“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't.”
Yesterday I mentioned almost in passing the sexual allegations agains the late christian apologist Ravi Zacharias (here is the statement by RZIM). I have known about some of these allegations for some time and I have said virtually nothing. In part because I didn't know what to say. I have listened to Ravi and read some of his writings for years. I make no apologies for having benefitted not only from him and his writings, but from the writings and teachings of others in the organization that carries his name. His ministry, broadly speaking, taught me that there are intellectually rigorous reasons for believing the Christian message found in Scripture to be true. In these recent days I have learned another lesson, one I wish I didn't have to learn in this manner.
What is the lesson? The human capacity for duplicity and deception is almost unfathomable. I'm talking about Ravi, but I am also talking about me and you. It's almost as if the apostle Paul was understating things when he wrote, "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Instead, the verses that preceded that are more descriptive of this capacity for fallenness and evil in the human heart (vv. 10-18). Ravi travelled the world telling people about the goodness and beauty of the Christian message. His sin does not change the goodness of that message; instead, his sin proclaims the greater importance of the cross and the resurrection both for Ravi and for the victims of his crimes. The healing and forgiveness found in the gospel message is what every one of us needs.
There is another lesson I cannot ignore. If Ravi can do this, why should I believe that sin is not also crouching at my door (and yours)? Let's pray for one another, let's make sure as brothers and sisters we are encouraging one another, checking in with one another, and holding one another accountable.
Ravi was not the first to fall in such a way, the Bible is full of such fallenness. Whatever surprise we might feel, it is a surprise born of naivety or ignorance of the extent to which we are all fallen people. Ravi will not be the last either. There will be more, the impact of sin in our lives will continue to be a battle that we fight until Jesus returns or we go to see Him. In the mean time we need each other (Heb. 10:22-25).
People like to talk about where they were on 9-11-2001 when they heard about the twin towers being hit. I was at home, getting ready to head out the door. I had Fox news on the TV and I watched as the second tower was hit and the fallout after that. I had the same instinctive reaction many American's had when the second tower was hit; I was certain this could not be an accident, this was planned. Indeed it was, and the war on terror that had been raging under the surface for some time came front and center. Three thousand people died that day, and many more since. Was there anything good that came from it? I believe there was.
The United States of America became united if even for a moment in history. In the following weeks and months many people would join the military to fight terrorism and defend our country. If I didn't have a three year old at home, I very well might have followed through on that. A sense of patriotism filled the air, stores sold out of flags, churches opened their doors for prayer, and ever so briefly politicians sang the same song, "The Star Spangled Banner." Oh how far we have come over the last 19 years.
I lament at the state of our country today. Instead of holding up police officers as heroes they are being denigrated by the media and many politicians as well. We have rioting in our streets, church doors have been forcibly shut, and flags are being burned. On 9-11, there were not African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Irish-Americans, we were just Americans. While we recoiled from the shock of this attack, we came together, but it didn't take long before division and politics crept back into our lives.
When tragedy strikes, it is hard to ignore the real evil that exists in our world. Today evil isn't crouching at the door, we invited it in and now it is looting our home. What will we do?
The doors of churches opened on 9-11, including the one I was at.
The heroic stories of 9-11 focused on first responders who were running into towers that were about to collapse to save others not knowing if they would make it back out themselves. Those heroes lived out this truth, "Greater love has no man than this, to lay down one's life for one's friend" (John 15:13). What if we all had the attitude of serving one another, considering other's lives more important than our own? What if we were able to get back to living out Biblical principals in our lives? What if we started to bring God back into the public square?
That was at least one good of 9-11, even if it was only for a moment. God was brought back into the public square. It's time, right here and right now! The church can no longer be quiet! We can no longer sit in the background and wait for the world to come to its senses, it won't. The apostles sat and waited for the Spirit to show up on the Day of Pentecost, but once it did they scattered, they didn't wait for the world to realize who Jesus was, they proclaimed Him proudly and loudly calling people to repentance. There is no amount of social justice that can take the place of the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ!
I remember 9-11, and I will never forget it. But 9-11 wasn't the first time evil raised its ugly head; we see it all over the place today. The world has been fighting and waring since Cain killed Abel. We have found more destructive ways to do it, but the reality of great evil in this world has never changed. No society, no government, no social program has ever fixed the evil in this world. There is only one answer for that, and it isn't defunding police, electing a new president, or a stronger military, the answer is Jesus! Only He will bring justice, virtue, and true unity (Rev. 21:1-4).
When it comes to passages in Scripture that most directly address ethical issues and the commands of God, there are really only two places to turn, the 10 commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus teaching in the sermon on the mount, in many ways, is a restatement of the 10 commandments with some additions and explanations. So when it comes to thinking about voting and ethical concerns, it seems the place to turn to evaluate who we should vote for at whatever level government is the 10 commandments.
"You shall have no other gods before me."
A god is not necessarily some kind of divine being, although it could certainly be that as well, a god is whatever a person gives reverence to. A god could be money, power, secularism, government, patriotism or a host of other things or ideas. Some of the things in the previous list are not necessarily bad things if they are subservient to a commitment to Jesus Christ and Biblical teaching. When it comes to thinking about ethics and voting the question is which candidate or party violates this commandment and which one doesn't. Sometimes it may be hard to determine the answer to this question on an individual basis and it may boil down to a party issue. Is there a candidate or party as the case may be that seems to be putting some other god in God's place?
"You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on earth below..."
This commandment isn't so much about carving an image to worship out of wood, although it would certainly include that, it is what the apostle Paul talks about in Romans 1; it is about confusing the creation with the creator. There are many things that might fall into this category, but two come to mind when it comes to making a political choice. First, environmentalism makes this error rather egregiously. That isn't to say we shouldn't take care of and steward creation, but we should recognize that there is an order to things. The world was made for the sake of humanity. When we confuse the environment/creation with the creator, we break this command. The second way this command is broken frequently is the commitment to "follow the science." Science is good, and we can gain a great deal of understanding about the world we live in through science, but science is not the source of all that can be known, it is not infallible, and it does not address morality. When considering a candidate or party, consider who holds creation in its proper place. Does one side confuse creation with the creator?
"You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God..."
For so many of us, we think this is about using cuss words. Indeed, that is part of it, but it is much broader than that. The evangelical vote has been sought after with great fervor by Republicans for decades. The Democrats have desired to gain more of that vote in recent years and have made some inroads. It has not always been clear who was influencing who. At times the evangelical vote or the "moral majority" have had influence on those in government in positive ways. At other times, it seems they are being used simply so a candidate can get into office. The question a Christian must ask is this, "who is using religion and/or the name of Jesus simply for political gain?" The answer may be very unclear. It may be the case that both or all the candidates in a particular race seem to be doing this. Discernment is difficult. In the absence of a candidate that stands out in this manner, it may be that the best one can do is ask who is more likely to stick to Christian and Biblical values in how they govern. It is hard to see any other issue as more telling than the abortion issue. No, it isn't the only issue that matters, but it might be the one issue Scripture is most clear about. If a candidate does not defend those who are most vulnerable and voiceless, why should we think they will be Biblical in any other area (Prov. 31:8).
"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy."
At first glance this might not see relevant, but its relevance is actually quite acute. Two things are important in regards to this command. First, this command assumes the importance of work. God created the garden ad put Adam and Eve in the garden and then commanded them to work the garden. Work is a good thing that gives us purpose. Second Thessalonians 3:10 reminds us that our work is connected to eating. If you want food, you need to work for it. Which candidate has both the desire and ability to put people to work? We are talking about unemployment rates, welfare type programs, and work programs. Second, the sabbath is to be kept holy. This is a religious freedom issue. The constitution guarantees the protection of the God given right to practice our faith. That means all kinds of things. That means worship, for sure, but it means more than that. It means being able to practice what Scripture teachers in every aspect of our life both public and private. That means how we behave in public (prayer, evangelism, good deeds, etc.). It also means how we choose to operate our business, the kind of education we want for our kids, and so on. Which candidate is more likely to infringe on these rights and which one is more likely to protect them?
"Honor your father and mother..."
Once again, we may find it unlikely that this command has anything to do with an election, but once again, we will find that it is deeply connected to how we might vote. This command assumes a Biblical/traditional structure to the family. It assumes a mom and a dad having children. The family is the foundational structure of society and the strength of that structure will determine the strength of society as a whole. Attacks on the family have been prevalent and focused in recent years at every level of government and in society itself. The issues as play here are related to marriage, adoption, public education (school choice and vouchers), parental rights, and so many more. Do not skip over this commandment! Who, or what party, is most likely to protect these structures?
"You shall not murder."
The Biblical text doesn't expound on this commandment very much like it does so many of the others. Perhaps this is because we ought to be able to clearly and rightly determine what murder is. The most obvious issue connected to this command is the killing of innocent unborn babies, the abortion issue. Yes, abortion is murder! That is not loaded language or spinning an issue, it is a clear and correct description of what happens when the life of an unborn baby is snuffed out when the mother's long term physical health or her life are not at risk. This goes beyond the abortion issue. There are at least two other issues that should be considered here. First, the allowance of lawless behavior that puts people's lives at risk. I am specifically referencing rioting, looting, and the high murder rates in places like Chicago. Romans 13 reminds us that it is the governments job to bring the sword of judgement punishing those who do wrong and rewarding those who do right. Second, there is the issue of police violence. It is my belief that this is not a huge issue in our culture when you sit down and actually consider the data. I will not attempt to address that in detail here. The police are the sword that provides peace and brings judgement (at least in part). We must not only make sure they hold that responsibility in high regard and do not overstep their bounds, we must also protect their ability to accomplish that God given task in an effective manner.
"You shall not commit adultery."
All of the commandments can be looked at from a character standpoint and should. However, we will find that no candidate will be able to check off all ten boxes. In fact, it is likely that they will only be able to check off a few. This is especially true when we begin to consider Jesus' exposition in the Sermon on the Mount. In the presidential race we have not one, but two candidates who have broken this commandment. You can do your own research as it applies not only to the presidential race, but other races you will be voting in. The second aspect that must be considered here is the sanctity of marriage and the sexual revolution. Scripture defines marriage between one man and one woman and clearly speaks against issues related to homosexuality, transgenderism, lust, pornography, and so on. All of those behaviors threaten the sanctity of marriage. What candidate supports and promotes policies that are most likely going to protect marriage and stand against the sexual revolution that has been waging war on marriage for decades?
"You shall not steal"
Is taxing the same as stealing? No, certainly not; however, taxation for the purposes of redistributing wealth is stealing. Taxes are necessary for the government to be able to accomplish the purposes laid out in Scripture is appropriate. However, taking from one person who has been industrious, worked hard, and found a way to be a benefit to society in order to give to the person who stays on welfare, unemployment, or some other kind of program when they could work is stealing. Nowhere in Scripture or the constitution does it say that it is the governments job to provide all the needs and desires of every citizen. First, government isn't capable of doing that, and second it is not the roll of government to do that. Second, when the government steps into the realm of charity, it removes the responsibility of the church and the citizen to love one's neighbor.
"You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor."
Politicians are famous for slinging mud. Some are more sly about it than others, but virtually all of them do it. Frankly, I have no idea on how to choose any politician from any party over another. It seems the campaigns run for city dog catcher find ways to sling dog poop at each other. It would be refreshing to see a politician run a campaign that is actually clean. Of course, that person might have a hard time getting elected. Maybe that says more about the American people than about the politicians.
"You shall not covet your neighbors house..."
While this may seem like an individual sin, indeed it is, it also has relevance to elections and how politicians view voters. If a politician really believes in equality they will not pit one person or one group of people against another. Identity politics runs contrary to the teaching of Scripture. The pictures of heaven and worship we find in John's Revelation are of all nations and people being united in worship of God. To pit black people against white people or the reverse is wholly ungodly and unbiblical. Of course this applies to every ethnic group. This commandment applies to possessions as well. In politics we often see this when a politician starts talking about the rich paying their "fair share" of taxes. I've always thought this was an odd view of what is fair considering that the poor pay no taxes at all and often get more in the form of a tax return than they paid in the first place. I wonder if they should pay their fair share? This entire line of argument is based on covetousness. Does one candidate or party promote covetousness in the policies they propose more than another?
When it comes to the ethical concerns of casting a vote, the 10 commandments seem like a good place to start an evaluation of candidates and parties. No candidate or party will come out of that evaluation without some cuts and bruises. In the end you have to prioritize and vote for the best option available.
Cancel culture is running rampant today, tearing down statues of confederate soldiers, then statues of people who owned slaves but did some other really good things, then even people who fought for abolition and so on. To be honest, I can agree with some stuff. I don't think it is appropriate to celebrate the confederate cause. However, it seems like cancel culture is pretty selective on what they want to cancel. But, if we are going to embrace cancel culture, here are the things we should cancel next:
There may be more things we should consider reforming or cancelling, but too often we are more concerned about making a statement than making a difference. We need to reverse that trend and be more concerned about making a difference than making a statement.
It's true, Herman Cain attended a Trump rally in Tulsa and then got Covid-19 and passed away. TMZ is making sure everyone knows it with their headline, "Herman Cain Dead at 74 from Covid...Attended Trump Tulsa Rally." Now many others are jumping on the proverbial bandwagon to blame Trump in some way for Cain's death. It is clearly, according to some, Trump's fault for having the rally. Some argue that real leadership would have not had the rally in order to prevent the potential spread of Covid-19. I am not here to defend Trump, but rather to expose this kind of faulty thinking.
Never mind the fact that Cain traveled a lot the week before being diagnosed, including a trip to Arizona where there was a spike in Covid cases. The question remains, did Trump kill Cain? That is what is being implied isn't it? Real leadership wouldn't have put this man at risk; that's the argument isn't it? Well, let's assume for a minute that Cain did get Covid at the rally even though they took everyone's temperatures as they entered the rally to make sure people were not showing symptoms AND that they were handing out masks to everyone.
Whose fault is it that Cain, a well educated man who led very large organizations rather successfully and made decisions that impacted large businesses and individual people's livelihoods on a regular basis, died? Never mind that part of making those kinds of decisions is heavily dependent on risk/reward kinds of analysis. Are we to now think that the government makes decisions for people as competent and capable as Herman Cain because people (all people) are incapable of deciding whether the risk of attending a rally and not wearing a mask is worth the reward of participating in a rally and supporting a candidate they believe in? If Biden had rallies, would the same standard be applied? I'm not sure if anyone noticed, but a lot of people are getting Covid even if they pretty much stayed home. Maybe we should be taking another approach.
What would Patrick Henry one of the famous founding fathers of our nation say? Patrick Henry was an excellent orator who spoke without notes and is known for one famous phrase, but there is more to his story. Henry was always concerned about the power of the federal government. He thought more power should remain with the states, in fact he was so concerned that the rights of the people would be trampled on that he was instrumental in forming the Bill of Rights which includes many of the freedoms that cannot (theoretically) be infringed upon. In his famous speech he lays out the difference between tyranny and liberty. Of course the threat at the time was much more violent and the enemy was much easier to identify. The enemy today is much more difficult to identify. Certainly Covid-19 is one enemy, but is there another enemy? Is it possible that the the very government that was founded to escape one form of tyranny is now beginning to show signs of tyranny itself? I can't help but think that Patrick Henry would think that is, indeed, the case. Instead of the chains of slavery (as Henry described it) of Britain's tyrannical approach we face the tyranny of a shutdown that was supposed to last two weeks and we are now almost 5 months into it. We are told to cover our faces with masks, stay home, don't go to church, don't sing at church, etc. Recently my own county has mandated masks not just indoors, but outdoors as well. As Patrick Henry said, "There is no retreat but in slavery" not to Britain, but to our own government. Henry further said, "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" I wish all of us could have heard that speech in person.
Herman Cain was a great man! Instead of recognizing his success and accomplishments we are now arguing about whether Trump killed Cain. Herman Cain was not a child or someone incapable of making a risk/reward assessment. He made his choice, as we all should. Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, that we are willing to give up basic fundamental liberties so that our "leaders" can make every decision for us? Are we now to cower in the face of a virus for which 99.6% of the people who contract it will recover? Are we going to politicize the death of a great man in an effort to blame someone we don't like because of his tweets or past indiscretions? I am no Trump apologist, but blaming Trump for Cain getting a virus is ridiculous and insane. There are plenty of reasons to attack and critique Trump if you want to, you don't need this. What is troublesome is not that Trump is getting blamed, but the underlying premise that people are incapable of making their own decisions regarding basic risks they are willing or unwilling to take. God forbid! I don't know what others may choose, but I will choose liberty until death comes knocking.
I echo the words of Patrick Henry. I don't expect everyone else to be willing to live with the same level of risk I am willing to live with. Nor am I going to presume that every one else's situations are the same as mine. That's why we need liberty to be able to evaluate our own situations and decide the level of risk we are willing to take for the kinds of liberties we want to enjoy. I would rather live free and die young than die old without freedom.
Perspective matters! Yes, I am very aware of the blight slavery has left on our country and the scars that remain. Like everything else, context matters. As I write this, I am on my way to MN to celebrate the 4th of July with some family and friends. Many black Americans don't see this celebration as a celebration of freedom since many of them continued to be enslaved for another 80 years. Last night I watched a young black man being interviewed and he said he would celebrate Juneteenth, but not the 4th of July. I understand why he might feel that way, but I would like to invite him to celebrate both.
Yes, it's true slaver was around at our founding and continued to be around and legal for another 100 years. As I am sure you know, many of our founders owned slaves. But contrary to Senator Tim Kaine's claim that America invented slavery, it was around for thousands of years before July 4, 1776. Africans enslaved other Africans, Native Americans enslaved other Native Americans, Arabs enslaved all kinds of people, etc. Of course, that justifies no one! It does give some important historical context.
The Declaration of Independence is the document that declared our independence and laid out some important foundation truths based on a Judeo-Christian ethic. Specifically, it says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Our nation was unable to keep what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as "a promise," in its founding, but the promise was made nonetheless. Abraham Lincoln would make a down payment with the Emancipation Proclamation. Fredrick Douglas said Independence Day didn't bring freedom, but stripes to his back. This holiday was not his and not the black man's celebration of freedom that it was and is for the rest of us. Yet, Booker T. Washington, a former slave, was picked to lead a new school that was being started by former slave and former slave owner Lewis Adams and George Washington Campbell. Booker arrived at the school named Tuskegee near the end of June in 1881, 16 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. On July 4th Booker officially opened that school. This landmark moment, in some sense reclaimed this celebration of freedom for the black person.
Nevertheless, America had, as King put it, "defaulted on her promise." Slaves had been freed, but inequity still prevailed. In his famous, "I Have a Dream" speech King called to collect on the promise made in the Declaration of Independence. While racism and hatred will never disappear completely from the human heart (short of God's eternal kingdom), America is making good on its promise, however tardy and imperfectly. This holiday of liberty and freedom is for all Americans regardless of color. Some of have suggested that Juneteenth should be a celebration of freedom of black people. Indeed, it should be and I believe will be as soon as next year. I will join in the celebration of the day that those in Texas heard the news, some 2 1/2 years after the fact, that slaves were free. There remained work to be done to be sure, but that was a momentous day. Likewise, I would invite people of all ethnicities and shades of color to celebrate the 4th of July as the day freedom was promised and in so doing claim that promise as their own. That freedom and liberty spoken of in the Declaration of Independence was not given or granted by America's founding fathers, it was granted by God. It had been infringed upon in many ways, including slavery, for centuries and millennia. America's founders in their imperfect and fallen state caught a glimpse, however brief, of the heart of God. As the apostle Paul said, "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
The 4th of July 1776 established a foundation of freedom upon which a nation of liberty could be built. When we celebrate independence, we do so realizing that freedom and liberty with all its responsibilities and duties is an ideal we strive for and have made progress towards.
It is all the rage to say we should defund the police which, some say, doesn't actually mean defund the police, but reform how policing is done. I could potentially be in favor of reforming some aspects of policing, but frankly, if you think it is a good idea to teach police to shoot people in the leg instead of center mass, you are disqualified from having an informed opinion. If you want to know why, let me take you shooting sometime and I'll show you. But, this isn't about shooting people in the leg, it's about choke holds being banned. The reason I am qualified, in part, to comment on choke holds is because I practice Jiu Jitsu. I am a purple belt and an instructor. I have competed at a high level (for old guys) and have been choked out a handful of times in training myself. I have also choked others out. By that I mean the person being choked took a short nap (it literally feels like a nap). I continue to practice and teach Jiu Jitsu 5-6 days a week. Jiu Jitsu practitioners use submission holds including choke holds to either make their opponent submit or go unconscious.
There are different kinds of chokes, there are air chokes and blood chokes. Air chokes are used, but blood chokes are more common. Blood chokes block the flow of blood to the brain by pinching the carotid artery on each side of the neck. Within seconds (if applied correctly) a person will literally fall asleep or loose consciousness. Once the choke is released a person will regain consciousness in a matter of seconds with ZERO negative side effects if the person is remotely healthy.
Now to the matter at hand. I watched the incident where two officers struggled with Rayshard Brooks before he took a stun gun, fled, fired the stun gun at one of the police officers, and ended up getting shot by one of the police officers. What I saw was multiple opportunities (at least two) for one of the police officers to apply a choke hold during the struggle prior to Mr. Brooks fleeing with the taser and getting shot. I have no idea what the rules of engagement are for police officers in Atlanta, so this not a critique on those officers. I don't know whether choke holds were allowed or taught as part of their training. What I do know, is that if they were allowed and if the officers had been appropriately trained, they might have been able to save that man's life using a choke hold. It is worth mentioning that the knee on the back of the neck of George Floyd was not really a choke hold and that is not the kind of thing I am addressing here. Yes, I am aware that it led to his death and the tactic was used in a horrible way, but it wasn't really a choke hold. A choke hold (properly applied) doesn't take almost 9 minutes to be effective. The best example and most likely to be useful for law enforcement is what is commonly called the "rear naked choke" (seen above). This choke can be applied standing as well as on the ground.
If we take away these kinds of holds as a tool from law enforcement officers, what options are they left with once an encounter turns violent? They can beat a person into submission (that sounds horrible), they can tase people (they might still need to resort to other forms of violence and tasers aren't always a good option), they might be able to use pepper spray (that might end up harming them as much as the people they are arresting), or they could shoot them. Am I missing another option? I think those are the main ones. Frankly, choke holds are a lot less violent than many of the other options. I recognize that there have been a few (very few) times that these choke holds have led to death, but we ought to also ask how many times a choke hold has saved or could have saved someone's life if it was used properly.
The answer isn't to defund the police or take away the tools they have. The answer is two-fold. First, understand that regardless of how well trained they are there will be times where violence is required, authority is abused, and the outcome is tragic. However, this seems to be uncommon (contrary to popular belief). Second, make sure that law enforcement is trained really well to use the tools they have to save lives rather than take away tools and limit their options costing more lives and damage. There are other things that can be discussed regarding reform, but taking away choke holds is a feel good move that will result in making policing more dangerous for the police and the community!
Update (9-22-20): BLM has begun changing their web site because support for the group has dropped significantly as people began to learn more about the group. So, if you go to the web site and do not find what I claim is on their web site, understand that is because they have decided to scrub their site.
Before you read the rest of the post, please keep in mind that most of this was written before the death of Rayshard Brooks (or at least before I became aware of it) and in no way is a comment about his death. Nor is it a reaction to the killing of George Floyd. It is a response to the many Christians and Christian leaders who have demanded that we must not only use the words "Black Lives Matter," but support the movement and if we don't we are living contrary to the teachings of Scripture.
Black lives do, indeed, matter. If only it was as simple as that one statement. Unfortunately, it isn't about that one phrase. Let me explain why I can't support the Black Lives Matter Movement. This isn't going to be the classical "All Lives Matter" retort. That is a platitude which will only create continued division and lacks any real power to move the conversation forward. It is worth saying again, this has nothing to do with whether or not black lives matter; they certainly do matter. Unfortunately, people often use the same words, but they are not using the same dictionary.
Black Lives Matter is an organization as much as it is a slogan. It is also a brilliant marketing strategy that has been very successful in shaping the national conversation and had a huge impact within the church. However, like virtually everything else in this world we live in, the language is loaded. When you say, "black lives matter" you might be saying a lot more than you intend to say. Let's take a look at what the Black Lives Matter (BLM) web site says about their own movement.
Some might be tempted to think that the phrase doesn't have to carry all of that extra freight, but we may not have that choice. I don't have another option for a pithy phrase that will communicate that the lives of black people matter without all that other stuff tagging along for the ride. For now, I'll have to use more words, more nuance, and hopefully build more bridges. No matter what you think about recent events, the racial divide in our culture is real. As a Christian, I want to build bridges that bring all ethnicities together, shoulder to shoulder as we kneel before Jesus who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. That includes saying the right things that promote goodness, truth, and unity, not just placating one another by using a phrase that creates some kind of false unity or false solidarity. Real unity and togetherness requires much more. I'm still figuring a lot of it out myself, I don't have all the answers, but I am quite certain hearts and minds need to be redeemed, so that's where I will start.
The truth is, I miss my church! I go there, that is to the building, multiple times a week including to record our worship services which stream online here and here. But that isn't the church as many have pointed out. It isn't a building, that seems blatantly obvious as the early church met wherever it could in all kinds of buildings like homes and synagogues and today churches meet in schools, movie theaters, and other places. However, these statements while true are often misguided. Much of the time when someone says, "the church isn't a building" they are not questioning what kind of building should be used for gathering, but whether the church needs to gather at all. In light of the recent lock downs due to Covid-19 many have begun to suggest that the church doesn't really need to gather physically, especially since we have technological options for delivering music and sermons, but is that all that is really necessary? Scripture doesn't support such an approach.
We should first recognize that before the church God's chosen people, the nation of Israel, was a gathering people. They gathered regularly for festivals, sabbaths, and worship. Gathering isn't something that showed up in the New Testament, but instead we find it throughout the Old Testament as well. As a nation, Israel would mourn when they were exiled. Gathering isn't a New Testament thing or a church thing.
The gathering we find in the Old Testament carries forward to the New Testament. We certainly see this in the gospels as Jesus taught in the synagogue, celebrated passover, and so on. But even at the very conception of the church we see a massive gathering in Acts 2 where the disciples spoke in tongues and saw thousands respond to the gospel message. After that they continued to gather and were devoted to, among other things, fellowship. In fact in verse 46 it says, "Every day they continued to meet in the temple courts." If anything, we gather too little. They weren't gathering in their own building, but that isn't the issue, they were gathering. Presumably these were pretty sizable groups since thousands had responded to the gospel and they weren't only meeting in homes, but the temple courts. Of course, we have gathering modeled throughout Acts.
In the epistles gathering is assumed in a variety of ways. From 1 Corinthians 11 all the wayward through chapter 14 we have instructions about how to conduct ourselves in such gatherings. What those instructions are isn't important for the purposes of this post, only that the gathering of the church is assumed and instructions are given.
We also find the gathering of the saints for the purpose of worship in Revelation with the four living creatures and the 24 elders not to mention the nations. Gathering is consistent throughout redemptive history from beginning to never ending. The christian faith is a gathering faith and cannot rightly be practiced without gathering. Not to mention the laying on of hands, baptism, and the Lord's supper all require some sort of gathering. It may be possible to do this virtually in some less significant manner, but those things are meant for the gathering. The Lord's Supper has its beginning in a gathering for the purpose of celebrating passover.
In recent days some have said the church should not abdicate to the state authority regarding such gatherings. Indeed, I agree! However, it is not abdicating authority to cooperate for a short time. In contrast many have begun to question whether we need to ever gather. That must be rejected as well, the Christian faith is a gathering faith and the church is a gathering people. The church must gather, the question is when? There isn't a magic date, but I will offer some thoughts:
For me and my church, none of these things are true at the moment. Although I have had frustration recently with a lack of communication regarding church gatherings from my governor, finally some guidance, even if limited, has been given. The church isn't being singled out at this time. There does seem to be an end in sight, at least for the moment.
"The music is always too loud when we go to church!" said Beverly. She first noticed how loud the music was when she came back from getting grape juice out of the refrigerator to prepare communion. She later explained, "I didn't want to miss anything so I asked Jeffery, my husband, to turn it up while I was in the kitchen. When I came back into the living room I thought I was going to go deaf it was so loud. Someone needed to tell the pastor, so I texted him right away!"
We reached out to the pastor to get his comments and he simply replied, "The volume never changed and seemed a little quiet where I was standing. I couldn't respond to the 5 texts I received all saying basically the same thing because I was about to get up and preach."
The pastor did promise to talk to the sound technicians and make sure they were staying within the decibel range required by the worship policies that were written by the worship committee in 1983. He also suggested they check the volume on their computer.
(This is satire, based on true stories. Not from my church)
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.