Posts Tagged faith in Christ

No Substitution for Truth

A recent announcement by a high profile leader within the Independent Christian Church/Church of Christ has rocked our brotherhood. Since the late 1970’s this man has been at the forefront of planting new congregations as well as providing spiritual insight & instruction through articles and speaking engagements for many ministers who serve ‘in the trenches’, even as serving as editor for one of the major publications within the Restoration Movement (RM). His announcement of a lifelong struggle with gender dysphoria was made public via social media outlets and his personal blog. Sadly, this admission included the revelation he is choosing to ‘integrate’ male into female, and has already begun to identify himself as a woman, which is truly heartbreaking as it identifies a desire to intentionally rebel against God’s Word.

Scripture condemns a man denying his masculine traits by participating in feminine behavior, mannerisms, or even dressing as a woman.

A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 22:5, NASB’95

Such condemnation is not simply focussed on a woman putting on a pair of slacks, or even a man wearing a Scottish kilt. Condemnation comes when someone desires to present themselves as a gender other than the gender with which they have been created. Modern culture has enabled the concept of an individual identifying a gender based upon how they feel, or think heir gender ought to be. Such is the case with ‘Gender Dysphoria’.

The coming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) includes a revision from the forth edition 1. with the new identification of ‘Gender Dysphoria’ (formerly ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ 2.) as follows:

… people whose gender at birth is contrary to the one they identify with will be diagnosed with gender dysphoria. This diagnosis is a revision of DSM-IV’s criteria for gender identity disorder and is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults. 3.

To be clear, ‘Gender Dysphoria’ encompasses more than simple gender non-conformity as it involves a level of  distress for the person which is clinically recognized as significant. The DSM-IV identified the disorder by a different name (Gender Identity Disorder) and justification for the change in DSM-V is offered as follows:

DSM-5 aims to avoid stigma and ensure clinical care for individuals who see and feel themselves to be a different gender than their assigned gender. It replaces the diagnostic name “gender identity disorder”with “gender dysphoria,” as well as makes other important clarifications in the criteria. 4.

Mental illness often carries a social stigma, and public admission of a mental illness or disorder is not often the path chosen due to the potential social impact upon the person. For some, the impact of public admission is so stressful it compounds the distress already being experienced. Living in a fallen world, racked with illnesses of all manner, we must remind ourselves illness is the enemy the patient, is not. Compassion is called for in such circumstances. Unfortunately, many in today’s culture have confused love and compassion with acceptance of a behavior, and grace has been replaced with ‘tolerance’, a buzz word for complete agreement.

How should Christians respond to those who have embraced ‘lifestyle’ choices which are outside the acceptable boundaries of Scripture?

Truth

First, we must recognize the Scripture as the only rule for acceptable practices. Nothing has changed in God’s expectations for mankind, nor have moral values ‘evolved’ to become more sophisticated or relevant.

Second, it is important to note these ‘choices’ are nothing new, but have been in the world since the beginning. The Old Testament gives account of cultures given to all manner of immorality and the Apostle Paul, as recorded in the New Testament, also lived in a culture saturated with sexual immorality. His disciples ministered in this same cultural context and Paul wrote letters (now contained in the New Testament) to Christians and congregations from within this culture. Yet, led by the Holy Spirit, he never endorsed or tolerated immorality. In fact, the Apostle was very bold in his writing as he called people from a life of sexual immorality to a life of purity in Christ. He called offenders out by name. He referenced specific and public circumstances of immorality. He even called for Christians to pull away from those calling themselves ‘Christian’ and living in unrepentant immorality. None of this made him popular among men.

Modern American culture seems to be very similar to the 1st century culture of Paul’s day. Open promiscuity is the expectation of even the youngest of students. Couples choose to co-habit rather than commit to marriage. Marriage as ‘traditionally’ known is being assaulted by those who desire not simply to ‘redefine’ but to eradicate. Immodesty is so common it has become a powerful tool for advertising. Pornography and all manner of deviant sexual behavior is not only accepted but actually able to leverage penalty upon those who dare to disagree.

Impact of such cultural changes are also bearing upon the Church, and it is not along strictly generational lines. More and more people, identifying themselves as ‘Christian’, find moral boundaries within Scripture as no longer applicable for modern people. In fact, Scripture has endured many assaults from both within and without the walls of the modern Church.

Finally, Christians must be cautious not to isolate themselves from those involved in embracing immorality. Although Scripture cautions not to embrace evil, living as aliens & strangers in the world, we are also expected to live as ‘salt and light’ in a world which desperately needs Christ. Christians must never condone, nor enable immoral behavior, and Scripture is clear in response to a professing Christian who continues, willingly, in such immoral behavior… such a person is to be shut out from fellowship. (See 1 Corinthians 5:1-13)

Our challenge as Christians in modern culture does not lie in the ambiguity of Scriptural instruction on the matter for such ambiguity does not exist. Modern Christians face the same challenge Paul faced in the 1st century… holding to truth, and expressing the love of Christ to those outside truth. While maintaining the delicate balance of love without acceptance of sin, we must condemn immoral behavior, urging repentance by the individual toward restoration.

 

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The American conviction of Truth

I have always enjoyed American history… really, history in general. One of my favorite classes in High School was South Dakota history, and I loved every history course in college. My passion for history has thrust me into the category of fascination with historic facts often ignored or intentionally overlooked. My TV remote is seldom used to navigate from channels like History or the Military channel. However, I am bothered by the once subtle rewriting of history which has recently transcended into an aggressive and intentionally biased presentation of history against Christian faith.

Statue of Liberty under colorful sky

It has always been interesting to observe the tactics of such critics, which have become so predictable. Challenge the event or present doubt in its authenticity. Then, if this does not provide the desired results, turn against the figure of history or the authors involved in preserving the account. Recently, charges have been made against Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and even Abraham Lincoln. Everything from sexual immorality, drunkenness and slave ownership have been thrown out against them… even purporting that Lincoln was homosexual. And there’s no shortage of “history experts” who share this taint of bias to exploit their claims and sell books in the shadow of their fleeting 15 seconds in the limelight.

As mentioned, one of the tactics of the “higher critics” of history is to attack the character of historic figures. It must be noted with no doubt such character bears impact upon the event, however, even if a historic person’s moral fiber is not of highest quality it does not remove their place in history. To attack the moral character of prominent figures in American history is almost always a smoke screen tactic employed to distract the common public from the moral standards these same figures embraced as a whole. I suggest it is entirely possible to have moral failings and, yet, not embrace those moral downfalls or try to justify them. Certainly, every leader in human history (with the only exception being Jesus) have had personal flaws. The current trend of culture is to exploit those failures or flaws into something they are not, to wield them as leverage against such individuals in an attempt to excuse modern moral failings or suggest such leaders would support these same behaviors.

Perhaps no greater charge has been made against American history than that against the influence of Christian faith on the founding and structure of this Republic.

Many have falsely claimed America as a “melting pot” of religious expression, and yet, our founders never intended such. In fact, our founders were quite unabashed about their contempt against other religions.

1796 Farewell Address of President George Washington:

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.

Washington’s Farewell Address

Notice Mr. Washington’s statement toward the end of the above quote:

With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles.

He is, of course, speaking of the Christian faith. How is it possible our founding fathers could have “intended a culture embracing a melting pot of religious expression” while Mr. Washington celebrates the common faith? You see, American history nor the writings of our founders do not support the melting pot concept. In fact, they condemn other religions by pointing out the highest moral value of Christianity. Those who would suggest the melting pot concept have also twisted the “Church and State” concept presented by Mr. Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association to mean absolutely no Christian influence in American politics. The hypocrisy of such a position is easily shown in the climate of “political correctness” toward our “friendly Islamic” neighbors.

Modern social commentators love to call America a “melting pot” or “mosaic” of cultural and religious expression. However, such a description is not fitting America’s founding principles, nor is it supported in her history.

Simple put, America has the unique founding principles of a nation defined by Christian faith. Our model for justice comes directly from the pages of Christian Scripture, as is so prominently evidenced in the engravings upon nearly every federal building and monument in our nation’s capitol. Our founding fathers provide a wealth of material in support of their entire support of Christian faith, and the establishment of a wall of separation which prevented the government from imposing a particular form of religious expression upon the people. Even founders who have been redefined by history as “unbelieving” or “deist” have printed works which impress their support of Christian faith.

One need not look very far to realize the undercurrent of such a trend. To “dumb down” or remove faith from the pages of history simply opens the door wider for immoral living.

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A Convenient Excuse

In nearly 30 years of Christian faith, and 25 years of professional ministry, I am still amazed at the ease with which people make excuses for not actively fellowshipping with a Christian assembly.

Recently, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation ending the death penalty and commuting the 15 inmates presently on death row when the law takes effect on July 1, 2011. As justification for the move, Quinn cited potential errors in the system, also chanting the ever popular mantra of racism, citing death sentences “may be imposed on minorities and poor people more than on the wealthy, white defendants.” The AP pointed out that, although Quinn commuted the death sentences of the current 15 inmates, they will still serve life in prison with no hope of parole. “If the system can’t be guaranteed 100 percent error-free, then we shouldn’t have the system;” Quinn said, “It cannot stand.” You can read the AP article by going here.

America is one of 58 nations employing the death penalty (if we may borrow that term) according to Amnesty International, along with China, Thailand, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Japan.

Interestingly enough, Illinois death penalty inmate Gary Gauger is quoted as saying “The death penalty is a throwback to a time when society did not have the ability to hold homicidal maniacs for the rest of their lives.” To add further consolation to the families of victims killed by these inmates, Governor Quinn offered the “family of Illinois” was with them.

It would seem Americans would grow tired of being treated as less than intelligent by elitists in legislative positions. A simple review of this account reveals a number of shocking “ideals” held by these same elitists which are not commonly held by the average American. Let’s review what is really being said by this move, shall we?

Governor Quinn, in commuting 15 death sentences, has essentially pruned the judicial branch from the American system of government. In his defense, this seems to be a popular trend of late, and however wrong it may be, he is simply parroting our narcissistic culture of relativism. In one fell swoop, Governor Quinn has silenced the voice of “peers” who served as jurors over the trials of these criminals. Additionally, he has removed the penalty for such violent actions by lifting the responsibility of sentencing from our judicial branch and promptly placed it under the subjugation of the legislative branch. It must be noted the elites love to use the sliding rule of government to their advantage, making adjustments between the Judicial & Legislative branches as it suits their agenda, paying no heed to true justice or the protection of the American citizen.

A comparison of the nations which employ the death penalty is deviously cited as more than a simple comparison. It is, in fact, intended to communicate an association with non-progressive thinking. Apart from the United States, Japan is the only other “developed nation” on the list. Such an association adds punch to their position by the absurd conclusion the US judicial system is similar to that of Iran, Iraq or Thailand, and, as such, mutually exclusive to progressive thinking. Ask any of these same legislators if they would prefer to be indicted under charges in the US or one of the other 57 nations and they would not hesitate in choosing America. Why? Because, imperfect as it is, the American judicial system is still better than any other system in the world… or at least it has been until now.

Another subtle tool employed by such civil engineers is to appeal to the masses. I’m going to get on a soap box here, people, so be warned. It really fries my biscuits to hear otherwise intelligent people refer to America as a “Democracy”. Our founding fathers structured America as a Republic, not a Democracy. As a Republic, we depend upon responsible representation of American ideals in government… not the mentality of the majority ruling. Just because the majority wants something, it does not mean it is the most responsible or beneficial thing. Who really cares if more people want violent criminals locked up for life rather than face death as retribution for their crimes against humanity? It still doesn’t make it right. In such an environment, injustice reigns and no culture can stand in an environment of anarchy. I for one am growing increasingly tired of these “wards of the state” and recognize the only way of reversing this downward slope is by imposing greater penalties, not loosening the belt and providing room and board.

I do value human life, and, as such, must impress the ultimate punishment for those who do not.

The “100% Guarantee” can never be implemented in any system by man, nor should it be expected in any other area, yet it is often presented as justification for radical social changes. Similar to “throwing the baby out with the bath water”, power hungry elitists love to use this 100% concept while ignoring the facts regarding actual death penalties. Certainly, there will be mistakes made in the judicial system of criminal penalty; however, in light of the exceptionally small number of executions, they are essentially non-existent. One recent report by the Death Penalty Information Center mentions “mistakes” in their 2010 year end report, however, no citations of such mistakes are offered.

Subjective “moral standards” are neither a standard, nor moral.

Such is the appeal of the “informed” who force radical change upon the common citizen under the plea of enlightenment, tolerance, open mindedness, advancement or whatever rhetorical catch phrase is in season at the time. And, in answer to the argument against the death penalty due to “racism inherent to the system” I must say “give me a break”! No other nation in the world has provided a greater voice for minorities than the USA. This is not a skin color issue… it is a moral issue. Large numbers of minorities are presently incarcerated precisely because of the type of moral flip-flop in our culture. Groups which honor and venerate cop killers, gangstas, drug pushers and civil irresponsibility as a whole will naturally comprise the larger representation within the criminal system. It isn’t because “the man” is holding them down, and it is not exclusive to any single ethnic group.

Please do not misunderstand me to think human life, even of the criminal, is not of value. Au contraire, I do value human life, and, as such, must impress the ultimate punishment for those who do not. It is offensive to think the appeal made by such change is the nobler, honorable, moral high road of valuing human life. In fact, it is just the opposite. What is actually being said by such legislative positioning is the life of the “homicidal maniac” (to quote the aforementioned convict Gauger) is valued above the victims of his mania. The fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees “Due Process” under the law… where is the due process in this legislative move? It is truly absurd to consider such positioning would be tolerated by the American citizen. And yet, it is. Why? Because America has (in large) surrendered her values and abandoned moral standards for the sake of convenience.

Subjective “moral standards” are neither a standard, nor moral.

At this point, you may be asking “What does Illinois have to do with Christian involvement in the assembly?” Well, consider the following.

Governor Quinn’s “100%” appeal is the same ol’ worn out excuse used by the unbelieving, as well as lazy, uncommitted Christians today. Namely, “I don’t attend Church because I’ve known too many Hypocrites who go to Church.” or “I’ve been hurt” or “I’ve seen too much evil” or “I’ve known Churches who have split” and on, and on, and on they go. Are you serious? In an age of “enlightenment”, let’s employ a little logical thinking with this excuse and see how well it holds up.

  • Should you stop eating because you’ve noticed gluttony, obesity, eating disorders or waste of food?
  • Should you stop driving because you’ve seen too many people violating the law, engaged in rude behavior or driving recklessly?
  • Have you sworn never to enter a romantic relationship due to the high rate of divorce, spousal abuse or unhappiness you’ve witnessed in others?
  • Have you stopped breathing in a statement against air pollution, the possibility of airborne disease, or in taking a stand against lung disorders?
  • Should you have your teeth pulled as a protest against tooth decay, your hair pulled out in a plea against baldness and refuse to see a doctor due to medical malpractice?

Shall I continue? To appeal for the “100%” rule demands consistency in all areas.

You see, the proper response to injustice, civic unrest or anarchy is to raise the bar of responsibility, not lower it. Criminals must be punished, severely in certain cases and entirely in others for those who have, by their actions, shown no regard for human life.

Unfortunately, folks who claim to be Christian often succumb to the same tactics employed by culture in an attempt to exempt themselves from active faith. This only underscores our struggle against self, or lack of struggle as the case may be. First of all, we do not “go to Church” anymore than a fish goes swimming. We are the Church and we gather together at a building, or another meeting place. People do not “do Church”, rather… we are Church. Secondly, the contemporary concept of “Church should meet my needs” is completely bogus. God is worthy of our worship, even if we should “get” nothing out of it… the simple truth is we receive much out of true worship offered to God. Honestly, I don’t care so much about catchy songs as I do about honoring God, being challenged to spiritual growth, greater service, stronger faith and edification of someone else.

Bottom line, be honest enough with yourself to admit why you really choose not to actively assemble with the Church. It just isn’t as high of a priority as other things.

You can check out another topic along the lines of Democracy by going here.

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In Christ #2, Identified in His Burial

Logo banner for the "In Christ" sermon series.For forgiveness of sin to be granted, one must be identified by and linked to the blood of Jesus. However, since we cannot go back in time to the Cross of Golgotha to physically come into contact with Jesus’ blood, there are two possibilities: 1) God is unreasonable & unjust by placing an expectation upon all mankind which only one generation could fulfill; or 2) There is another way to come into contact with the blood of Jesus. Since the first option is entirely out of the Character of God, we can only surmise that option #2 is the only logical answer to our problem.

As stated earlier, we are removed from the crucifixion of Jesus, so, although we have solved one issue in our knowledge of God’s character, we must discover the Biblical means of coming into contact with the blood of Jesus in our time. Certainly, based upon what we have seen in Scripture concerning God’s character, we know that He would select a means which would not limit redemption to a small portion of people. The good news is that He has selected a method and agent which is readily accessible to all people groups in all parts of the globe… and it always will be. Additionally, compliance to this method is very simple and fair.

So, what could possibly fall into all of these categories? Accessible to all people, readily available and simple, economically inexpensive or at no cost. Baptism by immersion in water.

Now, I know all of the arguments that so many people from denominational groups use against baptism. And, I can say without hesitation, that they are not valid. An honest reading through the New Testament, without viewing through any lens of religious tradition, lands on the same conclusion. Baptism is the only event which links us to or identifies us with the death, burial & resurrection of Jesus. Why is this such a big deal? Well, if God has established conditions for us to enter His family & receive the benefits of salvation (and He has) then we should be urgently concerned with knowing what these conditions are, and just as urgent about complying with these same conditions.

Chart comparing current forms of baptism with New Testament baptism

Baptism was a widely known & accepted practice in the Jewish community long before Jesus implemented it as a part of His plan for our forgiveness. Because it was widely accepted as a significant act of devotion, it was reasonable for Jesus to use as a practice for identifying His followers. There is another reason for Jesus using baptism. Romans 6:3-7 states that baptism is the point at which we are identified with the death of Christ, and “raised up” with Him in His resurrection.

This text provides a wonderful word picture of what actually happens at our baptism. We are “buried with Christ” and “raised up with Him”. This use of phrasing helps enforce the baptism by immersion model, as found in the New Testament. Think about it: do we sprinkle dirt onto a casket & refer to it as burial? No! We cover the casket completely, just as immersion resembles burial by our complete covering over with water. Sprinkling & pouring do not accomplish this.

Additionally, if we are sprinkled or poured we cannot “rise up from the grave” as is clearly done in immersion. We come up out of the covering of water, just as Jesus came up from within the covering of the grave. As a result, New Testament baptism acts as a proclamation of the Gospel by symbolically referencing Christ’s death, burial & resurrection.

I have created an article on this topic, which addresses each of the passages in the New Testament dealing with baptism. The article can be found in our resources section of our website, at the following URL: Baptism by Comparison All articles are in Adobe pdf format, and require Adobe Acrobat Reader. You can get the reader at the Adobe site by clicking here.

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In Christ, identified in His death

Logo banner for the "In Christ" sermon series. The Apostle Paul uses the phrase “In Christ” a total of 87 times in his writings, as provided by the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition. Obviously, Paul in his use of this phrase, is speaking to the Christian and is referencing a number of truths.

When someone becomes a Christian, we refer to their placing faith “in Christ”, we mention them being “in the Church” and encourage them to walk “in faith”. Unfortunately, some seem to believe that this simply refers to participation in Church related events, ministries or programs, or in terms of attendance in services. Paul is speaking to something far greater than simple attendance… being counted in attendance is not going to do anything for us in regard to our legal problem with sin. Paul is providing an understanding of a change in our legal standing with God in relation to Christ, from being on our own to actually being identified by the righteousness of Christ.

The question at hand is how are we identified with Christ? Is there a specific point in time, or an event which can identify us to the person of Christ?

Paul’s writings provide for us clear identification with Christ in death, burial & resurrection. Apart from this unique identification, we are outside Christ, and thus, unable to receive the benefit of identification with Christ. It should be noted before entering into this study, that the Holy Spirit does not provide an exemption to this identification… everyone must comply in order to be identified as “in Christ”.

Perhaps the clearest text on this topic, from Paul’s writings, is Colossians 2:9-14. For the purposes of this study, we will use the New American Standard Bible.

9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,
10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;
11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;
12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,
14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
Colossians 2:9-14, NASB’95

Paul is speaking of the fullness of Christ (vs. 9) and is very explicit in our need to be connected or identified with Him. His teachings are clear:

  • We are complete in Christ, inversely… we are incomplete apart from Him.
  • Christ is the source of Authority, and so He alone is uniquely and singularly authorized to establish qualifications for those identified as His.
  • We have been circumcised or marked by His hand & not by an action of our own.
  • We are buried with Christ in baptism… thus, we are identified with the death of Jesus.
  • Through our faith in the working of God, we share in His resurrection.
  • All of our transgressions are forgiven.

To be “in Christ” we must be identified with His death, burial & resurrection.

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