Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hitched to a Free Market

[Originally posted at The Pulpit & Pen]

Please excuse me for a moment, as I offer a bit of a political, theological, and cultural commentary. I was going to call this "ranting," but a friend told me that pastors don't rant, they proclaim, so these rants proclamations are related, as they all have to do with the same current event at a town just west of me.

If I traveled on Interstate 90 about two hours west, I would come to the resort town of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho - beautifully situated on the northern shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene. Coeur d'Alene is, I believe, French for "resort town." As long as I have lived here, Coeur d'Alene has long been known as a place to go for quasi-Las-Vegas-style quickie weddings.

By now, many people – most people – have probably heard the news story about the Hitching Post wedding chapel in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and how they've run afoul of a Coeur d'Alene city ordinance regarding not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. It seems that the Hitching Post wedding chapel specializes in "traditional weddings," and their view of "traditional weddings" does not include the now-legal-in-Idaho practice of same-sex weddings. So the owners of the Hitching Post now face fines and jail time for refusing to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. The husband-and-wife team that own the Hitching Post profess to be Christians, and both have some sort of ordination as "ministers," and cite their refusal to do such ceremonies as based on religious conviction. But their wedding chapel is not a church; it is a for-profit business. So, the real question here is; should the government be in the business of forcing business owners to conduct their businesses in a way that violates their personal beliefs or religious convictions?

For many people, this question was settled during the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s. As a result of those times, it became illegal for businesses to refuse service based upon race, color, or national origin. I want to say right now that I do not believe that that was the right way for a nation with ideals of liberty and freedom to handle the issue.

[Author's note: in this section of my rant proclamation, I am using examples drawn from America's history of racial tension. The use of these examples does not mean that I accept as being in any way valid the LGBT activists attempts to equate sexual orientation with skin color. As my friend Voddie Baucham said back in 2012, "Gay Is Not the New Black."]

The government should not be allowed to discriminate based on skin color, hair color, eye color, sex, or any other physical characteristic you would like to name. And regulated monopolies, such as mass transit systems, power companies, water companies, etc., since they operate as quasi-governmental agencies, should not be allowed to discriminate, either. But what about private businesses?

I am a strong proponent in a free market. If some neo-Nazi racist skinhead wants to open a whites-only lunch counter, I say let him. And then we can let the market determine if he stays in business, or not. My hope is that the market would put such a business out of business before too long, but, sadly, I expect that there are enough neo-Nazi racist skinheads around to support a few businesses of that type – but not a lot of businesses of that type. Social and economic pressures will be sufficient to assure that such businesses are few.

That being the case, why did America take a different tactic? Remember that there were laws in place in many places that legalized and institutionalized racial discrimination. Government services, public transportation, public schools – these were all segregated as a matter of law. And, as I have already said, the government should not be allowed to discriminate along such lines. Those laws needed to be changed, and they were. Why, then, were laws put into place to control the practices of private businesses?

The argument is that private businesses do businesses with the public, and therefore the government, as the representative of the public, has the right to tell a private business that they must do business with everyone. I contend the private business owners should be allowed to do business with whomever they choose to do business, and not do business with whomever they choose not to do business with. I say that, knowing full well that I will not agree with every business owner's decision about whom they will and will not do business with. That is what it means to live in a free country.

Now, don't get me wrong, I believe racism to be immoral. In fact, I want to make it absolutely clear that I detest racism. Yet, in a free society, racists are free to be racists, and the rest of us are free to say how detestable their racism is, and to attempt to dissuade them of their wrongheaded ideas, attitudes, and actions.

Which brings us back to the question of the Hitching Post in Coeur d'Alene. The Hitching Post is a private business, and their business practices should be governed by the convictions of the owners of the business. What if it was a Jewish wedding chapel, instead of a Christian one? Should they be forced to conduct weddings on Saturdays? What about the Muslim owners of a catering company? Should they be required to serve ham?

Weddings are big business. In a free market, there is no need to penalize or close businesses that do not want to do business with some segment of that market. If there is enough of a demand for businesses that cater to the wedding needs of a homosexual clientele, business people will see the opportunity to make money, and open businesses to address that market.

That was the political rant proclamation, now here is the cultural rant proclamation. Weddings shouldn't be such a big deal. Marriage is a big deal, but weddings should not be. Pride, ego, and Western consumerism have turned weddings into way too big of a deal. The average cost of a wedding in the United States is $25,200. $1600 of that is spent on clothing, another $1500 is spent on flowers. The average bride and groom spend $800 on the invitations alone. Weddings, as I said earlier, are very big business.

But all of this emphasis on weddings has trivialized marriage. The wedding is so important that the marriage itself seems secondary, and a lot more time and effort and planning is spent preparing for the wedding than is spent preparing for the marriage. I have spoken to couples who were eager to spend thousands to get the right caterer and the right photographer for their wedding, but who are unwilling to spend six weeks with me in premarital counseling. (I did not officiate those weddings.)

Weddings should not be such big business, and the realities of marriage should not be trivialized in the pursuit of the fantasy of the fairytale wedding.

Now, the theological rant proclamation: what about this wedding chapel in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho? Well, if weddings should not be big business, then wedding chapels should not be businesses at all. Not if they are trying to be religious institutions, as well. Religion should not be a business. Of course, influenced by the American entrepreneurial spirit, many in modern evangelicalism have turned religion into a business – and many are making very good money at it – but this should not be. And I know that I would not want to be any of those religious hucksters on Judgment Day, when they stand before the throne of God to answer for their actions.

Obviously, there are some theological issues involved with this couple that run this business. Both of them are "ordained ministers." Since the Bible clearly limits the office of pastor to men, the ordination of a woman is unbiblical.

Then there is the fact that these people are not ministers of the gospel at all. The pastoral office involves much much more than simply officiating at weddings. The Hitching Post says that it provides "traditional religious weddings." Religious, perhaps, but not Christian. A minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ would be concerned more about the marriage than the wedding, and more about the souls of the bride and groom, and be much less likely to see officiating at weddings as a mere business opportunity.

If the couple being wed are not active committed participants in a local religious community, be it a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever community, then why would they desire a religious service in the first place? Just go to the justice of the peace. And if the couple being wed are active members of a religious community, would they not desire that someone from their religious community officiate at their wedding?

But, saying that I do not believe that wedding chapels are good or Biblical, I still don't think that wedding chapels should be banned. I agree with Russel Moore and Andrew Walker in their recent article on this topic, where they wrote:

"Saying that we don’t agree with these wedding chapels is not to say that we think they should be hounded out of business. Again, these are two separate questions. Our churches don’t ordain women either, as in the case of this co-pastor, but we don’t want the government to outlaw women’s ordination. There is no compelling government interest in running this couple out of business, sacrificing their First Amendment rights to free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association. Such government-enforced orthodoxy shouldn't exist in a free country."

Okay, I'm done ranting er... proclaiming... For now.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Um... It Doesn't Mean That...

I saw a tweet that hit one of my hot buttons this morning. It was a tweet that expresses a common Evangelical misunderstanding of a well-known verse of Scripture. It was this tweet:

The “so” in John 3:16 translates the Greek word οὕτως (houtōs), and it means “in this way,” not “so much.” Consider the excellent way that the Holman Christian Standard Bible translated John 3:16:

For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

[The HCSB translators got πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων ("everyone who believes") right, too – but that is another discussion for another time.]

But modern emotionalistic Evangelicalism, as in the tweeted example here, likes to teach that “God loved the world so much that He just had to send Jesus to save sinners.” Let's think about that idea for a minute.

God doesn't need anything or anybody. God did not have to save sinners. God did not have to create us in the first place. The fact that God chose to create us, chose to allow sin into the world, and chose to save some of us from the just penalty of our sin, while reflecting God's goodness, mercy, and love, in no way implies that God needed to do anything. God is glorified in creation, He is glorified in His wrath upon unrepentant sinners, and He is glorified in His salvation of repentant sinners through the cross of Jesus Christ – but God is never needy.

God's love, like all of God's attributes, is infinite and perfect, so to try to tag God's love with qualifiers like “so much” is just silly, no matter how many o's you add to “so.”

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Squirrel's Theology in a Nutshell: Knowing God's Will

My Three Easy Steps for Finding & Staying In God's Will:

  1. Do what the Bible tells you to do
  2. Don't do what the Bible tells you not to do
  3. Do what you want to do

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Why I Am Still A Southern Baptist

  • We commented about the total lack of doctrinal standards applied to the question of what books are sold at LifeWay Christian Resources stores.
  • We remarked about the danger of false conversion brought on by a climate of “easy believism” and belief in “decisional regeneration.”
  • We discussed inflated membership numbers driven by pride and ego in leadership.
  • We talked about how national entities and state conventions ignore the wishes of local churches, and how political expediency instead of Biblical conviction so often drove the decisions made at all levels.

I was one of four Southern Baptists who spoke from the platform at the 2014 Reformation Montana conference, and, despite the fact that slamming the SBC was not the focus of the conference by a long shot, each of us had critical things to say regarding the current state of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Several times during the conference, I had people come up to me and ask variations on the same question. They would say something like, “You've got a lot of harsh things to say about the Southern Baptist.” Then they would ask, “Why are you still a Southern Baptist?”

Good question.

Here is my answer to that question:

On October 31 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door the Castle Church at Wittenberg, Germany, he had no intention of starting the Protestant Reformation. No, what he was doing was calling for reform. He had identified some… Issues… Inside the Catholic Church that he felt needed to be addressed. And, so, Martin Luther was calling for debate on these issues. You know, stuff like the selling of indulgences and the use of Church funds to build ever more elaborate palaces for the popes and the bishops to live in. He wasn't trying to split the church, he was trying to fix the church.

That, as history shows, didn't work very well. And 3 years later, the Roman Catholic Church threw Martin Luther out. Actually, the Roman Catholic Church wanted to kill Martin Luther, as they had Jan Hus 100 years before (Hus had pointed out many of the same problems that Luther later saw. In fact, Luther was influenced by the writings of Hus.) But Luther was smuggled away and hidden by some of his friends. And that, Martin Luther's excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church, is what really began the Protestant Reformation. Until that happened, Martin Luther was trying to work inside the church to correct the errors of the church, and bring the Roman Catholic Church back into line with what is taught Holy Bible. But the pope in the bishops rejected the calls to reform, and the Protestant Reformation, with its calls to Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), Sola Fide (by faith alone), Solus Christus (through Christ alone), Sola Gratia (by grace alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God alone) began to revolutionize Christianity and restore the true Biblical faith.

The Protestant Reformation grew and spread, and Protestant theologians, examining the Scriptures, began to develop doctrines and theological understandings that were further at odds with what the Roman Catholic Church taught than even Luther's 95 Thesis had been. And, so, almost 30 years after the Reformation began, the Roman Catholic Church called a council in the city of Trent in northern Italy to respond to this growing challenge to church authority and church teachings. The Council of Trent met several times from 1545 until 1563, and, in the end, determined that all of the Protestants were damned for rejecting the authority of the Pope and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. If anyone believed what the Protestant Reformers taught, then, according to Rome, that person was anathema – damned. And, because Roman doctrine considers the Roman Catholic Church itself to be infallible, the pronouncements made by the Council of Trent are still the official position of the Roman Catholic Church today. Rome still says, "If anyone believes what the Reformers taught, let him be anathema." For Rome cannot say otherwise without saying that the Council of Trent was wrong, which would destroy their insistence on the church of Rome's infallibility.

So, why am I still a Southern Baptist? I was raised a Southern Baptist. My parents, my grandparents, all were Southern Baptists. I cannot easily turn my back on such heritage. The Southern Baptist Convention is flawed; it is ill. But I do not believe it is beyond recovery. I'm still a Southern Baptist because there are men, others like me, within the Southern Baptist Convention calling for and working towards reform. And I must stand with them, joining my voice to theirs in calling for reform. If it is possible to pull this convention back from the brink of utter ruin and rank heresy, then we must do all that we are able to see this thing done. The stakes are high, the task is difficult, and the road is long and hard, but we must try.

Why am I still a Southern Baptist? I am still a Southern Baptist because, until the SBC cast me out, and, holding its own "Council of Trent," pronounces me anathema, then a reform-minded southern Baptist I will remain.

“Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”

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Monday, June 23, 2014

"You Would Be Safer On a SWAT Team!"

Justin Peters, in talking about the lack of discernment applied to deciding what books to stock in a Christian book store, says that there is no more dangerous place for a Christian than most "Christian" book stores. The title of this post sums up his assessment of that threat.

I've been in several discussions these past few days about all the downright heretical books that are for sale at the Southern Baptist Convention's Lifeway Christian Resources bookstores. It is a shame that there are not strict doctrinal standards applied to what they sell -- then again, if they applied strict doctrinal standards, they would have to stop peddling books by Southern Baptist heretics like Beth Moore, Rick Warren, and Don Piper. Lifeway is, in many ways, just an update on the moneylenders and animal merchants in the Temple courtyard, where profits trump actual service to the people of God.

But, sadly, for many evangelicals, Southern Baptist in particular, there persists the idea that, "Well, Lifeway sells it, so it must be okay." This is a dangerous attitude, as just a casual stroll down Lifeway's shelves with some discernment will quickly demonstrate, as this picture of JD Hall and Justin Peters in the Lifeway store in Billings during last week's Reformation Montana 2014 conference shows.

By the way, this is not at all intended as a slam on anyone who works at a Lifeway bookstore. This is a call to the top administration of Lifeway in Nashville to reform and become a doctrinally sound bookstore that Christians can trust.

So, in calling Lifeway to reform, every Monday on some sort of simi-regular basis, I think I'll post Lifeway's top-10 bestsellers list with commentary.

This week's top-10 best sellers from Lifeway's website:

  1. I Am a Church Member, by Thom Rainer - Thom is head of Lifeway, I've not read the book and cannot speak to its content.
  2. One Nation, by Dr. Ben Carson - Again, a book the contents of which I cannot comment on. I have liked a lot of the stuff Carson has said politically
  3. Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young - this book is full of heretical mystic blasphemy. Avoid at all costs
  4. Child of Mine, by David and Beverly Lewis - Amish fiction. Enough said.
  5. The Daniel Plan, by Rick Warren and some other guys - Reinterpriting a passage of Scripture, wrenched from its context, and turning it into a weight loss scheme? Money grubbing heresy, but with a third less calories than regular heresy (There is also a cookbook and a DVD and whatnot to go with it. I wonder when the Daniel Plan® dinnerware comes out?)
  6. Bridge to Heaven, by Francine Rivers - More Harlequin Romance, Christian-style...
  7. The Closer, by Mariano Rivera (with Wayne Coffey) - Ghostwritten autobiography of a Christian baseball player. Haven't read it, so can't comment on the doctrinal soundness of the content.
  8. Good Call; Reflections on Faith, Family, and Fowl, by Jase Robertson (with Mark Schlabach) - Ghostwritten humor from one of the guys from Duck Dynasty. Can't speak to the content, but I do know the family has some errors regarding baptismal regeneration. But, for all that, judgeing by the TV show, the book is probably funny...
  9. You'll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times, by Max Lucado - have not read it, but I generally find Lucado's stuff to be not very deep, doctrinally anemic, and not worth my time. Your mileage may vary.
  10. Recovering Redemption: A Gospel Saturated Perspective on How to Change, by Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer - I've not read this book, but I've generally liked what I've heard Chandler preach. This one might be worth reading. Maybe. I don't know, for sure.

So, Lifeway, what are the chances of clear doctrinal standards being developed and applied? Please?

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