2005-01-21

Jimmy and the Sponge

Now for chapter 327 in adventures in missing the point. So, I am watching the news, and apparently the new Sponge Bob video is being protested by Dr. James Dobson of "Focus on the Family", because it advocates homosexuality. I have not watched the video, so I do not know if the evil cartoonists are trying to lead poor six year old boys down the path of gay prostitution or talking with a lisp. The makers of the video say no. James "I am Christ's policy advisor" Dobson says yes. Who's right? I don't know. I guess it depends on who you think is more honest and reliable.

Is it the people who make a lot of money from selling videos and dolls to children, who's business would be hurt if they really did promote homosexuality to six year olds? Or is it the guy who sells millions of dollars worth of books and expands his "religious right" media empire every time he "uncovers a plot to destroy Christian America"? Should we trust the people who have every reason NOT to make Sponge Bob gay? Or should we trust the guy who has every reason to start a witch hunt? I am not saying the venerable Doctor Dobson is a liar, I am just saying that he has every reason to skew the already effeminate character of Sponge Bob to his advantage.

I think we should outlaw all male TV characters and cartoons who sing with high voices and show their underwear from the top of their pants! Punish the evil doers with reading all of Dobson's books! I mean twice as many young boys must be enticed into the lures of the gay lifestyle by the seduction of Sponge Bob, than were ever enticed by the Spandex-clad, crotch-packing, body-builder superheroes of yesteryear, such as Superman, Batman, and Spiderman. That was sarcasm. But seriously... if Dobson wants to protest the so-called "gay conspiracy", can't he pick a thousand better candidates than Sponge Bob?

But, lets talk about priorities and motives. First, of all, Dobson only picks on gays because they are an out group in our society that is easy to hate. I mean he could easily have picked fat people who eat four times as many calories as the average third world person. He could have picked spoiled suburban soccer moms who have too much disposable income and do not contribute anything by volunteering or by donating to help those in need outside of their sub-urban bubbles. Or maybe he could have picked wealthy business men who have gotten rich in big and small ways by questionable business practices and un-ethical dealings with customers and employees. Heck, he could have even railed against corporate giant superstores that drive smaller mom and pop stores out of business while treating their suppliers like dirt as they keep offering horrible service and poor products to the consumer. But Wal Mart probably sells too many of his books for him to bite the hand that feeds him.

So, instead he picks the one group that the majority of Americans already hate: the gays. It makes him money and gives him air time on TV. Money and power... that's what its all about at Jim Dobson's "Focus on the Fairies". Again, this is sarcasm. I do not want to demean homosexuals (like Dobson), or to say that homosexuality is not a sin and christen it as an "alternate lifestyle" (like the pluralists). It is sin. As a Biblical Christian I believe that God has outlined behavioral norms in Scripture which serve as the goal toward which we aim our behavior. That Scripture declares homosexual acts unequivocally outside of God's perfect will in about 5, maybe 7 places. Whatever the causes of homosexuality, whether genetic, biological, social, or personal, it is clear that it is the result of living in a fallen world, and it brings untold personal misery into the lives of millions of men and women and their families who deal with it.

Now lets compare homosexuality to other things that God names as sin. For instance, there are thousands of times in Scripture that we are warned against greed, over-consumption, and withholding from the poor and needy. There are thousands of times we are exhorted in Scripture to love others, especially those who are different and who are our enemies. There are hundreds of times that we are told in Scripture to have pure motives, pure lips, to speak the truth and not to gossip or bring false accusations. These sins, which are mentioned thousands and thousands more times than the scant few references we have for homosexuality, affect, infect, harm, and kill hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people in the world today.

It is clear to me that Dobson's "focus" is not on Almighty God, but on the almighty dollar... and whatever will get him the most press coverage. As a rapper has once said, "Its all about the Banjamins". Amen brother Jim. Pass the offering plate and crucify some homos while you are at it!

Let me ask you an honest question: Who would you rather have as your neighbor, Dr. James Dobson, or a committed gay or lesbian couple who gives to charity regularly, volunteers to help the needy regularly, and prays often? Who do you think, over all, would have less "sin" in their lives and live in a way more pleasing to God? I know lots of Dobson type people and several very kind, giving, even Christian gays and lesbians. I know who I would want to be my neighbor, hands down.

There are many more pressing issues we can spend our time and resources to conquer besides the seven verses against homosexuality. There are tsunamis and earthquakes, wars and famines. There is corporate greed and homeless children in need. Racism, sexism, ageism, prejudice reign across the land. Working conditions in most of the world are soul-destroying and health destroying. People die of obesity in the first world while people die of starvation in the third world. People in America are being entertained to death while people in Sudan are being killed for entertainment. Oppressive regimes around the world threaten the helpless with torture, imprisonment, execution, and weapons of mass destruction. Thousands die each day never having met Jesus Christ. Billions live everyday without the hope and healing of the resurrection of Christ. Millions more cannot write and will never be able to read the Gospel story for themselves.

All of this while Dobson crusades against the moral evil of Sponge Bob. Days like today make me want to ask the question: "Can I just follow Jesus without being a Christian?" If being a Christian means being identified more with Dobson and the moral majority than with Christ, then I will not use the name and simply become known as a follower of Jesus... But, in the same newscast there was a story about how a group of Baptist men are staying in Sri Lanka, filtering water to drink and helping re-build towns over there. They are volunteering their time, their effort, and their very lives to serve Christ in the needy. The name Christian was redeemed.

I can't resist a chance to quote this text:

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Matthew 25:31-46
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' 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, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
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Sure, these are not as controversial and won't get as many people buying our books... but are we out to sell product or change the world? What does it profit a moral crusader if he gets the attention of the entire world, but forfeits his own soul?

Dr. Dobson, I fear for my soul because I do not want to fall into self deception and the lies of the world. I want to stay close to Christ in every way and live for Him every day. But I also fear for your soul, because I do not believe that you see where you are blinded. I do not believe that you understand where you have sold the Gospel of Christ for the mammon of publicity. You are protesting the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way and not standing for the right thing at the right time in the right way. I do not want you to get to heaven and find out that you have not fed or clothed Christ. I do not want you to face the Lord and have Him say:

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Matthew 7:21-23
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!"
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When we have pulled the "logs" of open, abusive sin out of everyone's eyes, then I think we will see clearly to start pulling the "specks" of private immorality out of everyone's eyes. Until that time, why don't we focus on the family of God and act as Christ's hands and feet bringing healing and salvation to "the least of these".


Critiques of the emerging church movement

As someone immensely sympathetic to the emerging church movement, I have some critiques of the movement. I am interested in seeing what you think...

1. Despite protests to the contrary, it seems like the emerging church movement is neck-deep in consumerism. I own a lot from the emergent YS line, and it seems like sometimes they use "emergent" as a tag line for new, hip, trendy, cool. My biggest critique is that the whole movement (of which I am admittedly a part of) smacks of avant-garde consumer trendiness...

Just look at how they market Dave Kimball, or postmodern youth ministry, or Len Sweet, or Brian McLaren. At the same time these guys (rightly) eschew modern American consumerism, they are neck-deep in it.

2. There is a certain pride attached to the idea that "we" can see that the gospel is always incarnated in cultural forms so that there is no such thing as a timeless "culture free" gospel from a human perspective. We often contrast this with a critical view of "them" who cannot see that their gospel is culturally bound to... (modernity, or foundationalism, or the reformation, or the counter-reformation). Yet, there is a flaw: how can we claim that all versions of the gospel are culture bound unless we somehow see ourselves as having a viewpoint "above culture" to say that all other gospels are in-culturated? We have to assume the very thing we critique: a trans-historical viewpoint for our view that everything else is historical.

Circular, very circular. I guess I am just a skeptic of skepticism. On one hand, I do not know of any version of the Gospel that I think is free from cultural baggage. We speak in metaphors about God, and metaphors are tied to language, and language is tied to culture and history. So, in most ways I agree with the emergent viewpoint. But, on the other hand I cannot say that there is definitely not a culture free Gospel. I just do not have that epistemic certainty, nor the trans-historical perspective to say that. And, at the same time, I do know of at least one class of knowledge that is trans-historical, and that is mathematics... So, it just isn't as easy to critique any theology's culture-boundedness as emergents tend to think it is.

3. And then, to tie in 1 and 2, there is the whole thing about "us" (emergents) versus "them" (modernists). This breeds pride and splits up the Body of Christ in the Name of unifying the Body of Christ (if you don't understand how dangerous that is, check out how the Stone-Campbell "Church of Christ" movement devolved from a plea for Church unity to my-way-or-the-high-way). And not only that, but when you segment two parts of a social group (i.e. the Church) and then pit them against each other, then you can sell both sides more product and make more money off of them. So, then you can get a publishing company (how about Zondervan or Baker books) who is making money hand-over-fist by publishing books on its "emergent YS" or "Brazos Press" publishing houses, marketed to young emergents about how to change the Church to be relevant. Then, from their regular publishing houses they are marketing to the exact opposite contingent books about how NOT to change with culture.

While I think that such publishing houses are needed, I also think that there is a HUGE potential for pride, division, and trendiness. We emergents need to get real humble real quick.

4. On the whole, the emerging church movement seems to offer more critique than it does construction... it is a protest movement and as such it seems to have a generally negative demeanor in many ways... that may just be the nature of the time we live in.

5. For a movement that eschews labels, we sure do like labels a lot. My friend Molly smacked me in the face with this one. We don't want to be tagged with labels such as modern, liberal, conservative, evangelical, Pentecostal, traditional, charismatic, contemporary, or (God help us) fundamentalist... but we slap that danged ol' "emergent" on everything... after all, it just sounds so much cooler than the rest (at least for the next two years). We gotta get off of this marketing cycle we are on, or else it will slap us all in the face in a few years as outdated, and it will discredit all of the great insights that the "emergent" movement has tried to make known.

Just some thoughts... Whatchathink?

2005-01-13

Are we there yet?

We've all been there. It's the big yearly mission trip to (fill in the blank), and you have been driving the 15 passenger van for about 10 hours, and you have the annoying kid (God love him) in the back yelling "are we there yet"? Your rear end is stuck to the seat in a pool of sweat. You have listened to the same Christian CD five times in a row. And this kid keeps asking "are we there yet"? You tell him to shut up and chill out over and over (in the kindest way you can), but every half hour or so, he asks "are we there yet"?

I learned from a youth ministry friend of mine the perfect response (which she, in turn, learned from her youth minister). Just say "Five minutes… we only have five more minutes" every time they ask, no matter how long or how short the time is. Pretty soon they get frustrated, and then give up, and learn to enjoy the ride. You know, upon further reflection, I think that is what God has been saying to me lately too: "Five minutes Nate, we only have five more minutes". He keeps saying it until I shut up, chill out, and learn to enjoy the ride.

There is always debate over why the Apostles talked about the immediate return of Christ, when it has been 2000 years and He hasn't shown up yet. Were they mistaken? Did they think He would come back soon, but didn't? Has Jesus already come back? I think the simple explanation is that the Church has this bad habit of being the annoying kid in the van asking over and over "Are we there yet?" And Jesus, the Apostles, and the Prophets keep yelling back to us "Five more minutes... just five more minutes", in hopes that we will shut up, chill out, and enjoy the ride.

You see, I like thinking about God and talking about God. If you are into big labels, you could call it "theology". Lots of people use big labels to talk about simple subjects because it makes them feel smarter, but when you get down to it, theology simply means logia (Greek for reasoned talk) about Theos (Greek for God). Some of the Church fathers tell me that there are two basic ways of doing theology. There's pilgrim theology and then there's what I like to call stagnant theology. And so, what does this mean and why should you care?

Well, Pilgrim theology is done by people who are pilgrims, aliens, and strangers in the world. It is theology done "en route" by people who know they are on the way to meet God, but have not arrived yet. It is a radically hope-based theology, in which we live by faith in God's promises and confess His faithfulness, even though we do not know how it will all work out (see Hebrews 11:13). Pilgrim theology admits that right now we see only a pale, tarnished reflection of who God is, as if looking in a bronze mirror… but one day, we will arrive at our destination and see Jesus face to face. Pilgrims do not put God in a box, but allow Him to be "I AM what I AM".

Stagnant theology is done by people who are committed to absolute certainty. Faith is all but removed from the equation. It is done as if we are already in Christ's presence and we can describe in complete, monolithic, accurate detail every aspect of the journey of faith: From exactly how the world was formed to exactly how it will end; From exactly who and what God is, to exactly how He will act in any given circumstance; From exactly who is predestined to exactly how we receive salvation. There is no danger or wonder at walking with the God-of-the-universe-who-is-blazing-fire-yet-became-a-human. He is reduced to a pet on a leash.

You see, no one would really admit to putting God in a box like that. We don't mean to. I have about a hundred systematic theologies on my shelves right now (yes, I am a geek and I really do like reading that stuff). Many, perhaps the majority, are guilty of doing stagnant theology. They love Jesus and don't mean to… but they do. The human drive for precision, certainty, and systematization does it. And even if we do not put God in a box, don't we all tend to put life-with-God in a box? Don't we treat the process of salvation as a finished product somehow?

What I mean is this: We distill down the life of salvation to five purposes to be mastered. We make check lists and graphs and charts of how to do life with God. We exalt certain "crisis points" as the pinnacle of our life with God. For some, the pinnacle is a certain type of emotional salvation experience, that is done almost mechanically by a carefully engineered psychological device usually called the altar call. For others, it is a "Baptism in the Spirit" that is accompanied by some type of external evidence, depending on your Church tradition. For others it is a "strangely warmed heart", or an experience of entire sanctification, or pure love, true joy, or some other turning point of "conversion". For others, it is the "call to ministry". And yet, for others, it may be a sacrament of baptism, first communion, or confirmation. All of these are valid experiences in the journey with Christ. You might even say that some are essential.

But when they become rote, mechanical, predictable methods to clone new disciples, aren't we guilty of doing "stagnant theology" and putting God in a box? Conservative Christians of all stripes like to talk about our "walk with the Lord". I whole heartedly agree with this metaphor. But do we really mean it? Because, the last time I checked, a walk was not predictable. You can fall. You can get lost. Or, even better, you can find a path you weren't even aware of and follow it to a place of beauty you didn't imagine. Is "our walk" an unpredictable journey with God, a revolution to transform the world by being the Body of Christ. Or, is it a checklist of quick and easy, clearly-delineated, common-sensical, do-it-yourself steps? Is "our walk" so edited and predigested and clichéd that it is no longer the "sword of the Spirit" that severs spirit and soul (Hebrews 4:12), but rather a self-help butter knife to serve yourself a more manageable life.

Just wondering... how IS your WALK with the Lord?

Now, some may protest that I am some mamby pamby "liberal" that wants to take away all boundaries and limits and say "anything goes", and "all paths lead to God". Puh-leeze. I am a Jesus follower, not a Unitarian. But, did Jesus say that we would be a pool of stagnant water, or a river of living water, when He spoke of His Spirit flowing from within us (John 7:38)? A river, not a pool. You see, both a river and a pool have boundaries and limits. It's just that one is full of water that is traveling somewhere on a pilgrimage, and the other is full of water that is very content in where it is and doesn't want to leave.

If you will indulge me, I believe that Jesus is the riverbed, the only way that the water flows to get to the Father (John 14:6). I believe that the water is the Holy Spirit, and that He carries us, along the path of Christ, to the unfathomable ocean that is the Father. Along the journey, if we allow Him to take us, we will wind through strange lands, over unpredictable rapids, and sometime dangerous terrain. It certainly won't be as safe as wading in a stagnant pool, but then it won't be dead and stinking either.

You see, this idea of journey, of pilgrimage, is why I choose Wondervoyage for my "missions trips". I don't want to call them that. I want to call them pilgrimages. But, I still call them missions trips because the idea of faith-based journey, instead of a cut-and-dry-go-here-do-this-mission, is hard to get people to wrap their minds around in our efficiency oriented society. But Wondervoyage "gets it", and they know their place in the journey, the walk, the pilgrimage of my students as they voyage from a childlike trust to a revolutionary faith in Christ. They don't try and pre-package us and force us to fit a "missions mold" that works on everyone, every time, or double your money back. They create Jesus-following opportunities that are tailor made to fit the needs of my kids on their journey. They know we are not "there yet", and will still be "getting there" until the day we go to be with our Lord. Until that day, we are all on a voyage of wonder, of awe, of beauty, and sometimes of terror, with our Lord and Savior. Amen+

2005-01-09

Why I hesitate when I hear “someone got saved”

While walking into the grocery store one day I happened to see a young woman who I volunteer with in a “parachurch” youth evangelism organization. I knew that she had gone to summer camp with many of the students we worked with all school year, so I asked her “how did camp go?” She responded with a smile “It went great… three of our kids got saved… so-and-so accepted Christ… and remember so-and-so the atheist? He accepted Christ too!” I smiled, congratulated her, thanked God, and exchanged a few pleasantries, and then departed. Then a recurring thought hit me: Did they really get “saved”?

For those unfamiliar to Evangelical subculture, getting “saved” is code for: 1. Making a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 2. Receiving Christ personally and internally through a conversion experience that may or may not include lots of emotion. 3. Ensuring one’s eternal destiny as heaven in the presence of Christ, rather than eternal torment in Hell. Being saved is seen primarily as being delivered from the effects of one’s sins through the atonement (death and resurrection) of Jesus. This deliverance is seen almost entirely in post-mortem terms: where you go after you die.

Now, I feel quite odd in being at odds with someone “getting saved”, because I agree that the Christian life must include personal commitment to Christ, inward experience of His reality, and eternity spent with Him as a result of what He has done for us. I am an Evangelical… but a skeptical Evangelical who has done far too much reading in Scripture and the Church history to be satisfied that someone is “saved” by a one-time experience at summer camp.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that there is a line of no return that we cross over at some time in our lives that takes us out of orbit around sin and death and puts us in orbit around Jesus Christ. There is a “conversion moment” when we go from being “lost” to being “found”. It’s just that I’m extremely uncomfortable with us humans defining when that moment is. There are some people, maybe even many people, who can pinpoint this moment. They know exactly when Jesus became a reality for them. But there lots of other people who are not so sure. Some people were baptized as infants and grew up in Christian families and can’t remember a time when Jesus was not a living reality for them. Sure, they have times of deeper conversion and deeper commitment to Christ as they get older, but they don’t remember a time they were not “saved”.

Then there are people like me. I made a childhood commitment to Christ and was baptized around age 8. Was I saved then? I later “backslid” and completely disavowed faith in God or Christ as a teen. Then, my life came crashing down around me and I prayed “Jesus, if you are real, get me out of this mess and I will live my life for you.” That is hardly a conversion prayer (but it is still a prayer). But was this selfish manipulation of God my “salvation moment”? After that prayer, my life did turn around, and I read the entire Bible in about six months. After that, I know I “got it”. I knew Christ. I knew what the Bible meant (at least preliminarily). I could preach and teach the Gospel found in Scripture. I think that it was sometime in that six months that I got “saved”, but I can’t tell you when. Similar to CS Lewis and his walk through the woods, I went into that six months having severe doubts about God, and came out of it a sincerely devoted follower of Christ.

It just seems to me that the whole process of one human declaring that another human is “saved” is highly flawed for a number of reasons. First, the diversity of human experience screams out against it. Christ desires disciples, not merely converts (although you must first be converted to become a disciple). For some people the commitment to true discipleship is instant: they hear a sermon, are moved to tears, give their lives to Christ, and live for Him ever afterward. For most people, the commitment to discipleship is gradual. Total conversion may take weeks, months, or even years. Possibly this was one of the reasons why the early Church did not Baptize an adult convert into the Church until they had been instructed and tested for one to three years. They wanted to make sure their conversion “stuck” before making them part of the family of God and declaring them to be “disciples”.

The second reason I think it is severely flawed to pronounce someone saved is because it puts mere humans in the place of God. I only see one person in Scripture declaring someone to be saved: Jesus Christ, the just Judge of all Creation. He separates the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, and the saints from the sinners (see Mat 25, Rev 20). We cannot and should not put ourselves in His place, both for our own spiritual health and for the spiritual health of those we minister to. It is pride to put ourselves in the place of God, and quite dangerous as well (just ask Adam and Eve: Gen 3). We cannot look into someone’s soul and discern if they are “true” believers. Only God can do that.

But wait, aren’t we told to judge people’s fruit? Doesn’t Paul judge Christians as “spiritual” versus “worldly” (see 1Co 2-3)? Doesn’t Paul even put people out of the Church so that “their flesh may be destroyed and their souls may be saved” (1Co 5:5)? Yes, this is all true. But notice who is judged and what is judged. Who is judged? People who are Christians by virtue of their Baptism and confession of Christ as Lord. He is not judging whether someone is saved. He is judging whether someone is part of the community that has as its hallmarks the outward signs of baptism and confession. Secondly, notice what is being judged: outward actions. We are told to judge whether someone’s actions are in accord with the standards of Christ’s community. If those actions are not in accord, then counsel and discipline are in order. There is still only One who can judge salvation, and we are not Him.

The third problem with counting someone’s salvation is that it is just spiritually harmful to everyone involved. When you’ve seen as many people get “saved” as I have, then you see how many walk away from Christ months or years after their conversion experience, no matter how well they were cared for and discipled, it raises a lot of issues for you. Was their salvation a fake? Is God not strong enough to hold on to them? Am I just a lousy minister? It also causes lots of problems for those who get “saved”. If someone gets “saved” just for fire insurance to get out of hell, and then walks away from Christ with the attitude that they can do anything they want since they are heaven bound, doesn’t that put them in a deadly situation with the Lord? Even worse, can such “conversion experiences” serve as an inoculation to the real Gospel? Can someone, on the basis of a failed or insincere salvation experience, say “I’ve tried Christ. He didn’t help me. There’s no need to go to Him again.” It’s just a bad idea to pronounce someone is “saved”.

I think that the desire to “count the saved” comes from two non-Christian sources. The first is from American industry, marketing, and practicality. We want to judge things in numbers. Numbers mean success. Numbers mean efficiency and effectiveness. Numbers validate our worth. Therefore, we desire numbers so that we can pat ourselves on the back. Sometimes we say that we count conversions so that we can praise God, but I wonder if this motivation is just an excuse to pat ourselves on the back while “giving glory to God”.

The second reason we like to count conversions is because it helps us define our world and put down black and white lines. We can neatly categorize the world in terms of the “saved” and the “unsaved”, and then target our evangelism and rhetoric appropriately. I just don’t think the world is that black and white. Blame this on Jesus. He told us that the wheat would grow together with the weeds and that only He could separate them at the end of the Age (Mat 13:24-30). If it is all the same to you, I want to let Him do His job. Let us sow seed and water the plants. He can grow and harvest (see 1Co 3).

I’ve got an idea for Evangelicals: why don’t we just drop “getting saved” from our vocabulary and focus instead on encouraging people to participate in the salvation that is in Christ alone. Why don’t we start thinking in terms of many conversions during the Christian life instead of “The Conversion”. We tend to preach for a one-time salvation experience that is the pinnacle of the Christian life (funny, I thought heaven was the pinnacle, and accepting Christ was merely the beginning). Instead, let us preach for continual conversions, daily conversions, in which we gradually yield control of our whole lives in big and small ways to Christ. If we must count numbers, let us count things like Baptisms, and weekly attendance in worship, in Bible studies, and in social outreach to the community. Let us count the number of homeless we feed and clothe, or the number of third world children and missionaries our Church supports. Let us not count salvations like notches on the bedpost. Let us not count fleeting experiences that may or may not result in genuine discipleship over the long haul. Instead, let us count behaviors that indicate true Christ likeness.

2005-01-08

Government and Religion in God's Plan

A Short Theology of Government, Defense, and the use of force to protect the innocent

Government and Religion

In all ages, God's family must co-exist with those who choose to stay outside of the family. Therefore, God has set two complimentary forces at work in society: government (to govern all people) and religion (to govern God's family). Both government and religion have similar goals: to bring community and peace out of chaos and destruction. Yet, they use different tools to accomplish this. Government uses the police and physical force to control people's actions. Religion uses persuasion and the force of conscience to control people's actions. Also, they have different areas of oversight. God made government to use justice to protect people and property from crime and physical violence. God made religion to protect people from immorality and evil that is not physically abusive, and help them do good instead. For example, government protects people from the physical crimes of murder and theft by legal force.
Religion, on the other hand, persuades people away from hatred and jealousy that cause these crimes, and urges them toward Love. Likewise, it is the Government's responsibility to make sure that society is safe enough for people to pursue Love, life, and purpose. It is Religion's responsibility to lead people to Love, life, and purpose in Christ. Because of this, it is the role of religion to help the needy through charity, because only religion can truly give purpose and love with charity.

Separate roles, separate responsibilities

Since government's role is to maintain justice through legal force, it should not try to take the role of religion (and likewise religion should not take the role of government). When government seeks to give charity, it creates a welfare state where people become "entitled" to handouts as a matter of justice. The people loose all sense of meaning in life and become slaves to the government for their livelihood. Likewise, when religion seeks to enforce moral standards through the force of the police, it only results in outward conformity to the Law without an inward relationship with God. Both of these faults are demonstrated by the failure of Israel in the Old Testament, and the failure of many modern Communist governments and state welfare programs. God's people must make sure that government is regulated by the Biblical principals that ensure justice, freedom, and peace for all, through the proper use of physical force by the police. It is also our responsibility to make sure that religion is regulated by the Biblical principals that ensure morality, mercy, and Love for all, through the proper use of persuasion by its pastors. Because of this, it is our duty to pay taxes to our government, tithe to our religion, and vote and hold office in each to stand for what we know is right. Yet, when either government or religion is doing something contrary to the role God has given them, it is our job to speak out and protest without violence, no matter what the consequences may be.

Government, justice, and protection of the innocent

Is it right to allow a man abuse his family, steal from his neighbors, attack them, and threaten them with weapons? What if this man broke into your house and attacked your family? What if it wasn't a man, but government that abused its citizens, and threatened and attacked other countries? It is relatively easy to fulfill the command not to murder when dealing with sane people who are at least somewhat concerned with goodness and Love. Yet, living in a fallen world, we must also deal with people who care nothing about Love, goodness, or other people. We must face the reality that there are people, and governments, who cannot be reasoned with, and who are bent on wealth, power, evil, and destruction. The Bible, and History, makes it abundantly clear that they must be stopped physically or else they will harm and murder others. Because of this God has given government, and only government, the power of the "sword" to be God's minister of wrath to punish evildoers. The purpose of this punishment is first and foremost to protect the innocent from harm and death. God identifies with the helpless and the innocent, and desires their protection from those who would harm them. God wants to protect all life, but it is a higher good to protect the life of the innocent, than to protect the life of the guilty. God's perfect will is that no one is killed, even if they are guilty of evil. Yet, if the only choice is between killing the guilty to protect the innocent, or allowing the guilty to live and put the innocent in danger, God has given government the power to stop the guilty with whatever means are necessary. God's command not to murder refers to unjustly taking another's life for personal gain, and is differentiated from killing to protect the innocent. The second purpose of punishment is to teach others not to do evil. Many people (and nations) are discouraged from doing evil after they see the consequences these acts bring to others. The final purpose of punishment is, if possible, to reform criminals so they turn from evil and change for the good. Yet, if trying to reform evildoers puts the innocent in danger, reform is not possible. Understanding government's divine mandate to protect the innocent is the key to understanding how government protects its own citizens from crime, and protects the world from evil governments.

Crime and punishment

God has appointed government over us to protect us from crime, and to provide us with a safe environment of "peace and quiet" so that we can seek Christ and share His Love. Yet, there are those people in society who will lie, cheat, steal, and kill to get what they want. In the act of theft, assault, or murder, a person moves beyond something that is morally wrong into a criminal act that forcibly, physically, takes life away from another person. To stop this evil, God has endowed the government with physical force to capture and punish these criminals. Only by capturing criminals, and forcibly excluding them from society, can the innocent be protected from their evil. To protect its citizens and administer just punishment for crimes, government must use the following principals: First, suspected criminals should be taken into custody as quickly as possible (to protect society), using as little physical force as possible to do the job (to protect the suspected criminal). Second, suspected criminals should only be punished after being fairly tried for their crime and found guilty. Third, criminals should only be found guilty based on overwhelming evidence, and collaborated by the testimony of two or more witnesses. Fourth, the punishment should fit the crime, not too severe or too soft. God specifies that punishment should be in proportion to the crime (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth). If possible, the criminal should pay back the victim for their losses. Fifth, the convicted criminal should be held in prison until they are no longer a threat to society. Sixth, if the criminal is so dangerous that keeping them alive will endanger society or those in prison with them, they should be put to death. The death penalty should never be given as "revenge" for a crime committed, but should only be done to protect people from violent criminals. The need to use the death penalty as protection for society is demonstrated by the thousands of times criminals have been released, or escaped, from prison only to kill and steal again. It would be preferable to avoid execution and hold these criminals for life without parole, but no such prison system has ever existed, and even if it did, dangerous criminals could still escape. Also, many times when professional criminals (such as gang leaders) are imprisoned, they still remain powerful, plan crimes from inside prison, kill other inmates, and intimidate prison officials. Putting them to death is a lesser evil than allowing criminals to continue victimizing other people.

Self defense and defending others

There are times when we will be confronted with evil and violence, and will not have the time or the ability to seek the government to protect us. If someone breaks into our house, attacks us, or endangers someone we Love, we need to know how to react. If a person merely insults us, or someone we love, we must bear the insult in Love without striking back. This is what Jesus meant when He said if someone "slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also". In Jesus' day, a slap on one cheek was a harsh insult, and the only way to overcome an insult is by Love and forgiveness, not by trying to "get even". If someone tries to forcibly steal from us or someone we Love, we must bear the insult and allow them to steal our property. This is what Jesus meant when He said if someone wants to "take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well". Property is less valuable than people, therefore we should not risk harming ourselves or the criminal to get our property back. Yet, once the theft is over, we must report it to the government authorities, so they can find and punish the criminal, and stop them from harming others. While Jesus wants us to bear insult and theft in Love, He does not want us to be injured or killed if not absolutely necessary. His command to "turn the other cheek" referred to enduring insults, not allowing life-threatening abuse or violence. Furthermore, the Lord has commanded us to protect the innocent if possible, just like Jesus did when He used physical force to drive the money-changers out of the temple. If we, or someone we Love, are confronted with physical violence that could endanger our lives, we must act in self-defense until we can get to safety. It is our responsibility to use as much force as we need (but not more) to stop physical harm to ourselves or others. Once we have done this, we must not try to "win" the fight, but instead escape to safety, and call on the governing authorities to capture the criminal.

Justice and civil disobedience

Once we are out of danger, we must not seek to get revenge on the criminal, because this is contrary to the Love of Christ. "Taking the law into our own hands" directly disobeys Christ, and perpetuates a never-ending cycle of personal revenge and violence. Vengeance and justice is never up to us individually. Instead, we must entrust the criminal to God's justice, and allow God's servant, the government, to find them and bring them to justice. Because we allow our emotions to lead us astray, and are prone to mistakes in judgment, individual persons and organizations are not able to punish criminals with justice. That is why God uses government, backed by the communal wisdom of the whole society, as His tool to administer justice and punishment. But if government is unjust and does not do its job, we must use non-violent means to try and change it. Hopefully, we can change things through voting and democracy. If that fails (or is unavailable, as in many countries) we must try protests, sit-ins, strikes, lawsuits, and publicity through newspaper, radio, television, and the Internet. Above all, we must pray that God would change our government and give us peace, justice, and protection. When we peacefully protest against the government, God also calls us to live with the consequences of these protests, which can include arrest or even worse. Sadly, many governments have tried to silence protest by imprisoning, torturing, and killing their own citizens. If this happens to us because we are standing for Truth and justice, we must endure the persecution through the strength of Christ. We must live in Love, endure with Hope, and die for Truth if necessary. All the while we must put our Faith in Christ and pray to Him to change our government. History shows that God eventually answers all of these prayers, and changes unjust governments through peaceful overthrow, or through warfare.

War and peace

War is best understood as a police action on a societal scale, to protect whole populations of innocent people from the evil of unjust governments. Some advocate complete "pacifism", which is the idea that all war is wrong at all times. Complete pacifism neglects the divine command to protect the innocent and help others whenever it is in our power to do so. If pacifism is pushed too far, it can even become cowardly, unloving, and contrary to the Gospel of life. An example of this happened when the United States pulled out of Cambodia to avoid war, and allowed the Cambodian government to slaughter over six million of its own people. Many object to war because they say there are always other alternatives, such as negotiation, protest, and economic sanctions (which take away money and trade to force an unjust government to comply with justice). Many times, these alternatives do work, war can be avoided, and the innocent can be protected. Yet, the reality is that there are some governments that cannot be negotiated with. They will lie, cheat, steal, and kill to get what they want, and peaceful sanctions may anger them to attack instead. Another objection to war is that modern technology and weapons of mass destruction (such as nuclear and biological weapons) make it impossible to fight a war without destroying whole nations. This is not true, because while some weapons are more destructive, technology is also making other weapons safer than ever. There are now weapons that can shoot down nuclear warheads, and put bombs, missiles, and artillery within a meter of their target. These new weapons can pinpoint evildoers, protect the innocent, and stop weapons of mass destruction. A third objection to war is that there are always innocent bystanders who get hurt and killed in the process. While unintentional death is evil, it is a lesser evil than allowing an evil government to intentionally harm and kill innocent people. Proper military discipline and justice, along with accurate use of weapons, can keep unintended casualties to a minimum. A final objection to war is that violence can never bring about peace. This is simply not true because true peace can only be achieved after irrational criminals are forcibly stopped from spreading violence. War is like taking a drunk driver off the road. Drunk drivers cannot be reasoned with or allowed to stay behind the wheel, but must be forced off the road into a ditch to protect the innocent. War is always the lesser of two evils: the evil of destroying the innocent versus destroying criminals. There is "a time for war and a time for peace", and the goal of war should always be peace, so that government can fulfill its purpose of allowing us to live "peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness".

Just War

If war seems to be the only alternative left, it may be pursued according to the following principals: First, war must truly be a last means to peace. Every other alternative, such as negotiation, protest, and economic sanction, must be tried first. Second, war must be waged by the right authority, and not by individuals, organizations, or the Church. War can only be waged by a civil government that is "established by God" through the consent of the people. Third, war must have the right cause. The only right cause is to ensure the protection of the innocent. A government harms the innocent when it attacks another nation in order to gain more power or resources. A government may also harm the innocent by unjustly executing its own citizens, neglecting and starving them, and unjustly imprisoning or torturing them to silence their protests. All of these acts stop the ability of citizens to change their government through non-violent means. When this happens, the only way to stop that government becomes physical force. Fourth, war must have the right goal. The only right goal is to establish a new government of peace and justice, which allows its citizens non-violent methods to change it. After evil governments are defeated, it is the duty of the victors to help the loosing nation establish a new government and economic stability, so that they may stay peaceful. Fifth, war must have the right means. War cannot be fought unjustly or in a way that intentionally targets the innocent. The damage caused by the war must be less than what could have happened if the evil government was allowed to stay in power. People who are not in combat must be protected, and there can be no cruelty, rape, pillage, or stealing of property. Sixth, war must have the right timing. As soon as a government is unwilling to honestly negotiate, and unwilling to stop warfare or military buildup, it must be stopped by force. Tens of millions of lives could have been saved if Nazi Germany had been invaded in the 1930's when they were weaker, after they proved they would not negotiate honestly or stop their military buildup. Instead, we waited until they had invaded half of Europe, and began the holocaust, to try and stop them. When there is evidence that a nation is arming for war and will not stop, it is best to invade them before they are strong enough to attack other nations. Seventh, there must be a reasonable hope of victory. If going to war would almost certainly destroy our nation and not stop an evil government, it is best to wait and negotiate.

Scriptures for this Bible study

The Old Testament Law on intentional killing of other people. There is a difference between killing to protect life, and murdering to further selfish desires:

Deut. 5:17 You shall not murder.
+ murder/murderer = ratsach (kill with intent to destroy the innocent)

Numbers 35:30-31 'If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. 'Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death.
+ kill = nakah (smite, beat, attack, destroy, kill)
+ murder/murderer = ratsach (kill with intent to destroy the innocent)
+ death = muth (natural death, ceasing to live)

Our duties toward the innocent and oppressed:

Proverbs 31:8-9 "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."
+ Defend is a Hebrew word used for both non-violent and violent methods of defense

Jeremiah 7:5-7 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.

Proverbs 3:27 Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.

Our personal duty to seek peace without personal vengeance:

Psalm 34:14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Romans 12:17-21 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Luke 6:27-31 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

1 Tim. 2:1-2 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

Citizens must protest through non-violence when government transgresses the Law of God

Acts 4:19
But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. "

Acts 5:29
Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!"

There is a distinction between the spheres of authority for government and religion.

Matthew 22:17-21
[Someone asked Jesus] "Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

John 17:15
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

John 17:18
As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

John 17:20-21
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

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

The essential role of government is to protect freedom and peace, so that we may have the right environment to seek Christ

1 Tim. 2:1-2
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

God has given government the role to protect freedom and peace through physical force, including "the sword", which is the power to inflict punishment and death

Romans 13:1-7
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.
4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing.
7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

1 Peter 2:13-17
Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority,
14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
15 For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.
16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.
17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

Immoral activities (i.e. sinful acts done between consenting adults) is punished by the force of government in the OT, but is dealt with by the persuasion of the Church in the NT

Leviticus 20:11 " 'If a man sleeps with his father's wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

Leviticus 20:9 " 'If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.

1 Cor. 5:1-2 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?

1 Tim. 5:8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Criminal activities (i.e. sinful acts that take away life and property from another person without their consent) are punished by physical force by the government in both the OT and the NT:

Romans 13:4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

Proverbs 20:8, 26
When a king sits on his throne to judge, he winnows out all evil with his eyes.
A wise king winnows out the wicked; he drives the threshing wheel over them.

1 Peter 2:14 Governors… are sent by [God] to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

Punishment for crime must be proportionate to the damage inflicted, and impartial to race or socio-economic status:

Leviticus 24:19-22 If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the Lord your God."

Both Jesus and Paul accepted the government's authority to punish crime with the death penalty

Philip. 2:8
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!

Acts 25:11
If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!"

How Jesus dealt with violence and use of force in His first coming. When evil was only directed at Him, He did not resist. Yet, when evil was directed at others, He sometimes used force to stop it:

John 18:10-11 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"

John 2:14-16 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"

How Jesus will deal with war and death at the last Judgment:

Joel 3:9-14 Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare for war! Rouse the warriors! Let all the fighting men draw near and attack. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weakling say, "I am strong!" Come quickly, all you nations from every side, and assemble there. Bring down your warriors, O Lord! "Let the nations be roused; let them advance into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the nations on every side. Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow-- so great is their wickedness!"

Isaiah 2:4 [The Messiah] will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples [at the last judgment]. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

The summary of it all:

Eccles. 3:1-10 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

emerging church manifesto

Welcome to the Emerging Church! There is a whole movement out there across the world primarily among evangelical churches called "the emerging church movement"...

The emerging church movement is hard to explain... and it is just developing as a consciousness within the Church, because it is only about 5 years old... McLaren's book "A New Kind of Christian" (see below) was published in 2001 and was kind of the "shot over the bow" that started the whole thing off...

It is basically a whole lot of people, like myself, who are evangelicals, but who have been burned by the Evangelical church establishment in various ways, and feel short-changed by how it has over-simplified the Gospel and then mass marketed it in ways that are very individualistic, consumeristic, and self-centered... and we are looking for something different, but we do not know exactly what that is yet...

Let me give a shot at what emerging church is about: It is a relatively young movement- mostly thirty somethings, but also twenty somethings and fourty somethings. I consider myself a part of it. We reject autonomous individualism and consumerism as sub-biblical, and strive to return to a community centered Christianity where we live in unity-in-diversity as Christ's body. We are ancient-future... we deeply value tradition and the things learned by our spiritual forefathers and foremothers, but we are not tied to denominational labels. Yet, we can't live without denominations anymore than we can live without individuality. Denominations are necessary as embodiments of the tradition that the Spirit has wrought through them, and as clans within the Tribe we call Christianity, but to say that one denomination has a hold on the fullness of what it means to be "the Church" is presumptuous at best, sheer arrogance at worst. Like CS Lewis said in Mere Christianity: we cannot stand in the hall. We have to pick a room, or a tradition, in which we fit in best. There is no such thing as "non-denominational" Christianity, but there is such as thing as being passionately Anglican while also truly valuing what the Spirit has done among Baptists and Pentecostals and Romans and others. We strive for convergence and unity across Christ's body, but convergence based on grass-roots, organic relationships, not organizational mergers.

Speaking of organizations, we typically hate the corporate-modeled church with the CEO pastor, and instead opt for a family model, with spiritual fathers and mothers instead of CEO's. We love relevance, but we hate over-simplified, spoon-fed churchianity. We are organic and not hierarchical or organizational. Even the huge emergent churches like the 10,000+ Mosaic Church of LA (http://www.mosaic.org/) have a radically different organizational structure, philosophy, and culture than say Willow Creek, Saddleback, or Fellowship. But most emergent churches prefer an organic type of growth, in which we would like to see 20 vibrant churches at 500-1000 attendance, which grow and divide like amoebas, rather than a single 20,000 church that grows bigger and bigger like a corporation.

Now, this next comment may seem repugnant to you at first, but think about it and pray about it: We don't believe that there are 4 easy steps to the abundant Christian life, or 5 purposes of the church, or 6 keys to a godly family... we just don't put things in boxes like that. We see Christianity as a journey with God, a revolution to transform the world, and a mission for the body of Christ... not a checklist of quick and easy, clearly-delineated, common-sensical, do-it-yourself steps. These steps and purposes DO have truth in them, but that truth is often so edited and predigested and clichéd that it is no longer the "sword of the Spirit" that severs spirit and soul (Heb 4:12), but rather a kind of self-help butter knife to serve yourself a more manageable life.

About Church growth and church mission we tend to be radically Jesus-centric and Spirit-reliant. We are passionate about reaching the lost and seeing life transformation, but unlike most Evangelical churches, we do not have set cookie-cutter expectations about what that transformation will look like over time. We are also aware that, like I said above, discipleship is a messy journey of ups and downs, not a 5 step process that can be completed in five easy classes. Living for Christ is much more like conducting a symphony than following a flow-chart... make sense? Sort of?

This is not a bash on the purpose driven Church, which I personally have learned a whole lot from... but it is a critique of a whole corporate-church mentality that sucks the mystery, wonder, and awe out of the Christian life by making it a man-controlled man-centered self-help system, while also pretending that many of the gut-wrenching heart-aches that come with following Christ are not there (or at least do not happen to "successful" Christians). You can be purpose-driven and still be emergent, as long you remember that purpose driven model is at best a simplification of the vast, ominous, awe-inspiring, mysterious, world-changing mission of the Church to BE the body of Christ in the world. Actually, emergents would rather speak of the Church as missional, not purpose driven, or evangelical, or any other label. The mission of the Church is to spread revolution, not just self-help... to make us into transformed people, not just "nice" people. Jesus was NOT nice... He IS radical.

About technology and advertising there is a weird love-hate relationship going on... We love to use high technology, web design, graphics, powerpoint projection, etc... but we do not like to ACT like we use it... technology is never the focal point of a ministry, but merely the medium through which our God-given creativity shines through... we like to use technology as if we didn't need it and could do without it at any time... and we don't use technology if it impedes intimacy or community. Emergents would use technology to make a worship space as intimate and impacting as possible, whereas moderns would use it to broadcast to as many people as possible and make things as big and impressive as possible.

Emergents also have a huge distrust of mass-marketed Christianity and "Christian" culture. Good marketing and websites are one thing... but when it gets too slick, too pre-packaged, too popular, too easily digested, we get wary. We are wary of Christian bookstores and Christian music and Christian knick-knacks because we do not want to shut ourselves in a Christian bubble or ghetto where we can only talk to other Christians and have little to offer the world. We want to be incarnational examples of Christ: imitating Him who lived in the world, but was not of the world, as He transformed the world. The Christian message does not change people by being locked up inside the Christian bookstore to be marketed to card-carrying evangelicals. The Christian message changes people by being excellent as products of literature, music, and art- better than what the world can offer- and by taking it into the secular bookstores and music outlets where it can be read and heard by everyone.

About worship we tend to be radically God-centered. We gather to worship the living God and give Him the praise and awe and love that He rightfully deserves, and the overflow of this is that we are benefited in the process. Yet, it is not seeker-sensitive, but God-sensitive... believing that if we really are seeking the presence of God, that will benefit true seekers more than any human-centered programs. Its a strange paradigm shift that really, actually, works. The "seeker-sensitive paradigm" tries to minister to the "seeker" for the seeker's sake, and it takes the concerns and needs of the seeker and makes them the center of the worship experience. The emergent God-centered paradigm reverses the flow of energy here. It takes the concerns and needs of the seeker and uses them as on-ramps to lead them into the presence and experience of God, and makes God the center of the worship experience. Both try to be "relevant" and deal with the needs and concerns of real people, but one paradigm tries to bring God down to our level, while the other seeks to raise us up to God's level. Make sense?

I guess that last sentence could sum up what I think about the emerging church movement. Corporate Evangelicalism seeks a clean cut, easy-to-follow, consumer-oriented way to bring God DOWN to our level and make our lives better. The emerging church knows that the Gospel is actually an awe-inspiring, messy, up-and-down, gut-wrenching-but-totally-consuming (and supremely meaningful) process of raising us UP to God's level.

Below I have posted several links below about the emerging church, and lots of emerging churches from many denominations are linked from these sites...

*Relevant Magazine is a magazine aimed at the emerging church movement... the name says it all, and it is a lot of what we talked about at the party. It is also available at Mardel's:
http://www.relevantmagazine.com/

*Check out the book "The Emerging Church" by Dave Kimball, which this next site is based off of... It is a signal book for the emerging church movement:
http://www.vintagefaith.com/

*This following website is primarily oriented around the emergent-YS press, which publishes the following books which are also signal books for the emerging church:
http://www.emergentvillage.com/
-- "A New Kind of Christian" by Brian McLaren
-- "Adventures in Missing the Point" by Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo
-- "The Post-Evangelical" by Anglican Priest Dave Tomlinson

*The more academic end of the emerging church movement:
http://www.brazospress.com

*Another good emerging site:
http://www.theooze.com/

*An emerging church missions organization I work with frequently:
http://www.wondervoyage.com/

*Some Anglican-Episcopal emerging churches:
http://www.apostleschurch.org/
http://www.threenails.org/
http://www.mosaicaustin.org/
http://www.thebridgechurch.com/
http://www.moot.uk.net/
http://www.xalt.ca/
http://www.highway.org/

*Great article on the emerging church:http://www.christiancentury.org/feat_08.html

I know who the antichrist is and when Jesus is coming back!!!

The Issue.

Disclaimer: I don't know EXACTLY, but I have a pretty good idea... just follow me on this one. I was driving down the road in the Dallas Area listening to a program called "Religion and Politics" on 91.7 KVTT, so-called "christian" talk radio, at the 3pm hour, on 2005/01/07 (I write all this detail so you can send emails to the station and/or the radio program if you wish). And I hear this preacher, "Brother-I-am-a-pandering-preacher-at-some-conservative-right-wing-Jesus-is-american-church" start talking about the "end times". In particular, he talked about how the anti-Christ would be the former Russian Premier Gorbachev, and the "whore of Babylon" would be Roman Catholicism, a.k.a. the "state religion" of the new-and-upcoming "European Union".

He said he could "prove" this from the book of Revelation that since the "great whore of Babylon" (a.k.a. Catholicism with their emphasis on the Blessed Virgin Mary) was riding the "Red Dragon" (a.k.a. Communism, of whom Gorbachev supposedly represents, even though he was one of the instigators of bringing more democracy and free market economics to the former Soviet Union). But, lets not allow actual facts to distort the truth we want to believe...

This wonderfully insightful segment was followed by a couple callers who wanted to alert "Brother-moral-majority" to the fact that Hebrews 12:26 says that God will "once more... shake not only the earth but also the heavens [with His voice]." The first caller connected this to the killer Tsunami that happened 2004/12/26 (Get it- Hebrews 12/26???)... because we all know that God's will is to kill 150,000 defenseless Hindus for their impiety. The second caller said this too, but also that the horrible earthquake in Iran a couple of years ago also happened on 12/26! More proof of our good God's righteous wrath against the godless Muslims! In the words of Jesus: "Kill 'em all and let my Dad sort 'em out"!

Oh wait, He didn't say that, did He? Oh yeah... He said something about Loving your enemies and praying for them... Damn hippie love freak! You won't get ahead in this world if you actually treat your enemies that way! Someone oughta crucify Him!

That was satire for you dense folk out there. I Love Jesus and I know that He knows my heart, and He knows that I am turning the whole situation on its head to show the inherent self-contradiction and anti-christian nature of the "Hebrews 12/26 equals God dealing death and destruction on non-christian countries on December 26th" message. As a side note, if this is true, then not only is the Bible text inspired directly by God, but also the numbering of the verses that was done by a Catholic Bishop and Scholar sometime in the middle ages was a direct act of God too... but that's another question about HOW to interpret the Bible and HOW God's inspiration of the text works...

Anyway, what was the response of "Brother-I-can-fathom-every-mystery-of-Bible-prophecy"? Was it to immediately jump on these callers and lovingly alert them to how inherently anti-Jesus their understanding of Hebrews 12:26 was? Did He use it as a time to proclaim the radical Love and mercy of God, and implore all of His listeners to help in the Tsunami relief effort as much as they could? NO! He did none of the above. He sheepishly said that it might not be good to read the Bible like that, and then He launched into more Biblical tirades on how the Catholic whore is riding Gorbachev's red dragon, or whatever...

The Big Question.

My question is this: The Book of Revelation in chapters 17 and 18 paints a picture of a horribly materialistic, consumeristic, godless, loveless, world-system called "Babylon" that sounds much more like American Capitalism and Western Consumerism than it ever sounds like any type of impoverished Communism or Socialism. It seems to me that "Babylon the Great" in Revelation sounds a whole lot more like America and her friends than it does the former USSR, or even Europe for that matter. We sure have a lot more control over the world than any of them have ever had.

Also, Jesus says horrible things to supposedly religious people, and people who outwardly confess Him as "Lord" but do not do what He says (which is to selflessly Love God above all and Love others as ourselves). In fact, here are two facts you may not know: First, Jesus does talk about judgment, hell, and the wrath of God more than ANY other Bible writer. (What? Meek little Jesus with the blue eyes and blonde hair?) Second, EVERY time He talks about these things He is NOT talking to tax-collectors, whores, homosexuals, democrats, or anyone from any other religion. He is talking to the RELIGIOUS people from His OWN FOLK. Jesus threatens the "self-righteous-I've-got-god-all-figured-out-and-in-my-box" people with hell. Sure, there is hell for anyone who denies loving the Lord and loving their neighbors, whether they are sexual whores, financial whores, or just selfish whores. But the worst punishment is threatened at smug, self righteous, false prophet, religious whores.

Religious whore?

I am not saying this "Brother-I-know-the-future" is a religious whore... but if there is something else He is, I cannot see it right now. And I am happy to be corrected. But it seems like he is a religious whore because he is pandering the Bible and Jesus to fit certain conservative stereo-types so that he can make money off of them. Notice, he does not attack those who seem to need attacking (sold-out greedy selfish western consumerism), but instead he attacks "them" "Them" are those people who it is easy to hate and attack, who won't talk back, and if they do, you don't have to care. "Them" in our society would have to include Catholics, Communists, democratic-left-wingers, homosexuals, welfare mothers, abortionists, and whoever is on the "moral majority's" hit list.

He is pimping Jesus out to Conservative Republican Protestant Evangelicals, and refusing to speak out prophetically against the system that pays his rent. He does this on a show in which he SHOULD be a prophetic voice crying out in the desert wasteland of consumerism against the errors of both the Republicans and the Democrats, both the Protestants and the Catholics, both the Christians and the Communists, both "Us" and "Them". Instead of "Politics and Religion", he should call it "Butt Kissing the Moral Majority". He seems like both a pimp and a religious whore... but I am willing to be corrected if I am wrong.

Aha! Then I am just a left wing Democrat trying to write against a Christian Evangelical! WRONG. I am one of his people, actually. I am hesitantly a member of the Republican party, although I lean more toward the small-government stance of the Libertarians. Heck, I have been a member of the NRA (and probably still would be if I had extra money). I think that in general the free market is the best economic system, far better than "stand-in-line-for-three-hours-for-bread Communism" or "state-sanctioned-big-brother-will-take-care-of-you Socialism". I did vote for Bush, and I am on the "Presidential Prayer Team", but that does NOT make Jesus a Republican in my eyes. The RNC is just the lesser of two evils for me. I am a Jesus-centered evangelical Christian (with a small e). I love both Protestantism and Catholicism, but am neither (I am Anglican). BUT I truly believe there are things wrong with ALL of "Christendom", with Evangelicals and Republicans in particular, and especially with modern Western Consumeristic culture in general... and if we do not do something quick... God will allow us to pass from the scene forever. We will all go to hell in a custom made Gucci handbasket.

How I see the end: Not so left behind, really

So, you wanna know my take on the "end times"? What flavor is my "eschatology"? Well, I believe that it is certain that Jesus Christ "will come again to judge the living and the dead and His Kingdom will have no end", and also that "we await the resurrection of the dead and the life in the Age to come" (from the Nicene Creed). These are the things I KNOW will happen, but I do not know in what order or when. If you want my opinion on how the Bible says the end will work out, I would have to say the following (based on my reading of 2 Thessalonians 2, Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21, 2 Peter 3, 1 Thessalonians 4-5, 1 Corinthians 15, 2 Peter 3, Daniel, especially 7,8,9,11,12, Revelation, Isaiah 14, 65, 66, Ezekiel 40-48, and Zechariah 14):

1. The Church will become more effective and spread the full Gospel of Jesus Christ (including spiritual salvation, social justice, physical healing, and abundant life) to all nations. The forces of darkness will become aware that their time is short, because of the effectiveness of the Church, and will spread a false Gospel that makes the world worse.

2. The forces of darkness will be embodied in a god-denying materialistic consumerism figuratively called "Babylon" and a Christ-denying, world-loving governmental-religious system figuratively called "the Antichrist" or "the Beast". Check out Revelation if you don't know what I mean.

3. The Church will be persecuted by Babylon and the Antichrist. All followers of Jesus will loose their rights, many will loose their lives, some will loose their faith. When you choose King Jesus over the kings of the age, you always have to pay a price in whatever Age you are in.

4. Jesus Christ will physically, personally come back with all His angels in power and glory. At that time He will raise from the dead all who have died for Him and will rescue all His followers who are still alive and gather them to himself (called by some "the rapture" of the Church). Then Jesus will utterly destroy the forces of Babylon and the Antichrist.

5. Jesus will reign on the Earth for what is figuratively called "1000 years" (see Rev. 19-21). In the Bible, 10 is a number of perfection (10 commandments, 10 fingers, etc.), and when something is repeated three times it also symbols perfection (check out when the angels call God "holy, holy, holy" in Isaiah and Revelation). 1000 is 10 repeated three times (10 x 10 x 10), symbolizing absolute perfection. It seems that Jesus Christ will physically rule the Earth for a perfect amount of time until all is finished that He has come to do. I do not know how long that rule will be, nor what it is exactly that Jesus will have to complete, except for completing the salvation of the universe. His kingly rule may last 1000 seconds, 1000 literal years, 1000 centuries, or 1000 eons. I do not know. As the Psalmist and Peter says "a day with the Lord is like 1000 years" (so what is a 1000 years like???)

5. At the end of this rule, all hell breaks loose again and the universe as we know it is obliterated with fire and chaos. I am guessing this is when the universe collapses back in on itself and even the elements melt into a molten plasma soup. After this, Jesus raises everyone and everything from the dead. He judges everyone and separates from Himself forever those who do not Love Him and who do not want to be with Him for eternity.

6. After that, we who truly Love Him and Love others with His Love will enter into the eternal state. Jesus will hand His kingdom over to the Father, and a new Universe is created where we can live in perfect fellowship with God and each other forever, without tears or pain ever again.

At least that's my take on it all. I could be totally wrong, and that would be just fine with me.

The Real Antichrist?

But, you want to know what? I also have a much more specific take on who and what the Antichrist will be... and I honestly think that whatever it is, it will look a lot more like an evangelical conservative cultural Christian than anything else. Wanna know why? Sure you do...

Here is my top 7 characteristics of the Antichrist, straight from the pages of your Bible. You can take this picture and compare it to the Antichrist of "Brother-Bible-prophecy" or the "Left Behind Series", and you tell me which one looks more like what an Antichrist might be.

1. Antichrist will be a "Legalistic-system-focusing-on-the-letter-of-the-Bible" (Matthew 23). Jesus rips to pieces those who know all about the Bible, but who do not live in the Spirit of the Bible. He calls them horrible names: pits of vipers, whitewashed tombs, false prophets, and hypocrites (to mention a few). Like I said above, the folks that Jesus was hardest on was the good, Bible-believing folk. I truly believe that the Antichrist, whatever it will be, will be "Biblical" in the sense that it will be Scripture quoting and Scripture based for everything it does (kind of like Satan when he tempted Jesus). The Antichrist will have a proof text for everything it wants to do, and it will quote chapter and verse like a good revivalist preacher. Heck, it might even be a revivalist preacher... who knows. Scripture is a great tool given by God, but when it becomes an instrument of self justification to back up our every desire, prejudice, and bigotry it is a tool of Satan.

2. Antichrist will worship a "God of Fortresses" (Daniel 11:38). Most people interpret this as meaning some Pagan war god or non-Christian deity that will be worshipped by the antichrist. I have a different take. I think that fortress implies a god that is cold, immovable, hidden, and oppressively strong. Isn't that what one thinks of when the word "fortress" is used? I believe that it will worship a caricature of the true God that will look a lot like the cold, feeling-less, immovable, absolutely predestining "god" of extreme Calvinism or extreme Islam. The "god" of extreme Calvinism is a "god" who makes one race of beloved people, and another race destined for destruction, and like a puppet-master he pulls all of the strings to make sure everyone goes where he has destined them. This god is only one step away from giving the "chosen" the right to destroy the "damned" by religious crusade. You think I am exaggerating? Look at the theology of Muslim terrorists. Look at the hate rhetoric of good ole Calvinist Baptist preacher Fred Phelps at Winnsboro Baptist Church in Kansas (check him out at www.godhatesfags.com).

This is not the caring, passionate God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus Christ. It is a false god that is derived from twisting the Scriptures. Right now, someone reading this will say "Aha! This guy is a process theologian, or a neo-theist, or an open-theist, or an arminian" (if you don't know what these words mean, look at a theological dictionary, or better yet, don't bother). I am not. I believe that God knows every bit of the past, present, and future, and that He has power to do ANYTHING that doesn’t contradict Himself. I believe that God is unchangeable in His loving and caring personality. I just believe that God is also passion, not just reason. I think that he is a lot more creative than to make us all to control us like puppets, and that many times His power is shown in His weakness (look to the cross if you don't believe that). Any view of god that makes him merely a cosmic dictator is a lie from Satan, a "god of fortresses", and a tool of the Antichrist.

3. Antichrist will be part of a Materialistic-Consumeristic God-denying world empire (Revelation 17-18). I already talked about this above, so I will not belabor the point. Instead, I will quote from this text in Revelation and let you decide: does it sound more like Western Consumerism or Communism or any other "ism" in history:

"One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries... BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF WHORES... The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages... The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth...

Another angel... with a mighty voice he shouted: "Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! ...For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries."

Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself... The kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury... will weep and mourn over her... The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more-- cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men.

They will say, 'The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your riches and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.' ...Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, 'Was there ever a city like this great city?' They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out: "Woe! Woe, O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth!

With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. The music of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters, will never be heard in you again. No workman of any trade will ever be found in you again... Your merchants were the world's great men... In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth." (Selections from Revelation 17:1-18:24)

4. Antichrist will be "Future-but-not-now-oriented" (1 and 2 Thessalonians). All throughout the New Testament, Jesus and the writers after Him emphasize living every moment for God, and sharing His Love at all times and in every way. They discourage speculation over the future, because it leads to useless debates and endless worries. They only say enough about the future to ensure that God's people know that good will prevail over evil in the end. The Antichrist will reverse this (if it hasn’t already). It will teach a version of religion that is so focused on the future, on "going to heaven", avoiding hell, and worrying about the "end times", that we don’t actually participate in God's program of redemption right here, right now. It is an effective tool of Satan, really. Get us so worried about what we cannot control (the future) that we don’t even worry about what we can control (being an agent of God's Kingdom right here, right now). If you don't see how well it works, get into a conversation with someone worried by the "Left Behind: series some time. That book series is a great tool of the Antichrist if I ever saw one.

5. Antichrist will stress "Faith-alone-and-deny-good-works" (James 2; 2 Timothy 3:5). The great heresy of the Reformation is degrading good works to a second or third level status in Christian life and theology. I don’t think the great reformers, such as Calvin or Luther, actually fell into this trap. But, their disciples have in a big way. Faith has been degraded, in many quarters, to a mere intellectual belief in the facts of Jesus' death and resurrection. It is just another fact to accept, believe, and file in one's mind under "R" for Religion (or "I" for Irrelevant). If you do not believe that, just look at the divorce rates, or surveys on lying, cheating, and drug abuse, that compare non-Christians and "Born Again Evangelical Believers" in the US (check out www.barna.org). There is very little difference between the two groups, and you would expect that a group of people supposedly filled with the Spirit of Christ would live radically different lives... hmmmm, guess not.

You see, we are saved by God's grace, not by faith (see Eph. 2:8-10). Faith ACCESSES God's grace, but it is the grace that saves us. Furthermore, faith is never alone, but true faith always bears good fruit: lives are changed more and more into the likeness of Christ. Works without faith are useless and cannot save us (as if we could earn God's love!), but equally useless is faith without works (see James 2). We were made to be God's workmanship, so we could do His good works and participate with Him in transforming the world. Faith is not an end in itself. It is a means to bring us into the full life of God. If we just stop at intellectual belief, we have nothing but the false, powerless religion of the Antichrist. That is what I think Paul means when he talks of false disciples having "the form of godliness but denying its power". False, antichristian religion intellectually believes all the right Biblical, Christian things... but it does not put these beliefs to work and change people's lives.

6. Antichrist will be Hyper-critical, Judgmental, and Schismatic (1Corinthians 1, 3; Matthew 7; 1John 2:18-19; John 17). One thing that Jesus and Paul harps on over and over and over is unity. They DO NOT want the Body of Christ divided into sects, divisions, and denominations. They do not want God's children name calling each other and destroying God's family. Yet, here we are with over 20,000 denominations, with many claiming to be the only true Church. We point out each other's weaknesses and try to gain a better market share for our Churches, rather than joining together to spread the Gospel. As a result, very few are able to really believe that Christians serve the Prince of Peace. If you saw the bickering between Churches from the outside, would you be able to believe that we serve a God of Love?

The Antichrist wants us to spend so much time pointing fingers at each other that we do not have the time or effort to repent from our own sins and get right with Him and with each other. That is the secret of keeping Christians powerless: to keep the divided, prideful, and unrepentant. If we can just keep focused on pointing out other people's sins, we will never get around to healing each other's wounds. Satan knows that, and plays his cards well! And radio ministries like "Religion and Politics" play right into his hand. Keep us divided. Keep name calling. Keep calling other Christians "the whore of Babylon", but don't pay attention to the whore on your TV screens. Yeah... that's the ticket.

7. Antichrist will deny the humanity of Jesus and that He alone is the Christ, or appointed ruler of God's people (1John 2:22, 4:2-3; 2 John 1:7). The letters of John are the only portions of the Bible that actually use the word "antichrist". In it, John repeatedly states that the Antichrist will deny that Jesus has come in the flesh. What John meant was shaped by the error he was opposing. He was opposing a group of people that claimed that Jesus was God among us, but that he only appeared to be human. He was not really human, not really flesh. He was only God. Yet, this destroys the whole meaning of God becoming one of us. If He was only God, with no flesh and no humanity, then He did not really become one of us. He could not have really suffered on the cross. He did not really die. He did not really rise from the dead. It was all just a hoax. God never really encountered what it means to be one of us.

In order for all of us to be healed- body, spirit, and soul- to be healed, that means that God the Son had to take up everything we are and fully become human. What has not been taken up has not been healed. When we deny the full humanity of Christ we deny our own salvation, just as surely as if we denied that He is really God. Yet, there are many theologies today that deny Jesus' full humanity. They treat Him like a body that God possessed, not a God-made-man. They say He was not really thirsty or hungry. He was never really weak. He was not really tempted by Satan in the desert, because he was above human temptation. In short, Jesus was not really one of us. He was faking it.

One of the best examples of this is the Evangelical reaction to the movie "The Last Temptation of Christ" (1988, directed by Martin Scorsese). Everyone was up in arms over the idea that Jesus could really be tempted by the idea of having sex with Mary Magdalene, of getting married, having kids, and living a "normal life". Well, if you were really a man who had lived a sinless life, who truly loved people, and who was dying for no just cause, wouldn’t that tempt you? Just for a second? Yet, we get offended because we think Jesus wasn't human enough to be tempted. It was "beneath Him", "Impious Blasphemy", and in bad taste. Well, keep in mind that in Scorsese's movie, Jesus DOES overcome the temptation and go through the passion (just like He overcame the temptation in the desert). What is impious and blasphemous, according to John, is to in any way imply that Jesus is less than fully human. And do you know what is in bad taste? The Incarnation! The idea that God would leave heaven to become one of us is outlandish! Amazing! Awesome! Yet, God loved us sooo much that is exactly what He did, weaknesses, temptations, and all.

I believe any theology that even implies that Jesus is less than fully human, and less than fully God, is straight from the Antichrist. Yet, how many "Christian Talk Radio" personalities would really engage in a deep discussion about the struggles and temptations of God really becoming one of us? Not many, I expect. And if they really, honestly did, I bet a lot of listeners would be upset and they might even loose their shows.

Because of this denial of Christ's full humanity, His full Lordship over our lives is endangered as well. You see, John also tells us that the Antichrist will deny that Jesus is the Christ (or Messiah, in Hebrew). The Messiah has at least two main roles in the Bible. First, He saves God's people. Second, He rules God's people. We described above how seeing Jesus as less than fully human can destroy His role as our Savior. If He is not fully human, He did not fully go through everything we do. If He did not go through everything we do, He did not really suffer and die for us. If He did not really suffer and die for us, then we cannot be saved through Him. What He did not take up is not healed. He must be human and God to be the Christ.

Second of all, much of Conservative Christianity denies the Lordship of Christ. We believe in Him as our Savior but do not live for Him as our Lord (see #5 above). We talk about following the Bible, but we find convenient ways to weasel out of the radical self-giving love that he speaks of in Matthew chapters 5, 6, 7, 22, and 25 (to name a few). We call Him "Lord, Lord!", but we do not do what He says (see Luke 6:46). We get so worried about our possessions and who is the Antichrist this week that we manage to never participate in the salvation of the world... and that is exactly where the real Antichrist wants us to be.

In short, I think that I have shown in the seven points above that the real Antichrist is not being put together in some European-Communist-Catholic Union. It is not being put together by the United Nations. It is being put together right here by a brand of Legalistic Conservative Christianity that empowers much of the "Moral Majority" and undercuts much of the Evangelical Church around the world. It is especially present in radio shows like "Religion and Politics" and "end times" novels. Antichrist, thy Name is Western Consumer Christianity.

Oh yeah- and when Jesus will come back too

And after that, I have a pretty good idea of when Jesus will come back too. You wanna know when? I believe it will be precisely when the Church, the Body of Christ, begins to finally ACT like the Body of Christ and acting truly as Jesus' hands and feet reaching out to a lost, dark world with hope, healing, love and light. When we do this, two things will happen on planet Earth:

First, all heaven will break loose. People will be healed, reconciled, restored. War will cease in the hearts, minds, and lives of everyone who is touched by Christ through His Body. Instead of worrying about name calling of each other, we will worry only about Name calling, when we call upon the Name of Jesus- Yeshua- Yahweh who heals and transforms broken lives into wholeness and peace and what the Bible calls "Shalom". When the Church begins to spread the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Christ, the Kingdom of Love, then all heaven will break loose on the Earth! Jesus is comin' soon!

Second, all hell will break loose too. All around the world, everyone who uses the Name of Christ (and the Name of God in general- whether Allah or Adonai or Vishnu or Brahmin) for selfish reasons and self-satisfaction will yell and scream and rage against those who live in the Love of Christ. They will rage because they will see their selfish kingdom being invaded and destroyed by weapons of Love- weapons that their weapons of hate and violence are powerless against. Yet, they will use those weapons against us. They will imprison and kill and torture us. And we will forgive them. And Satan will rage and try to stamp us out of existence.

Satan will be "filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short... [and he will] make war against the rest of her offspring-- those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus" (Revelation 12:12-17). Then, while the Church is spreading heaven on earth and Satan and his Babylon and Antichrist are reacting by spreading hell on earth, when all seems darkest and evil seems like it has won... Jesus WILL COME AGAIN and rescue us and then rule forever!

So, what is stopping Jesus from coming back now? We are. So long as we are complacent and comfortable, Satan has us where he wants us. We are no threat to his kingdom or his Babylon. He will not rage as long as we are not a threat. He will keep the status quo. In fact, I think Satan IS the boring status quo (it is Jesus that is really exciting)... but that is another essay for another time. If we want heaven to irrupt in Earth, we need to be prepared for all hell to erupt on Earth. We need to give everything we have to passionately, creatively, unpredictably share the radical Love and healing of Jesus. Jesus will come back precisely, exactly, at the moment we learn to do that. Nothing else will bring Him back to Earth. Nothing.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and God the Son, fully man and fully God, may you forgive me for not passionately sharing all that you are, with all that I am, at all times, in every way. Forgive me if I have unjustly judged "Brother-Radio-Preacher", and forgive me for all the times I do the very same things I accuse him of. I bow before you a hypocrite and a religious whore, asking you to raise me to new life as a son of God. Blessed are you from Age to Age. Make us a people who bring your Kingdom, who provoke the Enemy to wrath by the power of your resurrection, and who will bring everyone to the saving embrace of your Love. Amen+



This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.