Thursday, January 15, 2015

NO CHRISTIANS LEFT BEHIND?: ALTERNATIVES TO RAPTURE THEOLOGY

For many a year, I was in the current majority which holds to the rapture of the Church followed by a seven year tribulation. I have abandoned that position in recent years. Here are four links which effectively counter rapture theology. The first two are short videos featuring Ben Witherington of Asbury Seminary. In the first video, he gives a brief history of the development of modern Chrisitanity's view of the rapture. In the second video, he explains what he believes to be the correct interpretation of  1Thess. 4: 17, concerning the Church meeting Jesus in the air. Instead of the Church being raptured away from the earth, Christians will be greeting Jesus the way a capital city greets a victorious king returning from battle or a long journey, cheering him and escorting him back into the city. The Church will greet Jesus and escort him back to earth when Jesus returns to rule as king. The Church won't leave the earth behind; the Church will remain! HT for both videos: Asbury Seedbed.


The other two links are articles featuring scholarly analysis as well as personal experiences in examining the validity of current views of the rapture. The first is by Roger Olson of Baylor University, the second by Frank Viola.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

THE LAW AGREES WITH ME; HUMANISM IS A RELIGION

Humanists regularly deny that Humanism is a religion, yet whenever Humanists deny religious faith claims, they are making their own religious claims. In an Oregon court case involving a Humanist study group in a prison, a Federal District Court agrees with me:

http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2014/11/federal-district-court-holds-humanism.html From Howard Friedman's Religion Clause blog.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

THE CHURCH NEARLY KILLED ME

When I was 29 years old, I contracted chickenpox. The doctor who treated me informed me that it was an especially severe case which was being monitored by the local medical community. I experienced symptoms for a couple days before I realized I had something serious. I thought the outbreaks on my face were a severe case of acne. Since the virus went into my liver, this sickness could have proven fatal. I couldn't be in the presence of pregnant women or small children. So every time I went to the hospital for treatment, the whole 4th floor had to be evacuated. It was an eerie experience going through automatic doors and walking through the deserted hallways. (It reminded me of the opening scene of Get Smart.) I missed some weeks of work and will likely have shingles when I am older.

In what setting did I contract the virus? Church fellowship. A group of mothers at my local church decided they would expose their little ones to other children who had chickenpox so that their children could catch it and develop immunity. This occurred right before the chickenpox vaccine was made available, so I cannot fault them for not immunizing their children. However, I can fault them for their thoughtless disregard for others who might have contracted the virus. One Sunday, my car broke down, so some friends from church gave me a ride. I wasn't the only passenger my friends took to church that Sunday. My friends also gave a ride to a single mother who had been one of those who had exposed her child to the virus. In the process, she contracted the virus and passed it on to me.

I am reminded of this time when I read of childhood diseases making a comeback because parents refuse to have their children vaccinated. Not only is chickenpox resurfacing in the U.S., so is whooping cough, measles, and the mumps. Not long ago, a woman caller on the Rush Limbaugh program claimed that childhood vaccinations leave a tracking device in children so the government will always know their whereabouts. Recently, a Texas church affiliated with Kenneth Copeland came under scrutiny because of its opposition to vaccinations. Because of its stance, 20 people, including a 4 month old child, contracted measles.  (Kenneth Copeland's organization denies that it opposes vaccinations, so I don't know how fair it would be to blame his specific teachings for what happened.) The church later reversed it's stance on vaccinations. Many of these very same people are probably wondering (and rightly so) why the government doesn't ban flights from countries where the Ebola epidemic is spreading.  Many of these same people are probably worried (and rightly so) about children from Latin America illegally entering this country with infectious diseasesDaniel Pipes has documented how Muslim clerics charge that western vaccinations are being used to infect Muslims with various diseases. By stoking the fires of this conspiracy theory, diseases such as polio, which have been nearly eradicated, will continue to ruin the lives of countless persons.  When Christian parents come to believe in conspiracy theories similar to those advanced by those who would qualify as ISIS spiritual advisers, it doesn't take a whole lot of reflection to realize that not a whole lot of reflection has taken place on this issue.

There has been controversy over vaccinations in Christian and non-Christian circles. Some believe there is a significant risk to their children if they are vaccinated for diseases that in the past killed children by the thousands every year. Some parents charge the medical profession with covering up the risks. This belief is the result of the mindset that sees a conspiracy behind every negative event. In America, this mindset was encouraged by the speculation concerning government involvement in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It was further fueled by Vietnam and Watergate. In the 1960's, the young were told to distrust authority, and this distrust filtered into the Church through the Jesus Movement of the late 60's and early 70's. This mindset was alive and well in the Church when I was saved in 1986, and it is still rampant among God's people today.

Even those Christians who would admit that the health risks to children from vaccinations are small may still claim that the risks are too great. They may understand the risk to the general population from childhood diseases such as measles and chickenpox. Yet they believe that their role as their children's protectors extends to exposing the general population to that very risk. They hope God protects others from the consequences of their actions, but they believe their duty is to protect their children at the expense of everyone else.

Apparently, these parents haven't learned to apply this word from Jesus when considering their conduct concerning vaccinating their children: "...'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second (greatest commandment) is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mk. 12: 29-31, NIV) Loving God and our neighbors, these are the two greatest commandments. Parents, when it comes to the question of vaccinating children, following God means exposing your children to a very minimal risk. Loving your neighbor means doing the right thing to spare untold numbers of people from being exposed to sickness, disability, or death. I worked for two days before I realized I was seriously ill. Who knows how many people were exposed to chickenpox due to the thoughtlessness of a few Christian mothers who should have kept their children at home. Instead of acting out of fear and selfishness, if they had realized how the second greatest commandment applies to the question of protecting others, they would have trusted God and His Word. They would have acted on faith in Jesus Christ.

Let's apply the second greatest commandment to another situation. Medical science has discovered that jewelry worn by medical personnel can spread germs to patients. Hospitals are encouraging nurses and doctors to refrain from wearing rings or necklaces while on duty. In the U.K., some nurses were disciplined for wearing Christian themed jewelry. Yes, there is a rising tide of discrimination against Christians in the U.K. and Europe. But these nurses were not disciplined for the message their jewelry conveyed, they were disciplined because they were threatening their patient's health. These nurses sued and lost. I'm as big a supporter of the right to wear clothing or jewelry which promotes the Gospel as any evangelical. I have a small cross hanging from my car's rear view mirror. I wear a "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" pin on my shirt collar from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. Yet when it comes to medical workers wearing Christian jewelry while treating patients, I say, take it off. Apply the second greatest commandment. Don't put patients at risk because you think your right of self expression is more important than the lives of your patients. And don't charge the medical profession and the government with some diabolical scheme to deprive Christians of the right to spread the Gospel.

When the smallpox vaccination was first introduced into colonial America, many were fearful of catching the very disease they were being inoculated against. Clergy in New England took the lead in having themselves inoculated. They realized that they were exposing themselves to sickness and death in doing so. Yet they thought that the risk from refusing to be inoculated was greater than inoculation itself. They believed that eradicating diseases that caused untold misery was so important that exposing themselves to the risk was what God would have them do. The following describes the devastation Puritan New England experienced from smallpox and Cotton Mather's argument for inoculation:

"With the smallpox epidemic catching speed and racking up a staggering death toll, a solution to the crisis was becoming more urgently needed by the day. The use of quarantine and various other efforts, such as balancing the body's humors, did not slow the disease's spread. As news rolled in from town to town and correspondence arrived from overseas, reports of horrific stories of suffering and loss due to smallpox stirred mass panic among the people. By circa 1700, smallpox had become among the most devastating of epidemic diseases circulating in the Atlantic world.
Cotton Mather strongly challenged the perception that inoculation was against the will of God and argued that the procedure was not outside of Puritan principles. He wrote that 'whether a Christian may not employ this Medicine (let the matter of it be what it will) and humbly give Thanks to God's good Providence in discovering of it to a miserable World; and humbly look up to His Good Providence (as we do in the use of any other Medicine) It may seem strange, that any wise Christian cannot answer it. And how strangely do Men that call themselves Physicians betray their Anatomy, and their Philosophy, as well as their Divinity in their invectives against this Practice?' The Puritan minister began to embrace the sentiment that smallpox was an inevitability for anyone, both the good and the wicked, yet God had provided them with the means to save themselves. Mather reported that, from his view, 'none that have used it ever died of the Small Pox, tho at the same time, it were so malignant, that at least half the People died, that were infected With it in the Common way.'
While Cotton Mather was experimenting with the procedure, prominent Puritan pastors Benjamin Colman and William Cooper expressed public and theological support for them.[34] The practice of smallpox inoculation was eventually accepted by the general population due to first-hand experiences and personal relationships. Although many were initially wary of the concept, it was because people were able to witness the procedure's consistently positive results, within their own community of ordinary citizens, that it became widely utilized and supported. One important change in the practice after 1721 was regulated quarantine of inoculees
Inoculation visibly and directly aided man's control of the disease, the level of infection, mortality rates and the spreading of the epidemic. Planned inoculation led to better observation of the body's responses and allowed people the ability to time the onset of the pox and control the disease's intensity. For example, by inoculating in the months of milder climate, one had a better chance of fighting the infection and becoming immune instead of the alternative: natural exposure to the disease during harsher weather, when the body's defenses were already challenged...It was also discovered that inoculation produced less scarring and physical defects than a common, naturally contracted case."

Jonathan Edwards knew the risks of inoculation for smallpox, but considered the risks of not inoculating himself to be even greater. When he realized that he was indeed going to die from the disease because of the inoculation, he never regretted his course of action. On his death bed he spoke these words to his daughter, who wrote them down immediately afterward:

"Dear Lucy, it seems to me to be the will of God that I must shortly leave you; therefore give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature, as I trust is spiritual, and therefore will continue forever: and I hope she will be supported under so great a trial, and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children, you are now like to be fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you to seek a Father, who will never fail you..." George M. Marsden, Jonathon Edwards: A Life 

It is ironic that today the Puritans are considered to be reactionaries, opposed to all human progress. Today, what we know about the natural world makes us Einsteins in comparison with them. This is true even of mothers who purposely expose their children to the chickenpox virus. Yet it appears that trust in and obedience to God has declined since the days of Mather and Edwards. In trying to protect their children at the expense of the general population, some Christian mothers may do untold damage that their Puritan ancestors risked their lives to prevent.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

GOVERNMENT IS GOOD, GOVERNMENT IS GREAT, MAY WE THANK GOVERNMENT FOR OUR FOOD (AND EVERYTHING ELSE, INCLUDING THE AIR WE BREATHE), AMEN

Oh, to be a Swede! Or, better yet, a Dane! Or to live in any Nordic country these days. Why? To live in a Nordic country is to live among the world's happiest people. According to the United Nations' World Happiness Report, 2013, Nordic countries offer their citizens the greatest happiness on earth.

By what criteria does the U.N. measure happiness? In Denmark, parents don't get just a paltry few weeks parental leave when they have a child. They get 52 weeks of parental leave. Not only that, early childhood education is available to each child. It is believed that the earlier children begin formal education, the more well adjusted and successful they will be later in life. Free health care is seen as a right. Apparently, the ability to see our primary physician multiple times during the year is essential for our mental health. Danes see their primary care physician 7 times a year verses 4 times a year for Americans. Gender equality has nearly been achieved. Women are being paid increasingly the same as men. There is almost complete equality of employment among the sexes. Biking isn't just an extreme sport; it is the norm. The ethos of collective responsibility leads to a higher rate of volunteerism.

In terms of human happiness, the U.N. rates the United States as number 17, just below Mexico.

My response is twofold, the first is political, the second, spiritual.

The inescapable conclusion of the U.N. report is that government is the source of human happiness. Parental leave, gender parity, free health care, they are all provided by the government. The unspoken motivation of this report is to create an allegiance to government. Government is to be seen as the key to success in any endeavor. President Obama and Elizabeth Warren didn't originate the "You didn't build that" mentality. That belief is just another European import.

Children in the Danish school system will of course prefer the system they are brought up in. That is human nature. Complain about the state of American education and many Americans will agree with you. Criticize local schools and see how quickly many of those who attended those same schools unfriend you on Facebook. Those who experienced early childhood education claim they are more successful and more sophisticated as a result. Yet early childhood education (educating children as early as two or three) is just another opportunity to mold children to the government's liking and weaken the family unit.

Riding a bike instead of driving certainly has health benefits. If enough people ride their bikes, air pollution would certainly decrease. There is no question that this would affect the happiness of those living in big cities. Yet it should be noted that one major reason people take to their bikes in Europe is the horrendous price of gas Europeans have to pay. In Denmark, the price of gas is now $5.93/gallon, according to CNN. According to Bloomberg, in February of 2013, it was $8.22/gallon. This has been the case long before gas prices went up here in the U.S. The high price of gas in Europe is by design. Government design, that is. European governments fix the price of gas to discourage driving. President Obama has said he would like Americans to pay the same for gas as Europeans do. Yes, we need to combat pollution. But the motivation to convince the U.S. to change its entire way of life to combat it is political. The U.N. wishes Americans to see freedom as a threat to the planets existence. Just recently, a top U.N. official involved with climate issues stated that democracy is a poor system to combat climate change. The most useful government model, according to her, is communism, particularly communism practiced by the Chinese government. She is apparently blind to the fact that China is polluting its air and poisoning its soil on a massive scale, harming,even killing, its own citizens.

Americans certainly love their cars. They prize the freedom of mobility a car gives. Some would claim that the mobility Americans have experienced is a selfish luxury. However, many historians have credited the ability of Americans to move from place to place as a stabilizing force. American mobility reduces the kind of political discontent which leads to instability in other nations. In some third world countries, the happiest time for a young man is to take his girl friend through the city streets on a motor bike. It is often the only pleasure daily life affords. There are lots of cool songs about driving cars and motor cycles. Are there any cool Danish songs about bike riding?

Is visiting your primary care physician seven times a year, as the Danes do, necessarily a good thing? That Americans see theirs' only four times a year, is that a bad thing? Do most healthy people need to see their doctor seven times a year? Perhaps government provided free health care encourages people to see their doctor more than they need to. Before Obamacare, I never had difficulty seeing my physician. I prefer to deal with one doctor. During my father's last illness, his care was directed by a team of doctors who didn't always coordinate their treatment successfully. This was demoralizing for the family. Yet to imply that this is the state of care for all Americans, even those who are healthy and not in the hospital, as the first link above implies, is misleading.

As for volunteerism, in the U.S., it is conservatives who volunteer the most and contribute the most to charity. (Nicholas Kristof, a liberal, wrote an op-ed confirming this in the New York Times. His article is titled "Bleeding Heart Tightwads". It appeared on 12/21/08. You have to register to access the article.)  If the U.S. repatriated its liberal population, which is stingy concerning these matters, would the U.S. look a lot like Denmark? I doubt it. But note how the article implies that those who live in quasi-socialist countries have greater compassion for humanity.

I would be amiss to move on without pointing out that one of the primary reasons Denmark, Sweden, and all the other Nordic and European countries have been able to afford their way of life is the support of the American taxpayer. Americans have paid for Europe's defense so the Europeans didn't have to do it themselves. The U.S., with its strategic interests around the world, can not afford to build the nanny state that exists in European countries. (However, this reality seems to have escaped President Obama's notice.)

There is one last point to consider. The very countries which the U.N. declares to be the happiest on earth have very high suicide rates.   Some attribute this to the lack of sunlight in Nordic countries. Others believe inherited depression is the culprit. Yet the evidence from the U.S., provided in the link above, refutes this. The states which best reflect the conditions which are supposed to have made Nordic people the world's happiest have higher suicide rates than the rest of the states. Hawaii is an example. The Time article identifies the culprit. It is prosperity and happiness itself. (Yet the author seems to favor the very policies which produce such happiness.) The kind of happiness achieved in Nordic countries is conducive to high suicide rates. In a society where government is the guarantor of success and happiness, the human spirit is diminished. Those that struggle have hope, and hope satisfied includes the satisfaction of achievement. Married couples who struggle together share personal bonds that others do not. Shared affliction produces greater intimacy which positively affects personal happiness. Societies where governments remove most of life's obstacles create an environment where there is no hope. Hope is banished when the government is seen to be the source of happiness rather than God. Note that the U.N. assessment had no religious criteria in assessing happiness. Such a society makes life feel meaningless so that many cannot face living.  If striving for wealth doesn't bring happiness, neither does its opposite number, a society that gives you everything.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

BEING A NEWBORN IN PHARAOH'S EGYPT AND TODAY'S AMERICA

I teach a Wednesday morning class at the church I attend. We have been studying Old Testament characters. Sometime back we studied Moses. While reading in Exodus 1 about how Pharaoh commanded that all male Israelites be killed at birth by the midwives, I was struck by an observation concerning those babies saved by the midwives.

The nation of Israel came to dwell in Egypt because of a severe drought. Joseph, a Hebrew, sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers, rose to command all of Egypt under Pharaoh. Joseph not only saved Egypt from the drought, but the entire Middle Eastern world as well. He brought the rest of his family down to Egypt to live with him. Fifty years later, Egypt had forgotten what Joseph had done and observed with fear the increase in the Hebrew population. In response, Egypt enslaved the Hebrews, hoping to control their birthrate. Yet the Hebrews continued to reproduce at an incredible rate. Finally, Pharaoh ordered Hebrew midwives to kill all male babies delivered by Hebrew women. Two midwives, Shiphrah and Pua, saved the male children because of their fear of God. When Pharaoh summoned them to explain themselves, they told Pharaoh that Hebrew women delivered babies before they could arrive. The biblical account states that God blessed the midwives for their actions. It was something not explicitly stated in Exodus 1 that caught my attention.

Pharaoh continued to command that all males born to Hebrew women be killed. He ordered that they be cast into the Nile River. Yet nowhere does the biblical account say that those males saved by the Hebrew midwives were killed. Moses' brother Aaron was three years older than Moses (Ex. 7:7). He must have been one of those saved by the Hebrew midwives. Exodus does not record a scene such as the murder of the young males ordered by King Herod in an attempt to kill Jesus Christ. Had Pharaoh ordered those Hebrew male children killed, surely Exodus would have recorded it. It is reasonable to infer from this observation that no such killing of male Hebrew children saved by the midwives occurred.

Making this observation, a further observation comes to mind. The current occupant of the White House, Barack Obama, when he was an Illinois state senator, was the sole senator to vote in support of partial birth abortion. Partial birth abortion occurs when a baby is being delivered out of the womb. Just before the baby is completely removed from the mother, the abortionist runs scissors through the back of the baby's head, killing the child. In this regard, Obama and those who support this procedure have as much regard for human life as did Pharaoh.

Another observation comes to mind. Recently, papers have been published in academic journals advocating what some call after birth abortion. Some advocate that the mother's wish to terminate her pregnancy should be so controlling that even if a baby survives the attempted abortion, the baby's life should still be terminated. Apparently, that line was never crossed in Pharaoh's Egypt, at least when it came to the children saved by the Hebrew midwives. Some would say that after birth abortion would never happen in America. Experience informs us that what appears in academic journals, no matter how extreme, doesn't stay buried in academic journals. Why should we expect those who support partial birth abortion to draw the line at after birth abortion. If the pro abortion element gets its way, the U.S. would be less safe for newborn babies than Pharaoh's Egypt.        

Monday, April 28, 2014

NEW BOOKS WRITTEN BY WESLEY BIBLICAL SEMINARY PROFESSORS

Dr. Gary Cockerill and Dr. Matt Friedeman have recently written books which are now available.

Dr. Cockerill, Professor of Biblical Interpretation and Theology and Academic Dean at Wesley Biblical Seminary,  has written Christian Faith in the Old Testament: The Bible of the Apostles, published by Thomas Nelson.  In this publication, Dr. Cockerill seeks to give modern readers an understanding of how the faith of contempoary Christians is rooted in the Old Testament. He blogs at From Mangoes to Melchizedek.

Dr. Friedeman has published Swallowed Up In God: The Best of Francis Asbury's Letters and Journals. The title is self explanatory. This is a book for those who might find Asbury's Journals too lengthy to read. It is the author's hope that this book would lead readers to a good biography of Asbury or to the journals themselves. Dr. Friedeman highlights certain quotes from Asbury for the reader to memorize and rearticulate when the opportunity arises. He has also recently written Mark: A Study of Discipleship. Dr. Friedeman is Professor of Evangelism and Discipleship at WBS and pastor of Dayspring Community Church in Clinton, MS. His website is In The Fight.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

THE JOHN WESLEY COLLECTION

Asbury Seedbed has announced a new project, The John Wesley Collection. The project will make available works from Wesley and his Methodist co-workers which have been out of print for decades. As Matt O'Reilly points out, the spread of the New Calvinism movement has been fueled by the availability of works written by great Calvinists from the past, works by Edwards, Spurgeon, and Calvin himself. Lets hope this collection will help Wesleyans become better acquainted with their own heritage and bring a Wesleyan perspective to a wider audience.