Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Letter about gay "marriage" and the UMC

Last January I wrote a letter to Ron Mason, Chincoteague UMC's representative at the Virginia Annual Conference, regarding the issue of so-called gay marriage and of homosexuality in general. It was not my intention to put this letter on my blog but some have asked that I make the letter available online so I am using this forum to do just that. I plan on resuming my regular blogging next week. Here is the body of the letter plus some more information at the end. I hope that this will help those upset and confused about this issue what I think and know about it.

Here it is:

Letter from Brian Scarborough to Ron Mason who represented the Chincoteague UMC at the Virginia Annual Conference in 2015:

I have spent much time studying and keeping up with the issue of homosexuality and the response of the churches. I also know that the roots of this controversy in the church goes much deeper than this current hot button issue. It has to do with basic views regarding the Bible and exactly what the Bible is to us. Is it the fully inspired Word of God or is it a book written by men who did their best to understand what God was saying to them? But I cannot get into all that now. I will try to take the issues a step at a time.

1. What is homosexuality?
This might seem obvious to us, but we may mean different things when we use the term. It originally meant, and means in the Bible, those who have sex with a person of their own gender. But today it often means those who have a homosexual “orientation”. In other words, they have the natural desire for a person of the same sex. The Bible does not recognize or deal with the modern view that we may be “oriented” one way or another, it only deals with behavior. This means, very simply, that homosexual ‘feelings’ or desires are not discussed or condemned in the Bible at all. The closest it gets to this is in the whole subject of temptation.
We all have temptations, feelings that lead us in the wrong direction that, if yielded to, makes us sin. “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.” (James 1:14-15) Jesus was tempted but did not sin. Temptations (feelings) are not sin.
So, when we discuss this subject in the church, we must be clear that we are talking about behavior and not feelings. Nobody is saying that someone is wrong because of how they feel.

2. What is marriage?
Lost in this debate is a discussion of what marriage truly is and what it does for society. Before there was a church or synagogue, there was marriage. It has been around from the beginning and has been practiced by all cultures and been recognized by all as a foundational institution. And it has only been defined one way – the union of a man and a woman, preferably for life. It is protected by law and custom and any violation of the marriage covenant is universally condemned. Even in a sexually permissive culture like ours, adultery is still judged as wrong.
However, in our modern, individualistic culture marriage has been seen as little more than a means of personal fulfillment, a social contract between two people. People get married so that they can be happy, as our romance novels continually affirm. But that is not why society puts such a high value on marriage. The (physical) union of a man and woman is the only relationship that produces children. (Technology may allow us to produce children outside the womb, but we still need something from the male and female to accomplish this.) From the joining of the man and woman we not only have children that they love, nourish and protect, but these unions have produced all humans from Adam and Eve onward. This is how we create the next generation. It is not just a benefit to society, it is the very means of society’s propagation and survival. The whole complex of human relationships – aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, grandparents, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc – stems from man and woman. It makes the family, the clan, the tribe, the nation.
Children are nourished and raised best, under normal circumstances, by their biological parents. (We all understand that this is not always possible or always the best.) Children want, and need, both a mother and a father, not one or two of each. Recently, a well-known celebrity, who is gay, adopted a boy. When the boy became old enough, he told his adopted mom that he wanted a daddy. She told him that mommy was not the kind of mommy who wanted to live with a daddy but the kind who wanted another mommy. He still wanted a daddy, not another mommy. She thinks that he just does not understand, but it is she who does not understand. He truly needs a father.
Fatherless families have created havoc with children and contribute enormously to societal ills. They suffer because there is no father in the home. Do not think that I am “picking on” single mothers. They know this. I have had literally dozens of single mothers work for me and they all wanted (dare I say it) a normal family with a husband/father, wife/mother along with the children. Single motherhood is a social disaster. It is the main cause of childhood poverty and criminality especially among males. (I could go into this in depth, but I am only making a point about marriage and children.)
Every society has sought to honor and protect the unique relationship of marriage because it offers great benefits to society and is actually more important than either church or government. So the question now is: what benefits does society get from the union of two men or two women? None. Society has no reason to give this relationship any special status at all much less make it legally equal to the relationship of a man and woman.
What about “marriage equality”? There is no such thing. The union of two men or two women can never be equal to the union of a man and woman. Their relative contribution to society show that gay marriage is not equal to traditional marriage.
Can “gay marriage” rightfully be called marriage at all? I would contend that it does not. As Chief Justice Roberts told a lawyer who was arguing for gay marriage, you can say that the bond between two of the same gender is marriage, but that is to change the meaning of the word ‘marriage’. He said that if he told his son to go make friends with that boy over there, he might do it but the meaning of the word ‘friend’ has changed.
We live in a society that accepts just about any sort of living arrangement in whatever the relationships among those living there might be. Those relationships are sometimes sexual, but often they are not. People are legally free to do what they want and most people will leave them alone whether or not they approve. Gays are free to do this, but some of them want more than that. They want the government and the church to put their stamp of approval on this relationship. They want to be “equal” with heterosexual and their relationships. But it is not equal.
Notice that I have not even touched on what the Bible says about marriage. I will do so now:

3. What does the Bible say about marriage?
It is very basic and simple. It is the lifelong joining of a man and woman in a covenant relationship. “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply.” … Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 1:26-27;2:24) It seems that the Bible confirms universal human experience, or vice-versa.
What about polygamy - didn’t they practice that in the Old Testament? Yes, but when the matter of easy divorce came up, Jesus said that some things God allowed because of the hardness of men’s hearts. He then told them to go back to the verse quoted here from Genesis as the truth about marriage. It is not just joining together, it is multiplying as well. There was no polygamy in the beginning. In the Bible, marriage is only the union of a man and a woman. For that reason alone the church should not approve so-called ‘gay marriage’.
4. What are the arguments for gay marriage?
One of the arguments made is why not? What harm does a gay marriage do to others? Well, perhaps none. The point is not whether your relationship does any harm to anyone, but whether or not your relationship deserves the special status of marriage. I think I clearly have shown that traditional marriage offers huge benefits to society without anything comparable coming from gay marriage.
Another argument is the “equality” argument. We like equality, but I have shown that they are not equal except that someone might be personally fulfilled. Personal fulfillment is not the purpose or goal of marriage though it might be the motive of those who marry. The purpose of marriage is the sustaining and propagating of the community. Also, the assertion is made that we heterosexuals can marry whomever we like, but that homosexuals cannot. That is not exactly true. We are all under the same rules/laws and we cannot always “marry anyone we want”. Some relationships are illegal – incestuous, underage, polygamist – and the one I want may not want me. We do not always get what we want. Furthermore, God has not ordained “gay marriage”.
A third argument is made when it is pointed out that no society has ever had gay marriage so why should we suddenly put the label of marriage on a homosexual relationship. This argument has two parts. First the assertion is made that traditional societies (non-Western especially) have condemned homosexuality but that now we are more enlightened. The response is that some societies, like the ancient Greeks, celebrated as well as condoned homosexual relationships. But it never occurred to the Greeks, or anyone else, to call these relationships “marriage”. That leads us to the second part of this argument: in ancient times people did not have the kinds of “good” gay relationships that we have today. I would like to know what evidence they have for this assertion. The idea that ancient people were not as enlightened or as virtuous as we are is nothing but pride and ignorance as far as I am concerned. They were perfectly capable, and no doubt had, any kind of good, or bad, relationship that we have today.

5. What does the Bible say about gay sex?
I realize that there is disagreement among some in the church about the correct interpretation of the Scriptures regarding homosexual activity. However, I think that you would have to have some pretty fanciful ways of interpreting it to get to any kind of approval of gay sex. It does not move me that scholars and ministers have interpreted the Bible in such a way that they end up with making homosexuality a positive good when done in the right context. Scholars have made some really outrageous claims about the Bible and that is not just among the critics of the Bible but among its proponents as well. I wonder if some have come to the Bible hoping that it will say what they want it to say rather than let the Bible determine how they ought to think, believe and act. I am not saying that their motive is necessarily wrong, but we are all prone to self-deception in our desire to have God approve of how we think.
What does the Old Testament teach about homosexuality? “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22-23) Is this not clear? Can it be interpreted as anything else except to show that gay sex is sin? Obviously not, yet there are those who would deny this. They say that this rule only applies to a certain context – either it’s a violent act or idolatry is involved. Let’s look at the context: “You shall not lie sexually with your neighbor's wife and so make yourself unclean with her … You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it.” To consistently interpret this passage we must treat all three situations the same. If you say that homosexuality is only wrong in a very specific context (idolatry), then you must apply that to adultery and bestiality as well. When is adultery and bestiality wrong? Always and in all circumstances. We must say that about homosexuality as well.
What does the New Testament teach about homosexuality? “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men.” (Romans 1:26-27) To me, this is also crystal clear. Homosexuality is sin (the act, not the feelings). Once again, though, some fancy interpretive work is done to justify homosexual activity. The focus becomes the expression “contrary to nature”. Amazingly, this is seen as referring to the fact that a homosexual act is “unnatural” to a heterosexual, so it is sin for a heterosexual, but not for a homosexual because it is “natural” for a homosexual to have gay sex. So this is supposedly written for heterosexuals and not homosexuals. (You might think that I am making this up but I am not. People, scholars no less, have said as much.) There are two huge errors in what I hesitate to dignify with the term “interpretation”. The first is the fact that the whole orientation issue I discussed earlier is a modern concept, not an ancient or biblical one. They are saying that the application of this condemnation depends on the orientation of the individual and not on the action. There was no such thinking in the first century. What is spoken of is action, not orientation. The second thing wrong here is that the term “contrary to nature” does not refer to how someone feels as in “it’s not in my nature to do that”, but refers to a sex act occurring in a way that does not correspond with how our bodies come together in the sex act. Simply put, the appropriate place for the male organ is the female organ. In male homosexuality, you need one partner to play the female role and use a substitute for the female organ. This is contrary to the natural order. In sex, one naturally needs the male and female, but without one of those a substitute must be used. That is what Paul is saying. Two men do not naturally fit together. Neither do two women. He is showing that homosexuality is not just a sin, but that it goes against the way that our bodies are created.
Additionally, like the Leviticus passage, Paul puts sexual sins in the same category. “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) Notice that adultery, fornication and ‘uncleanness’ are mentioned together. Adultery is having sex with someone outside a marriage. Fornication is sex between people who are not married. Uncleanness actually refers to homosexual relations that Leviticus put under the laws regarding uncleanness. Some have said that we no longer need the levitical laws regarding uncleanness since Jesus did away with them. But Jesus only did away with some of them. He did not do away with the laws regarding sexual uncleanness. In the above Leviticus passage, Moses calls adultery, bestiality and homosexuality ‘uncleanness’. Jesus did not say that sexual uncleanness was okay. In fact, Jesus raised standards for sexual morality in the Sermon on the Mount. “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Jesus did not preach a loosening of sexual mores but a strengthening of them.
There are many subjects in the Bible where there is legitimate disagreement because of uncertainty of various biblical texts. But the Bible is not unclear when it comes to morality. God made sure that the Bible was clear on the more important issues, like the gospel and morality, though He was less clear about less important ones. We are not disagreeing about whether or not it is right to drink alcohol or on what is the proper mode of baptism. These things we can differ on. Regarding basic morality, we cannot afford to compromise. We must stand with the Bible no matter how we might think that it should not be that way. We must humble ourselves to God and His Word.

6. What has been happening in the United Methodist Church regarding these issues?
I can’t cover it all, but I will summarize the best I know how. In 1972 at the General Conference there was a statement added to the Book of Discipline that said something like ‘homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.’ I think it is weak language, but I will accept it. It should read “homosexual activity is a sin”. More could be added to that.
Every four years since then, at General Conference, some activists have tried to overturn this. Progressives want the Book of Discipline to treat homosexual relations, including gay marriage, as if it is not sinful activity and traditionalists want to keep homosexuality in the list of sins and do not want any minister to officiate at a gay wedding.
In 2008, the attempt to overturn the 1972 statement was almost successful. If only the US churches were involved in the voting, the 1972 statement would have been overturned. But 20% of the vote came from overseas, especially Africa where the UMC is growing very rapidly. (In fact, they are underrepresented according to their numbers.) The foreign vote is almost entirely on the side of the traditionalists. The progressives were sure that the 2012 vote would go their way. It did not because the overseas vote was up to 30%. Many progressives were very frustrated and realize that in 2016 the overseas vote could be as a high as 35% or 40%. That would mean that the progressives could never win. They have made “progress”, if that is what you want to call it, in bringing the US part of the UMC to the point of overturning the 1972 statement. On the verge of “victory”, they have been denied, probably permanently.
The reaction has not been completely gracious. Some have decided to simply defy and disobey the Book of Discipline. One minister in Pennsylvania, Rev. Franky Schaeffer decided to “marry” his son and his gay partner. He was (rightfully) defrocked. Then a Judicial Council overturned that defrocking. This was done on a couple of technicalities, but the effect of the decision is to restore him to ordained status. This was the most obvious, but not the only, act of rebellion against the Book of Discipline. Some bishops and ministers, even entire Conferences, have stated that they plan on doing what they term “justice”, rebelling against the decision of the General Conference and marrying same-sex couples.
Another reaction has been the attempt by some progressives to limit the vote of the General Conference to Methodist churches in the US. They want to cut out the African vote. So much for inclusiveness and diversity. In the political sphere, this would have been labeled ‘racism’ but I will not do that. It is a racial injustice, however. It is excluding those they disagree with because their culture agrees with the Book of Discipline. It seems to me that we could learn a lesson from them about morality.
My comment: if these rebels had any integrity at all and believed that the Book of Discipline was unjust in this matter and that it would never be “made right” in their eyes, then they should resign and go start their own church. It is not about them satisfying their own consciences (which I would say were corrupted consciences), but about them forcing their views on the rest of us. Otherwise, they would write a letter to their bishop or the Council of Bishops (or whatever they call it) saying why they can no longer stay within the UMC. They are acting as if it their right to do with the church as they see fit.

7. Since society increasingly accepts homosexuality and many gay people are now legally ‘married’, how should the UMC respond?
A. We should not respond by condoning any sin. Lowering standards of holiness is dangerous and contrary to the gospel.
B. Offer grace to homosexuals. We need to understand the true grace of God. The grace of God saves us from sin. It does not release us from the responsibility of doing what is right. It brings us to repentance and forgiveness, but not permissiveness.“ For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” (Titus 2:11-12) The grace of God teaches us to live right.
Years ago, I was in a non-UMC church and a young fellow came into the church and began attending. He was not so much interested in God as he was in a young lady who was also attending. This young man was a drug dealer and, on the surface, a Satan-worshipper. He wore a jacket with all kinds of satanic symbols on it. Nobody responded negatively to him at all. In fact, everyone just loved him and welcomed him. Today, that man is a preacher of the gospel.
C. How should we treat the homosexual? Like anyone else. The Bible tells us how to treat others – with love and respect, not with condemnation. The example of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery is a perfect example. He told her, “I do not condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” I am not saying that we tell them to go, but I am saying that while we do not condemn a person, we do not condone their sin or affirm them in it.
D. If we expect homosexuals, along with other sinners, to repent, obviously we will not give those still practicing homosexuality a position in the church much less make them an ordained minister.
E. Regarding our response to the world, are we not to be a light to it and not the other way around? It seems like progressives want to take cues from the world rather than shining the light of the gospel.
F. We cannot compromise with the world with regards to marriage. We can never condone same-sex marriage.

8. Won’t the church grow if we are more inclusive? Won’t marrying same sex couples actually bring more people into the church and show that we are not judgmental towards them?
It might seem that if we reflect the world’s values, then we will be more attractive to the world. But that is not the way it has worked in practice. When Frank Schaeffer performed a same sex marriage in his church, he split the church wide open. He immediately lost half of the members who have never returned. In short, he destroyed the church when he selfishly decided that he knew better than the Book of Discipline.
The Episcopal Church (EC) suffered greatly after ordaining a practicing homosexual as bishop. This man had abandoned his wife and children to live with another man. Instead of defrocking him, they made him a bishop. Attendance fell by 24% and a schism was created that still continues to this day. Many congregations and one whole conference has left the EC. Another Anglican body was created to accommodate those who left.
The evidence is in. Whenever the church compromises with the world and becomes like the world, true Christians often leave and the world figures that it does not need the church because the church is really no different than it is.

[Addendum to the letter: Since the writing of this letter the Virginia Conference of the UMC has passed a resolution saying that it is in favor of removing the above statement in the Book of Discipline that states, “Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The outcome of the vote on this, while reprehensible, has no effect on the Book of Discipline and changes nothing within the Virginia Conference. All the churches in the Conference are still subject to the Book of Discipline and Bishop Cho has made it clear that he will not accept any violations of it.
In May of 2016, the General Conference will meet again as it does every four years. I believe that this is the last chance that the pro-gay group has of winning this battle. After next year, the foreign vote, which is nearly 100% in favor of maintaining the language, will simply be too large for the US liberals to overthrow. So it seems that 2016 may be a watershed year. We ought to focus our prayers on that Conference.
By the way, it seems that Mark Tooley of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, who has been fighting against the liberals for decades in the UMC, agrees with my assessment. He has a guest columnist on this blog writing about this matter. See it online.
https://juicyecumenism.com/2015/07/07/the-next-umc-general-conference-will-be-decisive/
Of course, the website, which has many excellent articles mostly about the UMC can be found at
https://juicyecumenism.com/
For a good article on the growth of the UMC in Africa go to:
http://goodnewsmag.org/2015/06/where-are-united-methodists/
Note: Good News magazine has a slightly different view than IRD does on how conservatives should respond to the liberal challenge within the UMC. Good News takes the view that the UMC should split amicably into two denominations, one liberal and one conservative. IRD does not want any sort of split but wants to keep the church together and fend off the liberal challenge.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Why Didn't I Think Of That?

It happened this past month to me. I was reading an article in a Christian publication and I said to myself, "I should have thought of that". I have previously boasted of my education in economics and in Bible - an unusual combination. But I was reading this article that takes a simple, well-known principle of economics and applies it to the cross of Christ. So at the risk of plagiarizing, I will essentially repeat what I read. I cannot improve on it.

The economic principle is very simple. Things are worth to us what we are willing to pay for them. Sometimes we say that someone "paid too much" for something. We might mean two different things by that. We could mean that they could have gotten it cheaper, or we could mean that in paying the only price they could have paid for the item that they got a bad deal. The latter only means that we do not value it as highly as the person who bought it. It was obviously worth it to them.

Sometimes old paintings go at auctions for millions of dollars. Even if I had that kind of money, I would not pay anywhere near that much. I do not value them that highly, but those who pay apparently think they are worth it. It's the value they personally place on the painting.

So, how does this relate to the cross? Christ's death on the cross was the price that God paid to redeem us. And He would have paid that same price even if were only you. So that is the value that God has put on you. You are worth the price that Jesus paid to get you. That is what you were worth to God.

Think of the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. The merchant sold all that he had to obtain that pearl. To me, no pearl would be worth that much. The merchant, however, knew what it was really worth. it was worth - everything.

We are created in the image of God, so we are worth the price that Jesus paid to get us. He values His image that much. Our problem is that we do not think that we were worth it, but we were.

Sometimes I watch these car shows where they buy some old junker so that they can fix it up and sell it. I wouldn't pay five dollars for those old rust buckets. They are so marred and corroded that they are just trash to me. They see it differently than I do. They see what it was and what it can be again. They fix it and make it better than new. They restore it.

God is in the restoration business. He is the best at it. If we allow Him, He will make us better than new. But I also want us to remember that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us". (Romans 5:8) That means that he valued us so highly before we were even restored. We mean everything to Him. He means everything to us.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Beginnings

I am not one of those people who watches or reads "the year in review" on TV or in articles. First of all, I consider it a lazy sort of journalism. Certainly there are some current news stories (besides jets crashing in the ocean) that are worth covering. Second, do they really think that we have forgotten what happened this year? And what makes them think that I want to be reminded. I do not want to see the Ferguson riots again or be reminded of who died or recall the horrific things that happened to people. As Jesus said, "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

Didn't the apostle Paul say that we should be "forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead"?. If bad things have happened we can perhaps learn something from them, but don't want to dwell on them. We can be thankful for the good in our lives, but we don't even to dwell too much on those things either. We can get complacent with where we are in the Lord and not look forward to what God has for us in the future. We all still have plenty of room to grow spiritually. God still has more great things for us.

Now I do want to remember the good things that God has done for me and those I care about. I always thank God at the end of the year for His faithfulness in the past year. Then I ask God about what He has for me in the new year. He doesn't generally tell me too much, but He always has some little word of encouragement.

Some people make New Year's resolutions. I do not. That does not mean that I do not have things that I want to improve on. I do. But what I want to do the most is improve in the areas where God wants me to improve. And I know that any fleshly effort will end in failure. I need His help and guidance. I need grace. A lot of resolutions fail because they are carried out in the flesh without the Spirit of God in it.

At this point you might be thinking that New Year's is not that important to me and you would generally be right. But there was one New Year's Day that sticks in my mind. It was 31 years ago today. January 1, 1984 was a Sunday and we went to church. I do not remember all the preacher said but I do remember him talking about how a new year can bring 'new beginnings'. I heard those two words, 'new beginnings', over and over in my head for the next week or so. It absolutely was God speaking to me.

At the time we were living in Pennsylvania, going to a good church in Ohio, but we had been barely getting along financially for years and I was cut off from my family. I was making minimum wage in a dead-end job and I had nowhere to teach the Bible as I desired to do. Then God spoke this Word into my heart and everything began to change. Within a month, I was reconciled to my parents. In April, I visited my parents who had moved to Chincoteague and my father offered me a job running his new store. We moved to Chincoteague immediately. Soon after we moved, I was asked to teach about the gifts of the Spirit in one Bible study and was asked to start another in another couple's home. These were definitely new beginnings for us.

I don't know all that God has in store for us in this new year, but I know that He has "plans for good and not for calamity." I believe it will be even better than last year though it may have its challenges. As for the bad stuff that happened in the past, forget it.



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Science and The Virgin Birth

It's amazing to me how people who pit science against faith (in favor of science, of course) and who claim to be well-informed can be so ignorant of how Christians approach the subject of miracles. I was reading a detective novel where a nun is murdered in a convent. It was found that she had recently given birth.

Obviously, this nun was doing something that she wasn't supposed to do. However, in this book, when the detective questions the nuns, they all think it must have been a virgin birth. The detective is naturally incredulous. The murdered nun must have had sex. That, according to the novelist, is the scientific view. The so-called "faith view" was that it was a miraculous conception.

This novelist does not understand Christianity very well. I do not think that you could find a nun anywhere that would believe that this birth was in any way miraculous. She had apparently broken her vows. It's amazing that any sensible person, like this novelist, would make people of faith so ignorant. The dialogue was even worse. When questioned a nun stated, "You have your science, and we have our faith" as if they were total opposites. Naturally, the detective marvels at the foolishness of these nuns.

What I marvel at is the foolishness of an educated person that would write such tripe. Christians do not use belief in miracles to cover sin. That is not why we believe in miracles. We do believe in miracles but we recognize that God has a purpose in doing them. Making a nun give birth to a stillborn child serves no purpose at all.

I suppose that the author might be taking a shot against the real virgin birth, the birth of Jesus Christ. But we Christians do not believe in the virgin birth because we have faith and are ignorant of science. In fact, without scientific knowledge we would never know what a miracle was. Mary asked the angel how she could have a child without having had sex first. It seems that Mary did have scientific knowledge. She knows how babies are made. Her faith took her beyond scientific realities to a place where she could conceive a child by the Holy Spirit. So faith in the miraculous presumes scientific knowledge and goes beyond it to the Creator whose Word has authority over the natural world.

Because God made the laws of nature, He can overrule them when He sees fit. He does not, however, go around making single women pregnant. He did that one time so that His Son could become incarnate. Jesus could not be born of natural generation or He would have inherited original sin. The virgin birth was a necessary prerequisite to the incarnation.

The virgin birth is one miracle that is frequently mocked by unbelievers. Even some who claim to be Christians have been skeptical of it. Yet it is one of the most necessary miracles in the Bible, right up there with the resurrection of Christ. Without it, Christ could not have come into this world. If He does not come into this world, He cannot pay the price for our sins. If He does not do that, we are all doomed.

The virgin birth is at the very heart of Christianity. That is why it in the Apostles' Creed and is one of the fundamental doctrines of the faith. That is why the Devil hates it so much. He seems to have convinced the skeptics that God would not, or could not, do such a thing. Yet our faith in it is essential. We dare not deny it. To deny it is to deny the incarnation of the Son of God. It is to deny Christ Himself.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Archbishop of York - First and Last

I only recently became aware that there is an archbishop of York as well as an archbishop of Canterbury in England. The latter has a higher standing as he is the number one minister in the Church of England, but both bishoprics have existed since Christianity was established in England. That means, of course, that these bishops were once Roman Catholics; they are now Protestants.

Anyway, I found out about the archbishop of York, the first one, while reading Bede's history of the English Church. Bede was a priest in England in the eighth century who chronicled the development of Christianity in England. Bede describes that first archbishop and how he had a ministry of divine healing. (When I use the term, 'divine healing', I mean God healing people directly without the use of medicines, etc.) Today, we would call him a healing evangelist similar to Oral Roberts or Benny Hinn.

In fact, Bede speaks of many prominent ministries back then as ones that had healing and miracles in abundance. Today we would call them charismatics, but we need to understand that at that time spiritual gifts were common. Priests and bishops often exercised spiritual gifts and every Christian believed in supernatural manifestations.

After reading about the first archbishop of York, I read an article about the present archbishop of York. (I assume he is still archbishop.) The funny thing is that the brother of the archbishop is a charismatic, healing evangelist. Apparently, the archbishop is embarrassed about his brother's healing ministry. He reportedly has mocked it. My question is, why? Does he not approve of the practice of divine healing? If that is the case, has he not undermined his own office? This man's brother is more like the original archbishop of York than he is.

It seems to me that for a church where tradition is so important that it has left behind the most important tradition of all - being Spirit-filled and walking in the spiritual gifts. When did that get lost? Do we no longer expect God to do signs and wonders or is that all in the past? No, it is not in the past. Others, like the brother, have picked up the 'traditions' that some churches have left behind.

Now the American version of the Church of England, the Episcopal Church, does lay hands on people for healing or anoint with oil. That is true. But do they expect people to get healed? Not from what I can tell. When I was in college, I went to a nursing home with a group from school. I used to go talk to this one man who seemed to like my company. On one visit, I just about interrupted a lady from the local Episcopal Church who was praying for this man. She had anointed him with oil and prayed for his healing. When I came up to them and realized that she was praying, I bowed my head and waited for her to finish. Afterward, she introduced herself to me and told me where she was from and what she was doing. She told me that part of their church's ministry was to anoint with oil and pray for the sick. When she said this, I brightened up hoping to hear some good reports that resulted from this ministry. She seemed a bit disconcerted at my reaction and immediately assured me that though they did this, they did not expect anything to happen. It was just a rite that they performed. That is sad.

Performing a rite without the expectation of anything happening is nothing but empty religion. Please understand that I am not saying that they should not perform their traditional rite. I am saying that they should do it with the expectation that God will fulfill the promise associated with this rite. It comes from the fifth chapter of James. It says that the elders of the church should "pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." It then says that "the prayer of faith will save the sick." Notice that it is faith, and not anointing with oil, that brings healing. No expectation means no faith. No faith means no healing. I know this seems harsh to some but it is what the passage says. We can do all the rituals we want, but without the expectation that God will do what He said He would do, it is not pleasing to Him. He does not honor rituals devoid of faith.

I do not mean to belittle the Episcopal Church or the Church of England or the archbishop. We all have done this. We do things because we have always done them but without faith or expectation. I think the problem is that no one has taught us to expect anything, as if were presumptuous to expect God to fulfill His promises. It is just the opposite. It is dishonoring to God not to expect Him to fulfill His promise.

Think of this from a natural point of view. If you promised someone that you would do something and they figured that you probably would not do it, would you not be insulted by that? I would. Honorable people fulfill their promises. We fulfill our own promises and expect others to fulfill their promises. And we should expect God to fulfill His promises when we meet His conditions.

I have to say that I feel sorry for the present archbishop of York. He is upholding the traditions of the church while his brother is upholding an even greater tradition, the tradition of expecting God to do what He said He would do, the tradition of desiring spiritual gifts and seeing them in manifestation. Go and study what the founders of your tradition did. You might be surprised what you find. You will find spiritual gifts in operation. You will find healings and miracles and speaking in tongues among the early Baptists and Methodists. The early reformers, Luther and Calvin, believed and sometimes experienced miracles. Every move of the Spirit has been accompanied by "signs following". It is time to "stir up the gift of God" which is in us. That's a tradition that we should uphold.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Christmas Complaints

As I write this post I am listening to some of my favorite Christmas music, trying to get in the Christmas mood. But as you might expect or may experience yourself, I seem to have more trouble every year getting into the spirit of Christmas. I love Christmastime as I hope my readers do, but I am not sure exactly why it seems to take me so long now to "get into" the mood. However, I will blame others instead of examining myself. It might not help me get into the spirit of Christmas, but I will feel better anyway. (I trust that my readers will realize that I am being only half-serious though I do have some complaints about this time of year.)

COMPLAINT #1 - This complaint is several years old, but it is still happening. Stores that make millions of dollars off of the birth of the Son of God every year do not seem to want to acknowledge the reason for the season. Instead, it is only "Happy Holidays" and "Season Greetings". We have always had that, of course, but you also saw signs saying "Merry Christmas" as well. Is it really too much to ask stores to give some faint genuflection to the One who came to earth to redeem us?

COMPLAINT #2 - What else is wrong is radio stations that are supposedly playing only Christmas music but seem to go way out of their way to play only the secular songs. Do they really think that people who listen to Christmas music would be "offended" or something if all kinds of Christmas music was played?

COMPLAINT #3 - This complaint is directed toward some in the church, a small minority perhaps, who want to make Christmas an almost completely religious holiday. I know that I might seem a bit blasphemous here, but let me explain. First, I want to emphasize the fact that we, as Christians, should focus on worshiping Jesus and His Father during this joyous season. Perhaps we have neglected Him too much with all the busyness, gift-giving, cookie-eating, and all that.

But I must disagree with at least one blogger who wants us to de-emphasize the family part of Christmas so that those without families, with broken families and those who may be alienated from family might feel better. He says to pretty much stick to worshiping the Lord during this season. Poppycock! We can, and should, do both. We should put God first (as always), but we should celebrate with our families as well, if we can. It is hard to believe that if we ignore family and just worship Jesus that these folks will feel better. They will not. It would be better to reach out to such people and include them in our celebration if possible. For us to give up our family celebration is not a solution to those who have little family connection. In fact, Christmas is a time when families who live far apart can reconnect in various ways.

Those without family will still have the same need. To me, doing away with the family part of Christmas to "help" those with no family connection is like the solution for the hungry that I have run across in churches from time to time. We are told to fast so that we will know how the hungry feel. Hogwash. The hungry are only helped if we actually feed them. They will not feel better if we are in sympathy with them. They will not feel better if we do not eat. They will feel better if they do.

COMPLAINT #4 - I promise that this is the last one. But it is the reason that I wrote this whole thing. Someone wrote an article in Christianity Today that bothered me not a little. She lost a son over a year ago and last year many who sent her Christmas cards did not mention this tragedy or offer sympathy. She is quite angry about this. She says that she was hurt that so many did not mention her loss. Instead, many sent their usual card with ordinary Christmas wishes or letters telling her about their own families during the past year. She apparently wanted every card to express sympathy because the sender should know that Christmas would be very hard for her. She then proceeded to instruct us on how we should all respond to such a situation.

I do not intend to be critical or harsh to someone grieving such a great loss. We must treat these dear souls with gentleness, kindness and compassion. I must say, however, that no matter how hurt she feels that she is being quite unfair. People often do not know how to respond to those who have lost a child or suffered a similar tragedy. (Is there a similar one? There may be no greater grief.) Besides, not everyone wants the same response. I know one dear friend who lost a son many years ago and never wants to talk about it. She will cut you off if you ask her about him. I know another woman who lost a son, but does want to talk about him. How are the rest of us to know what we should do, or not do? This latter woman graciously got up in church a few months after she lost her son and told the congregation to please talk about her son to her. She said she was not hurt by that. That is gracious! She let others know what they should do. You know, when we lived in a more formal society, these kinds of things were laid out for us. Everyone knew what to do. Today we are "liberated" from these strict rules. In some ways it is a disadvantage. People no longer know how to respond to others. So maybe we ought to gently suggest to others how they should respond.

It certainly is a good idea sometimes when we put a little kind note in a Christmas card expressing sympathy. I did it just last year. My cousin lost her husband early in the year but I did not hear about it until right before Christmas so I had not sent a sympathy card, much less attend the funeral. But if I had sent a sympathy card months earlier, I would have not put a note in the Christmas card. (Maybe I'm a dolt.)

I know that there are many who are grieving this time of year because of loss. But I wish to remind you that nobody is trying to be mean to you or uncompassionate. Let's believe the best of each other and assume that others mean well. Christmas ought to be a time when we treat each other graciously. Those who know someone who has lost a loved one might look for a good way to express it. Those who have suffered loss ought to be understanding toward those who do not know how or when to express their sympathy. Let's just all assume that nobody (except certain stores and radio stations) want to spoil your Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

[By the way, I have been listening to the Riga Boys Choir singing some beautiful Christmas songs that you just do not hear much anymore.]


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Honor the Pilgrims?

There are some big anniversaries coming up in the next several years. In less than three years (October 31, 2017) is the 5ooth anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses by Martin Luther that began the Reformation. On November 9, 2020 is the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims' Mayflower landing at Plymouth Rock.

We honor the Pilgrims for two reasons. One, they helped to found our nation, the United States. Of course, they share that honor with others, especially the Jamestown settlers in Virginia. The second thing that we honor the Pilgrims for is religious freedom. That's what I learned in school and have had confirmed in church as well. The Pilgrims came to New England seeking freedom to practice their religion. And I was told that this led to religious freedom in America.

But you might be surprised to learn that some are saying that we should not honor the Pilgrims for religious freedom. (Now, I am not referring to some left-wing nutcakes who hold America responsible for all the world's ills. I am talking about evangelical Christian scholars who think that the sins and errors of our forefathers disqualifies them from this honor.) The Pilgrims wanted freedom to practice their own brand of religion. That same right was not to be granted to those who practiced another religion or another form of Christianity which they would consider to be heretical. So, they did not conceive of religious liberty in the same way that we do today.

I appreciate the fact that evangelical historians are anxious to point out that we often do not realize that our forefathers were imperfect people who sometimes did bad things. The Pilgrims, who generally had peaceful relations with the local Indians did attack them at different times. (I am uncertain whether or not it was justified or if it was an overreaction to some offense.) And it is true that they would not have allowed another competing religion in their community. But the historical question is this: Did their quest for religious freedom eventually culminate in the kind of religious liberty we hold dear today.

I think that it does. Everyone wants freedom for themselves and their viewpoint or religion or race or ethnic group. That is a good thing. People should stand up for their rights and the rights of those like them. That is only natural. In America, different groups went to different places. There were the Pilgrims and Puritans in New England, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Anglicans in Virginia and the Catholics in Maryland. When the states came together during and after the Revolutionary War, they had to have some principle to bind these groups together. Since no group was dominant, it only made sense to give everyone freedom of religion. So, the Pilgrims took the first step toward a freedom that went beyond what they intended, but later spread to all.

The question is how we judge historical figures or groups. Should we count up their sins and misconceptions by our own standards and dismiss them as racist or slaveowners or those who want liberty for themselves and not others? Or should we see what effect they had on history and whether it was good or bad. The latter, I believe.

Look at some of the great figures in history. King David is honored by the Jews, Christians and God Himself for his leadership of Israel. Yet he committed adultery and murder. Moses was also a murderer. God and His people honor these flawed men very highly because, despite their failings, they followed God.

The Pilgrims and Puritans were not always the saints that they hoped that they would be. They did not necessarily create the kind of society they wanted to create. Yet God used them to help found a great nation that has, I think, done great good in this world.

Evangelicals are great for telling us that God uses flawed human beings to do His work and build His kingdom. So we should understand that when dealing with those in the past who might not measure up to our standards. It will be interesting what those Christians, hundreds of years from now (assuming the Lord tarries) will think of us.