Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Drunkenness in Modern Christianity

I’ve been thinking about alcohol recently. That’s not as bad as it sounds. I haven’t suddenly become an alcoholic. Beer smells like pig slop. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to drink the stuff and yet, people do. Aside from the fact that people are drinking such nasty stuff, it interests me that so many Christians have taken to the stuff. Today, it’s hard to believe that there was once a time in the United States that we passed an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” It was later repealed, but there was enough support among the several States at the time to make it the law of the land. How strange that today you would have a hard time getting many church people to support such a law.

Today, the trend seems to be that many Christians are not only unopposed to other people drinking, but they are actively supporting the use of alcohol. Their argument for its use is usually along the lines of “the Bible doesn’t prohibit alcohol” or “what about Jesus turning the water into wine?” And what can I say, the Bible doesn’t prohibit the use of alcohol and in some places mentions instances where it has its purpose (Proverbs 31:6). There are some exceptions to that statement. The Bible does say that preachers aren’t to be given to wine (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7) and it says that it isn’t for kings and princes(Proverbs 31:4, 5). The principle is that those in leadership must have a clear head or they will lead people astray.

It is tempting to take off on the argument that the alcohol in Bible times was much less intoxicating than what we have today. Today, one drink is enough to intoxicate some people while the Bible talks about “much wine” intoxicating people. As true as that is, it comes down to legalism. The argument seems to be over whether the Lord out and out prohibited alcohol usage. Those of us who would rather Christians didn’t drink would like to find a place where he did and those of us who would like to drink want to show that he didn’t. Either way, it comes back to the law.

But hold on. Suppose you happened to meet an engineer who helped design your car and he told you that while the manual says you don’t need the high octane fuels, some of their tests showed that the car had much better gas mileage with the higher grades. Assuming you trust this guy, don’t you think you would at least try the higher octane fuels? Sure you would. You aren’t required to use them, but it might be in your best interest to do so.

Now, God is more trustworthy than any engineer. Unlike an engineer, who may have to rely on testing done in a lab, God knows your future. God knows human nature better than we do. He knows what is best for us. While the Bible doesn’t give us an out and out prohibition of the use of alcohol, it makes it very clear that we’d be better off if we didn’t even look at the stuff (Proverbs 23:29-35). “Look not thou upon the wine when it is red…” Forget about trying to argue over whether it is legal for us to drink alcohol or not, God says it isn’t good for us. With all the wisdom that God has offers us advice, we ought to take it. We reject that advice at our own peril.

To put it as simply as I can. It doesn’t matter whether the Bible outlaws alcohol or not. It doesn’t matter whether we are under law or under grace. The all-knowing God says we’d be better off if we didn’t drink alcohol. That is reason enough for us to stay away from it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why Are There So Many Denominations?

Why do we have so many denominations? If you look at Christianity, you’ll see that there are many denominations, both great and small. And there are groups that can’t rightly be called denominations because they lack a hierarchical structure, but that hardly matters, there are a lot of different denominations. In recent years, many people have taken hold of the idea that the various denominations should work together. After all, “aren’t we all working to get to the same place?” Well, in a word, no. That’s part of the problem.

I spend time hanging around writers in cyberspace. Many of them are Christians and what I’ve seen is that many of them seem to see no problem with bringing several denominations together. In some cases, they have participated in corporate worship in the form of having communion together at a writers conference. Not only does that remove the Lord’s Supper from the oversight of the church (and by that I mean a local visible body of baptized believers, which is how the term is used most consistently in the new testament), but it seems to indicate that these authors don’t see a valid reason for the various denominations.

So, why do we have so many denominations and why can’t we all just get along? Can we find common ground? While it’s desirable for all Christians to be united, the means by which people are going about it is all wrong. Too many people have forgotten church history. Sadly, many people have never learned it, so we may be doomed to repeat it. This isn’t the first time that people have tried to unite the various denominations. Way back in the early 300s, the Roman emperor Constantine got this bright idea that he would unite the various Christian churches. The resulting unified “church” became the Catholic Church. But not all churches agreed to join that organization. Many of the non-joining churches were later call ana baptist, which comes from the Latin anabaptista, “one who rebaptizes.” They earned the name by rebaptizing believers who came out of the infant baptizing Catholic Church. Today, most of that line of churches is simply called Baptist, having dropped the “ana” over the centuries. But Constantine’s desire to unite the churches became a grand failure. The “church” that he created has split many times over the centuries.

Even if you’ve paid little attention to the Baptist side of church history, you are probably aware of the Catholic side. The first big split came with the division between the Roman Catholic and the Greek Orthodox. Later, you will recall that Martin Luther nailed his treatise to the church door and with that the Protestant Reformation began. Martin Luther, and those who came after him, came to the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church was wrong. As a result, new denominations formed. Though it may not have been their desire for new denominations to form, their differences in belief were so great that they could no longer work together.

Now, fast-forward to today and ask yourself what happens when two denominations agree to work together. It seems like a logical thing. It’s easy to believe that we have much in common, since we all believe in the same Jesus. But consider an issue like one of the ones that divided the catholics from the rebaptizers in Constantine’s day, that of infant baptism. One reason that some denominations practice infant baptism is that they believe baptism cleanses a person from original sin. By that belief, a child who is baptized will go to heaven, or at least purgatory, because he no longer has original sin. But the rebaptizers had a different view. They practiced believer’s baptism. They didn’t see baptism as cleansing a person from sin, but it was an outward show of an inward transformation. By being buried in the water and coming up out of it, they showed their death to sin and resurrection to new life that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Because infants were too young to believe, they were not baptized. Only those who had accepted Christ were baptized.

Those two beliefs don’t reconcile. At best, the two sides could agree to disagree on the subject. But what would that mean? Suppose the two groups decided to work together. While they’re doing that, a member from the Catholic side goes to the Baptist side and wishes to join the church. By the Baptist doctrine, such a person should be rebaptized because they don’t believe the baptism the person received as a infant is valid. But that would likely offend the people on the Catholic side. Likewise, the people on the Catholic side think the people on the Baptist side are risking sending their children to hell. Both sides has strong reasons for believing this. For the two sides to find common ground, one side must either change its mind and agree with the other or both sides must compromise on strongly held beliefs. In other words, they must agree to avoid any conversation about what the Bible says about baptism, in order that they avoid getting into an argument. That in itself would cause a problem for a devout Baptist because Baptists place great importance on the Word of God. For Catholics it would cause a problem because they place great importance on the traditions taught by the Pope.

In essence, bringing two denominations together doesn’t reconcile the differences, but it creates a new belief system. If you could find two denominations that agreed except on the issue of infant baptism and people within them agreed to work together by avoiding the issue, what you would have is a group of people who held to the core doctrines of their denomination, but they don’t believe baptism is important enough to be an issue. If you could bring people from all denominations together, with all that separates them, and they agreed not to disagree, what you would have is a group of people who don’t believe any of the doctrines of Christianity are important. Perhaps you could agree on a few things, like that Jesus is the Son of God, born of a virgin, that he died and rose on the third day, but some Christian denominations don’t agree with that either.

Remove all that divides us and you won’t have much left. When you consider that the Bible goes as far as calling some people dogs because they aren’t teaching what is right, I’m pretty sure that isn’t the attitude the Lord wants us to have. Rather than trying to get along with people who disagree with us, we should be trying to figure out what the truth is. It isn’t our place to dismiss what the Lord has told us as unimportant just so we can get along with people who aren’t doing what is right.

Monday, August 29, 2011

We Need Real Men

I watched COPS the other day and saw one segment in which three boys were arrested for throwing rocks from an overpass. They hit a minivan and the driver chased them on foot until the police caught them. The police called their homes and their mothers came and bawled them out. The police tried to encourage the mothers by saying that their showing up showed that they cared for the boys. But I couldn’t help but wonder, where are the fathers?

When I was a child, my father worked an hour away from home, so he wouldn’t have been able to show up quickly if I’d ever gotten into that kind of trouble. It might have been a case like that, but it’s unlikely. There is an absence of male role models in the lives of young men today. It seems to be worse in the black community, but no segment of society is exempt. Even among Christian families, men seem to be missing.

Some people don’t seem to think this is a problem. I suppose they’ve got their heads in the clouds or something. Having grown up in a two parent home, I can tell you that there is a big difference between a mother and a father. As I grew, I learned that I could argue with my mother. At some point, I realized I was bigger than her. For the most part, I was a good kid, but I was disobedient enough to realize that there was a point at which she would become so frustrated that she would back down from the argument, just to be done with it.

That was not the case with my father. My father is a gentle man, who is slow to anger. It was seldom him who gave the spankings and yet I knew I couldn’t push him as far as my mother. If he said something, you knew he meant it. He didn’t have to say much. Sometimes it was, “that’s enough.” Just the tone of his voice told us that we’d crossed the line and if we didn’t step back we wouldn’t like the consequences.

One of the sad things is how television portrays men today. So often, when men are shown, they either have no role in a family or they are shown as having no real control of their families. For example, in one ad, a teenage girl has a tight fitting short skirt that her father sees hanging on the line. He wipes his dirty hands on it in an effort to get rid of it. But along comes mother to the rescue with the laundry detergent. The skirt is saved and the girl goes off to woo the boys with her skirt. A real man wouldn’t have done that. A real man would’ve told his daughter the skirt was too short and she shouldn’t be wearing it. A real man would see no reason to damage the skirt because he would expect his daughter to listen. If for some reason the skirt did get dirty, a loving mother wouldn’t encourage her daughter to wear it by going to extra trouble to wash it. Instead, she would support her husband’s wishes, even if she didn’t agree that the skirt was too short.

What we need are more real men who are the fathers they ought to be. We need fathers who will train their sons and daughters to do what is right and to stay away from what is wrong. We need mothers who will take on the supporting role that God gave them. We need mothers who will obey their husbands, so that there is no confusion on the part of the children as to which parent they should listen to. And when circumstances prevent the ideal two parent family, we need other men to take opportunities to be in the lives of young men, so that they can see how men ought to be.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Who God Chooses

One of the things in the Bible that’s hard to understand is the interplay between freewill and election. Some people put a lot of emphasis on freewill and others put emphasis on God’s election. The Bible seems to teach both and yet they seem like distant concepts.

The other day, I heard a concept that I’d never heard before. We often question why God would choose one person and not another, when none of us are worthy. It doesn’t seem fair. But one preacher stated that he had the idea that the only person God ever chose was Jesus.

I can’t say that I’ve thought through this completely, but it does seem to make sense. By that understanding, God isn’t looking at us and for some unknown reason picking us. Instead, God looks at the world and he sees a lot of sinners, but mixed in among those are some people that when he looks at them he sees Jesus. If you’re looking for cause and effect, God from before time began could look down though future history and see people who were covered by the blood of Jesus because they had repented and placed their faith in him. He chooses them, but only because he is choosing his son.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Configuration Management

I installed configuration management software on my home computer this weekend. The software is call subversion. Configuration management software has the ability to store previous versions of files and is primarily used by software developers so that more than one person can work on a file and then those changes can be merged back into the system. I'm using it for a hobby project, even though I'm the only developer on the project, because it allows me to make changes with less fear that I'll mess things up and won't be able to remember what I changed.

I've been reading a book. The author said that he used configuration management software for the book. I think I might try that for the book I'm currently writing. In addition to the normal text, which I should give me reason enough for configuration management software, this book will have a significant number of pictures and graphs. With configuration management software, I'll be able to modify the pictures I need to modify, save them to the same location, and then undo my changes if I later decide I prefer the original image.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Love and In Love: the desire to love

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the difference between love and the desire to love. Love, as you know, is commanded in the Bible and yet, we often think of it as a feeling. So, I thought that the best way to describe this is that there is love and there is the desire to love. Most people, when they talk about love, they’re really talking about the desire to love and to be loved. To use more familiar terminology, they are talking about being in love.

Let me give you an example. A young man has met a young woman. He calls her on the phone. He sends her flowers. He takes her to a nice restaurant. But does he love her? Let’s try another one. A woman is in the nursing home and seldom remembers what has happened five minutes ago, but a younger woman comes to see her two or three times a week. She makes sure the nurses are taking care of her. She combs her hair. She spends time talking to her, even though she knows the woman will tell other people that she was never there. Does she love her?

In both cases, I think you will agree that they love the other person. We have no doubt. But notice what is missing. There is no mention of the feelings of the person. We might make some assumptions about why they would do what they do, but there is no mention of feelings.

What that tells me is that love is independent of the feeling. I very much doubt a person will continue these things and not develop some kind of felt attachment to the other person, but love is there without the feeling. In the second example, the act of love the woman shows may be tiresome and painful for her, but there is love.

How different that is from someone who is “in love.” The person who is in love may do loving things, but it is a result of some feeling. Where that feeling comes from—who knows? When that feeling goes away, so does the loving action.

I think some people miss the point when we say that love is a choice. They assume that we mean that we can choose to feel a certain way. What we need to grasp is that love is a choice because we have the choice to do loving things for people or not. If we choose to love someone, we will do things to show our love for them. We may not always feel love toward them. It may be painful at times to love them, but we can keep on loving people, even when we don’t want to. But give it time. If you keep doing things that show love, you will eventually gain the feeling of love.