Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Does Anybody Here Fear God?

   I am not sure if I my impressions are correct, but it seems to me that Christians have over the last couple of years not been so outspoken about the war of culture, or the war between cultures, that rages in our society.  At least I don't seem to hear that buzz word very often these days.  On the other hand it seems to me that a vigorous offensive is taking place culturally from the side of the anti-Christians.  They might not call themselves that as a group, but it seems to me that they fit that description, or at least fit the description of being anti Bible believers or against those who think the Bible is true and is to be obeyed.
    I see evidence of this in at least three areas.  For the sake of alliteration I will call these areas Science, Sex, and Speech.  While the right wing seems to be caught up in an almost hysterical attack against the left in regards to big government, Obama care, the deficit, and taxes, Christian folks are being attacked and undermined by an insidious attempt to demean their intellect, marginalize their morality, and silence their witness.
    Making the assumption that there are Christians on both sides of the political spectrum, I see this cultural challenge not simply aligned with political parties.  Although it seems obvious the political left may find it helpful to applaud these attacks in the hope that the caricature of their opponents as Luddites, Victorian prudes, and unprincipled proselytizers will pigeon hole right wing politicians and their followers as idiots and neuter them politically.  This is not so innocent as to simply mock or ridicule opponents; the vitriolic rhetoric is  a call for ostracism, isolation, and to classify us (Bible believing Christians) as dangerous.  I see it as a threat to our freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and an attempt to disenfranchise a large section of the electorate from a meaningful role in the body politic.
    Satirical humor and condescending mockery are a large part of our modern entertainment culture, and one can see its effect on teens and young adults who are especially vulnerable to not want to be identified with any group that can be so easily set up as a joke.  The things many, if not most of us, admire are held up by the anti-Christian forces as that which they claim they are defending against us; namely the progress of science, medicine, and intellectual achievement, as well as justice, and the right to ones own private religious or non-religious convictions.  This fits right in with those pundits who have tried to put sincere believers of Christianity in the same boat with Islamic Fundamentalists and classify us both as potentially violent and culturally backward.
    This onslaught has a chilling effect on believers, it fills them with self doubt, and all it takes of course is for some current example of extreme religious behavior to make us want to shy away from any possible association with the nut cases.  The mass murderer in Norway, who claimed he was doing what he did to protect Christianity, was by his own confession no Christian at all.  Yet that careful discernment was not so readily made by the popular press.  Most of the history of this nation is one in which a large group of Christians stood against totalitarian tendencies, advocated religious freedom, advocated freedom from slavery, and advocated compassion for individuals and support of civil rights for all.  At the same time the Nazis claimed to be Christian, and the KKK claimed to be Christian. Neither of which had anything to do with the teachings of Jesus.  Thankfully Christians did not renounce their faith because of that horrendous misuse of our name or heritage.  Amateur dabblers in history often try to discredit Christianity with all the excesses of Roman Emperors, Popes, and rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, which I learned was never really  holy, roman, or an empire.
    While rejecting their cartooning of us I freely admit that the present agenda of the anti-Christians is abhorrent to me, and I hope to any who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and claim to hold the Bible as God's Word. What they claim to be science is questionable because they have made evolution absolutive, but they are not the bit embarrassed by that. Yet science to be science is always up for question.  How can you explain the vigorous quest for scientific discovery and medical breakthroughs pursued by Christians and by Christian doctors, even missionary medicine if Christians are so opposed to science?  At least since the time of the Reformation there just isn't a record of Christians holding back progress when it comes to technology, industry, medicine, or justice for that matter.  It is science without morality that has been the great terror of the previous century as evidenced by the atheism of the communists and the racism of the Nazis.
    The issue of sex is now a great battlefield because it has been removed from the forum of morality and placed in the forum of justice.  Abortion and homosexuality are the two pertinent issues here.  The vehemence and animosity shown by the adherents of sex without morality is amazing to behold and seeks to demonize, marginalize and even criminalize those who not only speak out against it but to resist its normalization.  We are a great nation for freedom and justice, but once the definitions of those words are changed so they become tied only to personal preference without regard to community, morality, truth, and life the world is turned on its head.  Our  young people have become ideological suckers for this kind of thinking.  When political forces  are put in power, bankrolled by aberrant sex groups, they foist a moral agenda of a minority that seeks to crush their opposition and to keep it silent through legal and economic coercion.  This is a threat to the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech.
    The emotional turmoil of homosexuals doesn't come from the disapproval of Christians but from their own internal conflict with that which they instinctively know is wrong and perverted.  Their self-hatred explodes into a angst that seeks relief in reordering society, law, and cultural acceptance.  Whatever laws are changed that internal conflict will not be dissipated but will erupt from time to time and person to person when the reality of a broken identity and illegitimate sexuality bursts forth from the numbing shell of a sycophantic but morally bankrupt popular culture.
    In the area of free speech I see a threat from the voices of people like Michael Weinstein who has a foundation to essentially stop Evangelical Christians from sharing their faith with anyone who is offended by some one or group who seeks to tell them, or even invite them, to something they might not wish to hear.  Christians must defend their right to proselytize in a free society.  I have every sympathy with Mr. Weinstein about (or against) anyone who uses subterfuge or coercion, but he creates demons and boogie men where none exist, and what is distressing is how government, military officials, and politicians have no integrity or backbone to resist his threats.  It will take some strong court suits to protect our freedoms.
    You might not think things are desperate.  You might not think there is much of a threat.  Whatever you think about climate change it is foolish to think that the social, moral, and political climate hasn't changed.  The frog in the pot when the water starts to boil, the man who refuses to admit the water is rising as flood threatens his home, the miner who pays no attention to the dead canary are all pictures of so many of us.  My call is not to go back to some pre-revolutionary racist slavery America, as if that were the picture of the "good old days."  My call is to realize the culture that gave us a foundation to change from that evil past is being eroded to the point where we will not know what truth is, not know that which is true justice.  Where we now call evil good, and good evil.  Does anybody here fear God?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

While the Music Is Playing

  As I write this a Cross Cultural Music and Worship Conference is being held in St. Louis, Mo at New City Fellowship.  I don't yet know what wonderful music, sermons, discussions and connections were made at the conference.  I am jealous I can tell you that.  I wish I were there, and one reason is that I have come to love the musicians the Lord has sent us in this network.  I love to hear Gospel music, and I love to sing it.
    I am not there by choice and necessity, but my wife Joan is there, and I expect to hear some good stories once she returns.  Being married to Joan has given me the great opportunity to have a Gospel instrument right next to me (she can sing), a storehouse of Gospel tunes and lyrics, and an incisive critic and analyst as to songs, singers, musicians, and performances.  It is nice to have all of that in one very pretty package so convenient for enjoyment, education, and edification.
    The occasion of the conference prompts me to make some comments about worship, especially in a cross cultural context such as New City.  I write from the perspective of a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.  There is little doubt that Reformed folks take the thinking about worship very seriously.  We like to be right about most things, or at least it seems we want to be right about most (every)things.  In our circles being Biblical, and by that I mean being accurate as to what the Bible teaches and then wanting to be in conformity to what the Bible teaches, is one of our highest values.  We are those kind of folk that believe we can accurately discern what the Bible is saying and know how to correctly apply it to most situations.
    One of our great problems of course is our inability to discern ourselves as creatures of culture.  We are probably better at exigeting Scripture than we are at exigeting life or ourselves.   We are also great lovers of history, especially the history of the Reformation and of Reformers, and take the Reformers and theologians (of the past) comments about Scripture and their own cultural and generational encounters and practices as normative for ourselves.  Our ecclesiastical history is one in which theological definition takes place in conflict and in the choices that were made in those conflicts.  Some of us still live as if those conflicts were current and we even divide people into camps based on our assessment on where they stand as to those previous conflicts.  Unfortunately sometimes our division is divisive, and we choose to judge or condemn others on our perception of where they stand on a previous debate.
  I am sorry if that was confusing, but much of our estimation of orthodoxy is based on whether someone or not thinks, and acts, in conformity with our heroes of the past.  Such is the case with worship.  Some among us have felt there was such a thing as "Reformed" worship.  We look back to Calvin's Geneva, or to the Puritans, and yearn for Psalm singing, simple worship forms, and pronounce certain things acceptable as to the Regulative Principal of worship.
    That principal is absolutely an important one.  This is of course where I stand with my Reformed brethren, that all worship needs to be in conformity with the Word of God.  We dare not bring strange fire or incense to the altar of God.  We dare not create our own images of God so that we would worship him according to our own creativity and not treat him as if he is holy and therefore alone has authority to declare what worship he accepts.
    Were the early Reformed Europeans correct in their understanding of Biblical worship?  Is the Bible the real foundation of their view of worship, or is being European the real foundation, or is it mixed?  Are we really concerned for Biblical worship, or for what we are used to, what we have grown up with, what has been our tradition of heart music, and what is our sense of order?  It is difficult for a fish to be taken out of the water and asked to analyze the water, which is in a sense what we must ask of ourselves to examine how culture affects us.  Fish swim in water that gets dirty, but they keep swimming.  Fish swim in water that produces less and less of what they need to live, but they keep swimming.  We don't usually know the water is that stifling until the fish die.  We don't know how stifled we are until we swim in fresh water.  So too with experiencing new wine skins, new ethnic cultural forms of worship, that are yet Biblical.
    Our present PCA denomination has chosen to follow in the tradition that celebrates some of the kinds of worship described in the Psalms, and not just by the singing of Psalms.  In other words we use musical instruments.  Whether or not we use exclusive Psalmody,  we still have someone leading us in singing. To sing is to perform, and in fact to do anything in public worship that has one or more persons reading the Scripture, praying, singing, playing an instrument  or preaching means we have a performer.
      It is interesting how many cultural rules creep into our public understanding of worship usually through some pastor or preacher's view of what is distracting or conversely what maintains a sense of order in the worship service.  When Paul instructs Timothy to give himself to the public reading of Scripture we realize it is important that God's people hear the Scripture read, continually.  It is not hard to see the implication that if it is read it should be done in an understandable way, that it should be done well.  We are rightly concerned about the performance of the reader of Scripture.  We want good performance, but we are not interested in a show off, we are not interested in someone entertaining us so that they would get the applause.  Reformed worship has historically been concerned with and critical of anyone drawing attention to themselves so that we might lose our concentration on God.  We take our preachers moderate, without too many sudden or violent physical movements, and we want them to make us think.
    So what do we do with David dancing in front of the ark of God, despised by his wife for making a fool of himself at least in what she thought were the eyes of others?  If someone raises their hands in worship, especially during a song that says, "lift up your hands," do we feel they are distracting us?  Or do they feel we are hardhearted and disobedient to a direct exhortation of Scripture when we refuse to lift up our hands?
How many Reformed folk have bowed down, clapped, lifted their hands, and shouted with the voice of triumph "in their hearts?"  I have heard of symbolic language in the book of Revelation, even in the poetry of the Psalms, but not thought that the descriptions of physical involvement of worship in that book were meant to be symbolic.  We should all agree that God is the audience of worship, and neither the people out in the congregation who watch us on the platform, nor the worshipers who stand next to us in the pew, are the ones we should be most concerned about.
    It is my contention that the European quest for order, silence, control, contemplation, and intellectual "piling on" were much more cultural than Biblical.  Making rules that people should not clap in worship might be more a violation of the Regulative Principal than conformity to it.  We resist applause of people but have never taught our people how to express joyful adoration of God with clapping.  Where do we get the idea that a pipe organ is more Biblical than a stringed instrument?  How do we excuse a talented organist from running up and down the scales at an offertory and justify that he (or she) is not showing off?
    I love organ music, I love old hymns with six, eight or more verses.  But as my wife points out, sometimes it is exhausting to try and catch all that theology passing by so quickly in a hymn.   They might be good for memorization and contemplation when you have time, but it is difficult to believe that all of us singing are digesting at that moment every thought that those great hymn writers are throwing at us. Contrasted with Gospel music which seems to settle on one or a few themes, and sings them a lot.  I wonder if anybody back in old Israel complained when they first heard Psalm 136 sung and performed?  Maybe they said, "that 'His Love Endures Forever' part was so repetitive!"  Maybe we need to hear one idea sung over and over again so we might "get it" while we are still at church?
    So much of our preaching is unmoving, unemotional, calling for no heart response.  We desire intellectual stimulation, we are enamored of erudition.  Please give us a great quote, one from an early church father, one from Calvin, or a real treat is a Westminster divine or early Princeton, get a contrast quote from a noted Atheist or current news magazine, and then something pithy from C.S.Lewis.  The preacher knows if you are with him if you hold your chin in your hand, frown in deep concentration, and when he makes a salient point you grunt.  Wouldn't it be great one Sunday for people to start tearing their clothes and grabbing onto the pews, bursting into tears, crying out to God, shouting "amen?" If you are horrified by such a prospect I might suggest that you have never had "church."
    Classical music, European music forms, are all wonderful and all that is used to help us worship God and that is in conformity with Scripture and points us to Christ is part of our heritage of worship.  But Africa sometimes seems closer to Israel than Europe especially in the use of emotion and body when it comes to worship.  We are deprived of joy not to have learned worship in other cultural forms, not to have experienced a fuller and richer encounter with God.  Even my language at this point can cause someone a problem who is used to worship not as an experience but as thinking.  He seeks worshipers, the Father does, in Spirit and in Truth.
    So much of our Presbyterian worship seems to be constructed that we make no mistakes, have no enthusiasm, no crowd participation.  It seems so different from that described in Corinth, where it seems Paul assumed there might be error but trusted the saints to deal with it on the spot and did not seek to set up a system where such error could never take place.  I must confess that I enjoy being the pastor of a church that has so many theologically astute people, along with so many various ethnic and cultural representatives, that though we might have great participation, enthusiasm, and joy we have no fear that error will go by unnoticed or failed to be confronted.
    I confess to being a praise and worship junky.  I love to worship the living and true God, who is thrice holy, bathed in his love and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I enjoy God, and even the bittersweet pain of confessing my sin and crying out for mercy is resolved in the absolute pleasure of the reassurance of the Cross, the Resurrection, and the rule of Jesus.  I love being in the company of the saints when they are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, yet seek to express it with shouts of joy, amens, and hallelujahs.  I wish all of us could expand to a full life worship (mind, soul, and body) while grounded on the Word.  What a pleasure church would be to us, what an attraction to those in soulful need.  Won't heaven be something?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My name is Lance Lewis

My name is Lance Lewis and I am not an adulterer. I’ve been blessed to be married to my dear, godly wife for just over 26 years and in all that time I have never touched another woman in an inappropriate manner. In fact, I have never sent a letter, email, facebook, or text message to another woman that in any way suggested any kind of inappropriate relationship. Moreover, I have never spoken on the phone or in person with another woman and either suggested, asked for or in any way encouraged any kind of adulterous relationship whether physical or emotional. In over 26 years of marriage I have never, no not once had sex or any kind of sexual contact with another woman. My name is Lance Lewis and I am not an adulterer.

My name is Lance Lewis and I am not a murderer. I’ve lived for over 47 years and in all that time I have never so physically harmed another individual that he or she physically expired. In fact, I have never even threatened or put myself in the position in which I could have actually murdered someone. Moreover, I’ve never physically harmed someone to the extent that they were even remotely near dying. My name is Lance Lewis and I am not a murderer.

At this point you may have all kinds of thoughts about me. But let me take the conversation in a different direction. To begin with please take my above statements at face value and accept them as true, since in fact they are. In 26 years of marriage I have never engaged in physical intimacy with any woman except my wife. In my 47 years on this earth I have never murdered a single, solitary human being. Now let’s extend these statements just a bit. As far as I know no one in my circle of friends, associates, acquaintances, church members etc. is presently engaged in, condones, practices or promotes adultery. My guess is that most if not all would repudiate such a practice and if I were to ask them if it was a good idea for me to indulge just once would give the ‘brother are you crazy look’.

Since I’ve never committed adultery and no one in my circle of contacts is actively engaged in nor promotes adultery as a lifestyle or even an occasional practice then why in the world should I be in any way concerned with those who do? Does their determination to practice adultery truly threaten my marriage and if so how? Let’s face it, Scripture teaches that people are totally depraved. And while that doesn’t mean they’re as bad off as they could be, it does mean that a certain part of the general unregenerate populace will view occasional adultery as an acceptable way to live. So once more I ask: of what concern of mine is that?

But Lance isn’t the church a witness to our society of the gospel and its implications? And shouldn’t that witness include not only your personal fidelity within marriage but a proactive witness that publicly promotes marital fidelity and the joys of physical intimacy within the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman? Yes it does. Not only that but I’m sure that many believers would have little or no problem hearing their pastor talk openly about the joys of marriage, the seriousness of the marital covenant and the destructive evils of adultery from the pulpit. Why is that true? It’s true because marital fidelity (or for that matter the preservation of life) is one of those foundational biblical truths which not only tell us something significant about the living God but provides a key and pathway to our witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Viewed from this vantage point adultery is not just an isolated sin that some other people commit out there, but a relevant issue on which the living God speaks and therefore an opportunity for me to be a proactive witness concerning His character and His gospel.

Consequently then, it’s simply not enough to declare that I’ve never committed adultery. The mission mandate of the gospel compels me to declare the biblical commands and joys of marital fidelity from the pulpit, during bible study, in the men’s group, to our youth and wherever else it’s needed. In fact I declare God’s standards of marriage to His people not because I really believe they are chomping at the bit to dash from church and fling themselves into adultery but because among other things it’s likely that they might know someone who neither holds to nor has any desire to hold to God’s command concerning sexuality. In this way I hope to equip them to handle the co-worker who is eager to share the latest salacious joke on Monday morning, the poison of pornography that’s a mouse click away and Lord forbid that sensitive situation that could easily get out of hand and lead to disaster. So in short that’s why I and my denomination must acknowledge the societal sin of adultery, preach against and equip those we serve to be a proactive witness for the joys and blessings of physical intimacy within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman.

Now where were we?

My name is Lance Lewis and I am not a racist. I do not hate white people and as far as I know wish them no harm or ill will.

To Him Who Loves Us...

Pastor Lance