Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween, Judgement & Contempt... Oh My!

It's been interesting to catch the undercurrents (via the wonder of BookFace) of the Great Halloween Debate raising its contentious head once again. On the one hand, you might be tempted to think: AGAIN?!? ¿En serio? (seriously?)

When will (depending on your point of view):
  1. Christians get over their silly superstitious paranoia?
  2. Christians start taking spiritual warfare seriously?
But on the other hand, it's always healthy to pause, reflect, think, puzzle, and discuss (even debate) how we as Christians are to engage the culture around us. So, seeing this debate making the rounds once again is not necessarily a bad thing.

And I found several blog posts that suggested that the church alternative of "Harvest Parties" is fooling no-one. As one writer cleverly put it: "Unless you're a farmer or have a grow-op in your basement, this isn't harvest time." It was a funny line, even if I don't buy his/her argument.

Here is a line that I think should be enforced:
"Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
"One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God." (Romans 14:1-6)
By all means, be fully convinced in your own mind about your participation or non-participation or alternative to Halloween. Think long and hard about it. Know why you believe what you believe. Hold your convictions firmly.

But leave contempt and a judgmental attitude at the door. And please, don't give either of these attitudes away to any of the children.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Once Per Year, Perchance?

(originally published here in 2003, my very first year of blogging...)

John Fischer writes in Fearless Faith (Living Beyond the Safe Walls of Christianity):
"The more acceptable Christian thing to do now on Halloween is to close up the house and have an alternative party for our kids at church. The party usually has a harvest or biblical character theme -- no ghosts or goblins allowed. Though I understand how this safer alternative came to be, I wonder whether a blanket boycott is the only way to handle this controversial holiday. Is this just one more time when we as Christians isolate ourselves from the rest of our culture for religious reasons apparent only to us? Have we really thought through what our dark houses are saying to the rest of the block while we're off having our alternative party? I can hear the neighbourhood kids shuffling by our house, saying, "Don't go there, they don't give anything." Is this what we want to be known for in the community -- a dark house on the one night you can be guaranteed neighbors will visit?

"If Satan comes out on Halloween, he doesn't go back into hiding the next morning. Regardless of the origins of Halloween (and there appears to be little agreement about this, even among historians), what we have today is a culture-wide event that is more concerned with pretending than it is with the underworld... If Satan wins anything on this day, he may win more through the darkened homes of Christians than through anything else."
When we were pastoring in Victoria BC, Christians didn't do anything to celebrate Halloween -- there were lots of "Harvest Parties" in various church buildings instead. Of course, the police were guarding the Ross Bay Cemetary so no bodies would be stolen that night, nor to forget the animal sacrifice that was done on our front yard in the hey-day of GodRock, or a local shaman dressing up in his ceremonial garb to personally curse me -- you can understand why particpating in Halloween wasn't even a debatable question in Christian circles in Victoria during the 1990's.

Now that we're in Winnipeg, we take our kids out trick-or-treating every year, for the same reasons that John Fischer illustrates above. It's like being part of the community here to join in the fun. We don't let our kids dress up in death-inspired outfits (our son went as a box of Cheerios one year, and our daughter once went as a potted plant -- WAY more creative than a Freddie Kreuger mask!). But we go with them and mingle with our community. I even (unknowing at the time) had a joking conversation with the premier of Manitoba -- I didn't recognize him in a yellow rain slicker.

Even more fun are our Anglican neighbours across the street -- every year, they have hot chocolate, coffee, tea, and penny candy for everyone who stops by their outdoor bonfire. They play jazz or blues music on a ghetto blaster, and it becomes the gathering place for tons of people -- and the many Christians who live on our street have a great opportunity to mix and mingle with our non-Christian neighbours and give a cup of hot chocolate in Jesus' name. It rocks!

Two different approaches to Halloween. Definite reasons behind each. Whether you choose to participate or not, at least think through what you're communicating to the community you're trying to impact for Jesus.

And you can always give me your candy!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Strange Fire Three: Speak Up, Already

I want YOU to speak up!
Two obervations arising out of the recent Strange Fire conference:
  1. As I suggested in Strange Fire Two: No True Scotsman, John MacArthur is definitely not the right person to critique the charismatic movement.
  2. On the other hand, has anyone heard insiders to the charismatic movement speaking up about the excesses, abuses, and unbiblical teachings and practices that everybody knows plague the movement?
    • 2b. Does silence imply consent?
    • 2c. Or something worse?

Of course, some voices have spoken up over the years. Individuals have written articles and books, and denominational leaders have taken stands against wacky theology and damaging practices. One example is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the USA, the Assemblies of God, which has published many position papers on controversial issues over the years (available as PDF's on their website).

For example:
  • The "Jesus Only" teaching (there is no Trinity)
  • the Shepherding Movement (being "under covering/authority" aka "Culture of Honor")
  • the Word of Faith teaching (Health & Wealth, Prosperity)
  • The Latter Rain (Kingdom Now, Dominionism, New Apostolic Reformation, IHOP), etc.
I'm not Pentecostal myself, but I do appreciate that the Assemblies of God have at least tried to do something. (Whether people are listening or not is a whole 'nuther question.)

And during the rise of the Shepherding Movement, there were a lot of voices loudly condemning it, long before its own leaders recognized their error and repented. For example: Demos Shakarian (founder/leader of Full Gospel Businessmen's Association) and Pat Robertson (700 Club television show) who refused to allow any of the Shepherding leaders to speak at any of their functions or broadcasts; Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, Jack Hayford of Church on the Way, and even controversial healing evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman.

The Kansas City Prophets (Bob Jones, John Paul Jackson, Paul Cain) were confronted by other charismatics during their heyday as well (early 1990s).

And some of Lakeland/Todd Bentley's loudest critics in 2008 were other charismatics and Pentecostals. So it's not like nobody has spoken up.

But apparently the need to continue speaking up continues unabated to this day.

Shout Down 101
Many charismatics feel like their mouths have been taped shut. Nobody wants to be called a "heresy hunter", or mocked as the "doctrine police", or dismissed as "quenching the Spirit". That's why so many have chosen the (illusion of) safety in becoming a Possum of Discernment. It's not easy/comfortable/safe to be the voice expressing the unpopular question.

But even if somebody has tried to tape your mouth shut, what's stopping you from ripping the tape off?

Ultimately, I don't believe MacArthur's book or conference will do any good. The hyperbole, arrogance, caricatures, misrepresentations, and logical fallacies thoroughly discredited any redemptive value that the conference might have had.

But that's not the real travesty, is it?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Strange Fire Two: No True Scotsman

Logical Fallacies Poster
Via Logical Fallacies comes this definition of a logical fallacy:
No True Scotsman: No matter how compelling the evidence is, one simply shifts the goalposts so that it wouldn't apply to a supposedly 'true' example.
Example: Angus declares that Scotsmen do not put sugar on their porridge, to which Lachlan points out that he is a Scotsman and puts sugar on his porridge. Furious, like a true Scot, Angus yells that no true Scotsman sugars his porridge.

Many continuationists have expressed dismay at how MacArthur lumped them in with the worst extremes of charismania during the recent Strange Fire conference. Tim Challies blogged a summation of MacArthur's last conference address, given in rebuttal/challenge to his "friends" who are continuationists, and I couldn't help but think of the No True Scotsman fallacy. No matter how many times thoughtful, theologically-astute continuationists said that they do not embrace the lunatic fringe of charismania, MacArthur pulled a No True Scotsman on them.Cessationist = charismatic gifts have ceased to exist.

Continuationist = charismatic gifts have continued to exist.

Dismissing MacArthur because of Scotsman, however, would ultimately be glib and intellectually lazy. There are actually quite a number of logical fallacies that MacArthur utilizes in his eight-point address. Let's look at what the fallacies are, and then compare them to MacArthur's appeal.

Strawman: Misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack.
By exaggerating, misrepresenting, or just completely fabricating someone's argument, it's much easier to present your own position as being reasonable.
False Cause: Presuming that a real or perceived relationship between things means that one is the cause of the other.
Many people confuse correlation for causation.
False Dichotomy: Where two alternative states are presented as the only possibilities, when in fact more possibilities exist.
Also known as the false dilemma, this insidious tactic has the appearance of forming a logical argument, but under closer scrutiny it becomes evident that there are more possibilities than the either/or choice that is presented.
Slippery Slope: Asserting that if we allow A to happen, then Z will consequently happen too, therefore A should not happen.
The problem with this reasoning is that it avoids engaging with the issue at hand, and instead shifts attention to baseless extreme hypotheticals.
Composition: Assuming that what’s true about one part of something has to be applied to all parts of it.
Often when something is true for the part it does also apply to the whole, but because this isn’t always the case it can’t be presumed to be true. We must show evidence for why a consistency will exist.
Loaded Question: Asking a question that has an assumption built into it so that it can’t be answered without appearing guilty.
Loaded question fallacies are particularly effective at derailing rational debates because of their inflammatory nature.
(Source: Logical Fallacies)

With these definitions in mind, let's look at MacArthur's eight-point appeal to continuationists to stop being continuationists and join the war against charismatics:

MacArthur's StatementLogical Fallacy
1. Continuationists give legitimacy to the contemporary charismatic movement. When theologically conservative men give credibility to this movement the whole movement gains credibility.False Cause & Slippery Slope
2. Continuationists degrade the miraculous nature of true gifts given by God to the 1st Century Church. God gave special revelatory gifts, signs and miracles to validate His revelation. Hebrews 2:3 expounds on this. This text becomes meaningless if these gifts are given to everyone today.False Dichotomy
3. Continuationists severely limit how people can be responsive to charismatic confusion. MacArthur has heard from friends some of the most bizarre stories that should assuredly be denounced. However, [they] cannot speak against these stories because they have bought into continuationism.Strawman, Composition & False Dichotomy
4. Continuationists who insist that God gives special revelation today gives way to people being led by confusion and error. ...  These new forms of special revelation such as words of prophecy are theological train wrecks. When you go beyond the Word of God you cannot contain the error.False Cause, Slippery Slope, Strawman & Composition
5. Continuationists tacitly deny the reformed tenet of Sola Scriptura. People who would not normally deny the closing of the canon, Scripture’s authority or sufficiency, do so by defaulting towards a belief in extra-revelation. This extra-revelation is widely abused by people in power.Slippery Slope, Composition
6. Continuationists open the door to speaking in tongues which is the mindless ecstasy of the charismatic expression. [It's] not a language but is gibberish.Strawman
7. Continuationists assert the gift of healing and in turn affirm the fraudulent ministry of healers. Who would want to do that? These people are the lowest of the low. They prey on the ill, destitute, and poorest people and tell them lies in order to get rich. Who would want to do anything to aid and abet them?False Cause, Loaded Question & Strawman
8. Continuationists distract from the Holy Spirit’s true ministry by enticing people to buy into a false ministry. What deficiency are they compensating for? Are not the Holy Spirit’s many works of regeneration, conviction, filling, sealing and more sufficient? You entice people to counterfeits...
(Source: Tim Challies)
Slippery Slope & Loaded Question

So what can we conclude from this over-abundant use of logical fallacies (and that's not even considering the theological problems behind MacArthur's assumptions)?
  • That John MacArthur doesn't have a clue what he's talking about?
  • That MacArthur's concerns and critique of charismatics are therefore invalidated?
  • That continuationists receive a "get out of jail free" card on the issues that Strange Fire (imperfectly) raised?

Stay tuned for part Three.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Strange Fire One: Taming the Tongue

Silence is golden; duct tape is silver
Dr. John F. MacArthur recently hosted the Strange Fire conference, where he called on Christians to "declare war" on anyone with charismatic or pentecostal beliefs. That's hardly news. MacArthur's contempt for anything remotely charismatic has been legendary for decades.

Equally easy to predict: that the shrill reaction of a lot of charismatics would clearly reveal that self-righteous name-calling works both ways.

Perhaps not surprisingly, since I wrote a book entitled Post-Charismatic? a few years back, some people are wondering what I make of the current brouhaha surrounding MacArthur's Strange Fire conference (coinciding with the release of the book by the same title).

Let me begin by addressing this to EVERYBODY, myself included:
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
(James 3:1-12; thesis statement [verse one] repeated for emphasis and context for "taming the tongue")

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tripping Over Righteousness

A funny thought occurred to me the other day:

When you apply the word "FALL" to a Christian, it's usually associated with sin. As in: "So-and-so fell into gluttony". It's always negative. They tripped and "fell" into something nasty and now it's all over them. (Oops! You're gross!)

You never hear anybody say: "So-and-so fell into honesty." As if they had tripped over something spiritual and accidentally became a more honest person. (Surprise! You rock!).

Well, that makes sense, I guess. We all so easily fall into sinful attitudes and actions, like it says in Hebrews -- the "sin that so easily entangles", and all that.

And to live like an honest-to-goodness, bonafide follower of Jesus takes a bit more effort and making conscious choices. There's probably a good metaphor/sermon illustration in there somewhere.
Wait a second, hold the phone...

How, when, and where did that idea slip in?

That "falling" into sin is accidental, but righteousness is a choice?

Aren't all of our actions determined by our choices? Is there really no "oops" involved?

Actually, as it turns out: No, there isn't any "oops" involved. People don't "fall" into sin accidentally. And neither do they "fall" into righteousness. Both require decisions and choices. Both result in consequences. We are very involved in the entire process, either way.

Oh, look! God said it first:

"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." (Galatians 6:7-8)

Ever heard the old apocryphal story of the Missionary & the Inuit Christian ("apocryphal" = "urban myth")? According to legend, a missionary was having a conversation with an elderly Inuit man about his faith.
"Sometimes," mused the wise old Iniut, "it feels like there's a white wolf and a black wolf inside me, fighting for control of my soul."

Fascinated by the metaphor, the missionary responded, "And which wolf is winning the battle?"

With a wry smile, the Inuit sighed and answered, "Whichever one I feed the most."
By all means, let's learn what it means to "sow to the Spirit" and "feed the white wolf". But let's have no more of this "falling" stuff.
There is no "oops".

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bold Humility (LE5)

(LE = Lifestyle Evangelism)
hyp·o·crite [hip-uh-krit]; noun

  1. a person who pretends to have virtues, morals or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
Greek hypokritḗs: a stage actor, hence one who pretends to be what he is not
In this fifth and final post, as I blog my way through Joe Aldrich's Lifestyle Evangelism, I came across this provocative little quote about a popular buzz-word of the 21st century: authenticity.
"People are attracted to authenticity... It is so easy to deceive from the pulpit, to preach about things we have not experienced and do not consistently practice. It is so easy to overstate, to play on guilt, and imply that we have solved the particular problem long ago... we are veiled - inauthentic." (page 173)
When I see a word like "veiled", I immediately think of Moses hiding his face so that the Israelites wouldn't realize that the glory of God was fading from his face (2 Cor. 3:13). Moses knew that while the glory of God was reflected in his face, people treated him different. He pretended it was still there by hiding behind a veil. He was like a Greek stage actor, wearing a mask for his performance.
I especially appreciate Aldrich's uncomfortable choice to place responsibility for transparency among the people of God on the leader/pastor.

That doesn't mean that you or I are therefore excused from any culpability in the lack of authenticity to be found in our churches.
Because all of us have this maddening tendency towards inauthentic words and behaviour. We want to put our best foot forward. To make a good first impression. To operate from a position of strength.

Even if it means veiling our faces. Playing a part. Being a hypocrite.

So, I'm not putting all the blame on pastors and leaders. But I do see an invitation in this.
"The content, style, and priority of preaching in the church's life is critical to its health and beauty." (page 175)
This statement also caused me to pause and reflect. Throughout Lifestyle Evangelism, Aldrich has used the metaphor of "beauty" to describe what a healthy church is like. In the preceding quote, it sure sounds like Aldrich believes that preaching/teaching is super-important to discipleship, spiritual maturity, and the beauty of the Church.

And maybe that's appropriate. Granted, "head knowledge" doesn't equal discipleship. But "empty-headedness" is not a sign of spiritual maturity, either. Solid, biblical preaching is a great place to start. It's not the whole "kit 'n' kaboodle", but the lack of decent teaching has resulted in a generation (or two) of weak, easily-led-astray Christians.
Perhaps what we need is a return to a "humble orthodoxy". To have leaders who are transparent, humble, authentic (the polar opposite of hypocrite) who are willing to boldly teach with great humility.

And finally, I found it challenging to read Aldrich's comment -- written in 1981 -- that slams itself head-first into the current mantra of the early 21st century:
"Whenever we allow the 'church' and 'Christ' to be separated in our thinking, we get into trouble. To say that 'I love Christ but I can't stand my church' is really a contradiction in terms." (page 174, emphasis added)
I wonder: would a return to humble orthodoxy, with a commitment to humbly but boldly teach the Bible, by transparent and authentic pastors/leaders turn the tide back? So that our churches could become the kind of places where it would be the height of INauthenticity to suggest that you can love Jesus but not the Church?

The kind of churches where we would see less spiritual casualties like Jack & Diane, and more disciples of Jesus?

Any takers?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Words Cannot Express

How much fun it is to be in a band like this.
And at my age.

And speaking of "words" and "expressing", I finally found the answer to something that has bugged me, as a writer, for some time:
"Your citation of the passage is to be in the text. Here is an example: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NASB).1

"Note a couple of things with the quote and citation above. (1) The final punctuation (the period) comes after the citation, which is in parenthesis ( ) not brackets [ ]. (2) Then, after the final punctuation, comes the footnote number. (3) Also, in-text citations require the full spelling of the Bible books; Thus, it is John 3:16, not Jn. 3:16."
Columbia Seminary: Quoting from the Bible (PDF)
It's funny how it's the little things that drive you the most crazy, "like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad." (Morpheus in The Matrix)

At least, now I know.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Now It's Getting Personal... (LE4)

(LE = Lifestyle Evangelism)
"An object that is at rest will stay at rest unless an external force acts upon it." (Sir Isaac Newton)

"A body of believers cannot remain in neutral very long. It will move either towards holiness or harlotry, towards beauty or prostitution." (Lifestyle Evangelism, page 102)
At first, I would have thought that Sir Isaac Newton's quote could be easily applied to some church bodies: they are staunchly immovable, thoroughly entrenched, and highly resistant to change.

But on second thought, Joe Aldrich's quote is more accurate: churches aren't "objects" in the same sense as, say, a car half-buried on a beach. Churches are comprised of people, which means any church is always in motion. The only question, as Aldrich suggests, is motion in what direction?

In Lifestyle Evangelism, Aldrich suggests that the two main options are quite simple: holiness and beauty, or harlotry and prostitution. In order to avoid the undesirable option, the opposite must be carefully and consistently nurtured.

It won't happen by accident. If people are going to mature in Christ, there has to be some intentionality on the part of both the congregation and its leadership.

"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." (Colossians 2:6-7)

(Colossians 2:6-7 wordle-ized)
As Aldrich reminds us:
"As a general rule, the 'church gathered' comes together to be 'built up' in the faith. The 'church scattered' is to be involved in evangelism." (page 117)
Ouch. That quote makes me pause uncomfortably. Haven't we done just the opposite for the last couple of decades? Created church services that are so seeker-driven that the congregation is starving to be 'built up in the faith'?

I've been reading through Lifestyle Evangelism from several different angles. Yes, obviously, it's a great book on sharing our faith, but I'm also reading it from the viewpoint of wondering why friends like Jack & Diane (and so many others) gave up on their faith, unable to separate the (church) chaff from the wheat. Is it because neglecting edification (being built up in the faith) results not only in a lack of evangelism, but also a glaring lack of discipleship?

And does this lack of edification/discipleship at least partially account for the number of spiritual casualties that Jack & Diane represent?

Aldrich writes, almost prophetically (his book is over 30 years old, after all):
"In many cases, the church has lost all sight of body function and has made the forms (programs) sacred. Success is often measured on the basis of whether or not a particular program has grown numerically, rather than on its contribution to the free flow of the giftedness of the body." (page 120)
Fortunately, Aldrich also has some strong words of encouragement, exhortation, and challenge for us, as well:
"People may need to be encouraged not to attend the programs and activities of the church so they can spend time with the unsaved. Your church may need, with your firm leadership, to move out into the community and serve it. Neglected widows may need help, injustice in your community may need to be confronted, programs may need to be implemented to care for the poor and needy... with no strings attached. You may need to brainstorm with leadership about where Jesus would go in your community..." (page 177)

"If your church cannot accept the wreckage of broken homes and shattered dreams, it is not a place where Jesus lives. Your church should be the greatest garbage dump in town. A place where the broken, oppressed, misplaced, abandoned, and unloved people can come and find a 'family' where they are accepted and loved - as is." (page 180)
Yep, it's definitely getting personal.