Monday, 17 August 2015

Creating a positive opposition

He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the foreigner by giving him food and clothing. - Deuteronomy 10:18

The problem

Christians have a duty mandated upon them to oppose certain things, privately and publicly. In a Christian worldview, some things are right and some things are wrong. It is therefore right and good to oppose those things that are wrong in one's own private life.

It is also right to oppose those things in the public square. Christians are charged to be good citizens (Titus 3:1), and if there is a sincere belief by Christians that God's ethic is true and leads to good living, then Christians must argue for a Godly ethic.

Today, this can be seen in a number of areas, though there are two big ones that are dominant in the mind of today's culture: opposition to homosexual marriage and abortion. Many (most?) Christians are opposed to both of these, and make their opposition heard. A person who has never engaged with the church probably knows the church's opinion on these subjects. Some Christians, I think, argue very persuasively on both of these topics.

So what's wrong? Well, nothing. As mentioned above, opposition is a good thing. However, it breeds a picture purely of opposition in the minds of the non-Christian public. Christians are known for the things they stand against. Furthermore, Christians are seen as oppressive and vindictive. Resentment builds as people ask "What right do these people have to tell me what to do with myself?" A view is created that Christians are sexist homophobes, which is very understandable.

The solution

So what should a Christian do? Giving up opposition isn't really an option if a Christian is convinced as to the rightness or wrongness of an act. What needs to happen is positive opposition.

What does that mean? It means promoting a positive, healthy outlook on those against which someone is opposed. For example, gay marriage has been the holy grail for non-Christian campaigners of civil rights. For many, the battle will seem to have been won when there is marriage equality and my assumption is that focus will drift away from people that are homosexual. However, while marriage equality may benefit mentally healthy people with a stable income, loving partner and a home, people that are gay suffer tremendously from far greater issues than marriage inequality. For example, did you know that ((http://www.frc.org/get.cfm?i=IS04C02))
  • In a study conducted on twins, homosexual people were 6.5 times more likely to try to kill themselves and suffer from mental health issues.
  • More than 50% of lesbians have been victims of domestic abuse (up to 90% in some studies), and many of them report it happening more than 10 times with it getting worse each time. Gay men suffer from domestic abuse at double the rate of those in heterosexual relationships.
  • While 2-5% of people are homosexual, in the USA over 40% of homeless people identify as LGBT (with similar percentages expected for Australia). ((http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/press/americas-shame-40-of-homeless-youth-are-lgbt-kids/))
Imagine if Christians were diligent in raising the banner about these issues of homosexuality. Indeed, a number of organisations like the Salvation Army do tackle these issues, and their contribution shouldn't be forgotten. However, imagine a united front of conservative Christians that fought, not against marriage equality but for social equality. Imagine Christians being on the news because this isn't good enough and the rest of society is focussing purely on marriage! A Christian stance that says "I oppose homosexual marriage and support making sure that LGBT people aren't abused, homeless, or suicidal."

Or think about abortion. I think abortion should be condemned in the highest possible terms, and the fight should be fought. However, did you know that:
  • 75% of women who have abortions state the cost of having a child as one of the reasons.
  • 75% of women who have abortions state that it interfering with work or schooling as one of the reasons
  • 50% of women who have abortions state being a single parent as one of the reasons
  • People who are poor are disproportionately represented among those who get abortions.((http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html))
  • Of women that wanted to have an abortion but were unable to, only 5% regret not having an abortion.((http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/magazine/study-women-denied-abortions.html))
Imagine if, instead of using all our resources to argue against abortion, we spent our time and our money promoting the health and wellbeing of mothers and children. What if the church was known for assisting young pregnant women in planning for and assisting with the cost of having a child, and negotiating having children and working and studying? Just over 10% of women who had an abortion stated health concerns as one of the reasons, and under 1% had an abortion because they were pregnant through rape. What would the statistics look like if the three major causes of abortion were not issues any longer?

Crisis pregnancy centres have been doing exactly this all over the world. The Babes Project is one such organisation in Melbourne. Imagine if the church was known for supporting places like these!

The conclusion

Imagine if the church wasn't seen as anti-feministic and homophobic, but was seen spending considerable resources of time, money, and experience in promoting the wellbeing of women and people who are LGBT. Let's promote a positive opposition, still opposing those things that need to be opposed but bringing about positive outcomes for all involved. How hypocritical of a non-theistic culture to spend so much energy on marriage equality but turn a blind eye to social equality! How hypocritical of a non-theistic culture to proclaim itself as feministic by promoting abortion but ignoring the plight of women that drives them to abortion clinics! How hypocritical of the body of Christ to give strong opposition without first sacrificially of itself to the least in society!

Be a positive opposition.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Do aliens destroy Christianity?

You shall not wrong an alien, neither shall you oppress him, for you were aliens... - Exodus 22:21

Rescue me, and deliver me out of the hand of aliens, Whose mouth speaketh deceit, And whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood. - Psalm 144:11

Your country has become waste; your towns are burned with fire; as for your land, it is overturned before your eyes, made waste and overcome by aliens. - Isaiah 1:7

Introduction

NASA has found a potentially habitable planet called Kepler 452-b. It joins a list of planets that could potentially hold life as we know it, and has reinvigorated talk about the search for extraterrestrial life. For many people, talk about extraterrestrial life is restricted to the realm of science fiction, but many scientists including Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan are convinced that extraterrestrial life exists. NASA scientists are also hopeful, spending many resources on searching for signs of life in space.

The question for Christians regarding this must be how Christianity stands up under evidence of new life. If it was conclusively proved tomorrow that life existed outside of Earth, what does it mean? For our case, lets imagine that Earth was contacted by sentient extraterrestrial life. What does this mean for Christianity?

An argument from silence

One argument goes that since the bible is silent regarding the existence of life on other planets, it must mean that the bible is flawed and thus Christianity must be false. This argument is flawed on many levels, but most essentially because the hermeneutic used is something like: "Anything that the bible does not speak about is equivalent to the bible saying it does not exist." Even the most fundamentalist Christian doesn't read the bible like that. Furthermore it overlooks the fact that the bible was written in a specific context for a specific purpose. What reason would a writer have to include the existence of alien life? The argument is undeniably flawed.

Theology in light of aliens

Obviously, Christian theology is going to face challenges in light of the existence of extraterrestrials. The existence of non-human sentients requires fresh thought on a range of issues.

The incarnation

The major issue is the incarnation of Christ. Jesus came down as a human, lived as a human, and died as a human. Jesus didn't come down as an alien. This fact leads to a host of theological issues.

The place of humanity

If Jesus came down as a human, does that mean that humans are the favoured sentient species? Is this a sanctioning for speciesism? I can see proponents on both sides of the issue.

One argument would be that yes, Christ came down as a human and as such afforded a special place for humanity in creation. Because of this, humans have a right to dominion over all other species, including the new one. The dominion must not be harmful, but it is a dominion nonetheless.

The other argument would be no, Christ came down as a sentient creature, not just as a human. In the same way that Jesus was born as a Jew and yet was for everyone, so did Jesus come down as a human and yet is for everyone.

Salvation

In the same line of thought as the argument on the place of humanity, soteriology (the theology of salvation) would require rethinking. Did Christ's death as a human only forgive human sins or did Christ take on all sins? My thought is that there would be a movement away from an emphasis on penal substitutionary atonement theology (that Christ substituted himself in our place and bore the penalty) to an emphasis on other thoughts like a Christus Victor view (that Christ conquered over sin and death by dying and rising again.)

Christ in another skin

What would be very interesting is if this other species had a Christ-like figure. That is, a person of their deity that lived, taught, died, and was resurrected in order to save them from their sins. The implications of that could be great. Would their belief in their saviour constitute salvation? Could a member of their species become a Christian, and could a human become someone of their religion? What would the authority of their scripture be? My guess is that it would divide down liberal/conservative lines, with liberal Christians accepting the religion as authentic and conservative Christians rejecting their religion and pressing for evangelism of the other species.

Your thoughts

I wonder, what are your thoughts? What would change, what would be the same?

Monday, 3 August 2015

The importance of a token

To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. - Daniel 1:17

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way. - Daniel 1:8


Introduction

Straight up, I can't take credit for the idea of this post. It was a point in a sermon that was preached at my church, but I loved the idea so much that I wanted to share it.

Living as a Christian can be hard because there is a natural tension. One one hand, a Christian is born into a particular culture and society at a particular time, and they have a mandated duty to engage with that culture. On the other hand, when a person becomes a Christian they join the kingdom of God with it's own culture and code of ethics, and become what are essentially foreigners, knowing that home is with Christ. The issue is that these two cultures often clash.

'Western' culture is progressively shaking off Christendom, including Christian norms and Christian values. Not too long ago, going with the flow of culture would lead you to a vague nominal Christianity. Now, however, going with the flow will lead you probably to a softened form of militant atheism. This leads Christians to feel increasingly out of place within society, and more able to identify to Daniel, a faithful Israelite exiled to a foreign country.

The issue of Christian engagement with culture has a long history of discussion within the church, and I'm not proposing a perfect solution to end the discussion. What I am saying is that a token effort goes a long way in engaging with culture and retaining a Christian identity. Just as Daniel engaged fully with Babylonian culture (including participating fully in learning pagan literature) and yet performed a token action of separation (not eating the royal food) so can Christians today do the same thing.

Examples

Game of Thrones has taken Western culture by storm. You would be hard pressed to find someone who does not know the name, and it's not uncommon to hear it talked about on TV or the radio. It has taken hold of geeky/nerdy culture even more. The issue, as you may know, is that the TV series is quite graphically explicit, both in sexuality and violence.

So on the one hand is a cultural phenomenon, and on the other is a Christian concern about consuming media which is not beneficial. One option is just to watch it, another is to have nothing to do with it. However, a token demonstration might be not watching the TV show but reading the books. It's about separation and immersion in the culture.

There are other token gestures like not swearing, eating together as a family, abstaining from alcohol, sticking a fish symbol on your car etc. etc. These aren't grand ethical gestures,but rather are small token actions. They don't necessarily make you better as a person, but do mark you as separate.


Why?

The major reason for these token actions is to act as a reminder internally and a witness externally.

Internally, it reminds us that we are not in our homeland nor do we reside in a culture that is properly ours. As Christians, our home is with Christ in our promised new Earth and our culture is that of the Kingdom of God, as described in the Bible. By holding on to these tokens, it jolts us back to this thought. We aren't to live like everyone else lives, we are to be different.

Externally, Christians need to differentiate themselves from others in order to witness properly. By and large, Western culture is largely morally good. There are notable exceptions, but a good Christian is largely indistinguishable to a good atheist or a good buddhist. Holding distinctive tokens means that those who are Christians do stand out without being separate. Thought it may be uncomfortable at times, I think it is necessary.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Ashes in the mouth, and whispering into the wind.

They (i.e. God's words) are more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
    than honey from the honeycomb. - Psalm 19:10


I delight in your decrees;
    I will not neglect your word. - Psalm 119:16


The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. - Revelation 8:4

Chances are, if you're a Christian, your journey with Christ began emotionally. The rush of having Christ revealed to you in a way that was never clear before, the heady thrill of engaging in theology, the joy of participating in a church, and the intimacy of engaging with God through scripture and prayer.

As you continued in your faith, the initial rush dissipated but the emotions remained. Congregational singing was always uplifting, sermons rarely failed to hit your mind and your heart, and reading the bible and praying was easy.

However, at some point it began to change. Your Christian habits like prayer and bible-reading became Christian disciplines and required effort to maintain. Church was ho-hum instead of invigorating. God was more like a distant acquaintance than a close friend.

Finally, all the emotion was gone. God felt more non-existent than even being an acquaintance. The bible, rather than being sweet like honey was dry like ashes in your mouth. Prayers, rather than feeling effective was like shouting into the howling wind, no sooner out of your mouth than lost.

So you stopped praying. You stopped reading. You stopped wanting to attend church. You kept the facade of Christianity, and knew deep down that you believed that God exists, but the emotion and passion was gone. Revivals were felt every now and then, but you quickly went back to this emotionless state in regards to God.

Sound familiar? This was my journey, and I'm confident that it is a journey similar to yours, at least in part. I have never felt that rush of the first few years of my Christian life again, and my Christian disciplines are an effort to maintain. Many times I don't feel like reading the bible, and many times I don't feel like praying. At times I don't feel like going to church, or singing. At times I feel like my prayers are just whispering into the wind, and that God's Word is just ashes in my mouth. But that's a good thing. Praise God.

Praise God that my relationship with him isn't dependent upon what I feel. I believe that God starts our life with him on a foundation primarily of emotion. After that, I wonder if God begins withdrawing that foundation of emotion so that we build a continuing relationship on a foundation of faith. A foundation of trust, apart from our experiences.

I know that what I feel doesn't determine what is true. My emotions don't determine truth, scripture does. I know that what I feel doesn't dictate my relationship with Christ. I am secure in Christ, and a beloved child of Christ, and united with Christ regardless of how I feel. I know that a daily quiet time isn't the mark of my faith, determiner of my faith, or the standard by which I judge my faith. My relationship with Christ, with God, is objective and not subjective.

So don't fool yourself. Don't fall into the lie that says that being close to God is about how you feel. Your relationship with Christ is dependent upon Christ, not you. Praise the Lord for that!

Friday, 3 July 2015

Annihilationism makes more sense of the Bible than etermal torment does.

...a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 1

Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,’ says the Lord Almighty. 2

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 3

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 4

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 5

Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. 6


When it comes to Christian views of the afterlife of those who reject Christ in this life, there are 3 broad views. One is the traditional view, in which they are eternally tormented (usually depicted as fire.) There is the annihilationist view, in which the person ceases to exist (perhaps after a limited period of torment.) Finally, there is the universalist view in which all people are united with Christ together (again, perhaps after a limited period of torment.)

I want to argue here that the bible says that immortality is a gift given only to those who are in Christ, and that the depictions in the bible of a fiery hell are metaphors that are meant to focus on the aspect that fire annihilates, not torments. Christian theology used Greek philosophy as a framework and connecting point to the culture around them, but the immortality of the soul is something that we don't need to hold on to.

Argument from emotion

Firstly, we must note the role that emotions play in our theology. I think, without doubt, that annihilationism is the easier doctrine to bear. I am sure that this fact plays a major part in my willingness to take up this thought. However, if it doesn't bear up under the scrutiny of scripture, and indeed make the most sense of scripture, then it cannot be the option that we hold. Theology doesn't depend upon our subjective feelings or reasoning, it depends upon the special revelation of scripture.


Words for Hell

Next, we must clarify the terms. There are 4 major words used in the bible when referring to a negative afterlife: sheol, gehenna, hades, tartarus.

Sheol, a Hebrew word, refers to the place of the dead. All dead went to Sheol, whether righteous or unrighteous. It is often translated as "grave", as it is here in Ecclesiastes 9:4-10
Anyone who is among the living has hope--even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun. Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun--all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Though it is here represented as a physical place, I think there's a strong argument to be made that it is referring to annihilation. Those who are in Sheol "know nothing... their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished... there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." That sounds very much like it would fit a description of someone annihilated, and does not sound like someone being tormented. For one to be tormented, they must know that they are. You cannot torment something that does not know that it is being tormented.

Job describes Sheol like this in Job 10:21-22: " I go to the place of no return, to the land of gloom and deep shadow, to the land of deepest night, of deep shadow and disorder, where even the light is like darkness." I think this is an echo of the uncreated state of the world in Genesis 1:2, in which "darkness was over the surface of the deep" and light had not been created yet. Furthermore, the whole act of creation was about bringing order (as we can see from the ordered creation in Genesis 1), and Sheol is a place of "disorder." So, Job is saying that those who die go to an uncreated state, which is very much in line with annihilationism and not in line with eternal torment.

Gehenna, a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word Gehinnom meaning "valley of Hinnom", is used by Jesus multiple times to refer to the place that the wicked go to after death. Many of you have probably heard about Gehenna from a preacher who has said that it was a perpetually burning garbage pit outside the walls of Jerusalem. This is wrong. It is a Christian meme that has no basis in reality, and the earliest that this idea is talked about is in the 13th century by a Jewish rabbi named David Kimchi.

Instead, Gehenna was a place in  Israel in which children were sacrificed as burnt offerings to Molech 7 and was subsequently desecrated during the reign of Josiah.  8 It became known as a defiled place. 9

Thus, when we get to Jesus, the idea of Gehenna being a defiled place was firmly entrenched in his hearer's ears. Jesus mentions Gehenna 11 times throughout the gospels, 10 and it is used as a place for the wicked where both body and soul can be destroyed 11 in an "unquenchable fire." 12

Given the history of Gehenna, the mention of fire here is a deliberate look back to when children were sacrificed, not of a punishment of burning. What is interesting is the choice of the word "destroy" (apollumi) in Matthew 10:28. Ollumi is the regular word to destroy, and when the "apo" prefix is added on it reinforces the idea so that it means something more like "completely destroy, cause to cease to exist." 13((http://biblehub.com/greek/622.htm)) The implication is clear: Gehenna is the place of the complete destruction of the body and soul so as to cause them to cease to exist.

Hades, a Greek word steeped in Greek mythology, finds traction in the New Testament because the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses the word "Hades" as a translation for "Sheol." It occurs 10 times in the New Testament, with most of the mentions following the general usage of Sheol. One mention in Luke 16:23 bears special mention, and is discussed below.

Finally, Tartarus is used once in 2 Peter 2:4, and is the holding place for angels who sinned until they are judged. In Greek mythology, Tartarus was the deepest part of Hades and was reserved for those who were particular enemies of the gods.This is in line with Peter's use of it here, in which particular enemies of God (i.e. sinful angels) are held. This idea, of a waiting place until judgment, will be important when we discuss Luke 16:23 below.

Eternal life as a particular gift

So, moving on to eternal life, I think that the bible makes it clear that eternal life is only a property of God which is imparted to us when we are united with Christ. Those who are not united with Christ do not receive eternal life, and instead will perish and die. There are many texts that I could quote here, but only two are needed. For some other texts, look in the footnote. 14
John 3:16 states that whoever believes in God's only son will not perish (the word here is apollumi, the same as in Matthew 10:28) but have eternal life. The obvious inference here is that those who do not believe in God's only son will not have eternal life, but instead will perish.
Romans 8:10-11 also tells us that if the Spirit is in us, we will be raised from the dead and be given life in the same way that Christ was raised from the dead. Again, the obvious inference is that those who do not have this Spirit shall not be raised from the dead.

Objections

What about weeping and gnashing?
In some parables that Jesus teaches in the gospel of Matthew, there is weeping and gnashing of teeth for those who are outside of God's kingdom.This, it is argued, is clear evidence for conscious torment. How can one weep and gnash if they are annihilated? 

A look at the context of the verses 15 suggests that the cause for the distress is not at their punishment, but their separation or expulsion. This aligns with Psalm 112, in which there is gnashing of teeth because of what the righteous will be rewarded with. We also see in other cases of a gnashing of teeth 16 that it is an aggressive act of anger, not a reaction to pain. Thus, weeping and gnashing refers to the reaction of the unrighteous when told of their future: obliteration while the righteous live forever with Christ.

What about Revelation?
Revelation 14:11 says that the smoke of the torment of those opposed to God will go up "forever and ever." This seems to imply an unending torment for the unrighteous. However, there are a few things that are necessary to consider. First is that Revelation is not intended to be read literally. To determine the actual fate of sinners on this verse in Revelation, which is a book overflowing with symbology and heightened language, seems rash. 
More importantly, however, is that Revelation 14:11 is clearly referring to Isaiah 34:10, in which, on the day of the Lord's vengeance, the smoke from Edom will rise forever and ever. Isaiah 34:10 isn't focussing on the period of time but the completeness of God's judgment. Its destruction will be so great and so complete that smoke (which is normally blown away rather quickly) will stick around forever. Again, using heightened language to emphasise the point. The bible uses the phrase "forever and ever" at other points to emphasise the point (and not referring to its eternal existence). 17
Furthermore, Revelation 14:11 is not saying that their torment will be forever but that the "smoke" will be around forever. That is, the memory, the remnants of judgment, will forever be around. The vindication of the righteous will never be forgotten.
Revelation 20:15 is another text used to argue for conscious eternal torment. However, notice that the punishment for the enemies of God (the devil, the beast, the false prophet) isn't repeated exactly. All those whose name is not in the book of life is thrown into the lake of fire, but it isn't said that they will be "tormented day and night forever and ever." This, I argue, is therefore about the consumptive nature of fire, not its ability to torment.

What about Luke?
Luke 16:19-31 tell a parable of Jesus which depicts conscious torment. The first thing to note is that this is a parable, and so is shaky ground to base a view on what will actually be the afterlife. The point of the parable is the last line: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."
However, even if it is proved that this is an accurate depiction, what it is actually showing is the intermediate state between death and the day of judgment. Of this, annihilationists have no issue. The righteous are in paradise (i.e. Abraham's bosom) after they die, the unrighteous are in Hades suffering. When Christ returns and everybody is raised to life for judgment, that is when people are granted eternal life or annihilation.

Conclusion

So I hope I have put forward a convincing argument that eternal life is a special gift of God to the righteous, and not given to everybody. Annihilationism is perfectly consistent with a divided intermediate state in which some are tormented and some are in paradise, but at the end of days those who have rejected Christ will cease to exist, while the righteous will live forever.



1 Hebrews 10:27
2 Malachi 4:3
3 Matthew 10:28
4 John 3:16
5 Matthew 22:13
6 Revelation 20:15
7 2 Chronicles 28:3, 33:6
8 2 Kings 23:10
9 Jeremiah 19:11-13
10 Matthew 5:22, Matthew 5:29, Matthew 5:30, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 18:9, Matthew 23:15, Matthew 23:33, Mark 9:43, Mark 9:45, Mark 9:47, Luke 12:5
11 Matthew 10:28
12 Mark 9:43
13 http://biblehub.com/greek/622.htm
14 Matthew 7:13-14, Matthew 19:29, Matthew 25:46, John 4:14, John 6:51, John 8:51, John 10:10, John 11:25-26, John 15:5, Romans 6:4, 2 Corinthians 4:10-11, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 3:4, 1 Thessalonians 4:14, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, 1 John 2:17, 1 John 2:25, 1 John 5:13
15 Matthew 8:12, Matthew 13:42, Matthew 13:50, Matthew 22:13, Matthew 24:51, Matthew 25:30
16 Job 16:9, Psalm 35:16, Psalm 37:12, Lamentations 2:16, Acts 7:54
17 Psalm 24:7

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Life is busy

 Here's an article I wrote for the bulletin at the school I work at.

Life is busy, and I probably don’t have to work too hard to convince you of that fact.  Working alongside teachers, and having a wife that is in her first year of teaching, really emphasises that life is busy with exams and reports needing to be written and assessed. But the truth is, there are very few people around that aren’t perpetually busy. We all have things that require our time. Work, family, friends, church, Candy Crush, the list goes on. 

We see the busy-ness of life all around us, and because of this I think we fool ourselves into thinking that we must always be busy. A spare day, or even a spare moment in a day, is time that needs to be filled. Everyone around us is so busy that we should be too, and sometimes the things we do to fill the gaps are just that; things to fill the gaps. We are addicted to being busy, and are ashamed of not being busy. Working 50 or 60 hours a week is something we hold with pride.

One of the tricky things is that we often fill our lives with good things. It’s good to work, it’s good to spend time with friends and family, it’s good to volunteer our time. The gospel of Luke gives us a great example of this. At the end of chapter 10, Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary as he is passing through their village. Hospitality was very important in the culture, and considering that Jesus had his 12 disciples along with him, there was a lot of preparation that needed to be done in the home.  As I’ve never had to host 13 people at my house before, I can only imagine the amount of work. So Martha starts doing the work, but her sister Mary just sits down and starts talking to Jesus.
Taking care of Jesus’ needs is a good thing. In fact, it’s a very good thing! How amazing to be able to provide for God himself! This is surely one of the most important acts of hospitality ever. So she’s busy cooking the meal, and preparing the beds, and cleaning the house, and all of those things that you do when someone comes over unexpectedly. While Martha has this mountain of things to do, Mary is just sitting down and listening. Seriously?! I completely empathise with Martha. I would be very annoyed if I was running around doing all this work and Mary wasn’t helping at all.

So, Martha comes in to the sitting room and says “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” I would expect that Jesus would say “You’re completely right. Mary, go help your sister” but instead he says “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Whoa. Martha was so distracted by all the busy-ness that she missed what was important. Here was Jesus, teaching in her lounge room and Martha was making the bed. Jesus was laying out godly wisdom, and Martha was washing the pots and pans. Martha was so busy that she forgot what, or rather who, she was being busy for. 

There are so many things in life, and so many things to keep us busy, that we lose sight of the big picture. We schedule our lives so heavily that we forget to sit and listen. I want to challenge you to unschedule some of your day. Don’t be afraid of doing nothing. Don’t be afraid to stop, sit, and listen. Who knows, you might hear the voice of God teaching you like he taught Mary.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Why the church should oppose the ordination of those in homosexual relationships

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1

Now the overseer is to be above reproach... 2

In my last post, I posited an argument as to why we should be in favour of marriage equality. In the interests of some sort of balance, I want to propose why we should hold that our leaders not be in homosexual relationships and hopefully show that the two views are tenable at the same time.

Scripture

While it is debatable, I think there is a clear theme and teaching throughout the Bible about a sexual ethic in regards to homosexuality. Both in the Old and New Testaments, homosexuality is condemned unambiguously.3 I can't think of any parts of Scripture that cast homosexuality in a positive light, and Genesis 1-3 show us God's created order, in which a man is made for a woman.

History

While history can be wrong, it is helpful to understand what those in the past believe about issues. We don't come to an issue alone, but with the undergirding of thousands of years of theological thought.
Up until the modern era, Christian thought about homosexuality has been to see it as sinful. John Chrysostom argued that homosexual acts were evil in the 4th century, Thomas Aquinas argued against it in the 13th century, and Martin Luther saw it as sinful in the 16th century. 4 In the 20th century, particularly with the rise of Liberalism, the argument was brought forward that homosexuality was not sinful. However, it seems that even today the majority of Christians view homosexual acts and relationships as sinful.

Countering the counters

There are a number of arguments that are usually put forward in favour of homosexuality, which I will attempt to refute briefly. If you wish to discuss further, comment below.
  • Misreading of arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9
Arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9 seems to be a word made up by Paul comprised of the words man (arseno) and bed (koitai). It almost certainly is referring to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in the Septuagint (that is, the Greek translation at the time), which explicitly condemns homosexuality. Any other meanings are wishful thinking.
  • The Christian rite of adelphopoiesis
Adelphopoiesis (literally brother-making) was a Christian rite in the early church that is similar to the idea of "blood-brothers" in other cultures. In this ceremony, the friendship of two same-sex people (usually men) was recognised by the church. There is no doubt that this was the church sanctioning a same-sex union in the most literal sense of the phrase, but there is no indication at all that it is sexual. 
  • Homosexual partners in the Bible
Some have argued that the bible is full of homosexual partners, such as David and Jonathan. As above, there is absolutely no indication of sexuality and it is, at best, hopeful speculation. I think that it is sad that we in the Western church have lost the idea that two men can be close friends. Frankly, it screams of the influence of homophobia and hypersexualisation, in which two men can't be close without being sexual. I hope that we as a church and culture can reclaim truly close same-sex friendships.
  • Love is more important
One argument that has gained the most traction seems to be that since God is love, then he must support homosexuality because that is obviously the loving thing to do. One piece in the argument is that homosexuality is only spoken of a few times, while love is spoken of many times.
Does its occurrence directly coincide with its priority or importance? What a tiresome and flat way of reading a text. If the bible is given to us by God, why should God have to repeat himself over and over again? Did God measure up beforehand the things that are important to him, and then make sure they occurred in the bible the proper amount of times? If something is mentioned 40 times, and something else is mentioned 39 times, is the latter less important than the former?
Discounting one thing in the bible because of another thing in the bible says that the bible is not authoritative, nor is it a single document. If one takes the view that the bible is not divinely inspired and authorised, then many other more important things are at stake other than our approach to homosexuality.
I think we can love homosexuals without stating that homosexuality is not a sin. Approving and standing up for marriage equality is one way.

Ordination

So, with a clear biblical and historical witness as to the sinfulness of homosexuality, I hope you can clearly see that ordaining unrepentant sinners is not correct. We know that overseers are to be above reproach, and any unrepentant sin must, by necessity, disqualify one for the position of "overseer."

Acceptance and participation in the church?

That, however, does not mean that unrepentant homosexuals are unwelcome at church. They should have our love and our acceptance, and know that they are accepted by God just as they are. God celebrates when they worship him.
The trickier question is whether unrepentant homosexuals can participate in formal ministry. I argue that no, willful sinfulness of any kind is a disqualification from taking any form of leadership or service within the church.
Obviously, someone who identifies sexually as being homosexual but is not engaging in homosexual acts or in a homosexual relationship is given full acceptance and right to participation, just as all of us are.

Hopefully this stirs some thoughts. Argue with me below, let me know if I have got something wrong or misrepresented something.



1 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
2 1 Timothy 3:2a
3 Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-28; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:8-10
4 Homily 4 on Romans; Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 154, Article 11; and Commentary on Genesis 19:4-5 for Chrysostom, Aquinas, and Luther respectively