On Acolytes and the Sexes

When addressing the feminist rebellion against God’s ordinance in creation, conservative Christians have typically sought to run right up to the line and stay as close to it as possible without crossing. Women can’t be pastors and can’t marry other women, but every other male space or trait or responsibility must be immediately surrendered to the world.

But this was never the wisest course of action when Scripture tells us to avoid temptation rather than courting it. It has not protected us from the world’s scorn, nor has it made us more pious, nor has it given freedom to anyone. It has served only to rob the younger generations of our identities as men and women.

Dr. Peter Scaer, a professor of mine when I attended seminary, wrote a great post on Facebook concerning the consequences of ceding the role of acolyte to feminist ideas of gender equality.

While we’re at it, now would be a good time to think about what we’re doing in the church. As we consider the demise of the Boy Scouts, which coincides with the War Against Boys, and the devaluation of manhood, we might rethink how we train and treat our acolytes. Has it really been a good thing to have our girls join the acolyte corps? Now, I know, we could say that this is not all that significant a matter, that it’s all candle lighting, but that would be dismissive of what our children recognize is a sacred task. The flame has symbolic meaning, as do the robes which our acolytes wear. They are doing something special in the house of the Lord. I admit, I still remember how nervous I was when I first lighted those candles back in 7th grade.

As the Duke of Wellington noted, “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eaton.” So, also the future of the church will depend on our Christian boys developing in strong Christian men, the kind of men that can stand up and speak out, the kind of men who are trained to be the kind of leaders who recognize their duty, and the nobility of their calling, and are willing then to make the kinds of sacrifices necessary for the sake of their families and their church. Take these boys, and develop their manhood, and you will never regret it. They will be your defenders, may even lay down their lives for you. They will speak the truth, because it is the truth. Put them in submission to God, give them the tasks that are noble and fit their nature and aspirations. Make them your acoltyes, and make a big deal out of it, as a noble service. Not again, as a law, but in accordance with Lady Wisdom, whose voice is so desperately needed.

Read the whole thing.

Adiaphora (things neither commanded nor prohibited by God) are not matters of “do whatever you want” or “do whatever the world says,” but rather “do what is wisest.”  Dr. Scaer’s wisdom on acolytes is a small and wonderful way for the Church to learn to live out its repentance.

Hair can be all sorts of different colors–some natural, some artificial, some beautiful, some ugly, some modest, some garish.  Nevertheless, hair has to be some color, or it’s not hair at all.  Something similar could be said of masculinity and femininity.  There is a legitimate variety to gender roles, though some variations are certainly more sensible than others.  Nevertheless, men and women must have some roles.  There is no Law that says only boys can acolyte, just as no Law says that pink is a girl’s color and blue is a boy’s.  But once you’ve taken everything exclusive away from boys and girls alike, you’ve implicitly rejected God’s ordinance and embraced the lies Spirit of the Age.  The Church should know better.

Posted in Christian Youth, Feminism, The Modern Church | Leave a comment

On the Nashville Statement

If you haven’t already, you can and should read it here (it’s not long), but the summary is that its a statement drafted by The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that affirms orthodox Christian teaching on the current controversies around homosexuality, transgenderism, and the like. It has gathered quite a few signatures from prominent Christians (and quite a bit of ire from others.)

I signed it. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of the CBMW—too often, conservatives conserve old errors, and they very often do so with respect to feminism. Nevertheless, as odd as it may seem, the willingness to recognize men as men and women as women has become a clear dividing line between orthodoxy and heresy in the postmodern West. Christians should be looking for ways to loudly and publicly confess Christ’s teachings, and the Nashville Statement provides a means of doing so. (And really, Christians, we are way past the time where silence will save you from the wrath of the world. Whether you sign it or not, if you are faithful to Christ’s teachings, then there is always a paper trail. They will find you.)

Naturally, it has drawn a lot of fire—from theological liberals of course, but also from pusillanimous conservatives looking for excuses to remain aloof. So I thought I would take a moment to address a handful of the common objections:

It doesn’t cover all the pertinent issues.

This is true. But neither did the Apostle’s Creed, which is why we have the Nicene Creed. And neither did the Nicene Creed, which is why we have the Athanasian Creed. And neither did the Athanasian Creed, which is why we have the Augsburg Confession. You get the point. We need to confront the errors of our time, and while I don’t think the Church can truly handle the issues of sexuality and gender without explicitly rejecting feminism, there’s no rule against addressing error in bite-sized pieces either. And really, if you can’t bring yourself to openly and unequivocally come down on Biblical side of the gay/trans issue, there’s no way you’ll be bold enough to address feminism (and the associated issues of divorce, serial monogamy, rampant fornication, etc), which is far more culturally entrenched.

It should have been written more nicely.

Frankly, I thought it went out of its way to avoid needless antagonism, but that’s not really the point. Any piece of writing could be endlessly tweaked to be a little more X and a little less Y, and any author knows that this is a task with no conclusion. If we wait for perfection, we will never speak at all, and so we release imperfect documents.

More importantly, there is no way to put the Bible’s teachings nicely enough to avoid offense. At the end of the day, LBGTETC activists are offended purely because we openly disagree with them on something that’s near and dear to their hearts. To avoid offense is to refrain from speaking the truth altogether (which is exactly what they want out of faithful Christians.) You’re never going to be more loving than Jesus is, and He was executed. Christ promised persecution to His Church precisely because the world hates us just as much on His account.

The always-salty Martin Luther had a keen insight when it came to matters of tone. From his open letter to Pope Leo X:

I have, to be sure, sharply attacked ungodly doctrines in general, and I have snapped at my opponents, not because of their bad morals, but because of their ungodliness. Rather than repent this in the least, I have determined to persist in that fervent zeal and to despise the judgment of men, following the example of Christ who in his zeal called his opponents “a brood of vipers,” “blind fools,” “hypocrites,” “children of the devil.” Paul branded Magus as the “son of the devil… full of all deceit and villainy” and he calls others “dogs,” “deceivers,” and “adulterers.” If you will allow people with sensitive feelings to judge, they would consider no person more stinging and unrestrained in his denunciations than Paul. Who is more stinging than the prophets? Nowadays, it is true, we are made so sensitive by the raving crowd of flatterers that we cry out that we are stung as soon as we meet with disapproval. When we cannot ward off the truth with any other pretext, we flee from it by ascribing it to a fierce temper, impatience, and immodesty. What is the good of salt if it does not bite? Of what use is the edge of a sword if it does not cut?

For those eager to flatter every group in the liberal hierarchy of grievance, there can be no statement tepid enough not to make them flinch

It singles out homosexuals and transgenders as special class of sinner.

People have this one strangely backwards; it is not orthodox Christians that single out these groups, but theological liberals. The Church is full of sinners just as a hospital is full of the sick and injured. Nevertheless, we don’t have a movement saying that God made them a gossip. We don’t have people claiming that their desire to have sex with people other than their wives and husbands is a gift from God that should be celebrated by the whole world. We don’t have people arguing that the existence of covetousness implies that God favors theft. But we do have progressive Christians saying that Christ’s teachings must be redacted specifically to accommodate these groups. THAT is singling out the LGBT crowd as a special class to whom God’s word only selectively applies.

As for those of us who are orthodox, we don’t have the luxury of choosing our false teachers—just the responsibility of resisting the errors that Satan plants in the church.

It excludes homosexuals and transgenders from the church.

This is one of those “I didn’t actually read the statement because I’m a good little drone” complaints. The matter is explicitly covered in several of the statements:

We affirm that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.” (Article 8)

We deny that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.” (Article 12)

We affirm that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure. (Article 14)

We deny that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach. (Article 14)

That’s pretty cut-and-dry on the matter.

But perhaps you would argue that one’s illicit sexual desires or gender confusion are so intrinsic to personal identity that expecting repentance negates the LGBT individual altogether—that a salvation from sin would amount to destruction just as liberating a triangle from its three sides would eliminate it.

Well, neither God nor His Church were the ones who decided that your favorite sin is a part of your identity; that was you. You might not be able to choose your temptations, but you do choose whether or not to embrace them as righteousness. Once again, this complaint is entirely backwards. It is the LGBT lobby that tries to exclude their constituents from the Church—robbing them of faith by teaching that God can only be trusted when he affirms their sin and robbing them of repentance by teaching that they have no need of it. They are the ones teaching that your sin is the very core of your identity—not the Nashville Statement, and not the Church.

But the good news is that you don’t have to have blind faith in spirit of the age when it tries to define you. For freedom, Christ has set you free. For about five years, I attended church alongside a repentant homosexual. And he wasn’t just gay, he was also a pedophile—as in he had done time for what he did to little boys. And it was a joy to worship with him, commune with him, and learn God’s word with him, because he understood the depths of God’s grace better than anyone I’ve ever known. He didn’t need forgiveness more than anyone else, but he knew it better. Grace is there. Grace is free. Christ has won it for you. In the Church, just as in heaven, there will be more joy over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Posted in Chastity, Culture, Heresy, The Modern Church, Theological Liberalism | Leave a comment

More Than a Duty; Not Less

Conservatives love to mock liberals for despising God’s word. Whether it’s the parts of the Bible that say Christ is the singular Way to salvation or the parts that condemn homosexuality or anything else that doesn’t mesh with liberal sensibilities, we are quick to wag our fingers and shake our heads at such godless heathens.

But if you want to find the parts of the Bible that are truly hated by our culture, then you have to go to the verses that are despised by conservatives and liberals alike—and yes, there are a lot more of these than conservatives would like to believe. As I’ve said before, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as unto the Lord” is probably the most hated Bible verse in America. Following close on its heels, however, is Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 7 that husbands and wives owe sex to one another—that we have no right to deny it except by mutual agreement for a short time.

The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control

There isn’t a whole lot of ambiguity to that text (unless we bring it there ourselves.) In other words, when we use old-timey phrases like marital duties, we are simply speaking in alignment with God’s word.

And a whole lot of people—conservatives and liberals alike—hate that. Upon reading it, the self-righteousness who either do withhold intimacy from their spouses or would simply like to reserve the option of doing so immediately go into damage-control mode. They try and figure out a rationale for why this instruction can be kept safely sequestered from their lives and requires no reformation of the way they treat the one promised to have and hold in all circumstances until death. Most often, this word from the Lord is warded off with the intuition that sex shouldn’t be a duty.

It really is a compelling objection—particularly today when romantic feelings are held up above so many other aspects of human life. When we hear “duty,” we think “chore,” and neither spouse really wants their sexual intimacy to be toil and drudgery bereft of passion. More than that, who wants yet another chore in their already busy schedule? If there’s a way out of doing chores, most people take the opportunity, and our modern sexual ethic of dehumanized consent (i.e. sex is morally right when I feel like it and morally wrong when I do not feel like it) provides a ready excuse to decline. And indeed, when Christians spouses (usually but not always wives, for we live in a feminist culture) hear that they owe their bodies to their partner, they are quick to call this divine instruction a selfish demand, abuse, or even rape when they are exhorted to conform themselves to Christ’s teachings on the matter.

But here’s the “problem”: God loves us (and isn’t that just the worst thing ever?) God loves us, and so if God tells us that sex is a duty, then sex should actually be a duty. God’s Word cannot be broken, and so it is our objection that must be flawed. And really, it only takes a subtle adjustment to properly bring this natural intuition about sex under the authority of God’s instruction—but the difference makes a huge difference. The problem isn’t really that sex shouldn’t be a duty; the problem is that sex should be more than a duty.

As Christians necessarily keep pointing out, we live in a fallen world. Things are not operating according to their original design, and sex is no exception. There’s a reason that sex is so closely associated with romance, passion, intimacy, and pleasure—sex is a wonderful gift created by God for his beloved children to encompass all those things and more. There’s also a reason that sex is only closely associated with romance, passion, intimacy, and pleasure—we have taken God’s wonderful gifts and abused them until they are less than what they once were. We can have gorgeous sunlight that burns us, wondrously made bodies that break down, and sex that’s pretty “meh.” We cannot always have the full package deal no matter how much we may want it. But we still want it because sex was designed be all those things and more—not merely a duty.

“Ah-HA” replies the frigid and loveless spouse seeking to justify herself. “Even you admit that sex should be more than a duty, so I will continue to guiltlessly withhold it until such time as I feel like it becomes more than a duty like its supposed to be.”

Not so fast.

What we have in this world is not perfect, but that does not authorize us to destroy it even more. One cannot make sex more than a duty by making it less than a duty. When a spouse is withholding sexual intimacy, they are making it less than a duty and blatantly disobeying God’s command to them. It’s part of the problem, not part of the solution. And if we take the trouble to look outside of ourselves, we find that this matches a different moral intuition. After all, when someone gets married, they are promising to be with that person and only that person for the rest of their lives. Their sexual needs can only be fulfilled by their spouse. That is why virtually no one would get married at all if there were no expectation of sex. That is why it’s right there in the marriage vows. It is a great cruelty to put yourself in the position of being a person’s exclusive sexual partner for their entire lives and then refuse them sex.

And it is a double cruelty among Christians (in contrast to the broader culture,) for we should know that it is marriage rather than romance that legitimizes sex. Fornication and sexual impurity are constantly warned against in Scripture, and out in the world, our temptations to these things are just as constant. Guarding against these temptations is precisely the reason Paul gives for commanding spouses to serve one another in this fashion. Christian spouses are not simply partners in love and family but are partners against evil and temptation as well. Those who have not been given the relatively rare gift of singleness have needs that only their spouse can help them with. And if you’re tempted to label that kind of reasoning as too cynical for someone like you who believes in “true” love, then check your self-righteousness and stop trying to be holier than God has asked you to be—especially when your supposedly lofty standards require you to deny things God tells you. It is a great tragedy that we hold moments of passion as greater than loving kindness, family, and resisting evil in service to God.

And yet we do. As C.S. Lewis observed in The Screwtape Letters, “Yes, [humans] think that. They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life as something lower than a storm of emotion.” And this mindset is not exclusive to spouses who withhold sex, but is also found among the spouses from whom it is withheld. It is only natural to want to please one’s spouse and provoke that kind of passion, but that is difficult in circumstances when sex is no more than a duty. In pride, some will avoid seeking the mutual help and preservation of chastity promised in their marriage vows because it does not afford them the opportunity to rock their partner’s world. And efforts to humble oneself and ask for what was promised at the altar are often further sabotaged by the scorn of the world (and worldly Christians) who will mock those who would “stoop” to accepting duty sex.

But as great as God’s gifts of passion and romance are, they become toxic when bereft of loving kindness, chastity, and family. For proof of this, one need only look at the bleak sexual landscape of the modern world in which few are satisfied, and fewer still are satisfied for any length of time. Such gifts are not ends in themselves.

But when both husband and wife humble themselves and accept the good works that God has called them to do for one another in marriage, it can create a fertile field of genuine love out of which passion and romance can one day grow. Indeed, this is far more likely to happen in a dutiful marriage in than in marriages in which spouses violate their vows, disregard their partner’s needs, and pridefully reject the command of God. It is not wrong for husbands and wives to want passion and romance in their proper context. But while duty sex may not be an ending point that anyone wishes for, sometimes it’s the only starting point we have.

Posted in Chastity, Ethics, Feminism, Natural Law | 1 Comment

Not Peace, But a Sword — Sermon on Matthew 10:34-42

Grace, mercy, and peace to you—from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text is this morning’s Gospel reading.

For the last few weeks, our Gospel readings have come from the book of Matthew—from what is often called Jesus’ missionary discourse. It begins at the end of chapter 9 when Jesus tells his disciples to pray that God would send laborers into the harvest. In chapter 10, Jesus answers the very prayer he commanded, and He sends twelve of his disciples to proclaim the kingdom of heaven.

Now this was a mission specific to the Apostles at that time, for most of us haven’t been given authority to cast out unclean spirits and heal every disease and affliction (10:1) just as we haven’t been instructed to avoid the Gentiles at this time(10:5). But as Jesus continues to teach the twelve to prepare them for that mission, he gives instruction that does apply to the entire church throughout time and space and to the mission that is shared among each one of us.

We can see it in the way his language changes. At first the discourse is mostly made up of fairly specific “you’s” “They will deliver you over to the courts and flog you in their synagogues.” “You will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” But as Jesus continues—particularly starting with verse 24—we find much broader statements: “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

So it is with our Gospel reading this morning, in which Jesus tells all of us:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother… And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.

Not peace, but a sword. It’s an odd way of thinking about the One we worship as the Prince of Peace—whose birth was heralded by angels proclaiming “peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.” For that matter, about 30 verses earlier, Jesus was telling his Apostles to give peace to those who receive them. And about 60 seconds earlier, I began this message by declaring peace to you from God. So what gives?

Well, when we speak of peace, we speak of a reconciliation or an end to hostilities between two parties. And Christ did indeed come to bring peace between God and Man. For we were enemies of God—we hated Him. Oh, most people like the idea of God well enough—an all-powerful creator who loves and cares for us when we need Him and quietly goes back to the servants quarters when we don’t. But the reality of God… that’s different: That perfect love that we in our selfishness don’t even recognize; That holiness that doesn’t budge an inch for our favorite sins no matter how much we demand He make room for them; That unerring justice under which every last one of us rightly stands condemned. That God, we’re not so fond of. That God, the natural man hates.

But the end of the story is not our hatred, but God’s love. As Paul tells us in Romans, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” You see, despite our hatred, he took our guilt and sin upon himself and replaced it all with his perfect righteousness. And Paul goes on to say “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” No more hostility. No more guilt. No more condemnation. Just peace and abundant life in Christ given freely to everyone who believes.

But this unfathomable gift of peace between God and man is not the same thing as peace between one man and another. Despite our peace with God… or rather because of it, we who believe… now have conflict with the world. Being reconciled with God, we are now on His side against those who still hate Him the way we once did—the way we often still do. And in that sense, Jesus does not promise us peace, but rather persecution.

And this has always been the normal state of affairs for the Church. As soon as it was founded, the Church was persecuted first by the Jews and then by the Romans until Christianity was finally legalized by Emperor Constantine. From the 7th century onward, a warlord named Mohammad and his followers put the once-Christian Middle East to the sword for more than a thousand years and counting. During the Reformation, we often persecuted one another because different groups of Christians insisted on rejecting different parts of God’s word. And it continues today, as all over the world Christians face penalties, imprisonment, and even death. Though the severity of persecution may wax and wane in different times and places, it is nevertheless business as usual for the Church.

And yet, we’re somehow surprised when it starts happening in front of us—when the targets are the Christians around us or even ourselves. We’re shocked when the latest florist or baker is sued into oblivion for refusing the celebrate sodomy. We’re aghast when a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate publicly argues that accepting Jesus’s statement that those who don’t believe in him are condemned makes a person unfit for public office. It catches us off-guard when people call us bigots for nothing more than believing things that were common knowledge until about five minutes ago.

We’re surprised because most of us grew up in a rather exceptional time and place—one with extremely broad religious liberties. What’s more, it wasn’t that long ago when America could at least plausibly be called a Christian nation. It was a wonderful blessing for which we should be thankful, and within our vocation as citizens, it is a blessing that’s worth contending for. After all, we should be in the business of loving and protecting one-another. But this blessing is not the norm for the Church. And what we see beginning around us today is simply a return to form.

And so, the time has come once again when the world demands our loyalty—to prove to them that when the going gets tough we are on their side against the unsettling reality of God. What proof do they require? Well, that’s always changing. In the 3rd century, Christian citizens of Rome were obligated to obtain a certificate proving that they had made an animal sacrifice in honor of the gods for the well-being of the Empire. Today, you’re more likely to be asked to pretend that a man wearing a dress is actually a woman or that two women are married to one-another. It’s weird, sure, but not any weirder than setting a cow’s guts on fire to honor the god of thunder. The specifics change, but the world’s only real requirement is that we deny Christ and the things he has clearly taught us. The other details are circumstantial.

We’re also surprised because we still labor under the illusion that if only we mind our own business, phrase things the right way, or try hard not to offend, the world’s hatred will pass us by. But do not be deceived. You’re not going to escape this by being quiet and unassuming. Faithfulness always leaves a paper trail. Maybe it’s a comment you made at dinner. Maybe it’s a tweet or a blog post. Maybe its a donation to a Christian charity. The world isn’t going to just forget you’re there if you keep your head down. And even those who escape the notice of judges and senators may yet have to face coworkers, friends, and even beloved family members as Jesus warns us.

Neither are you going to escape it by being nice or sensitive. There is no amount of sensitivity that will save you from the world’s hatred of God. Now, don’t misunderstand: when we confess God’s word, we are to do so with gentleness and respect. Likewise, whatever enemies we make, we are to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. Though, to be sure, gentleness and respect are not always the same thing as being nice, nor is love and goodness always the same thing as sensitivity. But however well or poorly you love your neighbor, you’re never going to be more loving than Jesus was, and he was put to death.

So there’s no escape for us, but why should we be concerned with escape? Remember who we are in Christ! Why should conquerors retreat from the field of victory? In his first epistle, Peter tells us, “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” For if we suffer with our Lord, how much more will we be raised up to eternal life with Him. Oh, the world can do some cruel things to us, but the one thing the world can never do to us is defeat us, because our victory is in Christ. We have absolutely nothing to gain by being timid; but we have every reason to be bold.

So heed our Lord’s warnings. For Jesus says,

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

In other words, don’t seek the approval of the world—even when mother or father or son or daughter are counted among them. Don’t seek safety and security in this life by taking the world’s side against God and His Church. Instead, bear your cross, for this kind of suffering isn’t something we can lay aside without also laying aside Christ.

We must indeed heed these warnings, but boldness comes from laying hold of our Lord’s promises. For though Jesus warns that “Whoever finds his life will lose it” he also promises that “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” No matter how hard they try, the world cannot truly take our lives because we are alive in Christ. Though we are sent into the world to die, nevertheless we shall live eternally.

And of those he sends bearing the Gospel, Jesus also promises:

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.

The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

So who are these prophets and righteous persons, and how do we receive them? Christ goes with those he sends into the world—they bring Him with them. The Apostles brought Christ to the Roman Empire and beyond. Pastors bring Christ to their congregations. Fathers and mothers bring Christ to their children. Christians bring Christ to those around them—even those who persecute us. And we have received such people by believing the Word of God that they brought to us. After all, receiving a prophet because he is a prophet means you believed his prophecy and receiving a disciple because he is a disciple means having faith in his teacher.

And having received Christ from those he sent, Jesus now goes with us as well and we bear him to our neighbors. Oh, we may all be poor excuses for prophets, disciples, or righteous men, but the reward is borne by Christ and received by faith alone. And the world cannot take it away. So pick up the cross that’s been entrusted to you, and confess Christ boldly, for our lives rest in Him.

And may that peace of God—that peace with God—that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Posted in Culture, Politics, The Modern Church | Leave a comment

Science Is Trustworthy When It Becomes Engineering

Why do we trust science? Richard Dawkins answers in this video a friend shared on Facebook the other day. In it, Dawkins is asked how how one justifies the belief that evidence and logical reasoning are required for justified belief without circular reasoning. He interprets that as a question of how we justify our trust in the scientific method and answers “because it works.” Because planes fly, computers compute, and so forth only when they are made according to scientific principles.

There is no context given for the question or the answer, but I suspect it comes out of the epistemological realization that science is not self-authenticating. In other words, there are a lot of people who still hold to a soft logical positivism (generally the “I f-ing love science” crowd) and think that no one should ever hold any belief unless its scientifically proven. Of course, that means that this very standard for holding belief would also need to be scientifically validated, but it cannot be done by science lest it rely on circular reasoning—a self-referentially incoherent standard.

Dawkins does dodge the epistemological conundrum—his answer involves a reasoned argument (induction) and evidence to support it, so if my suspicion about context is correct, it remains circular reasoning. Nevertheless, (and I don’t say this about Dawkins very often) he does actually give a good practical answer for why science is trustworthy—provided one accepts the logical baggage that comes along with it.

We trust science because of its demonstrated ability to “work”—to manipulate the world around us and make it do what we want. This is a legitimate rationale for trusting science, but it also sets boundaries for that trust. Inasmuch as “because it works” provides the rationale for the scientific method, it also restricts the scope of its applicability to things that “work” in that same sense. Contrary to the usual rhapsodies from the adherents of scientism, this means that science cannot be an all-encompassing methodology for the universal navigation of life’s questions. There are far too many important things that fall outside of the mechanical scope of working.

Can science then tell us anything about Beauty? Not so much, as “what works” is not a primary concern in that arena. On the contrary, the bulk of our artwork could be deemed quite frivolous in terms of its functionality. Of course, one could reduce art to terms of the chemical responses to encounters with artwork that can be found in human physiology, but that would mean that the best possible work of art would be a syringe with the right cocktail of hormones and enzymes. That is not at all what people mean when they talk about beauty. This kind of mechanical thinking is a hallmark of modernism, but it amputates the humanity from our lives.

Can science tell us about truth? In a sense, but it is limited to truths about what works and what doesn’t. It can tell us how much hydrogen weighs or how it interacts with oxygen, but it cannot address the vast stretch of human life and thought that sees beyond matter and its properties.

Can science tell us about goodness? Only in terms of some of its practicality. For example, science could tell us that it is better to feed the hungry with a bowl of oatmeal than a bowl of broken glass, but only on the precondition that the scientist knows that nourishing our hungry neighbors is a good thing—a precondition that has nothing to do with “what works” and therefore cannot be supplied by science. Morality in the transcendent sense of the word does not proceed from mere mechanics.

Can science tell us about humanity? It can in some respects, because people are, in some respects, mechanical. But the social sciences are pretty soft compared to, say, physics because human behavior is so much more than just mechanical. I’ve never read a scientific study that is more informative about humanity than Anna Karenina or Hamlet.

Can science tell us about history? Again, not really. You can never say that history “works” in the sense of planes and computers and whatnot because it already happened. You cannot recreate 1517 in a laboratory to test whether your theories about the Reformation are correct. Beyond some tools for data analysis, history relies on the testimony of those who witnessed it. But this hardly means we have no historical knowledge.

Can science tell us how to govern? This takes us back to goodness and the various social sciences. It can provide some data to assist in making decisions, but it cannot supply the entire intellectual framework in which those decisions are made. It has its uses, but it is only one tool in the belt—a modest role that our soft logical positivists feel is far beneath them.

At the end of the day, the “science” for which Dawkins provides a rationale is not science in the sense that the adherents of scientism usually mean it. While I don’t think this is what he intended to say, what he is really talking about is basically engineering—the art of applying science to solve problems like how to fly, how to heal, or how to compute large amounts of data. Engineering is a wonderful thing—and not just because its my own livelihood. But engineering doesn’t answer the big questions. It cannot tell you the difference between right and wrong or ugly and beautiful. Engineering cannot tell you what your society should look like. Engineering cannot tell you where we came from, whether God exists, or whether Christ rose from the dead.  These questions are not beyond rational investigation, but science and engineering are not the only research tools.

I do trust science because it works. But when people try and make it into a weapon against disciplines like theology, history, and the humanities, “working” is no longer in the cards, and so neither is trust.

Posted in Science | 4 Comments

I Learned It By Watching You

This is not a new story, but it’s new to me. Sister Apple Sister Pig is a free children’s story (badly) written by feminist painter Mary Walling Blackburn; and like many such books, it aims at helping small children understand and accept an adult issue:  the abortion of their siblings.

The story is about a young child of indeterminate gender named Lee (who, for the sake of simplicity I will refer to with masculine pronouns.) I suppose you could say that Lee is pleasantly haunted by the ghost of his aborted older sister. As he goes about his morning exploring the yard and doing kid things, he keeps asking his dad whether his sister is in the tree, the apple, the pig, or the pond that he encounters. The father is hesitant about dipping into the issue—simply telling Lee that she can be in the apple if he wants her to be. But eventually, Lee indicates that he knows what happened, and that he’s ok with it. He understands what his parents “had to” do, and he knows that his sister is a happy ghost whom he loves.

As repugnant as radical pro-abortion activism is, it does have a tendency to inadvertently wipe all the lipstick off of that porker. Sister Apple Sister Pig really does do a wonderful job of making the issue of abortion so clear that even a child can understand it—far moreso than I suspect the author intended.

First and foremost, it very plainly acknowledges that abortion kills an innocent human being. For all the talk of the removal of blood clots, tumors, and lumps of tissue among the pro-abortion crowd, the book couldn’t possibly be any clearer about what happened: “Lee is Papa and Mama’s only child for now, although there once was a sister.” “She lived before me, but Mama couldn’t keep her. Mama says she is a ghost.” “She briefly lived in Mama.” This is not the usual narrative of a woman who chose not to become a mother, but the reality that abortion is about a woman who is already a mother choosing to kill and discard the daughter that she already has.

Secondly, it (unintentionally, I think) placards the radical selfishness at the heart of the pro-abortion movement. Curiously, the choice to abort is always phrased as what Mama and Papa “could not” do, as though it wasn’t really a choice at all (ironic coming from a movement that claims to be all about choice.) But eventually, the “good reasons to not have a sister right here right now” come out. Lee helpfully explains to Papa why he’s not sad that his sister is a ghost:

If you kept my sister, you would be tired, and sad, and mad! … Because we would be wild and loud and sometimes we would fight. Mama might be scared that she could not buy enough food for us. Mama might not have enough time to read to me, to paint with me, to play with me, to talk with me.

So why was Lee’s living sister made to become a ghost? Because she would make his parents feel tired or sad or mad. Because she would take Mama’s attention away from Lee. But a ghost sister is more convenient than a living one. While a live child makes unavoidable demands on the lives of parents and siblings alike, the ghost sister never overstays her welcome. She’s there if Lee wants her to be, but gone when he doesn’t. “She returns when I call her…if I need her,” Lee explains.  The deep cruelty at the pit of this story’s black heart is this: Lee has learned from his parents that its better that his sister die than that he should have to share with her.

Like so many abortion stories—fiction and non-fiction alike—the book is a plea for absolution without repentance, and it demonstrates just how destructive that ludicrous quest can be. “Masochists, look elsewhere,” the dedication reads. “Between these pages you will not find the ‘luxury of grief,’ culpability’s sharp sting or salty guilt.” It’s clear enough what Mama is running from, but how does she get there? The path entails taking the most innocent surviving victim of abortion—the child whose sister was murdered—and trying to forge a reconciliation with him out of the base alloy of radical selfishness. Lee holds no grudge because he understands! He loves his mama and doesn’t want her to feel bad. And he knows how bad she would feel because he has learned to be just as self-centered as she is. He’s happier with a dead sister that can make no demands on his life than a live sister with whom he would need to share his mama. It’s a stunningly ruthless rationalization with which to soothe one’s conscience.

But as as a great philosopher once wrote, “conscience has its revenge.” The time will come when people like Lee’s mama will become as helpless as the boys and girls who briefly lived within them. And I suspect that these parents will be shocked at just how quickly they’re euthanized when they begin making demands on the next generation’s lives. After all, their surviving posterity will have learned from the best.

“Mom,” Lee might someday begin as the doctor clears the air out of his syringe. “Now just isn’t a good time to have an old parent. I know that if I do, I will be tired and sad and angry. I know that I’ll have less time for my career and my girlfriend. Maybe someday when I have more time and money, I could keep you, but now just isn’t the right time.” He nods to the doctor. “Don’t worry, Mom,” he says lovingly as she struggles against her restraints, “I know you’ll be a happy ghost.”

Posted in Abortion, End of Life | 3 Comments

Why Do Witches Burn?

Blogger’s Note:  The extremely long gap between posts here is mainly due to my latest beloved son with whom I am well pleased–except when it comes to sleeping on his own.  I have not given up blogging, but my already sketchy publishing schedule will probably continue to be super-sketchy for the next few months.

If one wants to trump up the historical atrocities of Christianity, the list of go-to sins is really pretty short. The Crusades and the Inquisition generally find the top spots on most lists, and science fetishists might add the popular but largely fictionalized narrative of Galileo being executed for telling the truth. Once you get past those, the next big one is our propensity for burning witches at the stake.

We all had to read The Crucible in high school, we’re all taught to be tolerant of other religions, and we’re all horrified at the image of medieval peasants goaded by a priest into lighting some poor old woman on fire because her neighbor’s daughter was stillborn and she happened to have a wart on her nose and a bundle of dried sage hanging in her house. Accordingly, the wrongness of burning witches is basically taken for granted in the West today by Christians and non-Christians alike.

Unfortunately, some people are inadvertently working hard to change all that, but they’re not Christians—they’re witches.

It seems that various covens, orders, and other mystical groups from around the world recently organized in order to cast a “binding spell” on President Trump—preventing him from doing harm as they see it and enforcing their political ideology through magic. Supposedly, this is non-violent towards Trump (so not a hex or curse or something), although the final image of him blowing apart into ash and the author’s acknowledgment that if it works we’ll be stuck with Pence makes me a little skeptical on that front. Either way, though, the intention is to control the course of the U.S. Government through mystical powers rather than democratic rule of law.

So what does this bit of silliness have to do with the witch-hunts of the olden days? Well, like most things taken for granted, we have largely forgotten why we no longer burn witches. What exactly happened that caused the shift in the West’s sense of justice? C.S. Lewis helpfully reminds us in Mere Christianity:

But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. If we did—if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather—surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did? There is no difference of moral principle here: the difference is simply about matter of fact. It may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there is no moral advance in not executing them when you do not think they are there. You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house.

In other words, we grant accused witches an irrevocable presumption of innocence because we simply don’t believe they’re capable of doing what they claim. Even self-proclaimed witches cannot really be guilty of ruining crops and dominating wills because they cannot really do such things. But the flip-side of this is that when we watch Supernatural to see Sam and Dean gut a witch, we still cheer them on because in the context of the story, their powers (and their dangers) are real. Do witches really want people to start thinking of fiction as reality?

This fact puts those who are taking part in the ritual in a kind of double-bind. If, as I believe, this is a bunch of nonsense carried out by volunteer demon-fodder, then they simply reinforce their reputation as a bunch of self-deluded crazies harvesting eye of newt by candlelight before getting up to feed their 13 black cats. We all get a good laugh, and Trump does what Trump does, for better and worse.

But the alternative is worse for the witches. Because if this is real and efficacious, then that instead makes them a powerful mystical cabal intent on subverting legitimate governments and controlling the very destiny of the nations through their supernatural abilities. It would mean that the modern West has simply been deceived about the existence of witches, in which case, it’s only a matter of time before the muggles catch on once again and organize to defend themselves from magical tyranny. Every old story about a musclebound warrior cutting the malevolent witch in half with his broadsword in order to save the kingdom becomes an inspiration. History will repeat and the age of witch-hunts will return because people will once again believe in witches in the old sense of the word.

If witches are looking to bind something, then they might want to consider binding the kind of stupidity that voluntarily walks into a no-win scenario like that. Perhaps its wiser to just stick with positive energy and white light and whatnot.

Posted in Culture, Paganism | Leave a comment

The Alt-right’s Success in a Nutshell

Whatever you might think of the Alt-right, it’s hard to deny its risen to a surprising degree of influence in the West. You need only notice the way this past election has transformed it from something self-serious people refused to even acknowledge to a kind of bogey man being talked about in hushed tones by frightened commentators wondering whether the sun will ever rise again.

How did it happen? The Guardian unintentionally illustrates it though an anonymous piece entitled ‘Alt-right’ online poison nearly turned me into a racist. The author describes a process that begins with some simple curiosity about the motives of the opposition leading into a rabbit-hole of consuming their YouTube and Twitter content. This went on for four months before he finally snapped back to progressivism.

He paints his brief conversion as something akin to contracting an illness after exposure to a pathogen and then being cured upon eliminating that exposure. Accordingly, his experience seems to recommend quarantine as the solution: beware suggested YouTube videos, don’t follow Milo Yiannopoulos on Twitter, and so forth. The views of the alt-right are simply too virulent to tolerate.

But here’s the unintentional part: What actually happened to the author? He experienced a rare phenomenon known as intellectual curiosity and actually took a look at the arguments of his opponents—unusual in the age of the mental bubble. This lead to finding more and more arguments and critiques, and finding them rationally compelling to the point where he began to tentatively voice them to others as a way of testing them out. In contrast, his route back to progressivism was sudden shame after his wife noted that he sounded “a bit right wing” and he began leveling accusations of ‘racism’ and ‘islamophobia’ against himself.

TL;DR version: The Alt Right gave him argument while the Left gave him the feels.

The Alt Right has been successful because their only real opposition is furious name-calling. They raise shocking and impolite arguments, but the reaction is always against their audacity rather than rationally addressing the content of what they say. That’s the kind of opposition that works for a while, but eventually loses its effectiveness. The stigma of ‘racism’ is already fading away because any intellectual underpinnings it once had have eroded. Once that happens, shaming is only sufficient for corralling the weak-minded. To so many others, the Alt Right gains a certain credibility precisely because the opposition is so vapid.

So if you don’t like the alt-right and what it represents, I highly recommend dropping the “r” word altogether when offering your critique. After all, if you can’t make your case without resorting to accusations of racism (or any other form of ism/phobia) then you probably don’t have one.

Posted in Culture, Politics | 1 Comment

“Constructive Dialog” Post-Election

A friend’s Facebook post this morning made me very sad. It offered up this article from a pair of liberals reflecting on their behavior during this latest election cycle with the comment, “A thoughtful article to consider our own behavior and how we can move forward in constructive dialogue.”

It’s not a bad article—that’s not why it makes me sad. It is thoughtful. It does offer some regrets about their behavior as well as some straightforward and reasonable suggestions for liberals to engage in a reasonable discussion with their opponents on the right in an attempt to move forward together. It’s certainly a contrast with today’s more common charge from the left that the election was a victory won by racists and misogynists. What makes me sad is that it was written way too late to do any good or reverse this nation’s course towards division.

Liberal ascendancy in America has long been making our political conversation increasingly nasty—and the stops were all pulled out for this election cycle. It was not characterized by meaningful argument or dialogue, but by a cavalcade of name-calling and attempted gotcha’s. We clearly reached peak-Godwin with all the “Trump is basically Hitler” rhetoric, and as Scott Adams rightly pointed out, that’s basically saying a person would be morally justified in killing the guy and attacking his followers. Beyond the personalities, positions that differ from leftist orthodoxy continue to be met with mere charges of bigotry, hate, thisism, and thatism, while those who hold them are dismissed as some variation of “deplorables.”

The left has also gutted our so-called fourth estate. Rather than a check and balance on our political powers and the corruption they necessarily provoke, they’ve freely opted to be the public relations arm of the Democratic Party. The Wikileaks emails confirm in black and white what every conservative already knew—that the media was in the tank for Hillary. Now that so much of the fawning, favoritism, deliberately leaked debate questions, and so forth are a matter of public record, no honest person can continue to use scare quotes for the term, liberal media. My personal favorite was the reporter who wanted John Podesta’s input on what questions he should ask “Jeb” in an upcoming interview. If his job were really to interview public figures, he wouldn’t need Podesta to tell him how to do it.

Worst of all, this river of vitriol has long been flooding outside out of the banks of rhetoric. Mayors of majors cities have declared that there’s no place for Chick-fil-A restaurants in their realms because of their own civil political donations. People are being fired from their jobs and losing their livelihoods for civilly disagreeing with leftist orthodoxy—folks like Brandon Eich, Baronelle Stutzman, and others. The recently released videos from James O’Keefe catch Democratic operatives admitting to inciting violence at Trump rallies and apparently conspiring to commit voter fraud. These sorts of things cannot be dismissed as words spoken in anger—these are deliberate and substantive attacks on the opposition.

All of this has been stewing for a long time, but the left wholeheartedly embraced it during this election. They went all-in against Trump and spewed every ounce of venom that they had stored up. And it didn’t work. They still lost.

It is only now, in that context, that I’m hearing the suggestion that liberals might need to reflect on their behavior in order to work together with the conservatives they’ve just tried to exile from civil society. It’s rather telling that the article actually has to remind their readers “to periodically seek out reasonable advocates of opposing views—and listen deeply to them.” They wouldn’t have to go out of their way to find us if they had been less eliminationist in their rhetoric and actions—so sure they were chosen by the future to supplant everyone else.

So, as a “reasonable advocate of opposing views,” allow me to provide something to which the left should listen deeply. Do you know how your suggestion of constructive dialog looks now? It looks like a man who fires every round of ammunition he has at his intended victim, fails to kill him, and then, when pulling the trigger produces nothing but clicks, says, “Hey… let’s sit down and talk this out like adults.” That’s not a man who’s looking for a civil conversation. That’s a man who’s looking for another opportunity, and the right must not provide one.  The left has obliterated the kind of civic trust that serves as a prerequisite for constructive dialog.  All that’s left is finding out who is stronger.

It makes me sad because I have no doubt that some liberals are quite genuine in their desire to reconsider their actions and look for a new way forward that’s more cooperative. Unfortunately, neither do I have any doubt that the time for such measures is long past or that their voices are far too small among those whose cooperative attitudes quickly whither away when they acquire power sufficient to their goals. Sometimes, when you cross a line, you cannot go back. That the left has done so is precisely why so many conservatives opted to elect a man like Trump in the first place.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m suddenly totally on board with our president-elect anymore than I’m going to pretend I’m not relived that Clinton lost. Nevertheless, as I’ve written before, Trump, for all his flaws, is a fighter who has already achieved some important victories that conservatives have never managed. Plus, the left (and the GOP establishment) hate him as much as they hate conservatives. I think there’s a lot more potential for cooperation with Trump and his supporters than there is with the left. We should be above much of what he’s done, but that doesn’t mean we have to be above working with him.

Posted in Politics | 3 Comments

The 16th Century Called…

500 years later, and the Pope still wants Lutherans to set aside doctrine for the sake of unity.

According to Fox News, the Pope met with a large group of Lutherans yesterday. The message was that Lutherans and Papists should set aside their doctrinal differences so that we can unite to help the poor and the downtrodden.

It was unclear exactly which doctrines get in the way of such an endeavor. Generally, Lutherans will work with anyone inasmuch as we agree on what it is we’re doing together. So while we would not commune with a Calvinist or pray with a Muslim, we would certainly work with people of any faith to help the poor provided we could all agree on what helping the poor looks like. For example, we couldn’t work with a political liberal who holds the all-too-common view that abortion is a means of helping the poor, but that wouldn’t apply to faithful members of the Church of Rome.

But regardless of the specifics, whenever the call to abandon divisive doctrine is raised (in contradiction to the uniform teaching of the New Testament that sound doctrine is actually kind of important,) keep the following in mind: Whenever you ask someone to set aside their doctrine for the sake of something else (let’s say unity,) you’re really just asking them to adopt your own doctrine that unity is more important than their doctrine. After all, “unity is more important than doctrine” is a doctrine. It masquerades as being doctrinally neutral, but it absentmindedly brings an opposing doctrine in through the back door. And because it’s being done absentmindedly, the opposing doctrine is usually of very poor quality. So the Pope isn’t really putting doctrine aside at all—he’s just being really bad at it.

But hey, any time the Pope would like to set aside his own doctrine by repenting of the Council of Trent, Lutherans would welcome such a move towards unity in Truth.

Posted in Theology | 1 Comment