Building a Community of Faith

CoF

[A slightly abridged version of this article will appear in the April 2018 edition of the Mount Carmel Cumberland Presbyterian Church newsletter.]

“My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.” – Psalm 78:1-4, NIV

Psalm 78 is one of the longer psalms in the Bible taking up 72 verses.

Douglas Wilson has provided this summary for it:

“Consider the preamble of this history to be the first eight verses (v. 1-8). The time of Israel in the wilderness is then recounted (v. 9-41). The movement then goes historically backward as the psalmist recalls how God delivered Israel from Egypt in the first place (v. 42-52). The history of Israel is then resumed, and continues down to the time when Judah takes over from Ephraim as the dominant tribe (v. 53-66). That transfer is then celebrated (v. 67-72)”

We know from the psalm that it is a brief history of God’s people in the wilderness, and there’s something for us to learn here.

The primary way to build a community of faith is not with our hands, but with our stories. Revelation 12 tells us that we are made overcomers by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony. If that’s true, then remembering what God has done for us (our testimony) is essential to seeing the victory that God has won for us in Christ (by His blood.)

Unfortunately, Psalm 78 has this refrain over and over again in some way: “but they forgot…”

Psalm 78:10 says, “they refused to keep God’s covenant and live by His law.” But why did they forget? They forget because, at some point, the people abandoned the practice of rightly teaching their children who God is and what He was doing for them.

The only way we are going to keep our community from being defined by lawlessness is to tell our children about the works of God, and live out the Gospel in our homes.

Tell your children and grandchildren about Jesus dying on the cross and raising from the dead to declare victory over sin, death, and hell. Teach how to live a godly life in the midst of a sinful world. Show them the importance of living in community with other believers and being active members of the local body of Christ. Remind them of what God has said about them in baptism.

Any kind of community can be built by the work of our hands, but only a community of faith can be built by the word of the Gospel being proclaimed consistently in the home.

A White Evangelical Responds to “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”

a WHITE EVANGELICAL RESPONDS TO

(Editor’s Note: This article contains references to race-based slavery and racism, which could be distressing to some readers.)

Living in Mississippi has provided a unique opportunity for me to dive into the issue of race in America, because you really can’t live in Mississippi and not face the reality of a racialized society! Though much of my learning occurred through following a diverse group of people on social media, I kept hearing people reference a non-social-media medium (a book!) for learning about this topic—and specifically a book called Divided by Faith by sociologists Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith. And so this month, I finally decided to give it a read. Spoiler alert: I loved it, I was challenged by it, and I quickly knew I wanted to share my findings with whomever would care to read them. And thus this article came to be. In it, I attempt to summarize the book, share some personal reflections, suggest ways for white evangelicals to respond, and pass along some additional resources.

Historical Overview

Emerson and Smith begin with a brief definition of terms such as “evangelical” and “racialization” and then make a case—using a myriad of statistics—that race is the defining societal divide in America. “Evangelicals” are defined as those who believe the Bible to be God’s Word, urge personal salvation through Jesus Christ, and self-identify as evangelicals. They define a racialized society as “a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.” (page 7) And more specifically, “[i]n the post-Civil Rights United States, the racialized society is one in which intermarriage rates are low, residential separation and socioeconomic inequality are the norm, our definitions of personal identity and our choices of intimate associations reveal racial distinctiveness” and in which we are always aware of the race of people with whom we interact. (page 7) They then spend several chapters recounting the story of race and Evangelicalism throughout American history, starting with the 1700s and going through the present day (or rather the 90s, since the book was published in 2000). I’ll share some of the highlights.

In the 1700s as Europeans colonized what would later become the United States, people from West Africa were kidnapped, enslaved, and brought over to work the land. At first, there was no particular concern for the religious beliefs of the slaves. But partway through the 1700’s, attempts to “Christianize” enslaved people began. At first there was some confusion about whether converting to Christianity necessitated temporal freedom from slavery, but religious leaders quickly allayed those fears. For example:

Cotton Mather forcefully argued that the Bible did not give Christian slaves the right to liberty. Just as forcefully, he argued that neither the canons of the church nor the English Constitution made a connection between christianization and temporal freedom. (page 23)

In fact, Evangelical leaders argued that enslavement was good for Africans because it gave them the opportunity to convert to Christianity. (Some Christians hold this view to this day, and it is repugnant!) The social stratification of masters and slaves was understood to be God’s design for a peaceful society. These ideas were diligently catechized to the enslaved Africans, with Frederick Douglass later explaining, “I have met many religious colored people … who are under the delusion that God requires them to submit to slavery and to wear chains with meekness and humility.”

The American Revolution brought a fresh look at race-based slavery. People wondered if the principles behind the fight for freedom from England applied also to enslaved peoples. Thus began the rise of the anti-slavery movement among evangelicals. They were largely moderates and “gradualists,” believing that slavery would slowly be put to rest overtime as both masters and slaves were converted to Christianity. As Emerson and Smith point out, “Evangelicals of this time … held that by changing individuals, social problems would eventually dissipate.” (page 29) This movement had minimal results and petered out in the early 1800s.

The 1830s saw a rise in Evangelical “immediatists,” who demanded direct and immediate action to end what they saw as the great injustice of slavery. One such evangelical was Pastor Charles Finney. He connected his faith with abolitionism, going so far as to deny communion to parishioners who were slaveholders, believing that it was impossible simultaneously to own slaves and to be a Christian. (Personally, I think what he did was awesome!) However, as the movement gathered steam and begin to emphasize amalgamation of the races, Finney distanced himself. He saw slavery as a separate issue from race, and did not support amalgamation or integration. (This line of thinking paved the way for Jim Crow laws.) Emerson and Smith see Finney as representative of the views of many Evangelical abolitionists of the time.

If the well-educated and progressive Finney willingly spoke out against slavery, but not racial prejudice and segregation, it is reasonable to suppose the grassroots evangelicals, though perhaps viewing slavery as wrong, were often prejudiced, continued to view African Americans as inferior, and were generally opposed to the integration of the races. Although calling for people to be freed, they did not call for an end to racialization. (page 33)

Not all evangelicals took exception to slavery. In the mid-1800s, a robust defense of slavery was developed using so-called biblical, evangelistic, social, and political support. Enslaved Africans were also frequently reminded of the supposed rightness of slavery. For example, when slaves attended church with their masters, preachers would share an additional sermon reminding them of their “Christian duty” to submit to their masters.

After the Civil War and during Reconstruction, with slavery officially outlawed, white northern evangelicals sent money, teachers, and missionaries to the South to “raise up the Negro.” Condescending? Yes. But still a generally positive endeavor. Overall, Reconstruction was a time of social and political success for freed slaves. However, Southerners soon began to fear for their way of life, wanting to get back to what they saw as “Christian America,” and therefore imposed laws to restrict and oppress black people. This was the start of Jim Crow laws and institutionalized segregation. Northern evangelical interest declined, and most of them left Southerners to deal with “race problems” on their own.

In response to legislated segregation, African American people started their own churches while white Christians largely denied that there even was a race problem. In other words, even while Jim Crow laws actively worked against equality for African Americans, white Americans believed that equality already existed!

In the twenties and thirties, evangelicals were generally critical of violence between the races, though not of segregation. In 1919, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation began.

The goal during this period was to provide a better racial environment. … It advocated an end to lynching, portraying African Americans in a more positive light, and better facilities, such as school buildings for African Americans, though still within the context of segregation. Indeed, the commission never attacked segregation itself, but simply strove to improve race relations and the lives of black Americans within the institutional context of segregation. (page 42-43)

The Civil Rights Movement highlighted the extent of differences between black Christians and white evangelicals. Most evangelicals were critical of the Civil Rights Movement while most black Christians supported it. Those white Christians who did support it tended to be non-evangelicals such as mainstream Protestants.

Billy Graham is an interesting case study of the Evangelical mindset of the time. He was for improved race relations, but believed that organized efforts were harmful, especially because he perceived them as being connected to Communism. (Sound familiar? I guess this argument has been around for decades.) On the one hand, Graham removed the segregating rope between blacks and whites at one of his southern Evangelistic Crusades. But in another instance, he stated that he tried to work within the social framework of each city he visited. He invited Martin Luther King Jr. to pray at one of his Crusades, yet declined to join King’s March on Washington, believing King’s methods to be flawed. In response to the “I Have a Dream” speech, Graham remarked that black children and white children would hold hands in harmony only when Jesus returned.

To understand this, we must account for the premillennial view that had come to dominate the American evangelical worldview and played a role in limiting evangelical action on race issues. According to this view, the present world is evil and will inevitably suffer moral decline until Christ comes again. Thus, to devote oneself to social reform is futile. (page 47)

Graham, like most white evangelicals of the time, opposed racism generally, but viewed organized social reform as fruitless, unnecessary, and perhaps even dangerous.

The 80s and 90s brought a new wave of racial reconciliation efforts by evangelicals through organizations like Promise Keepers and people like Curtiss DeYoung and Tony Evans. Most whites who spoke against prejudice, urged personal repentance and reconciled relationships between individuals, while African American Christians generally focused on changing what they saw as oppressive structures, and unjust laws. The difference in approach is highlighted in the words of Pastor Cecil “Chip” Murray:

White evangelicals need an at-risk gospel. … Calling sinners to repentance means also calling societies and structures to repentance—economic, social, educational, corporate, political, religious structures…. The gospel at once works with individual and the individual’s society: to change one, we of necessity must change the other.

I’ll close this historical overview with a quote, which, though challenging, highlights Emerson’s and Smith’s overall analysis of evangelicalism and race relations throughout American history.

Because evangelicals view their primary task as evangelism and discipleship, they tend to avoid issues that hinder these activities. Thus, they are generally not countercultural. With some significant exceptions, they avoid “rocking the boat,” and live within the confines of the larger culture. At times they have been able to call for and realize social change, but most typically their influence has been limited to alteration at the margins. So, despite having the subcultural tools to call for radical changes in race relations, they most consistently call for changes in persons that leave the dominant social structures, institutions, and culture intact. This avoidance of boat-rocking unwittingly leads to granting power to larger economic and social forces. It also means that evangelicals’ views to a considerable extent conform to the socioeconomic conditions of their time. Evangelicals usually fail to challenge the system not just out of concern for evangelism, but also because they support the American system and enjoy its fruits. They share the Protestant work ethic, support laissez-faire economics, and sometimes fail to evaluate whether the social system is consistent with their Christianity. (pages 21-22)

Evangelicals’ Thoughts on Race Today

Emerson and Smith conducted an extensive telephone survey of 2,000 people to determine present-day thoughts of evangelicals on racial issues. They then conducted 200 in-person interviews. The results were enlightning. Smith and Emerson asked people to describe the race problem in America. Many people admitted there was a race problem, describing it as a problem of discrimination or violence between individuals. Other evangelicals denied the race problem altogether, instead suggesting that those who talk about race are the problem. Very few referenced structures, laws, or societal values that contribute to racialization.

When asked about the reasons behind economic inequality between blacks and whites, the two most common explanations given were 1) lack of motivation and 2) flawed cultural values among blacks. Fewer evangelicals ascribed economic disparity to 3) lack of access to quality education and/or 4) discrimination. In other words, evangelicals tended to blame economic hardship on African Americans themselves as opposed to historical, structural, or systemic problems. Most black Christians, on the other hand, pointed to structural issues or discrimination as the main problem.

As sociologists, Emerson and Smith explain that the cultural tools a person or group has affects the way they identify problems and solutions. They point out three cultural tools evangelicals use that heavily influence their views of race, which are: 1) accountable freewill individualism—“individual initiative conquers all;” 2) relationalism—“attaching central importance to interpersonal relationships;” and 3) antistructuralism—“inability to perceive or unwillingness to accept social structural influences.” Applied to racial issues, this cultural framework necessitates holding African Americans accountable for their struggles (accountable freewill individualism) and focusing almost exclusively on personal reconciliation (relationalism and antistructuralism). To begin to explore societal and structural components of a racialized society, white evangelicals would have to reexamine these core beliefs.

Emerson and Smith end the book by discussing various sociological principles that describe ingroup dynamics and contribute to de facto segregation today. They close by calling for an honest look at comprehensive solutions to the issue of racialization.

My Reflections

I think that Divided by Faith is remarkably well-written and well-organized. I found it easy to follow, and I appreciated the variety of information—historical, sociological, personal interviews, etc. In other words, I was never bored. I appreciated that this work was neither a puff piece nor a hit piece, instead seeking balance and honesty, focusing on facts over value judgments.

I learned a lot about various historical movements and historical figures. I was particularly interested in learning about the great Evangelist Billy Graham as I’ve seen a lot of diverse perspectives on his relationship with Civil Rights; this book seems to carefully lay out both the positives and negatives. I was also fascinated by Emerson’s and Smith’s exploration of how the white evangelical worldview affects the way evangelicals understand and address racial issues. Their sociological insights into group dynamics that prop up prejudice and racialization were also helpful.

In general, this book helped me honestly examine the past—my past, if you will, since I am both an American and a white evangelical. I’ve always known some of the positive ways that evangelicals have fought for human rights and civil rights for African Americans, but this book helped me honestly face the negative actions evangelicals have taken as well as the discriminatory societal structures that evangelicals have helped to maintain. And so I feel both thankful and grieved. I now acknowledge that taken as a whole, white evangelicalism has done more to hurt race relations than help. This is a sobering realization to come to. But sometimes truth leads to lament, and sometimes lament is the first step to change. (Side note: this increases my empathy for those individuals, particularly African Americans, who have chosen to distance themselves from the term “Evangelical,” even while maintaining theologically-conservative Protestant beliefs.)

On a personal level, as I read some of the quotes by modern-day evangelicals, I was humbled to realize that just a few years ago I might have said some of the same things—things like “the breakdown of family structures is the main cause of problems in African American communities” or “playing the race card is as big a problem as racism.” I’m embarrassed even to type those sentences, and my heart is rightly grieved. And I am truly sorry. For me it’s been a process, starting 3 years ago, of seeking to comprehensively understand racial issues in America.

I am profoundly thankful to have read this book! I highly recommend it to any American—especially to white evangelicals—or to anyone who wants to understand why race continues to be a defining aspect of the American story.

What is a White Evangelical to Do?

Maybe this information is new, and you’re feeling like a deer in headlights. Or maybe you’re familiar with these perspectives, but you’re not sure what practical actions to take. Either way, here are a few suggestions. First, accept uncomfortable emotions; don’t reject new ideas just because they feel scary. Second, know that lament and anger are appropriate responses to sin and injustice, and can be impetus for change. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Third, get educated; read a book like Divided by Faith (purchase on Amazon or read the first 30 pages for free on Google Books here). Fourth, sit under the teaching of minority voices: on social media, by listening to sermons, and by engaging in conversations (with a focus on listening to learn). And fifth, financially support minority-led organizations.

Resources

Here some of the people and organizations that have been particularly helpful for me as I’ve learned about racial issues in recent years.

Two of my favorite African American pastors are:

  • Elbert McGowan at Redeemer Church in Jackson, MS. Listen to his sermons here.
  • Dr. Mika Edmondson at New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, MI. Listen to his sermons here.

The following are some theologically-conservative people and organizations I recommend financially supporting as a practical way to support African Americans and racial reconciliation.

  • The Witness: A Black Christian Collective is an organization that puts out articles and podcasts on all things related to race and faith. Donate here.
  • Reformed Theological Seminary offers the African American Leadership Scholarship, a 50% tuition break for qualifying African American students who are training to be pastors, professional counselors, and leaders. Donate here with a note that your donation is for the AALS fund.
  • Kyle J. Howard is a Christian Counselor who works with and creates resources for those affected by racial trauma. Donate here.
  • Peace Preparatory Academy serves children and families in the heart of urban Atlanta. Donate here.

As always, thanks for reading!

-Hannah

Check out some of of my other articles:

Tell Me Yours

Before we jump in together on this list, two things that inspired it and finally made me write it.

First, the album Crimson Cord by Propaganda has a song of similar style and idea. I know poetry isn’t my thing, so you get this instead. But if you want to know the soundtrack of my college years up until now, it’s probably every Prop album ever.

Second, there’s the painfully awkward moment after preaching where people tell you how good you did. It’s awkward because early on it feels like a tightrope between humility and arrogance, thankfulness and not wanting to take credit. I’ve learned to just say “thank you so much, glad you enjoyed it” but truth be told, I didn’t learn and grow up in a vaccum. So for every time I say “thank you” What I really mean is this:

I’m by no means looking for thank yous or high fives either, I didn’t earn them. I’m just a servant. But you can thank every person in every church my dad ever pastored. They put up with a smart mouth, Bible know it all, or so I thought. Thanks for the cool houses and for giving my parents a chance.

You can thank the city of Texarkana. The place where for the first year I hated because I was sick of moving as a kid. I remember not wanting to go to school, because I was socially awkward and didn’t know anybody. But even now it’s the city that beats my heart. You can thank every member of Richmond Road Baptist Church from 2000 until present day. I’ve only known love like that in maybe one other church in my whole life. You can thank John Lewis, who saw I had the ability to teach, and gave me opportunities to lead. It was the first time I realized I could preach the Gospel full time and still have fun.

You can thank Coach Bill Keopple and Kris Nichols. They are the meanest men I’ve ever known in my life, and I would even now run through a brick wall for either of them. Thank Audrey Wright for showing me what good writing was, and Matt Coleman for showing I could do it. These two English teachers showed me writing and reading will get you a long way in life. Thank Marsha Petty, who’s chemistry class I hated but she told every student that we were smart enough to succeed. I remembered that in college.

Go thank Dr. Porter and Dr. Slayton, who put up with my Cage stage Calvinism, and loved me enough to let me think I had it all figured out. Thank Dr. Jameson, who told me I was never wrong to ask questions, just wrong in the way I asked them. Go thank Dr. Thomas for telling me “you know how to preach” when I wasn’t so sure anymore. Please go thank Ann G and Corley. Thanks for giving me a radio show, I know that wasn’t easy. Thanks to Dr. New, who I should’ve paid much more attention to in class. Thanks to Nathan Brewer, Jose, Zach, David, Danny, Tyler, most people in my Bible classes. I appreciate the discussions. You guys were a huge encouragement. Thank Alex Geiger, who told me I was the wokest  Reformed guy he ever met.

Go thank Brooke and Maegan for breaking my heart. He whom God would use mightily, He wounds deeply. They were good knives of Soverign wounding. I would’ve never met Allyson, who looked me straight in my eyes in Kroger and said what those two never would: “I’m going with you no matter what happens.” She’s the steel in my spine when I don’t want to keep going. She’s taught me more about grace and love than anyone else. I love you babe.

Please go thank Donny Parrish, who called me a “preaching snob” for wanting the Gospel preached in Chapel. I decided to pick that badge up and wear it forever. That day I decided the Gospel was all I ever needed to be successful. Please thank who ever snitched me out and told the Church in Cassvile, MO I frequent bars. You guys changed my life for the better that day, though I didn’t know it then, I see it now. Thanks for showing me that the grass is greener in other pastures. Thank you.

Please thank Brent and Mack Nelson for giving me far more than a room to crash in for six months while I got my life back together. You’re the best friends I could have.

You can go thank Kevin Hale for kicking my butt, loving me like a brother, then repeating the process. Thank you for loving my arrogance out of me. Thank you for challenging me.

Go thank Lynn and Marilyn, CJ and Roland, Catie and Andrew, Bekah and John. Distance only makes the heart grow fonder. Thank Nathan, for always being my favorite pitcher, partner in crime, best heckler at games. You’re tough as nails, and no one can tell me otherwise. Play hard have fun.

Whatever you do, go thank Tanya. She always taught me how to be responsible. Who listened to the same Peter Pan movie day after day. Go tell her “you did it”. She drove me crazy during my teen years, but all she ever wanted was for me to be a man. Thanks, Mom.

But please, go grab Jerry. Get some salsa, or whatever else he’s making and thank him for teaching me about humility and strength. Thank him for all the Razorback games, all the music he ever sang. Thank him for showing me that manhood is not what feats you can accomplish, the the reputation of your name. Thank him for showing me the only way one stands in the pulpit is humbly. Thank him for all the jokes, the impressions, and movies that bust my sides each time we get together. Thanks for loving me enough to share the Gospel with me so I finally got it. You’re who I’ve always wanted to grow up to be.

 

The God of Boring Conversions

Maybe it’s my Evangelical, Missionary Baptist upbringing, but I’ve always loathed my boring testimony.  When I was a pre-teen, I went to church camp pretty regular. Every night there was some sort of late night activity: movie night, skit night, musical night, etc. But one year, we were greeted with “testimony night”. What happens is people get up, and in front of everyone , tell about who they were before getting saved and who they are now. This by the way is what introverts think of when they imagine what Hell will be like. Either publicly confessing all your sins so that every stranger in a crowded room of peers and adults know your darkest secrets or an eternity of Stand and Greet Your Neighbor Time and you don’t know anyone.

I never got up. Not just because it’s terrifying but also because I didn’t have a very good testimony. It’s boring. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve absolutely come to a place where I’ve realized that I am a sinner and without Christ, lost without hope. I’m just saying if you are asking for a total black and white transformation I don’t think I can promise you that.

Because I’ve always been in the church.

My parents raised me in a Christian home where we always prayed, we always heard the Gospel. We went to church every Sunday without fail. I don’t remember a time not knowing I was a sinner. Seriously, I’ve always understood that Christ died for me. I made a profession of faith at seven. Seven year olds don’t usually have radical stories of transformation when they’ve grown up in the Church. Sure, I coveted my friend’s Veggie Tale collection, but I by no means was a pagan. And because of that background, my teen years weren’t this rebellious time of hedonism. Again, by no means was I perfect. My parents will be the first to tell you I wasn’t. But I also wouldn’t call my Christian walk a radical transformation.

Flash forward to my Bible college years, and I’m in my bedroom my junior year, sitting there in the near dark thinking, “Am I really a Christian? Has Christ really saved me? I know I’m a sinner and I have nowhere outside of Christ to go. But this radical transformation thing? I don’t have it. I’ve always been here.”

Here’s what I was missing: God is a God of boring salvation too. Yes, there are times when He redeems people like He does Paul (Acts 9); a great black and white difference. He shows up on the Damascus road, rocks our world, shows us our sin and that Christ died for us and keeps us by faith. Sometimes, salvation comes out of nowhere and people are radically changed. And for these we should be grateful. They are great stories of God who goes and saves His people out of their bondage.

But sometimes, God is a God to us and to our children. Sometimes, He is just keeping His covenant promises. He doesn’t need a Damascus road but, rather puts us in families where, like Timothy, we’ve always known the Scriptures. I was born into a family where I would always hear the Gospel. That wasn’t chance, God is sovereign in His redemption. Instead of saying, “Oh He is a great redeemer!” I’m rather struck by looking back and seeing His strong arm to protect me. I could marvel forever at His ongoing faithfulness to keep me when I do sin. As the hymn Abide With Me says,

“Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.”

So if you, dear Christian, would doubt God’s faithfulness to you on the grounds that your conversion isn’t flashy enough, let me encourage you. God saves the rebel. He most certainly does. But He also saves His covenant children. You don’t need get a better story, but to get one more look at Christ.

Christocrat 2: No, Taxation isn’t Theft

 

I get it. As someone who used to consider myself a libertarian at one point, I get where you’re coming from. You don’t like paying taxes, and the government shouldn’t force you to pay them. And I know it’s edgy and cool for the memelord libertarians to remind everybody of what they think about our current tax structure; especially considering that everybody is focused on paying their taxes right now. But as far as those Christian brothers and sisters who consider themselves libertarian, we need to chat. Because I don’t think you can prove your “taxation is theft” Biblically. In fact I think if you take your premise to its furthest conclusion, you’ll find that your statement is far from what is Biblically acceptable.

First off, let’s just start with the obvious: Scripture doesn’t say that it is. Nowhere in Scripture are taxes equated with theft. They just aren’t. Often in Scripture other sins are equated with another. Hated is equated with murder. Lust is equated with adultery. But never do we see taxation as equated with theft. In fact when asked “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” Christ has a chance to outright condemn it. Here it is. Black (or Red) and white for all of us to know for sure. But Christ doesn’t condemn taxation. Rather, He calls for His believers to “render unto Caesar.”

Now of course some will say, “But how much is Caesar’s? What’s the percentage?” But listen to the heart of the question. The heart is not concerned with obedience to God and submission to the governing authorities that He has set in place. Rather it is like the nervous high school student during a True Love Waits lesson in Wednesday Night Youth lesson: What can I get away with? This is not what we are called to practice. Rather, it is putting our political desires above the Word of God.

Not only is Scripture silent on the morality of taxation itself, it does not condemn those tax collectors who collect fairly. Stick with me, we’re about to connect the dots real quick. Let’s assume the Libertarian manta is Biblically true. I’m going to give you this as a test of validity: Taxation is theft. What does that make tax collectors? Thieves. That’s the simple answer. Now we have an instance (Luke 3:12) where Tax collectors come to John the Baptizer and ask him, “What should we do?” or to modernize it, “How should we live?” So here it is, the thieves have come to John and asked them what to do. But John doesn’t tell them, “Get a new job” but rather to collect only what is owed. Don’t lie or swindle people to line your own pockets. So does John excuse sin? Does he advise people to willfully continue breaking the Ten Commandments? Christ does a similar thing in Luke 19:1-10. He doesn’t admonish the tax collector to leave his job. Rather he says that salvation has come to his house. Does Christ excuse or justify blatant sin? Either taxation is theft or Christ is OK with sinners continuing to sin. You decide how you want to answer that question.

Until then, Paul writes to us to pay our taxes because God has placed the government over us (Rom 13:7) I know that’s not fun for the libertarian to hear. I know it’s hard. The mantra is dead. Taxation isn’t theft. Maybe it’s time we give it up for a more Biblical understanding of our duty to each other.

Resources for “God’s Spirit-filled Church”

resources

As some of you may know, I have endeavored to preach through the first five chapters of Acts at my church, Mount Carmel CP Church. So, I thought I would give a short word about the resources that I’ve been using to help me tackle this endeavor.

Acts for Everyone, Part One: Chapters 1-12 by N.T. Wright
acts112wright.jpg
This has been a tremendous resource for me. N.T. Wright has firm grasp on the history of the first century church. It’s almost as if he puts you there in the upper room with the followers of Jesus as they decide how they’re going to proceed with picking a replacement for Judas Iscariot.

I realize that Wright has his naysayers among the Reformed community for his views on Justification, but whatever. If you can’t enjoy the truth that he brings to the table without tossing out the parts where he’s off then you’re pretty much like a kid who has to eat McNuggets all the time cause he’ll choke on a chicken leg from Popeye’s.

 

Exalting Jesus in Acts by Tony Merida

actsmerida

It doesn’t matter what book it covers, the Christ-Centered Exposition series is a commentary set that’s made by the preacher for the preacher.

These commentaries, particularly the one over Acts, will help you break down a text in a digestible way so that you’re not giving people a bulk of information and no way to process it.

Forgive the second food reference, but it’s like giving someone a huge steak and telling them that they have to eat it with their hands in two bites. The Christ-Centered Exposition series gives you a knife and fork to work with so that you can break down the text and see the Gospel clearly on each page.

 

The Age of the Spirit by Phyllis Tickle

ageofthespiritAlthough this isn’t a commentary over Acts, Phyllis Tickle, and her co-author, Jon Sweeney, do an excellent job of documenting the controversy surrounding the deity of the Holy Spirit, and how not much as changed over the last hundreds years.

This has been a helpful resource to me as someone who is trying to communicate the ancient truth about the Holy Spirit into a post-modern culture that only thinks of the Holy Spirit as some kind of impersonal force or power that was harnessed by the mystics of old.

As a couple of honorable mentions, I would like to also briefly talk about Jesus Continued by JD Greear and Rediscovering the Holy Spirit by Michael Horton. Horton’s book is easily 10x more academic than JD’s, but both are very helpful in understanding the deity and purpose of the Holy Spirit. I would say that JD’s book is more for someone who is new to the faith and would like more than just a base knowledge of the Holy Spirit, and Horton’s book is for the academic looking for something to mentally wrestle with, but all in all, I highly recommend both and find both of them helpful in articulating the importance of viewing the Holy Spirit correctly through the lens of Scripture.

Of course, there’s been some other sources that I’ve been using online such as WorkingPreacher.org, but those have been my “go to” books for this series, and if you plan on preaching or studying through the book of Acts I hope you’ll find these resources just as useful as I have.

Dynamic? Yes. Pastor? No

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While I can appreciate Logan taking up the topic of women in ministry, I found his arguments to be lacking. Do understand, he is my friend and we write together frequently. He told me what he was going to do and as the new Lead Contributor I would not be accused of censoring my friends. The beauty of Late Night Theology is that we all come from different backgrounds and there is room to peacefully disagree. I’m not saying this for his sake (he knew I was going to respond) but rather for yours, dear reader. Don’t think that disagreements mean that everything’s splitting up; this is just an exercise. A good sparring match does the body good.

But I cannot agree with him here. We could not be more different.

Logan contends that women should be allowed to the pastorate for three reasons.

  1. There were dynamic female leaders in Scripture
  2. There were dynamic female leaders in Church History.
  3. We can raise up dynamic leaders in the church today.

These are all interesting points and I’ll say this much: He’s not wrong on the premise. Yes, all three of these are true. Yes there have been dynamic female leaders in the Scriptures. Yes Phoebe, Priscilla, Lydia, Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of Christ, Junia, Deborah, the Psalm 31 woman, Esther, Sarah, and Rahab all were faithful dynamic women in the Scriptures. To say otherwise is to ignore what Scriptures says. This is why I don’t understand those who would say that Scripture oppresses women. It does not treat these women as if they are “lesser”. To say so is to flat deny what Scripture plainly says.

And yes, there have been dynamic women in Church History. Katherine von Bora, Idelette Calvin, Fanny J Crosby and so much more were bulwarks in their own theological right. To say otherwise would deny the historical reality that we know to be true.

And of course, we can raise up dynamic female leaders today. Yes there should female theologians. Yes there should be female thinkers and doers. Yes women are fully capable to lead and serve the Church in grandiose and dynamic ways. To say otherwise is to treat our sisters as incapable. I cannot stand when pompous seminarians and Bible majors talk down to women in their classes. Most of my theology classes at CBC had women in them. Yes, they were brilliant. Yes they had a different view on niche, open handed discussions. Different isn’t bad. One of my first sermons as a Presbyterian, I asked a woman in the congregation what she thought about a certain line. She helped me clarify a point in my sermon. If we don’t listen to women in our churches we are ignoring possibly half of our congregations.

But

Those dynamic women in Scripture weren’t pastors or preachers. Yes they were helpful, dynamic, and led in serving the Church. That doesn’t make them pastors and doesn’t justify doing so. Scripture doesn’t give us that room. To ignore what Paul writes in Timothy is foolish. What else will we choose to ignore? Or will we let culture be our guide? Away with this! Reformed theology hangs on the doctrine of the authority of Scripture.

1 Corinthians 12:14–25

[14] For the body does not consist of one member but of many. [15] If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. [16] And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. [17] If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? [18] But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. [19] If all were a single member, where would the body be? [20] As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

[21] The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” [22] On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, [23] and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, [24] which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, [25] that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (ESV)”

We cannot say that we don’t need women in the church. That is foolish. But there is a liberty to serve. If a woman wants to serve the Church, she should be praised. But one does not need a title in order to serve. The title does not make the work more or less important. The pastor is not more important to the body as those who serve in the nursery.

So yes we should raise up dynamic female leaders. Yes we should encourage their giftings. Absolutely, we should encourage them to wrestle with the same theological truths. But we should not ignore the Scripture’s prohibition of women pastors just to give women a place to lead