Archive for the ‘Christian’ category

Of Church Heretics and Heroes

April 16, 2019

The Tyndale Monument, Gloucestershire, UK was built in honor of William Tyndale, a translator of the Bible, who was born nearby.

I listened recently to the Unbelievable podcast on the subject of William Tyndale. (Unbelievable? Why William Tyndale’s Bible changed the world: Melvyn Bragg and Ben Virgo) Tyndale lived from 1494-1536, during a time in which illiteracy was the rule, not the exception. The Bible was read only by the educated elite.

The 1600’s was also a time of great corruption in the church itself. The church was the largest employer in the land. It had great power, and it was corrupt. The vast majority of people, including clergy, were ignorant of Scripture. According to the experts on the Unbelievable podcast, many clergymen didn’t even know the 10 commandments. This was a very dark period in church history, the culmination of centuries of church/state alliance that twisted the Gospel to serve the power of kings and popes who lived like kings.

Tyndale was influenced by Martin Luther who also a rebel that opposed the church consensus and power structure of the day. Tyndale was influenced by John Wycliffe who a century before had translated the Bible into middle English, but the church opposed the “unauthorized” translation and rejected it. The church even declared Wycliffe a heretic after his death, and the Wycliffe Bibles were not widely distributed.

Tyndale made it his life’s mission to translate the Bible into English for the common man. Though Wycliffe had already done that, the Bible was virtually inaccessible, and even clergy were ignorant of it. He suffered exile for his efforts and was eventually arrested, jailed, convicted of heresy, executed by strangulation, and his body was burned at the stake.

We celebrate Tyndale now as a martyr for the faith who took up his cross and followed Christ even unto death, a leader of the reformation that led believers out of the corruption of the organized religion of his day.

He and other “rebels” paved the way for the Bible to be made available worldwide in every language spoken on earth. Wycliffe is the organization name that translates the Bible into the rarest languages of the farthest flung tribes of the world. Luther is the namesake of a major church denomination. Tyndale is the name of a major Christian publishing company.

Just as Jesus opposed the Pharisees and Sadducees in the 1st Century, Tyndale opposed the popes and bishops in the 16th Century. Just as the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to stop Jesus and had him arrested, tried, convicted and executed for spreading the Gospel, the popes and bishops tried to stop Tyndale, had him arrested, tried, convicted and executed for translating the Bible (including the Jesus preached) into English.

The main opposition to Jesus, and Tyndale, came from the religious leaders. Those religious leaders employed the power of the state to oppose the spread of the Gospel (in Jesus’s case) and the spread of the translation of the Bible into English (in Tyndale’s case). When Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify [Jesus]?”, the chief priests said, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15)

I think about these things in light of the current religious and cultural climate. Tyndale was viewed as a rebel and, a renegade, a heretic. He opposed the status quo, including the status quo within the church. He was despised. He was opposed by the church. He could not even return to his homeland, England, for fear of his life, and he eventually lost his life to the church and state authorities of his day

Today, the church and state are no longer joined in power as in Tyndale’s day. Many Christians rue the loss of power and advantage, while modern secularists would like to negate completely all influence of religion on society. If Hilary Clinton had been elected, instead of Trump, most Christians feared an incremental loss of power and influence in the affairs of our nation. Under the Trump administration, the church has gained an audience, power and influence.

But is that a good thing? We all know of the challenges, difficulties and even persecution of the church that result from state government that is opposed to the church, but history suggests that the confluence of state power with church governance leads to corruption of the church. Would we rather accept corruption in the church to avoid challenge, difficulty and persecution?

Listening to Tyndale’s story, makes me wonder, “What about the church today is like the church in Tyndale’s time?” What influence lingers or has crept in to modern Christianity that will cause future believers to look back and wonder at the corruption of the 21st Century church?

Who are the heretics of our time who will be hailed as heroes in future generations?

God is the Fulfillment of the Desires He Built into Us

April 10, 2019


“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” Psalms 51:1-2 ESV

I have written about how we can’t throw out the Old Testament and accept the New Testament in its place, as modern sensibilities might suggest. (See, for instance, Jesus and the “Old Testament God”) The Old Testament is the seed for the New Testament. Everything revealed in the New Testament was first revealed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament finds its fulfillment in the New Testament.

Moderns tend to want to view “the Old Testament God” as something different from the God revealed in the New Testament by Jesus, but Jesus affirmed the Old Testament.  Jesus says that the Old Testament anticipated and pointed toward him. (“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Luke 24:27)

The Bible verse of the day quoted above was prayed by David in Psalm 51. David expressed the desire of all of us when he asked God to have mercy on him, to “blot out” his transgressions, to wash away his iniquity and to cleanse him from his sins. We all have a conscience and a desire and need for the cleansing of our consciences.

We do have the capacity to ignore our consciences and to deny that desire for forgiveness. If we do that too often and too long, our consciences become callous and dull; the desire for forgiveness diminishes; and we no longer have the sensitivity God built into us that drive us toward Him. Psychology tells us that we all have that conscience, but we do have choice in how we respond to it.

C S Lewis talks about how our desires and our needs have a correlative reality in something that fulfills those desires and needs. He observes that we hunger, and there is food to meet that hunger; we thirst, and there is water to quench that thirst; we have sexual desires, and there is conjugal love we have with another person that fulfills that desire… at least temporarily.

That those desires are only temporally met and satisfied, says Lewis, suggests that there is something else, something more. We also have a deeper and more fundamental longing within us to know God and to be known by God, to be forgiven by God and for eternal life and relationship. CS Lewis says that the reality we know, the satisfaction of temporary longings and desires, is some evidence of a more fundamental and satisfying reality that will fulfill our enduring and deepest longings.

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On Acknowledging and Rising Above Evil – A Message to the Church

April 9, 2019

CIRCA 1933: Rare German vintage cigarette card from the 1933 Der Staat der Arbeit und des Friedens album, Part 2, Picture 155.

As often happens with me, disparate things I have read recently gel together in ways that provide insight. One of those things I read a number of weeks ago. It was a piece written about the effect of Christianity (or lack thereof) on Nazi Germany. I don’t have a citation anymore.

The other piece I read today, I Met the Man Who Killed My Entire Family, by Katelyn Beaty, Christianity Today (Aug. 2017), summarizing an interview with Immaculee Ilibagiza about her experience with the Rwandan genocide. Aside from the harrowing details and utterly transformative reality of real forgiveness, this statement jumped off the pages at me: “United Nations tribunals have found many church leaders guilty of murdering neighbors or aiding Hutu in hunting down Tutsi and moderate Hutu.”

About one million people were killed in Rwanda, a country about the size of Maryland, and “the Church” was not only complicit in the killings by looking the other way; it was directly involved!

That is a hard reality for believers to accept, but we need to grasp the reality of it. Church leaders, not just people who sat in the pews, were directly involved in the Rwandan genocide.

We might be tempted to discount the conclusions of the United Nations, which is not a particular faith-friendly institution, but I think that is a mistake. I felt the same way reading the account of the Christian influence in Nazi Germany.

To be sure, some of the conclusions of the author of the article about Nazi Germany were unfair and (I believe) misinformed, but that doesn’t mean there was no truth in it. I came away having to acknowledge that I can no longer claim that the Nazi influence in post-World War I Germany was grounded in atheism.

Reality is more complicated than that, and we (the church) need to be careful of glossing over painful realities that don’t fit into how we see ourselves. The recent exposure of the problem of sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches is another example. We can’t turn a blind eye to evil in the church just because it doesn’t line up with the way the church ought to be.

If something doesn’t line up with the commands of Christ to love others as ourselves and the litmus test, “they will know us by our love”, we should be all the more vigilant to acknowledge the short falling and quick to respond appropriately.

I think part of the danger, as we might learn from Nazi Germany, is that we see ourselves as the “good” people. We tend to think that evil is “out there”. Other people are evil. The church is just as susceptible to this thinking as anyone… maybe even more so!

I believe the Gospel message is hurt more by our silent refusal to acknowledge evil, even when it might arise “in the church”, than it would be by quick and candid acknowledgment and appropriate responses. I think we do the Gospel a disservice when we fail to acknowledge evil that arises in the church, and by failing to acknowledge it we become complicit with it.

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Sunday Worship is Evidence for the Resurrection

March 31, 2019


Many of the things we do have become so traditional and commonplace that we don’t think about when they started and why. One of those things is the practice of Christians gathering on Sundays for “worship” or “church”. After all, Christians have been gathering on Sundays for almost 2000 years!

But why? It isn’t that difficult to figure out from a thematic, theological position, but what is the history? And why is that important?

We are approaching another Easter so the topic of the resurrection is top of mind this time of year. Of course, the resurrection of Jesus is the answer to the questions I have posed.

Christians gather on Sundays because Sunday was the day of the resurrection according to the Gospel accounts (all four of them). While we take the Sunday gatherings for granted (unless you are a Seventh Day Adventist), the change from Saturday gatherings to Sunday gatherings has historical significance that supports the resurrection as an historical fact.

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Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Postscript)

March 29, 2019

Self Portrait by Joni Eareckson Tada


This is a postscript in a series of blog posts that, frankly, could go on. It follows what was to be the conclusion of a series on the problem of evil – Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Part 4). Why does evil occur and God doesn’t prevent it? If God is God, and He is all-powerful and all-loving, why does He allow evil, pain and suffering?

I do need to bring this to a conclusion, but I have some final thoughts. I also have some experiences to relate: not mine, but of someone who knows pain and suffering better than I.

We have to admit that, if God is God, and if He cares, and assuming He could prevent the pain and suffering in the world, why doesn’t He?! What gives?

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Another Look at God In Light of the Evil in the World (Part 4)

March 29, 2019


I have tackled the problem of evil – why is there pain and suffering in the world if God is good and all-powerful? – in a series blog posts, beginning with an introduction, followed by Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. The impetus for the blog posts comes from the explore God discussion that was happening at over 800 churches in the Chicago area over the winter of 2019. The series of blog posts was more specifically inspired by the discussion of The Problem of Evil and Suffering on Veracity Hill between Kurt Jaros, the host, and John Peckham from Andrews University

The problem is easy enough to state, but it’s difficult to resolve, if, indeed, there is a resolution. Although not every religion maintains that God is personal, volitional, all-powerful and all-good, the problem of evil. Not every world religion faces the problem head on. Buddhism, for instance, posits that evil doesn’t really exist; it’s an illusion.

I have been exploring a Christian response to the problem, but it’s all pretty academic unless and until we are overwhelmed by evil, pain and suffering in our own lives. At the point of real evil, pain and suffering, an academic response doesn’t seem to satisfy.

Just last week, in the midst of thinking through the issues and writing the blog series, a tragedy of overwhelming proportions happened right in the city where all my kids went to school. An apparently disgruntled employee on the cusp of being fired from his 15-year position at a local manufacturing plant in Aurora, IL, opened fire on employees in the plant, killing five of them and wounding six other people, including six police officers responding to the alarm that went out. The youngest victim was a 21-year old college intern who started his internship in the HR department that day.

When a person is reeling from pain and suffering that hits close to home, especially from such a senseless, intentional and indiscriminate act of violence, the academic answers ring hollow and fall flat.

Without letting go of any of the attributes of God that are revealed in the Bible, we can work through the problem intellectually and logically to a solution, as I have tried to do in the summary that is contained in the previous blog posts. In some ways this solution is like the theory of gravity for Christianity. We can understand it, but knowing the cold, “scientific” facts are no consolation after falling off a cliff.

What remains, after we have worked through an intellectual solution to the problem, is the emotional, existential weight of the problem of evil. This is where we live. The weight of the problem of evil is hard to shake, quite frankly, when the pain and suffering becomes personal. When we come face to face with evil, pain and suffering in the world in our personal lives, an intellectual response isn’t enough.

This is exactly when people turn to religion and to God for comfort and answers…, or turn away. If all that Christianity has to offer is an academic response, what is the use?

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Grabbing Hold of the New Testament without Letting Go of the Old

March 26, 2019


I have been listening to the podcast, Ask NT Wright Anything, with host, Justin Brierley, out of the UK. It’s good to get other perspectives on any topic, as we tend to be blind to the particular bents and biases and ways of thinking that we have, not realizing that there are other ways of viewing things.

One amazing thing about Scripture is that it has been translated into over 300 languages, hundreds of more translations than any other book of any type. Though the combination of writings making up the Bible were written over a period of about 1500 years by about 40 Ancient Near Eastern authors from one concentrated area in the world, it has found universal acceptance and application, even today, nearly 2000 years after the last writing.

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, Australia to the West Indies, Canada to Papua New Guinea, the Congo to Russia, and El Salvador to Mongolia, the Bible has found an audience of devotees who consider it the Word of God. The Bible has resonated with virtually every people group in the world.

In western civilization, and the American version of it, in particular, we can be pretty provincial in our understanding, for all the sophistication we think we have. We have developed certain blind spots, and we get hung up in certain ruts that we don’t even realize are obstacles to a more nuanced, balanced and (perhaps) accurate understanding.

For instance, the prosperity gospel is uniquely western, and particularly American. The prosperity gospel isn’t preached in Pakistan, Sudan, Honduras or Haiti. It shouldn’t take much thought to realize the reason why. Our America view of the gospel, God and the Bible can be (and is) influenced by our cultural bents. Without the balance of other views, we can tend toward the heretical.

Another example of our cultural bent is our western and American view of the Old Testament and “the God of the Old Testament”. Most non-westerners don’t have the issues we have with “the wrath of God” and some of the passages of the Old Testament that seem unsavory to the modern sensibilities of Americans.

This doesn’t necessarily make the rest of the world “right”, but we have to realize that our views may not be perfectly “right” either. We can all benefit by views of people who have different cultural backgrounds.

American, for instance, have gotten hung up on things like the “inerrancy of Scripture” and a “fundamentalist”, literalistic view of the Bible. NT Wright talks about this often in his interviews with Justin Brierley. He notes that Americans tend to trip over details and miss “the story”.

NT Wright was recently speaking of the issues that some people have with the Old Testament, fixating on whether it is historically and factually true in every detail. In doing so, we may might never get to the story, and the meaning of the story, which is the whole point! We get stuck in a rut asking whether it is true in every detail, and, “If we can’t be sure that it is true on every point, can we really trust it?”

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Ted Parker, Jr.

Photographer of People, Music and Life - Husband-father-son-brother, son of the King. Soli Deo Gloria

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