Tag Archives: Romans

On Disputable Matters

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.(Romans 14:1 NIV, photo credit: Anglicans Ablaze)

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.(Romans 14:1 NIV, photo credit: Anglicans Ablaze)

In Romans 14 through the first half of Romans 15, the Apostle Paul is encouraging the church in Roman not to quarrel over “disputable matters.” The church in Rome was divided between the Jewish Christians, who emphasized adherence to the Law of Moses, and the Gentile Christians, who emphasized greater liberty. Here, Paul gives us an excellent model of how to work through differences that come up in the Christian community, seeking to love one another, even when we do not agree.

However, the “elephant in the room” about this concerns defining what is a “disputable matter.” It seems that everyone has a different list of what they think is disputable and what is indisputable. So how is this fundamental question resolved?

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Why Liberal Christianity is a Dead End

dead-endI appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. (Roman 16:17)

Back when I was in high school, I was a member of a “service club.” The service club provided assistance to the poor, cared for the needy, and fought hunger in our community. This was great stuff.

But to my knowledge, this group had no spiritual component to it. It appeared to function well without spirituality, so what was the point of mixing “God” up into the whole business?

So it was a really strange thing, when my church youth group back then decided that they wanted to become like this “service club.” The church group would no longer study the Bible or talk about Jesus. They wanted instead to focus on social service work, just like my service club.

My time was valuable, and so I simply could not justify being a member of two social service clubs that were doing the exact same thing. So I left the church group. If there was nothing distinctively “Christian” going on in the church group, what was the point?

I ran into a long time friend of mine this week at the hardware store, and this person had a similar story to tell me. My friend had started working for a church a few years ago, in a ministry that was doing great work caring for a needy group of folks in our community. But just recently, some of my friend’s colleagues in the ministry were offended by my friend’s sharing of “Jesus” as “the Son of God” with recipients of the church’s ministry. As the story unfolded, it turns out the church had also recently hired some people to work in the ministry, who did not believe in the classic doctrine of the Triune nature of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  To deal with the division, my friend was asked by the church staff not to talk about “Jesus” anymore.

Keep in mind, this is not a government agency or a school we are talking about. This is a church.

Rightly disturbed, my friend asked to see the church’s statement faith.

“We have a vision statement that you can look at.”

“No, I want to see the statement of faith.”

Sadly, the church had no statement of faith. After my conversation, I checked the church’s website. And sure enough, there was not a single statement online as to what the church believed.

When a church begins to drift away from the “doctrine that you have been taught,” as the Apostle Paul puts it, what typically goes with it is the church’s statement of faith. I know that historically, the denomination associated with this church has for several hundred years taught the doctrine of the Triune nature of God. But like a lot of churches that tend to identify with “liberal Christianity,” communities like these put Bible doctrine off to the side. Instead, these churches put their focus on social type of ministries. These social ministries do great things for our community. These efforts must be commended.

But in the long run, the mission of such a church leads to a dead end. It becomes extremely difficult to “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles,” when your community lacks a clear understanding of what is being taught. Sadly, “liberal Christianity” provides no moral or spiritual basis for why it is doing its work.

My friend learned a valuable lesson. Check out the church’s statement of faith before you sign up for the job. But my friend’s story is far from unique. It happens over and over again, hundreds of times in liberal churches across the globe. The Pew Research Center published a report last year, showing that Protestant mainline churches, which constitutes the bulk of “liberal Christianity,” is continuing to rapidly shrink year after year in America, with no sign of reversing.

Liberal Christianity is ultimately a dead end because there is effectively nothing different in this movement than what you would find in fully functioning social service clubs and organizations elsewhere in the community that make no mention of God. What is the point of a church disposing the “doctrine that you have been taught,” only to replicate what the rest of the world is doing? It just causes divisions and creates obstacles.

It is a dead end.

Is Everyone a Child of God?

"So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith (Galatians 3:26 NIV):

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith (Galatians 3:26 NIV)”

Sometimes our good intentions as Christians can betray us and take us down the road of bad, confusing theology. For example, consider the sentiment often expressed by some Christians that “everyone is a child of God,” or that “we are all brothers and sisters in God’s Kingdom,” without qualification.

In a sense, there is some Biblical justification for such statements. After all, the Apostle Paul in his evangelistic sermon to the crowd assembled upon Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-33, quotes with approval from Aratus’s poem “Phainomena,” this line: “For we are indeed his offspring (v.28).” By virtue of being created, Christian and non-Christian alike, we all share a common humanity, as brothers and sisters, and children of God. Sounds good. Right?

Think again. Read the passage carefully.

Paul goes on to say that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him (Jesus Christ) from the dead (v.30b-31).” Elsewhere in the Bible, in John 1:12-13, we read, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

In other words, faith in Christ is the necessary prerequisite before we can know truly that we are children of God, in the sense of being in right relationship with Him. By virtue of God’s saving work of sending His Son Jesus to die for us and our sins, and raising Him from the dead, are we then adopted as children of God (Romans 8:14-17). Being adopted as a child of God, in terms of salvation, is not a natural born right. It is 100% solely a gift from God (Read all of Romans 8, while you are at it, to get the full picture).

So, while it is true, loosely speaking, that we share a common humanity as God’s offspring as His creatures, we must be careful to maintain the Biblical distinction that only those who receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior have the right to truly become children of God, and therefore reconciled with their Creator. If we fail to carefully honor this distinction, as sometimes happens, we risk confusing our unbelieving neighbor to think that they are somehow “okay” with God, when in reality they remain alienated and utterly cut off from Him. Such sloppy theology can also lull the believer to think their salvation is due to some sort of natural birthright, something to be taken for granted, instead of causing us to throw ourselves down in humility at the feet of our Lord and King each and every day, and leaning on His tender and gracious mercies.

Let us not be careless with God’s Word. Let us handle it well.

People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue

People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, by Preston Sprinkle. Moving past the culture wars to love people with biblical truth.

People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, by Preston Sprinkle. Moving past the culture wars to listen…. and love people with biblical truth.

What is THE number one issue impacting the evangelical church today, especially among young people? Some may think I am going out on a limb here to be so bold. Okay. I get that. But I am going to say it anyway.

I am not a betting person, but if I did wager, I think I would be right on this one: If you actually have a frank conversation with people under the age of 30 in the church today, it should not be difficult to arrive at a consensus: the issue, broadly speaking, is about gender and its relationship to sexuality. This would include issues like transgender, same-sex marriage, and same-sex attraction in general. What does it mean to be male? Or female? Young people, particularly those already in our churches, have a lot of questions about these issues and what the Bible has to say about them. But let us focus in on one of these in particular: homosexuality.

Unless you have been living in a cave for the past twenty years, you might have noticed a gigantic sea change regarding public opinion regarding same-sex attraction in Western culture. Hollywood personalities, like Ellen Degeneres, have in a sense, normalized social acceptance of same-sex behavior. The U.S. Supreme Court recently declared same-sex marriage to be a legal right. Even Super Bowl Half-Time shows appear to be joining in on the cultural realignment, in the minds of many. The situation has been building for some time, but looking back, it seems like the changes have been happening overnight.

When I have had discussions with Christians since the June, 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, most have voiced the sentiment that America is going to “hell in a hand basket.” For many believers, this recent mega-shift in Western culture is an indication of a spirally downward decadence of a once Christian culture. Many fear that we have become Sodom and Gomorrah. Conservative Christian intellectuals wring their hands over what to do about the crisis of morality in the West.

The issue at a cultural level is indeed significant. We could spend a lot of energy debating what many consider to be cultural moral decline.

However, that is not what I want to talk about here. Can we shift gears on this discussion? Because the issue is deeper than Supreme Court decisions. The issue hits a lot closer to home.

It involves our churches.

It involves people with names, hurts and stories.

It involves family members, children of Christian parents, neighbors, co-workers, and friends.

It probably involves someone you know.

Homosexuality is not just an issue.

It is about people to be loved.

Chances are very high that a young person growing up today, in an evangelical church, personally knows of someone, perhaps even a close friend, who struggles with questions of same-sex attraction. But such a friendship puts that young person into a real quandary. Many Christians somehow “know” that the Bible condemns homosexuality, but they simply do not know how to care for friends or family members who wrestle with feelings of same-sex attraction. They know somehow that same-sex marriage is wrong, but what do you say to someone in your school, workplace, or church who admits, “Hey, I think I might be gay?”

Sadly, most local churches are not equipped to handle these type of issues. There are a few cases where someone, who has questions about their own same-sex attraction feelings can talk to a friend or small group about their dilemma. But these situations are sadly rare. If someone has mustered up the courage to step forward to tell their pastor or other trusted Christian leader that they have some sort of same-sex attraction, many times they are met with an awkward response.  Some are gently told to keep quiet, as this is an embarrassing type of sin. Or, it is simply too controversial to talk about in a local church setting. So, the same-sex attracted person is then encouraged to find help in some para-church ministry, shuttled off to talk with some expert or Christian psychotherapist outside of the local church for support.

In some cases, these type of para-church support systems work. Many times, however, they do not. The worst cases end in tragedy. Teenagers who wrestle with their sexuality are getting thrown out of their Christian homes, something that justifiably enrages mainstream journalists. The suicide rate of people who struggle with same-sex attraction type issues is staggering, and many blame the Christian church for the problem.

Many Christians today are seeing how badly things are going with this type of approach to homosexuality. Some, like young author Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, argue that evangelical Christians need to change their view on homosexuality, simply accepting that same-sex behavior through gay and lesbian marriage is actually a good thing and approved of by God. Vines, and others, go on to argue that Christians who oppose same-sex marriage are simply “on the wrong side of history” and need to get over their “fear” of the homosexual.

In response, some people simply refuse to talk about the subject and prefer to sweep it under the rug.

Others are saying, “Hey, not so fast. We get the idea that the church has been handling the issue of homosexuality in the church rather poorly.  This is a point well taken. But perhaps we need to rethink this a bit more before dismissing two-thousand years of Christian teaching. Let us take another look at what is going on. What does the Bible actually teach on this subject?

I know that the emotions are intense. A number of Christian families I know are deeply divided. In some circles, talking about “same-sex attraction” has become a taboo, for fear of offending someone. Some families know that there are simply some conversation topics at Christmas dinner that are not to be discussed!

The reputation of the church has suffered in the midst of this crisis. Blogger Rachel Held Evans is worth listening to here. Evans notes that according to author David Kinnaman, in his book unChristian, a recent Barna Group survey among Americans 16-29 years old indicates that the word “anti-homosexual” is the most common word that describes the Christian faith.

Really? I mean, I surely would not want to be associated with any group or movement primarily known for hating people, whether that be same-sex attracted people, much less anyone else!

This issue does not and will not go away. The names and faces of people who have the courage to speak up about their own sexual struggles still trouble us. How does someone, who does not have a super-deep knowledge of the Bible, know what to think? Has the church really been wrong on this for two-thousand years?

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C.S. Lewis, the Scandal of Particularity, Science & Revelation

Reading about my Veracity co-blogger John Paine’s adventures in England, and seeing the photos of the Eagle and Child, it made me think of C. S. Lewis. Until recently, I have never been a very avid C. S. Lewis reader. My problem is a bit different from John’s. Sure, Lewis can at times be hard to get through, but my primary difficulty is that I have a rebellious streak against reading popular Christian authors.

Back when I was in college in the mid-80’s, it seemed like EVERY Christian I knew was reading C. S. Lewis. Or at least, they planned to read Lewis. Lewis just seemed a bit too trendy to me, and Lewis himself thought that his work would be long forgotten within years of his death. At that time, Lewis had been dead for twenty years, and it just seemed like there was a desperate need for new voices, and aside from exceptions like Francis Schaeffer, evangelical Christianity was not producing many with the kind of substance Lewis possessed. I respected Lewis, but I had little desire to fall into the “Lewis crowd.” So I bought a small stack of MacMillan published titles from the college bookstore, and there they sat on my shelf, unread, for years.

The situation is different today. C. S. Lewis is still popular, but mostly through his children’s works, and not so much through his apologetics writings. Among evangelicals now, I find that C. S Lewis is someone everyone has heard of, but few have really read. Like me, those books just sit up on the shelf, and many Christians say, “Maybe someday I will try to crack open some of Lewis’ more challenging writings.”

A few years ago, my rebellious spirit prompted me to go against this evangelical malaise and actually read Lewis. I read The Great Divorce, and it gave me a whole new way of thinking about the doctrine of hell. Lewis’ Space Triology was up next, and it made me wish I had read through the whole series thirty years earlier! Sure, there are some peculiar constructions in Lewis’ style that seem outdated, but the man had a grasp for ideas that in many ways was years ahead of his time. It would probably help us if we were to dust off those Lewis books on our bookshelf, and engage what Lewis had to say. This video by pastor John Piper, tells us why Lewis is still important:

Here is one of those ideas in Lewis that has had me thinking a lot recently….
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