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.