Archive | Christianity

Topics of interest relating to Christianity, apologetics, the church and more (from a biblical perspective.)

Are we merely the product of where we live?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, especially when contemplating where to move outside of New York and observing the different subcultures I’ve come across in my travels.  While growing up on Long Island, my introverted nature turned me into something of a recluse, too proud of my individualism to run with the herd and participate in the myriad of strange cliques that surrounded me.  I was always the fish who swam the other way.

It made me wonder though: was I really such an anomaly, or were there others like me who only behaved the way they did, not because they were being true to themselves, but so they could fit in and not risk being alone?

When I traveled, in all the places I visited it seemed like everyone was like everyone else.  In places like Seattle, everyone was a hippie and a liberal.  In the Bible Belt, everyone was a conservative, church going Christian.  So if I wanted to be with people that were like me, it would just be a matter of going where they were, and I’d be happy right?

But I started getting uncomfortable with the thought that people only evolved to become who they were not out of individual choice, but because that was the culture they grew up in.  If you were born and raised in Utah, you likely became Mormon.  If you were born and raised in California, you likely became a surfer dude.  If you were born and raised in Wyoming, you became a cowboy (or at the very least, not a city slicker.)

So that’s it? We’re nothing more than the environment we wind up living in?  What if my parents had been Muslims instead of Christians, would I have grown up to be a Muslim too?  Are the convictions I hold in life really based on the choices I make, or did I simply inherit them?

That’s when I started to realize what was bothering me about some of the places I’ve visited, particularly the south.  Despite people who had the same political leanings and Christian beliefs I did, something was off.  And it occurred to me that despite the appearances of camaraderie, I still had nothing in common with them, because their livelihoods and Christianity were not borne out of conviction, but out of social expediency.  Their culture was steeped in conservative, Baptist tradition, and yet the Bible Belt culture did very little to change the true nature of man.  That’s why there was the paradox of encountering people who quote Bible verses while, for example, cooking meth.  It was part of the culture they grew up in, but it didn’t change who they were. They were just schools of fish, swimming the same way.  The monolithic culture was a facade.

That’s why I tend to regard people who “profess” the name of Christ with a heavy degree of suspicion.  Do they really believe that, or was that simply how they were brought up?  It’s easier to believe one is a Christian living in an Islamic country than if they were living in Alabama, because despite the enormous collective pressure to be Muslim, they rebuffed it, often at the risk of their very lives.  They didn’t go along to get along, they specifically chose a different path.  Those are the kind of people I think I have the most in common with, the ones who are true to themselves.

Being a true individual I think carries with it the burden of being a stranger in a strange land, and if my goal was to move only to find people who were like-minded as me, I would never be happy.  Instead, I find contentment in accepting who I am, and that I will always be the square peg who can never fit in with the circle of the world.  Once I learned to accept that, I realized my happiness doesn’t have to rely on being surrounded by people who shared the same convictions and beliefs I did.

Happy Resurrection Day – What it means to be a new man in Christ

Lately I’ve been thinking about the wisdom of writing about things that annoy me.  (And believe me, there are a LOT of things that annoy me.)  Generally, it is very easy to encourage provocation and controversy by blogging, because so many of us live to get offended and outraged over every little thing in life.  Sometimes that’s good, because it can stir up a call to action or cause people to reconsider positions and beliefs they once thought were correct.

But at some point, it starts to turn into a grind.  The same talking points get rehashed over and over and over again, and rather than moving onward and upward, there’s a growing sense that we’re all just spinning our wheels here.

Lately I’ve been reading the following verses:  “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” – Philippians 4:8

It’s very hard to reconcile that with my proclivity to be easily angered by something I’ve read on the news, or on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and think, “OMG, WHAT A STUPID, STUPID IDIOT, I MUST IMMEDIATELY BLOG ON THIS AND EXPRESS MY SUPREME RIGHTEOUS OUTRAGE AT THIS STUPID, STUPID IDIOT FOR BEING SO STUPENDOUSLY STUPID IN HIS/HER STUPIDITY!”

And indeed, the last few times I was tempted to blog were precisely for those reasons.  If I never showed any restraint, my blog would just be this neverending stream of negativity on why the world sucks methane filled balls of epic fail.  And yes, it may even be true more often than not, but eventually I have to ask myself: why cry over spilt milk?  It is what it is, and ranting endlessly on a blog isn’t going to change anything.

There are times when I do need to vent, and I can see the wisdom in expressing an opinion on a topic, if for nothing else than just to get it out of my system.  But once that laundry’s been aired, is there any sense in rehashing the same old things yet again?  If this was all I ever did, when am I ever going to have time to think on those things that are good, pure, and lovely?

Granted, there are a lot more bad things in this life than there are good, but that’s all the more reason why we should make the extra effort to focus on the good.  I’d like to see my blog become a source of personal development, where I chronicle the things I’ve learned and experienced to help me become a better man, shedding the old man (and the bitterness therein) and putting on the new man, one who learned to let go of the bad, and holds fast that which is good.

Exploring the reality where more than 80% of church members may not be Christians

A long while back I read a Slate article expounding on the conclusions reached in the book Forbidden Fruit, written by a sociology professor and consisting of several comprehensive surveys that were conducted with young adults about their views on sex and religion.  While 80% of teens who identified as evangelicals believed they should wait for sex until marriage, the number who actually put this into practice is a lot smaller.  Only 16% surveyed consider their religious beliefs as extremely important and actually appear to practice what they believe.

Based on what I read, 1 out of 5 evangelical teens don’t even believe sex outside of marriage is wrong.  80% say they do, but roughly 60% of them don’t really have the strength of their convictions.  That leaves only 16% of the demographic of evangelical teens that a truly devout Christian teenager might have anything in common with.

I’m of the view that these numbers probably mirror the state of Christian churches as well.  Imagine picking a church at random and realizing 80% of its members are either apostates or frauds.  To clarify, I regard   You might think you can still find camaraderie within the 20% who take their beliefs seriously, but there’s a caveat to consider here as well: I found when seeking out this 20% they tend to be of the very legalistic sort.  There is a fervor to their beliefs that the rest of the 80% don’t have, but they also exhibit a cold, arrogant, detached personality reminiscent of the ancient Pharisees.  Sadly, I’ve made the mistake of believing these were the real Christians and initially sought their company out in the past, desperate to find people who believed as I did, and perhaps within that circle finding a wife who loved God and sought to live a life pleasing to Him.

Instead I seemed to exist in this weird murky area where I wasn’t sinning enough for the nominal Christians, but I was sinning too much to be accepted by the legalists.  The remnant of believers that I might actually have anything in common with was indeed a lot smaller than the 16% who consider their religion “extremely important,” because it doesn’t screen out for those who take a pharisaical/legalistic  approach to their Christian beliefs.

Note: there’s been some confusion regarding these labels in the comments.  To clarify, I regard hypocrites/frauds as those who pretend to be perfect Christians while either hiding or simply ignoring their sins.  Legalists are those who aren’t so two faced, tend to be more “learned” so to speak, but they lack charity and have a smug sense of self-righteousness.  The real Christians are those who sin, but they acknowledge their sin, and they try to do the best they can to live as holy a life as possible.  They don’t pretend to be perfect, but they strive for it, which is a key difference.

Presuming that most churches have a predominating mix of apostates, frauds and legalists, should I still give it a chance, as long as the preaching itself is good?  It should matter more what’s coming from the pulpit than what the makeup of the congregation is, right?

I have two issues with this: one is that the message from the pulpit tends to define the audience.  People aren’t going to stick around for preaching that pricks them to the heart and convicts them of sin, unless they are willing to lead sincere Christian lives.  More often than not the nature of the congregation will reflect what’s coming from the pulpit.

The second issue has more to do with my introverted (INFJ) personality.  For most people, the disingenuity that exists in many church members is something they can merely observe, but for people like me it’s something that we actually feel.  We don’t merely observe it;  we sense it as well, and with that level of sensitivity comes a great deal of agitation and oppression.  Sitting in for a sermon, I can sense the spiritual wickedness around me in ways that others can’t (others more secular would call it bad energy or vibes).  It is painful to endure and there is no relief from it until I finally leave.

The only exceptions I’ve found was when attending prayer meetings.  I did so a few times at a church boasting over 1,000 members, and while I had no peace sitting in for Sunday sermons, attending the men’s prayer meeting was a different experience.  The nature of these meetings tend to draw the most devout, sincerest Christians from the rest of the congregation, and it was then that I could finally enjoy true fellowship with other believers, even if it was in a limited capacity.  I did find it very telling that despite a church of over 1,000, only 3 people showed up to pray the last time I was there (4 when you include me).

As important as church is, I can’t accept that God would require me to subject myself to agonizing oppression and despair every Sunday just to fulfill my obligations to the body of Christ.  For others this level of spiritual sensitivity is switched off, enabling them to function even in the midst of evil and being in a position to reform the churches from within.  Such does not seem to be the case for me.  That’s why I relate more to John the Baptist and Elijah than I do the likes of Paul, men who dwelled in the wilderness and separated themselves quite physically from the rest of the civilized world.  It was probably the only way they could cope with the wickedness of humanity without going insane.

My experience with prayer meetings makes me wonder if there’s a middle ground to all this that I could pursue instead.  I could attend bible study or prayer meetings rather than participate in Sunday services, though these tend to require you be vouched for by a regular member of the group before joining, which I can understand.  Other times it’s over the top, such as barring people from signing up for ministries to feed the hungry until you’ve been a regular member of the church for at least 6 months.  To set up such roadblocks just to perform charity work is something that’s offended me to no end, and rather than play by those ridiculous rules, I’ve chosen instead to do any charity work independently and directly, without dealing with the oversight of churches and groups I have no reason to trust with my time or money.  Sad, but as I’ve written so many times before: it is what it is.

In the name of Jesus, stop saying “in the name of Jesus”

I sometimes see this, people who get so… vexed with me that they start spouting,  “IN THE NAME OF JESUS, STOP YOUR INSULTS!”




You know what this sounds like?  An incantation.  The name of Jesus is now reduced to mere magical words one merely has to bellow in order to achieve the effect he’s looking for.  It’s not spoken out of faith or conviction, it’s simply a mantra or vain repetition.  It’s ironic because it irritates me to no end, so those who see that think my irritation is a result of all the crazy demons inside me that are churning in uneasiness and fear over hearing the name of Jesus.  No, it’s just me trying to restrain myself from slapping you one.

It never once occurs to them that they’re in essence using the Lord’s name in vain, and it is them who dishonors God by reducing Him to a magical phrase.

In my continual bid to alienate every girl on the planet and send them into an unhinged foaming rage, I shall now explain why I HATE tattoos

So I read lately that Kate Upton got a tattoo.  Of a cross, because she’s like, religious and stuff.  I guess she probably got that idea as a result of hearing so many men exclaim “I’ve found religion!!!” every time they stared at her gabzumbas.

Anyhoo, so because someone had once taken her cross necklace away, she got a tattoo of a cross inked on her finger instead so she could always show her “devotion to God.”  Well here’s an idea: how about showing your devotion to God by, oh I dunno, acting in a godly way?  And what’s a godly way to act you ask?  Hmmm, well, I would suggest wearing actual clothes and not injecting yourself with Hepatitis C infested tattoo ink for a start.

But since dear Katie has touched on another subject I’ve pondering over for a while, I might as well get this off my chest and explain why I generally avoid dating Christian woman who sees absolutely nothing wrong with tattoos and body mods.

Jesus loves me and my tattoos slogan

Exploring this from a biblical perspective, there are only a handful of places in the Bible where tattoos are addressed, mostly in Leviticus:

Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I [am] the LORD. – Leviticus 19:28

There are two arguments used by proponents of tattoos to address this, one is that this is an Old Testament rule that no longer applies for today, and two, that this refers only to the specific practice of mourning for the dead.  The former is a glib dismissal of what the OT can teach us about God’s law, and should invite us to understand why God commanded the things that He did.

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. – Roman 15:4

Now all these things happened unto them {the Israelites} for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. – 1 Corinthians 10:11

When we examine these verses more closely, we find God also instructed the Hebrews not to cut their beards and hair a certain way as well.  (Leviticus 19:27)  These things would seem utterly trivial compared to other more obvious sins (such as adultery), and because of that it’s easy to disregard them as commandments that don’t really “count.”

But these practices were forbidden not because God was being petty, but because they reflected the practices of the heathen nations that surrounded the Israelites.  The marring of the skin and hair were idolatrous traditions they made for their gods (or for the dead).  Thus for an Israelite to do the same meant he was giving respect to false gods rather than the only true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

As you read through the OT laws it starts to become obvious the message God was conveying to His people:  STOP ACTING LIKE THE WORLD.  Stop mimicking their traditions, stop imitating them, and be a peculiar and holy people.  “Be ye holy, for I am holy.”

Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I [am] the LORD your God. – Leviticus 20:7

Sanctify by the way means “to set apart.”  Our lives should carry with it a distinctive separation from how the world behaves.  Yet rather than eschew the world’s trends, Christians co-opt them and then slap a Christian label on it, not just for tattoos, but for nearly everything.  We even co-opt commercial slogans to give them a more Christian spin.  (Got Jesus?)  So the idea of “Christian” tattoos is not unique unto itself, but part of an overall pattern.  Nothing in the Bible validates this approach either.  God never says, if you sport the same haircut/tattoo for Me, THEN it’s ok.  Instead God wants us to avoid the practice altogether.


Now you can enjoy fresh breath AND grow in the faith!

Yet sanctification for some Christians evidently seems to mean merely sanitizing worldly trends by attempting to “christianize it.”  So while the standard tattoos that depict odd or even demonic images would be bad, a tattoo of a Bible verse or cross is a-ok.

This is why I don’t think I can be with a girl who can’t see what’s really going on behind the prevalence of tattoos and body modifications.  For me, I don’t merely see the acts, I see the overall picture, and that we’re actually regressing as a society to the point that in the near future body mods will become mainstream and almost indistinguishable from tribal cultures such as the ancient Mayans.  The body mods we see today is going to be considered tame compared to what we’ll see 20 years from now, as more and more of humanity become driven to mutilate their bodies as much as they can, just as the heathens have done for thousands of years.  Everything old is new again.

So it’s disappointing to me when I meet a girl who professes to love God but at the same time tries to rationalize or excuse pursuing worldly customs, rather than make a point of eschewing them in the interest of distinguishing herself from the world.  This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t date someone who already has tattoos, but I do want them to be OPEN to the idea that the growing prevalence of tattoos today is not an accident, and is certainly not of God.  A woman who chooses to go her own way rather than chase after every worldly fad is someone more likely to understand me and the life I’ve lived.  Otherwise I suspect the disparity between our opposing beliefs is symptomatic of irreconcilable differences that would result in either a failed relationship or marriage.

Why “radical” Christianity is just another form of legalism

You know, it never fails that theology within Christianity always tends to go from one extreme to the other.  I see this in the “radical” movement” championed by the likes of Francis Chan, David Platt, Shane Claiborne and so on, which is really a reactionary movement to the materialistic, business-driven nature of modern churches in America today.  (Props to Rick Warren for his part in reducing salvation into a seeker-sensitive consumer good by the way.)

Being “radical” is a new spin on an old concept rooted in the social gospel, and this particular iteration weighs one’s faith based on the frugality of one’s lifestyle, how much of his assets he gives away, or how much he dedicates his life to missionary work.  There are different shades of this within the movement, but to me this is the underlying premise.  It also creates a great deal of confusion, because there’s no clear rule in how much works is sufficient enough to indicate to a believer (and the leaders of this movement) that he is truly saved.  Or regenerated, to use a calvinist term.  Do we all need to have our teeth pulled out like the missionary Francis Chan uses as an example of “crazy love”?  Chan himself says no, but you still get the impression that if you’re not giving in an equally “radical” fashion, well then, you’re probably not really saved.

Pharisee Points Accusingly

Are YOU being radical enough???

The can of worms this opens up should be obvious.  Whereas in Catholicism one does good works to GET saved, under the “radical” theology one does works to PROVE they’re saved.  And if you’re not doing “enough” of it based on some kind of arbitrary standard no one can seem to agree on, your own salvation starts to come into question, and either you’re saddled with a sense of endless guilt for not doing “enough” for the kingdom, or you’d likely have to deal with a congregation of  holier-than-thous who frown on you because you’re not living in a hut in India.

I get the sense that to support the assertions behind “radical” theology, the proponents often point to the book of James, and his repeated admonishment that faith without works is dead.  When I read James though, I believe he’s talking about something more, and by works he’s not merely talking about good deeds in particular: he’s talking about the EVIDENCE of faith.

This much is clear when he talks of Abraham and his attempted sacrifice of Isaac. (James 2:21-24)  Was any good work being performed here?  Was Abraham giving everything he had to the poor or spreading the gospel in distant lands?  No, he was about to kill his only son, believing God would raise him from the dead (otherwise it would mean the Lord’s promise to Abraham regarding his seed would turn out to be a lie – Genesis 12:7)  Abraham’s works here was OBEDIENCE based on his now immovable belief in God’s promises. (Romans 4:3-5)  His faith was tried, but it came forth as gold, because he ultimately believed the LORD would revive his son.

There seems to be a lot about the nature of salvation that calvinists like Platt/Chan/etc. don’t seem to understand.  I remember having a discussion with a friend about the sinner’s prayer, and I initially agreed with the opinion that it wasn’t a magic, superstitious prayer that could cause one to be automatically saved.  But then I reflected further on this, and I realized we were of completely different minds on this after all.  I believed that such a prayer must first be coupled with faith, as in, you have to honestly believe what you’re praying, and if you did, you became saved.  As long as that person believed, nothing more than such a prayer in faith was needed to receive the gift of salvation.  But instead my friend indicated salvation itself was a sort of “process.”  Um no, it’s not a process.  You are either saved or you’re not.  There is no process.  Salvation is a rebirth, the start of a new man in Christ, and just as it is with our physical lives, we don’t immediately become spiritually mature and perfect in faith at the moment we’re saved.  It’s the sanctification of faith that becomes a lifelong process, but in that, our salvation was already obtained at the moment we started believing.  As much as the likes of Chan would like to resist this fact, there IS such a thing as an immature believer.  (yoooooohoooooooo! *waves*)

This is why I find this whole radical, missional form of Christianity so off-putting.  It’s no longer about honoring the LORD and doing such biblically-based good works simply because it’s the right thing to do (we get nothing out of it other than the satisfaction that we made the LORD happy),  but for appearance’s sake, specifically to make a show of proof of our “regeneration.”  After all, faith without works is dead!  And yet for one thing, a significant aspect of good works (giving in particular) is supposed to be a private affair.  The LORD was in fact adamant about how secretive our good works should be, to the point that the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing.  (Matthew 6:3)  It occurred to me that just the fact of knowing the extent of how much Chan and Platt have given of their own selves is an indication that they are disobeying God’s word.  It does make you wonder.  Indeed, we sure seem to know an AWFUL lot of all the many good works these radical leaders perform.  Such holiness they exude!

I believe “radical” Christianity and “lordship salvation” introduces a new (and yet ancient) standard to faith and good works.  But how much does God himself require?  For starters, Jesus himself said a man who has faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.  (Matthew 17:20)  See this little “.” on your screen?  Yeah, about that size.

Think about that.  Imagine someone whose faith is only as small as a seed barely discernible to the naked eye.  Would he look like a spiritual giant to others?  Or is he more likely to appear as a backsliding Christian who shakes his fist at God for everything that’s gone wrong in his life?  And yet, there’s still a small part, a kernel of his being that cries out that Jesus is still LORD, despite all his personal failures, doubts and stingy tithes based on his net income instead of his gross.  (filthy heathen!!!)

But guess who else wavered between unshaking faith and doubt, doubt that was so embarassing at times that he allowed his wife the risk of commiting adultery because he feared for his life?  Abraham, of course.  And he does this not once, but TWICE.  Yet rather than judge Abraham, the LORD came to his rescue each time.  Imagine if you will, Abraham being a church goer and surrounded by his peers passionately pursuing the “radical” lifestyle, what they would have thought of him after those faithless blunders.  He would have been considered a backsliding, unregenerate soul, for sure.   Even worse, he had far too much sheep as well.  Why wasn’t he giving some of them away and living a more frugal lifestyle?  Clearly ungenerated, this one.

But what we see is not what God sees.  The Bible instructs us not to judge by appearance, but still, when it appears that someone is not doing a lot of good works, not giving as much as he should be, not going on missions all the time, not being RADICAL, and by all appearances looks like a materialistic, self absorbed Christian, well then by all appearances, he must not really be saved.  Right?  Right??

It creates a horrible environment that brings Christians back to the same legalistic standards by which we judge one’s holiness.  Everything old is new again.  Now you have well meaning believers who either feel needless and crushing guilt, doubting their salvation because they don’t feel like they’re doing “enough” for the kingdom, or are pressured into ministries that they are ill-equipped and ill-prepared for.

I admit, I’ve often felt this guilt too.  I don’t attend church, so I certainly don’t get involved in outreaches and ministries these churches offer.  And when I try to, I get blocked somehow, due to some of the sometimes ridiculous requirements in order to participate in relief work (such as requiring you to be a member of the church for 6 months(???)  And missionary work, OY.  The mere thought of visiting another country, especially given that I have a disability that I need to take into consideration has me less than… enthusiastic about doing any missionary work as well.

Does that mean I’m not saved?  Or hugely backslidden?  Or just all around a very bad, flesh based, self-absorbed, unregenerated weenie of a fake Christian?  Was God truly angry at my lack of good works, my lack of contributions to the church body, my utter failure to do anything meaningful for the kingdom, my unwillingess to be a RADICAL disciple?

When I pondered over that, I thought about the examples in Scripture of men who went on to become mighty men in the faith.  And I realized, a great deal of them had spent the majority of their lives doing… well, nothing.  Moses himself was a shepherd for 40 years, and was not called to lead over the Israelites until he was 80 years old (the equivalent of being 60 today.)  So many devout believers of the faith lived purely ordinary lives before they were directly called by God into his service, and often not until their later years.  One wonders what the likes of Chan and Platt would be telling Moses while he was spending all those years herding sheep and doing nothing else meaningful or “radical” for God.  Moses should have been overseeing a social program to fight hunger or SOMETHING, instead of wasting the best years of his life tending sheep.  How unradical.

Still, even as young as I am in comparison to the “mighty men of valor” from the Bible, I felt and even now still feel like a failure.  I did nothing good, nothing meaningful, nothing “radical,” and worse yet, I didn’t have the drive to do anything of the sort, nor the particular desire to part with my many toys and pursue a less materialistic lifestyle.  Was I in rampant sin just for having the latest iPhone and playing on my shiny iPad?  I thought about missionary work too, and whether I really did have an obligation to put myself out there, to travel overseas, to start reaching the lost in distant lands.  Was I failing God somehow?  Was He angry at me?  I prayerfully looked for answers.

At the same time I contemplated these things, I got this email from a believer in South Africa:

This is rather unconventional, but I just want to say thank you. I recently went through a very tough time and was at logger heads with God.
I thought he had forsaken me. Your blog post, “When God forsakes you” really gave me something to relate to. One of the comments which you replied to helped me to regain my faith in God. Apart from that, the book of Job in the Bible also helped me a ton.

Anyway, you’re my inspiration to create my own blog (something I never [thought] I’d develop the inclination to do). A blog where I can help people like myself face certain circumstances through my experiences with Christ.

So once again, thank you and God bless

When I read that, this verse immediately sprang to mind:

Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. — James 5:19-20

I was amazed, that one blog post which consisted of a flailing rant (but afterward a repentant heart) had reached someone halfway around the world and helped her regain her faith.  I had performed a missionary’s work while hiding out in my man cave and throwing back a frosty Starbucks’ frappucino.  Behold the magnitude of God’s power, that even in my wanton excess of tasty coffee drinks and utter moments of despair, He was able to take my words and use it to edify another soul in some remote corner of the world.

It made me realize even in missionary/ministry work God requires so little: converting ONE person is enough to cover a multitude of sins.  ONE PERSON.  In an age where we esteem quantity over quality, it’s easy to forget that God’s burden truly is light in comparison.

Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden is light. –  Matthew 11:28-30

Yet as men are apt to do, especially those who follow after the spirit of the Pharisees, we take God’s standards, and then introduce endless layers of legalistic requirements and burdens that only an elite few could possibly live up to.  We talk about proselytizing in distant lands as part of the “radical” lifestyle, without realizing that the Pharisees themselves were just as zealous in doing missionary work, and yet the LORD rebuked them:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. – Matthew 23:15

The LORD tells us to go out into the world and preach the gospel, well, isn’t where we currently live part of the world?  And yet the concept of ministry/missionary work has been redefined and polluted to the extent that too many are now doing it without seeking the LORD’s direction, and for all the wrong reasons.  It may be that God has some other thing in mind for us, or that He wants us to get more grounded in Him first, before He calls us into something more.  If we cannot learn to hear His voice, then how can we learn to be effective in any ministry He gives us?

The more I observe about what I see emanating from mainstream Christianity, especially within calvinist circles, the more I realize they are the modern day equivalent of Pharisees.  The similarities are striking, and just as the religious elite existed at the time of Christ, so will they continue to exist today, influencing and leading many astray until the time of Christ’s return.  The onus is on us not to accept the word of man and the religious ecosystem they represent over what the Bible directly tells us.  (Jeremiah 17:5)

A belief more radical than Radical (Countering the theologies of men like David Platt)

I am writing this for a dear friend of mine partly to address a difference of beliefs, and partly to examine some of the issues I have with the churches today, particularly movements driven by popular calvinists such as Francis Chan, David Platt, John Piper, etc.

I’ve always regarded calvinists as modern day Pharisees, with their almost wholly academic approach to Scripture and their proclivity for trying to intellectualize their way to God.  We see no end of of them on the internet too, as it provides the perfect medium for them to bloviate on and on about theological topics until they run out of words.  It’s very rare to see a spirit of humility amongst their ranks, as the extreme pursuit of (mostly) carnal knowledge comes with it the risk of puffing them up with pride (1 Corinthians 8:1) and disdain for those who are not as learned as they are.  Just as it was with the Pharisees.  Because they hail mostly from a Baptist subculture, I’m convinced many of them are also not baptized in the Holy Spirit, and thus practice their brand of Christianity without His direction and without a much needed discernment that only He can provide.

Regardless, I was particularly curious about the book “Radical,” written by the calvinist David Platt, and decided to read it to get a sense of what was currently all the rage in mainstream Christianity today.  I think Platt starts out really well, lampooning the materialistic, “seeker-sensitive” nature of churches today that never ceases to drive me up the wall.  He juxtaposes this with how believers in hostile countries come together despite the constant threat of persecution, and how nothing more than the Word itself was needed to sustain them in fellowship and worship.  Glad to see somebody is finally waking up to this megachurch/seeker-sensitive nonsense.

But then he starts to go off on a tangent.  While he speaks of the stinginess of Christians (though I get the sense that he believes just by virtue of being stingy can be evidence that a person is not saved), it does seem to me that they still give generously to the church leadership, but these leaders have become bad stewards of the money being given to them.  They’ve gotten caught up in running their churches as a profit-making, consumer-driven business rather than an actual house of worship pleasing to God.  I doubt many in the congregation would have a problem with the leadership refocusing their tithes for more constructive use.  Some might end up leaving, but then again that would weed out those who only came for the social perks or wanted their ears tingled.  Platt purports to support this, partly by talking about experimentally converting one of his church services in a format more akin to what he saw in Asia.  So I wonder why he doesn’t go the distance and completely reform his entire church in that vein.  He takes a step in the right direction, but in my view still falls short.  One of the grievances I have with modern churches is their propensity for growing too large (usually for the wrong reasons), and then addressing this by fragmenting the church into little cliques of 20 or less people, rather than creating a circuit of complete churches that should have no larger than say, 150-200 members per church.  A shepherd should know every member of his flock after all.

His proposed resolution for the materialistic Christian is also uneven and rife with contradictions too.  Starting with the rich young ruler who refused to give up his possessions to follow Jesus, the logical leap from examining that verse would presume we ALL need to give up EVERYTHING we own to follow the Lord, yet Platt walks back on this by suggesting we just need to put a cap on our lifestyle.  He tends to go back and forth on the specifics of giving, first lauding random giving, but then tempering that with more informed giving, and so on.  For all the talk on charitable giving, it still remains readily unclear how much one has to precisely give to prove he’s saved and a good Christian.

I took a closer look at the story of the rich young ruler.  To me the issue here wasn’t of stinginess, but that he considered his possessions more important than the treasure that was standing right in front of him, Christ himself, the pearl of great price.

What I sense though is that this story has a history of being used not to help Christians correct their priorities and cast down their idols, but to guilt induce the masses into giving more money to the church.  It’s all distinctly catholic in tone.  One’s affluence makes them a target for being brow beaten with guilt until they finally relent and give it up for Christ (or more specifically, the church), or otherwise they are clearly not saved and headed for hell.  So, we’ve gone from materialism to socialism.

Now I think Platt’s approach is more palatable to the reader, but still, his belief system seems to be reared on old religious concepts that are not grounded in the Word.  It’s going to cause too many to obsess over acts of charitable giving and lull them into a false sense of confidence in their good works, because now their spirituality is weighed in how much they give.

And yet we have this warning:  “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”  (Matthew 7:22-23)  Note the LORD is not speaking to the world here; he addressing those who thought they were being good Christians.  It’s a sobering warning that every Christian on earth needs to contemplate and prayerfully heed.

In addition to what he writes in Radical, Platt also espouses (whether intentionally or not) a concept called “Lordship salvation.”  He begins by correctly criticizing the superficiality of the “sinner’s prayer,” but as it seems to go with so many Christians today, he starts out well and then goes off the rails.  Clearly one’s life has to undergo some kind of metamorphosis, but to what extent to confidently indicate one is saved (or regenerated as calvinists like to say) Platt again offers little or no insight.  The amorphous nature of “Lordship salvation” gives it an enormous potential for abuse, allowing people to to exploit this teaching to falsely condemn Christians who are struggling in their sins AND uplift those who have a pretense of outward holiness (but inside are full of dead men’s bones.)

Platt and those like him confuse salvation with sanctification (how the Lord continually makes us more like Him every day), and confuse spiritual birth (becoming saved) for spiritual growth.  It seems to be the crux of calvinists that they obsess over the nature of salvation (soteriology) and overly complicate it to absurd degrees (thus missing the forest for the trees, another hallmark trait of the Pharisees.)  Always ever learning, always and ever studying, and yet so many are about as far from the kingdom of heaven as one can be. (2 Timothy 3:7)

But as for me and mine house…

Regarding my own walk; a long time ago I formally declared to God, “Lord, my life and all that I have is in your hands.  Do as you see fit.”  I don’t treat my possessions then as actually being mine, because they were never mine to begin with.  And I don’t regard any riches the Lord blesses me with as a sign of apostasy any more than I would regard the times that I was impoverished and homeless as a sign of my holiness.  I believe any righteousness stems from believing His word, not merely in doing good works.  I believe one should not trust in the teachings of man and his endless inventions, but trust in His word.  (Jeremiah 17:5)  I believe the Bible supersedes everything else, and believe the Holy Spirit can instruct us in all things.  I believe much of what we see in Christianity is heresy, confusion and dissension, with the masses “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” I believe we are in the great falling away, and I believe because of this we need the discernment of the Holy Spirit now more than ever.  I believe our spiritual state is more important than our physical state, and I believe the spiritual state of Christians in America today are being neglected in pursuit of a social gospel that purports to alleviate physical suffering, yet without dealing with the underlying cause via the gospel.

And  I believe the rarity of what I believe is what makes me the true radical.

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