 years ago but it looked like American was an exception to this “inevitable” secularization of western democracies.  Now, sociologists are saying America is rapidly secularizing just like Europe and Canada did, it just started with a 50-year delay.  I have also been reading Russel Moore’s book Onward which is about how the Church should respond to this new secularized society.

My feeling is that we as Christians should remember that we are not called to be “The Moral Majority” (with apologies to my Alma Mater Liberty University) or the ones to make the rules that the rest of society should follow enforced by the police arm of the state.  As followers of the Risen Christ, we are called to be the “Prophetic Minority’ as Moore terms it.  Christianity was born and grew up in a world overtly hostile to Christ and His Kingdom. Back then, it was not just college professors looking down at you for your religious beliefs, but Roman soldiers executing you because you would not forsake Christ and worship Caesar.

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The Christian Martyr Perpertua guiding the her executioner’s sword in the arena in 203 AD.

So as the Prophetic Minority we are called to proclaim the Gospel.  We are to live as examples to a secular world.  Christ told his followers that in the Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”  Christianity is not about legislating morality, it’s about creating new, reborn sons and daughters of God.  You cannot legislate this, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.  You get the morality and the new way of living by having Christ in you, not by being afraid of breaking a law.  Paul’s words in Galatians 6:9-10 urge us to stay the course no matter what the world thinks:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers

So if we are entering a “Post-Christian” America, then so be it.  We are called to continue to speak up for truth as we see it and to live out a life of love, secure in the knowledge that Christ’s Kingdom will ultimately be established on earth as it is in heaven.

Blessings,

Pete

Theology Can Hurt

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As one reads about the hateful and murderous bent that ISIS has put on Islam, you can’t help but think that this is one of the worst perversions of faith ever.  Beheadings, sexual slavery, and terrorist attacks around the world are perpetrated by ISIS in the name of God.

In my recent studies, I came across a figure that would have approved of the ISIS techniques of using the sword to purge the world of unbelievers.  Read the following statement from this guy made to the rulers of the area he was living in to encourage them to exterminate non-believers and blasphemers:

…you need a new Daniel to disclose unto you this revelation and to show you this role.  Think not that the power of God will be realized if your swords rust in the scabbard.  Christ said that he came not to bring peace but a sword, and Deuteronomy says, “You are a holy people.  Spare not the idolators, break down their altars, smash their images and burn them in the fire.” The sword is given to you to wipe out the the ungodly.  If you decline, it will be taken from you. Those who resist should be slaughtered without mercy as Elijah smote the priests of Baal.  Priests and monks who mock the gospel should be killed.  The godless have no right to live.

This guy was Thomas Müntzer and the year was 1524.  Martin Luther had started the Protestant reformation by nailing up his 95 Theses up on a church door in Wittenberg.  By 1524, the Protestant movement started to splinter.  Thomas Müntzer went beyond Luther’s teaching that Scripture, not tradition, should be the highest authority for a Christian.  Müntzer thought that personal revelation by the Holy Spirit was more important than Scripture and he thought that he was called by God to cleanse the world of unbelievers.  He started to preach and gained a following among the peasants in Germany.  At one point, the rulers of the various German territories called Müntzer to a meeting to give an account of his teaching.  The quote above is what he told them.  He told the rulers that they must start killing all non-believers or the wrath of God would fall on them too.

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German Peasant Army

Well how do you that it all ended up?  Predictably bad.  Müntzer eventually created a peasant rebellion in the area and had an army of 6000 peasants that started to pillage monasteries, churches and towns.  The nobleman army surrounded the peasant army and slaughtered over 5000 of them losing only one of their soldiers.  Müntzer tried to escape but was caught hiding in a house.  He was tortured for a confession and beheaded with his head displayed on a pole for a long time as a warning to the peasants.

This is another example from history of someone twisting faith and calling for death to everyone that does not believe in the exact same way they do.  Before anyone declares a holy war or an uprising to kill all non-believers, they should read what Christ said in Matthew:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:44-45

It does not sound to me that we are charged will killing everybody on earth that does not believe.

Blessings,

Pete

 

Do We Worship the Same God?

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I hope everyone had a blessed holiday season.  I am back at the keyboard now ready for 2016.

A couple of weeks ago Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor of politics at Wheaton College, created a post on her Facebook site to show solidarity with Muslims by posting a picture of herself wearing a hajib and saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  Hawkins wrote, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”    Wheaton is a Christian liberal arts college in Illinois and the Board of Trustees there are starting termination procedures against Hawkins saying that she has violated their Statement of Faith by saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

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Professor Hawkin’s FB Post

This has caused a heated debate across the religious spectrum over the question on whether you can actually say that both Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  Recent polls on this question indicate that Americans in general are evenly split over whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, while only  35% of evangelical Protestants believe they do.

How should we begin to tackle this question?  First, let’s review what orthodox Christians believe.

Genesis makes it clear that there is one God and that He created everything including man.    In Genesis 17:1-2, God chose a man named Abram/Abraham to create his chosen people:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

God then promised to deliver his chosen people and the whole world through a Messiah as told in Isaiah 9:6-7:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.

Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary and the angel Gabriel identified Him as the promised Messiah as related in Luke 1:30-32:

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

In John 14:6-7, Jesus identified himself as the Son of God to his disciples,and the only way to salvation:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

As was foretold by Scripture, Jesus was condemned and executed on the cross and rose from the dead three days later.  He promised that He would return and in the meantime the Holy Spirit would aid and comfort his followers.

John tells us that Jesus (the Logos or Word) is one with the Father and has always existed with the Father in John 1 1:1-3:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

I am no expert on Islam, but as far as I can tell, Muslims believe that there is only one God and it is the God of Abram/Abraham.  They don’t believe any of the rest of it as Christians do.  They don’t believe in the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, and the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. So do they believe in a different God?

The way I make sense of it is how CS Lewis approached thinking about other religions.  In Mere Christianity he wrote:

I have been asked to tell you what Christians believe, and I am going to begin by telling you one thing that Christians do not need to believe. If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic-there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.

So Muslims are correct in believing that there is only one Creator God and that he was the God of Abraham.  They are wrong about the nature of God in that they don’t believe in the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus and the path of salvation for mankind.  Where they deviate from Christian biblical, orthodox beliefs, they are wrong and we are right.  That’s just how it is.

Blessings,

Pete

 

Call the Evil Ones Out

I had posted a link a little while ago to a New York Times story about a Muslim organization in Indonesia that is actively opposing the radical Islamic teachings of ISIS.  Here is the story (A Muslim Challenge to ISIS).  Indonesia has the largest Muslim population on earth and the organization that is countering the Islamic claims of ISIS,  Nahdlatul Ulama, claims to have 50 million members. This is heartening because I feel the only way to eradicate ISIS in the long run is to change the hearts and minds of the young people drawn to that movement.  It is essential that the vast majority of Muslims who don’t agree with the murderous interpretation of Islam that ISIS holds call them out.  Muslim leaders need to counter the heretical twists to their faith and the evil actions that ISIS carry out in the name of Islam.

Christianity has had to do the same thing many times over the last two thousand years.  One example is that of Saint Patrick, the missionary bishop of Ireland.  Let me tell you a little story about him.

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Patrick was a Roman citizen in Britain in the 5th century AD.  When he was 16, he was captured in a raid by Irish pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland.  He was a slave for 6 years during which he became a very devout Christian. He eventually escaped and made his way back to his family.  After his studies in Gaul, he had a dream of a voice calling him to go back to Ireland.  So Patrick went as a missionary bishop and spent many years converting the Irish to Christianity.

We have two Latin documents written by Patrick himself.  One is his Confession and the other is A letter to the Soldiers of Cor0ticus.  The Coroticus Letter was written as a result of a raid by Picts against some new Christians that Patrick had just baptized.  Patrick was incensed over the raid, especially because the raiders were supposedly Christians as well.  They killed many of the newly baptized men in the raid and took the young women off to be sold as slaves.  At first Patrick sent some priests to meet with the raiders’ Pict warlord Coroticus to ask for the return of the women and the Coroticus just laughed at them.

So Patrick wrote an open letter to Coroticus that was meant to be circulated around Britain and Ireland, calling out Coroticus and his men for the evil deeds:  “They have chosen, by their hostile deeds, to live in death; comrades of the Scotti and Picts and of all who behave like apostates, bloody men who have steeped themselves in the blood of innocent Christians.”  Patrick’s intention was to make these men infamous and outcast to all the people around them: “Let every God-fearing man mark well that to me they are outcasts: cast out also by Christ my God, whose ambassador I am.”  That amounts to an excommunication of sorts.

Patrick ends the letter with an urgent plea:

“My chief request is that anyone who is a servant of God be ready and willing, to carry this letter forward; may it never be hidden or stolen by anyone, but rather, may it be read aloud before the whole people.  Yes, even when Coroticus himself is present.  May God inspire these men sometime to come to their senses in regard to God again, so that they may repent, however latter day, of their grave crimes, namely homicide against the brothers of the Lord, and that they free these baptized women whom they have taken, so that then they may deserve to live to God and be made whole once more, here, now and for eternity.”  Patrick, A Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus

It is time for leaders in the Muslim world to start actively and openly opposing ISIS.

Blessings,

Pete

 

Christianity and Secular Power Don’t Mix Well

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In my opinion, every time the Church gets too intertwined with the ruling powers, it does not turn out well for Christianity.  Not that I think that people running countries and governments should not be Christians, far from it.  We need Christian politicians just like we need Christian teachers, plumbers, and sanitation workers.  People having their actions guided by the teachings of Christ can only help the world.  What I am talking about is when the Church becomes a part of the Government.  Look at Iran or ISIS for a modern example when a state or entity becomes a theocracy.  It is a disaster.

Let me give you two examples.  For the first three hundred years of Christianity, it was an outsider religion.  Christians were outside the power circles of Roman society.  They were shunned, and at various times persecuted and killed simply for declaring that they followed Christ instead of Caesar.  In AD 312, all this started to change.  The Emperor Constantine was fighting a rival for the throne and after having had a dream that he should fight under the Christian symbol, he had his army put the Chi Ro symbol on their shields (Chi and Rho are the first two letters in Christ in Greek).  Constantine defeated his rival at the Battle of the Milvan Bridge in Rome. The next year in AD 313, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan that for the first time recognized Christians and started to give them preferential treatment.  This was a historic turning point for Christianity.

In AD 325, the Emperor Constantine organized the first ecumenical council in Nicaea to settle what orthodox Christians were to believe.  It was really to settle the “Arian” controversy.  Arius was a presbyter that taught that Jesus was created by God the Father and there was a time when Jesus did not exist.  All but 3 of the 318 bishops attending the council voted the Arian doctrine a heresy and they formulated the Nicene Creed that orthodox Christians still use today as a test of orthodoxy.  This all sounds good right?  So what is the next thing that happens? Constantine sends in to exile Arius and the two bishops that voted for him, ordered all Arian books in the empire to be burnt, and anyone that continued to teach Arianism to be executed.  Yes, that’s right.  One of the first things that happens after Christianity gets cozy to state power is that death sentences start being pronounced.  Not good.

Here is a more modern example of what can happen when the Church gets co-opted by secular power.  in the 1930s and 40s, the Nazi party and Hitler tried to get organized religion to support the state and conform to Nazi ideology.  There were some church leaders in the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches that would not go along and some, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that paid with their lives.  However, there were many more that went along, some quietly, some enthusiastically.  I recently read about the Martin Luther Memorial Church in Berlin.  The church was built in 1934 and used Nazi and German nationalist imagery in its decorations and it is still standing.  The Pulpit is adorned with a scene of Christ as the redeemer of the German people next to a German soldier in full field uniform.

Christ with the German People in the pulpit decoration.

The church is also decorated with terra-cotta tiles showing Christian imagery alternating with German Nationalist symbols including swastikas.  The swastikas have been chiseled out due to current German laws forbidding the display of the Nazi emblem.

Terracota tiles from the church.  Note that the swastika under the eagle has been chiseled out.

Terra-cota tiles from the church. Note that the swastika under the eagle has been chiseled out.

The church was in use up until a year ago.  Funds are now needed to repair the roof.  I am of two minds on this.  Part of me thinks the church should be leveled as an abomination.  But part of me thinks it should be preserved to serve as a reminder of what can happen when the church gets too cozy with secular power.  Christ told his disciples that his Kingdom was not of this world:

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18:36

We should remember his words.

Blessings,

Pete

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

It seems like many of the arguments and controversies we deal with in our faith have been around a long time.  When we think that some trend or discussion is brand new in our modern era, a quick look at ancient history show there is very little new under the sun as regards to discussing faith.

One of these old debates is the role of faith vs reason.  In several of his letters, Paul says that Christ does not make sense to Jews or to Gentiles who refuse to believe.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul lays it out this way:

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:20-25

Paul calls Christ a stumbling block to the Jews because the Jews of his time were expecting a Messiah that would be a military leader and purge Israel of the Romans and lead Israel to greatness once more.  When Christ was crucified by the Romans, the Jews dismissed him as another failed Messiah.

Educated Gentiles were brought up on various versions of Greek philosophy and tried to think about the world in rational terms.  When some of these Gentiles encountered the Gospel and the demand to have faith in Jesus, and they thought it was foolishness to believe a philosophy or a religion without having an intellectual debate about the evidence.  In AD 170, the pagan philosopher Celsus investigated Christianity.  He talked to Christians, read parts of the Old Testament and wrote a book called On the True Doctrine that was the first book against Christianity.  Celsus thought Christianity was a superstition that only uneducated and simple-minded people could fall for:

Just as the charlatans of the cults take advantage of a simpletons’s lack of education to lead him around by the nose, so too with the Christian teachers: they do not want to give or to receive reasons for what they believe. Their favorite expressions are ‘Do not ask questions, just believe!’ and: ‘Your faith will save you!’… The Christians appeal to the worst of these salvation-hungry people by insisting that the wisdom of men is nothing but foolishness with God, and thus do they attempt to bring into their fold the uneducated and stupid. Celsus – On the True Doctrine

Fast forward now 2000 years.  I read a Washington Post essay about a research study that was carried out at Harvard trying to understand people who rely on faith vs reason (Faith vs Reason, That’s Real Dumb).  Here is an excerpt from it:

Harvard did a study on people with faith vs people who rely on reason. In this most recent iteration, scientists set out to discover how people who believe in God think differently from those who don’t. So they posed to 882 people — both believers and nonbelievers — a bunch of tricky math problems. The people who got the answers wrong were likelier to believe in God. They used intuition to try to solve the problems. Those who got the answers right were likelier not to. They used reason…evident wherever the chattering classes gather, reasonable people are smart, and smart people are atheists. By this same logic, unreasonable people (those who rely disproportionately on intuition) are stupid, and stupid people believe in God.

Does the premise of this study sound familiar?  The atheists of today are using the same arguments that Celsus used in AD 170!  Some things never change.  The battle of faith vs reason is an old one.  Paul got it right when he wrote in 1 Cor. 13:12 that we don’t understand everything in our faith now, but we will when we are finally in Christ’s presence: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Blessings,

Pete

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

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I read this morning that the Associated Press reports that the former Chief Rabbi in Israel, Yona Metzler is being investigated by the Israeli Attorney General for his alleged part in taking $2.5 million in bribes and for money laundering.  Its depressing to see religious leaders of any denomination or faith be in the headlines for such behavior.  I wrote a previous blog on cases like this:  You Will Be Let Down.  That blog was about the resignation of Mark Driscoll from his Mars Hill Church organization and the resulting fallout.  So with depressing regularity, we keep seeing fallen religious leaders who fail to honor God in the headlines.

Is it our times that present more and more opportunities to people in religious leadership roles to succumb to the temptations of fame and fortune?  Is it our moral compass worse then it has ever been?  With the 24/7 instantaneous news cycle, it certainly feels at times like things are getting worse.

As part of my Masters of Divinity studies, I was reading a textbook on early Christianity last night and came across an incident that makes me think that we have been plagued with some weak, corrupt leaders all along.  I read about Pope Formosos who I had not heard of before.  I will retell his story and you will see why my title of this blog is what it is.  You just cannot make some of this stuff up.  There is some historical background I need to explain but bear with it, the punchline is unbelievable.

Formosos was Pope between AD 891 and 896.  This was a really screwed up time for Europe and the Church.  It was the end of the Dark Ages and the beginning of the  early Middle Ages.  There was continuos political maneuvering by kings and princes over the Papacy.  In 872, Formosos was a bishop and got sideways with the then Pope John VIII.  Pope John excommunicated Formosos and he fled Rome as a result.  Formosos then promised Pope John that he would not perform priestly duties ever again or enter Rome for the rest of his life so John lifted the excommunication against him.  John’s successor, Pope Marinus I restored Formosos as a bishop and he came back to Rome.  After a couple of other Popes reigned, Formosos was elected Pope. As Pope, Formosos was heavily involved in the politics of his time and created a lot of enemies  He died in 896.  But that’s not the last chapter of Formosos’s career.

His successor, Pope Stephen VII, was aligned with Formosos’s political enemies. So Pope Stephan put Formosos on trial for perjury (remember, Formosos swore to Pope John that he would never be a priest again) and for obtaining the Papacy illegally.  So they dug up the rotting corpse of Formosos, dressed it in the Papal gowns and vestments, propped it up in the Papal throne and proceeded to put Formosos on trial.  Yes, that’s right, they tried the corpse.  I’m not making this up.

Predictably, Formosos’s defense was weak since he could not talk.  They found him guilty.  They stripped the corpse, cut off the three fingers Formosos had used to give the Papal blessing, and threw the corpse in the Tiber river.  Some monk retrieved the corpse and buried it.  Stephan only lasted a year as Pope and the next Pope reinstated Formosos and had him reburied with honors.  There is a story that the Pope after that retried Formosos again, found him guilty, dug up the corpse again and beheaded it.  Below is a famous painting of Formosos’s trial that was known ever after as the Cadaver Synod.

“The Pope Formosos and Stephen VII”  painted by Jean-Paul Laurens

What any of this has to do with honoring God, I have no idea.  As a Christian, we are commanded to put our complete faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus knew we would at times be fearful and be let down by the ways of the world.  We would be let down by having trust in our leaders sometimes betrayed.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus comforts his fearful disciples:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7

This is the promise we can rely on absolutely. This is the leadership that will never betray our trust.   We need to put all our trust in Jesus and his promises.

Blessings,

Pete

We are Commanded to Care

The refugee crisis in Europe continues unabated.  Thousands are pouring into Europe from the Middle East, especially from Syria.  I wrote a few weeks ago about the heartbreaking photo of the little Syrian Boy who drowned and washed up on shore (The Pictures that Broke The World’s Heart).  The images keep coming now with some countries trying to deflect or slow down the flow of refugees to their country.  The pictures are still stirring.

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It is easy to slip into knee-jerk reactions:  “They are different from us” or “They should follow the legal process of immigration”.  The US itself is is the middle of a debate on illegal immigration.  It a tough problem.

As believers in Christ, what should our response be?  Let’s look at Scripture to see what God wants us to feel about the strangers and foreigners in our midst.

The Law given by God to Moses in the Old Testament gives the people of Israel some commands on how to treat strangers, travelers and foreigners in their midst.  The command given in Deuteronomy 10:17-19, is also echoed in the commands in Leviticus 19:10 and Exodus 22:21:

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.  Deuteronomy 10:17-19

In this passage, God not only commends the people of Israel to take care of the foreigners among them, but also reminds the Israelites that they too were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.

In Proverbs 31:8-9, we are reminded to take care of the neediest among us:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9

In the Letter to the Hebrews, we are counseled to show kindness to strangers:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

You never know who the stranger will turn out to be in the end, or what great things they will accomplish down the road.

Of course, we Christians need to pay heed to Jesus.  Jesus makes it plain in the Gospels to love your neighbor, the poor, the strangers among us.  He warns us that He will remember how we treated the least of these people:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Matthew 25:41-45

We want to be Christ’s sheep, not the goats.  I suggest that we need to look at this crisis first through the lens of Scriptures to formulate our responses to it.

Blessings,

Pete