It seems that the culture war which has been going on in society for a generation is finally coming to a head in church. While it is going on to various degrees in many denominations, it seems to just be reaching critical mass in Adventist Christianity now. Quite frankly I am concerned about this, as a pacifist I don’t like war. Even though this will hopefully never escalate to the point of physical violence, a war of words and a clash of values can do as much harm to the life and health of the church as any physical war can have to a country. At the present it seems that 3 issues are defining the conflict of cultures in our church; woman’s ordination, homosexuality, and the teaching of evolution. While I believe that there are sincere people on both sides I think it is important to remember that above all else Jesus calls us to love one another, and I fear that we are reaching a point where the polarization is so severe that we are at risk of losing that love.
On the issues I am squarely on the progressive side of all 3. I do not agree that the Bible makes a clear case for a male only clergy, I think it is far more important for us to be loving and accepting of gay and lesbian people than it is to make a political stand against their civil rights, and I think that we need to teach science in science classes and save the teaching of religion for religion classes (offered by the church if not available in school). But I do not think that any of these issues is worth drawing a line in the sand over, and saying to other Christians that I will not worship with them if they hold different views from me. Afterall what is gained if any of these issues pushes people on either side out? Do we gain when we win acceptance for a new group but lose half our existing family? Over the next few days I will make short arguments in favour of my views on these issues – but for those who disagree please know:
I seek a dialogue and understanding, and I still value you as brothers and sisters in Christ and do not want to split our church.
I do understand that there are many who feel a strong urge to maintain the purity of the church. That’s nothing new – there have been such people among the people of God since at least the time of Christ. In his time they were called Pharisees. They were perfectly sincere believers who wanted nothing more than to maintain the purity of their religion. They went out of their way to make sure people understood what the rules were and how to keep them. But they did do what they did out of genuine sincerity and a desire to have a pure religion. There are many today who do the same thing, and I still don’t think it’s insincere. The only thing I would ask is; are you sure that it’s your place? Afterall doesn’t the Bible say 1) That our purity comes from Christ and not from our own effort and 2) That it is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin?
Now without getting into the issues, because frankly I think they are all secondary to the main point, I have to ask – what is our purpose? Is it to be lawyers who prosecute infractions of God’s law, or witnesses who testify of God’s love? In other words – what does Jesus want his church to be known for? Frankly I think he can speak for himself:
You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples.
So what about this Culture War as many call it? Should we shy away from debating social issues? Should we stifle opposing opinions? Should we change everything we do every time the wind changes? Should we refuse to change ever? To each question I say – God forbid. Ensuring that the church is both relevant to the culture we live in and faithful to God is a constant process. Debating our positions is healthy, disagreement is evidence of intelligence, because if we always agree about every thing someone isn’t using their God-given brain. Change for the sake of change, and refusal to change for the sake of refusal are equally bad. What becomes dangerous is when we allow debate and diversity to become division. Love for one another MUST come before church politics. The day that a church splits over differences of opinion is the day it has failed at the one thing it was formed to do. Whether your position is one of traditional purity or progressive contextualization – we all must put love for one another ahead of our opinions and positions.
We cannot allow differences of opinion or interpretation to divide our church.
By Craig Gross, Special to CNN
After Anderson Cooper came out this week, I posted a link on Twitter to a story that included this quote from Cooper: “I love and am loved.” As I said in my tweet, Cooper is one of my favorite journalists.
Love the sinner, hate the sin. We’ve all heard this expression before – many of us have probably even used it. Well where did it come from? Go ahead, take a trip over to BibleGateway.com and type it into the search field. Check every version of the bible you can find, and when you’re done you might be surprised to find that this is not a Bible verse. In fact, the quote is from Ghandi, it is from his autobiography. And the funny thing is, it’s an incomplete quote at that – this is the full quote.
Hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.
This is my first problem with the idea. It sounds so good and harmless – but far too often I’ve seen it where people say they love the sinner – but their actions speak and show that even if somewhere deep down they do, their hatred of the sin is what comes across. It’s often used as a cop-out for judgmental statements and nasty rhetoric – and this is something I have a problem with. As Christians, are we supposed to be known for our judgement of others and our harsh treatment of sinners? Is that what Jesus was known for? No – of course not, Jesus was known for his compassion and mercy, and it seems the worse the sin the greater his love. This is why the Apostle Paul could write:
“Yet where sin was powerful, God’s kindness was even more powerful.” Romans 5:20
My other problem with the expression is this – only half of it is biblical, now to be fair I don’t expect it to be since Ghandi wasn’t a Christian – but it seems to have worked its way into our faith. The part about loving the sinner; that’s perfectly biblical:
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This saying is true, and it can be trusted. I was the worst sinner of all! But since I was worse than anyone else, God had mercy on me and let me be an example of the endless patience of Christ Jesus. He did this so that others would put their faith in Christ and have eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16
“But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful.” Romans 5:8
“Love others as much as you love yourself.” Matthew 22:39
But then we reach the pesky half about hating sin. Now this can be a touchy subject. I know a lot of people who are convinced that part of the Christian’s duty is to witness to the devastation of sin, to be bold in “calling sin by it’s right name” and to defend the church and the world from the perils of sin. And they have their share of Bible verses too:
“Love the LORD and hate evil!” Psalm 97:10
“If you respect the LORD, you will hate evil.” Proverbs 8:13
“Hate everything that is evil” Romans 12:9
So yes it is biblical to hate evil (sin). By no means am I suggesting we ignore it and hope it just goes away. Sin is real, and it does destroy, so much so that the Bible tells us it leads to death. But I put it to you that in the context of the following two verses, that we have no authority to hate the sin of another, that is unless we are already perfect.
“First, take the log out of your own eye. Then you can see how to take the speck out of your friend’s eye.” Matthew 7:5
“If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her!” John 8:7
You see, if there was one sin Jesus did call out – it was hypocrisy. With the prostitutes, tax collectors and thieves Jesus was nothing but patient and kind; but with the religious leaders of the day who preached that they were better than the people around them – Jesus let them have it with both barrels. I can say with as much conviction as I’ve ever had that if Jesus were walking this earth today, he would have the same to say for The Church now as he did then. It’s not our place to make ourselves morally superior, it’s not our place to pass judgement, it’s not even our place to be calling out and naming sin, the Bible says that is the work of the Holy Spirit – and I for one have enough faith in him to do it without my help.
“The Spirit will come and show the people of this world the truth about sin and God’s justice and the judgment.” John 16:8
No my Christian brothers and sisters – It’s not our job to go around hating the sins of others. It’s not our place to tell people that they are living sinful lives. It’s not our place to hate the sin. The commandment Jesus gave us was to love others.
That command is in no way excused, qualified nor abridged by the words, actions or nature of those others.
We are compelled to be a shining example of Jesus love, and that’s all. We have no biblical right to hate sin anywhere but in our own lives. That is the job of the Holy Spirit, and I am convicted to remind you brothers and sisters that there is only one sin which is unforgivable and that is to speak against the Holy Spirit – which is exactly what our actions do when we take it upon ourselves to do his work for him.
“I tell you that any sinful thing you do or say can be forgiven. Even if you speak against the Son of Man, you can be forgiven. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can never be forgiven, either in this life or in the life to come.” Matthew 12:31-32
Brothers, Sisters – we have an obligation as Christians to love as Jesus loved. There is no exemption from that whether the people we meet are of another faith or no faith at all, whether they are gay, whether they use drugs, whether they steal from us, or even kill us; after all wasn’t Jesus already hanging on the cross when he said “Forgive Them”? That’s the job he gave us, convicting people of sin – that’s the Holy Spirit’s job, not ours.
We are to be just, even to the unjust; we are to be kind, even to the unkind; we are to be merciful, even to the merciless; We are to love, even the most hateful.
Sorry for missing a few days of blogging. Had a busy week putting together a community service expo for my church last week.
So the football world lately has been all abuzz with talk about an alliteratively named Quarterback in Denver. Yes of course I am talking about Tim Tebow and my interest is both as a preacher and a football fan. On both counts I like Tebow – I think he’s a good kid and good quarterback too. I do like how he is not ashamed to share his faith with the world – it’s a good example for other Christian men who think it might not be manly to be open about your faith. How much more manly can you get than a pro football player? And by the way, Tim Tebow is not the only football player to be open about his faith. Reggie White (a defensive end for the Eagles and Packers in the 80s and 90s) was a pastor in addition to being one of the hardest hitting linemen in the game, Kurt Warner (Superbowl champ in 2000) and Tony Dungy (Champ as a player in 1979 and Coach 2007) are also known for their faith. Why even yours truly, I have lost count of how many times I’ve won Heisman Trophies and Superbowls on my X-Box.
So really Tim Tebow is joining some good company as both a winner on the field and an unashamed Christian role-model.
But what worries me is the talk I hear on the radio and all over the internet that simply because Tim Tebow is a Christian that God has picked a favourite and that favourite is the Denver Broncos. Well at least up until this weekend. God has certainly blessed Tebow with the opportunity to do what he loves and be good at it, but beyond that I think that the results of the Florida Gators and Denver Broncos are the product of the hard-work of their players and not intervention from on high. Tebow is right to thank God for many things – but when it comes to the playoff run he should probably thank his Offensive Line. Besides, if the results of the games were decided in the courts of heaven – why would he choose to let the Patriots be the ones to keep Tebow and the Broncos humble – anyone but the Patriots! If I were God, and decided to influence football games I’m not sure I would bless the Broncos – but I certainly would punish the Patriots!
Seriously though, God loves Tim Tebow, Tom Brady and every other player, fan and person equally.
All of this seems to be born out of an ignorance of the way God works. First of all God doesn’t play favourites. The Bible is full of passages that tell us how God treats all humanity equally. So why would God pick a side in a sporting event, a war, an election or anything else that we do here? God is not a Broncos Fan, a flag-waver or a conservative.
God doesn’t have any favorites! Romans 2:11
He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. Matthew 4:45
The second relevant point here is that God has given humanity free will. The results of our works are highly dependent on our own effort and choice. Yes God does bless when we do things to his honour and glory – but that is different from him picking sides. I think it’s really important for us to make this distinction. Because if we assume that God is dictating the results of everything that takes place in this world then we create a distorted picture of God. We create a God who is arbitrary and controlling, and also a God who cannot make up his mind. That’s not the God of the Bible, it’s not the God who walked among us as Jesus and it’s not the God who continues to inspire us by his spirit. God is fair and equitable, he doesn’t take sides and he doesn’t play favourites.
Tim Tebow – Thank you for sharing your faith in Jesus, Sportscasters – please get to know God a little better before you start attributing the results of football games to him.
From the outset I want to admit that I’ve never been to Kansas, and other than recent media attention I’ve never known anything about it except that apparently little girls can get back there from the Land of Oz by clicking the heels of their ruby slippers together and saying there’s no place like home. From that same authoritative source – I must presume that Kansas does not have yellow brick roads, munchkins or a lollipop guild, as those were the things to which Dorothy reacted “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” But lately Kansas, apparently the Sunflower State, has been attracting a different kind of attention.
It would appear that the quaint prairie state which was once home to Dorothy, Toto and Auntie Em is now filled with hateful fundamentalists who do an incredible disservice to the Christian Faith.
Ok – I should be fair, the state is not FILLED with them, and in fact I am sure they are in the minority – but there are two prominent ones. I read an article in the news today that the Speaker of Kansas’ House of Representatives (which is a more prominent person than a Canadian Provincial Legislature Speaker) has gone and prayed for President Obama’s death. And of course one can’t bring up Kansas and krazy without making mention of Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist “Church”. For those of you who aren’t aware they are the ones who go around saying “God hates f**s, Jews, America, Canada and pretty much everyone else too).
I wonder if Toto peed in the Holy Water down in Kansas?
Ok, I’m sorry I shouldn’t be making light of this so much. If not for any other reason than this – it’s not a laughing matter. But stuff like this (praying for the death of a President, or preaching hatred) is simply unchristian. I apologize to Kansas for painting you with this label – I’m sure you’re a great state. It’s really these fundamentalists who take their beliefs to an extreme so far disconnected from the original message that they have lost it entirely.
Friends – God has no will to leave Malia and Sasha Obama fatherless, even if Speaker O’Neal wishes it were so. And whatever happened to render unto Caesar, submit to every human authority and there being no authority except by God’s appointment? Now in every case – I’ve always believed that is more accurately applied to our systems as opposed to the individuals occupying those offices. But no where in any of that does the Bible indicate that praying for the death of a duly-elected, constitutionally abiding President is a prayer in line with the will of a God of Love.
And well to those fundamentalist groups that go around preaching hate, I’ve got 3 words for you. READ YOUR BIBLE. Even if you are a King-James Only, word for word inspiration, fire and brimstone type of Christian – the Bible still says “God is love”, it still says “For God so loved the world”, it still says that he “Is not willing that any should perish”, and it still says “Love thy neighbour”.
There is no place in Christianity for hate, nor any of it’s cousins; intolerance, condemnation and persecution.
I’m so tired of these attention grabbing false prophets getting to set the public perception of Christianity. Their message is not what Jesus taught, and it’s not what Christians should be teaching. You know what our message is: God loves you. God doesn’t look at you and see a f*g, a Jew, an American, a Canadian, a working girl or a bureaucrat – all he sees is his child, the object of his affection and someone worth dying for!
So Kansas, I’m sorry for bringing you into this but to your Speaker and your Preacher I really just want to say; Knock it off, you’ve got it all wrong and you’re making the rest of us look bad!