The Good of Many

It is very easy to fall into the habit of treating everybody alike. After all, all elderly women are grandmothers and all elderly men are grandfathers. All middle-aged men and women are empty-nesters. All women and men younger than them have teenagers, unless they’re much younger in which case they have babies and toddlers. Anybody younger than them must have just graduated or are about to graduate high school or college, leaving everyone else to be the high school, middle school, and elementary school age students. They all live in the same town (they were all born and raised there and have never left the state; not even once.) They have all had the same life experiences, the same ethnicity. So that’s why many people worry about the ones that aren’t there and forget the ones that are.

Reading at the various books – they tell us what’s missing – adventure for the adventure seekers, apologetics for the logic-driven individual, services for this, that, and the other. It’s just, I have the feeling that there’s not a lot of acknowledging the people who are there.

Some books would say that “men thrive on adventure and challenge …” Does the author mean to say that the men who currently go to church are less manly than the men who do not? That they’re flawed for not being thrilled with adventure and who would rather a different sort of challenge? Some books would say that “millenials are disenfranchised by the hatred and hypocrisy they see in church.” I’m one of the millenials that still goes to church – partially to be a voice trying to change things from the inside – I guess I must not be a true-blue millennial. People from all walks of life still attend church: men and women, old and young, all races, some married, some divorced, some single, and yet so many news stories tend to gloss over them and complain about who isn’t there. The people aren’t there are also all like and they are also all different from the ones that are there.
It’s not a problem to talk about who isn’t there – but it’s a problem to ignore those who are there. We could very easily create an adventure based church, where everyone who doesn’t like adventure could go somewhere else. We could very easily create an outdoors-man and outdoors-woman based church, where everyone who doesn’t like hunting or fishing could go somewhere else. We could very easily create an arts and crafts based church, where everyone who doesn’t like art or crafts can go somewhere else. You see the problem here?

We can’t please everyone all the time. What we can do is to use a trial and error method to reach out to as many different types of people as possible and as for everyone else – create a program or group from which they can benefit – sort of like Paul:

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

We also have to stop treating everyone as if they are all alike and the same. Christianity is filled with all sort of people, different kinds of men and women, at different ages and stages in life, with different maturity levels and interests when it comes to Scripture. So let’s encourage people to be curious and to seek out answers to their questions. That means letting people be at different pages in the same book – and let’s help them really get everything Scripture has to say.

A blatant example of where we have to change how we interpret scripture is the story of Deborah. I’ve been told that she was a Judge because it was a punishment over all the men of Israel because not one of them could be found to do the job. All of the other Judges were male because they were all faithful enough, good enough, wise enough, and obedient enough to lead. That was not the case in Deborah’s time. None one man could be found to be faithful, good, wise, or obedient enough so God punished them by installing a woman as a leader over them. That’s backed up Isaiah 3:12: “Youths oppress my people,
    women rule over them.
My people, your guides lead you astray;
    they turn you from the path.”

That’s our interpretation – but that’s not spelled out in Scripture. The rest of Isaiah 3 doesn’t really fit the events in Judges 4 & 5. That’s a problem for me. If you’re going to point to verse 12 – then doesn’t the rest of the verses have to match in order for the interpretation to be valid? So what if it’s not punishment, but exactly what the doctor ordered? What if God wanted Deborah to be in charge because she was the best person (male or female) for the job? Such interpretations happen all the time.

We can’t just read verses and explain away the incredible women as always exceptions to the rules and hold up amazing men as normal examples of what one can do when he (or she) follows God. We just can’t interpret Scripture without taking into account how the original hearers would have understood it differently because they live in an honor/shame society and we do not. We have to teach the basics starting with history and culture and custom to give us a full picture of what’s being said and taught – otherwise we’ll always have a picture with missing pieces – and worst of all, we won’t even know it.

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It’s Debatable

God’s Not Dead, God’s Not Dead 2, A Matter of Faith … Christians should get out of the “drama about the debate between Creationism and Evolutionism” movie-making business.
It’s been awhile since the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye and I keep on wondering when they’re going to dramatize that into it’s own movie – a David and Goliath story where the little creationist throws a stone at the head of the big bad evolutionist atheist, cuts off his head with his own sword, and then the army of creationists shout “In the name of creation!” as they charge upon the army of bewildered evolutionists and destroy every last one of them. Action, adventure, underdog story, and a big battle scene – what more could a believer want?

Let’s not be afraid of these powerful little worlds: “I don’t know” and “let’s find out.” They go hand-in-hand. When Christians pick and choose which arguments to make in their movies – they are setting up a straw man fallacy where they paint whatever picture they want of Atheism, Islam, etc. and then proceed to tear it down with their iron-clad arguments designed just to have that effect.

The sad truth is, Americans don’t always have a Muslim friend to ask, “Hey, is this portrayal of a family accurate?” Or an atheist friend on speed dial to ask: “How would you have responded to their argument?” Most of us are not well-read on the subject matter even when they find a way to rephrase scholarly level arguments into more commonly understood language. So that’s why the movies side-step the facts with feelings.

Facts are dreadfully uncomfortable and extremely inconvenient. Christians have been trying their best to explain dinosaurs for decades. Our technology has given us a whole new range of facts to consider – facts that the Bible doesn’t prepare us to hear. Because there’s no answer for that, then relying on emotions is the next best thing. After all, it wasn’t the facts that clearly won over the atheist professor who hated God in God’s Not Dead, it was God’s mercy in not having be instantly killed so that moments before he died he could repent of his bitterness about the death of his mother and go to heaven.

What goes unsaid in these movies is that there is a healthy amount of fear. Fear about using the facts without emotion, fear about saying “I don’t know” and appearing foolish for not knowing, fear about saying “let’s find out” and realizing that the facts say something other than that’s expected.

Honestly, I don’t see how such a formula is going to win people over to the cause of Christ when it is always a David and Goliath scenario. People are pretty smart these days and turning a debate from what philosophers say about God to why the opponent hates God doesn’t add to the drama. It takes away from those precious facts one worked so very long to collect. If they’re so inconvenient, let’s do away with them altogether and classify the dialogue:

Poisoning the Well, Straw man Fallacy, Appeal to Emotion, Ad hominim Attack, Non-sequitor, Argument from Ignorance, Argument from Silence, Argument from Absurdity, Irrelevant, Wishful Thinking, Thought-terminating cliché, red herring, Invincible Ignorance, etc.

When the Creationist resorts to just as many terrible leaps as logic as their opponent in order to win the debate – they lose everyone in the audience who is smart enough to see through that sort of tactic. If Christians want to keep on making these kinds of movies – they’re going to find a way to incorporate the facts without poisoning the well or setting up straw man opponents. They need to learn to not be afraid to say “I don’t know.” Can they? Let’s find out.

Membership isn’t for me.

“And the so-and-so family would like to formally join our church!” The final announcement was much cheerier than the list of illnesses and other prayer requests in the church, so it was met with unusually gregarious applause – perhaps because the family was quite well liked. As expected, that service ended with the family standing beside the church door, shaking hands with the rest of the church on their way out.

Given the recent study about declining numbers in church attendance, many churches have reviewed their membership policy. For decades, it’s been ‘too easy’ to join, to be apart of, and to leave a church behind. So some churches have upped the stakes – asking prospective members to agree to things like a minimum mandatory tithe, small group attendance, and to be called upon to assist the church with things like cleaning or teaching. The idea is that if people are challenged, they will rise to the occasion and be intentional believers.

The real problems surface when membership covenants delve into areas of discipline, disagreement, and discord … when it comes down to both sides being put to the test and the agreement is used handle such matters. What might seem like an innocent formality in joining a church, might prove to be a contract that makes it difficult to leave a church which causes a ‘Hotel California’ sort of problem: “You can check-out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” Some of these covenants protect the church from potential lawsuits, they do not protect the believers from the church.

Much of the issue is from the line that says “I submit to the church leaders”, sure – it is backed up by Bible verses. So is the verse “I hate divorce” if your problem does not have a Biblical precedent for it’s resolution – say, domestic violence, for example – then there’s really no guideline for them to deal with it biblically. Do you really want the elders of your church telling you that you’re not allowed to divorce someone that that you’re well within your rights to legally divorce? Do you want the elders of the church telling your church that you’re an unrepentant sinner whom they are not to assist? Do you want the elders of your church cutting you off from your support groups of friends and family members in a time when you need them most? That could very well be what you agree to when you sign a membership covenant.

I know that as a regular attender, I won’t get a vote on most issues that might be brought up during a meeting. That’s not really a problem – there’s no guarantee that as a member my vote would count or my concerns would be listened to anyway. So it’s not a loss to not be a member of such a church. It’s also why I choose to not be a member of a church. I don’t see what’s so wrong with being a regular attender, what keeps me going to church is not a piece of paper with my signature. What keeps me well-behaved is not a piece of paper with my signature. What keeps me a serious believer is not a piece of paper with my signature.

You’re free to ask me if I’d like to become a member, but for future reference, the answer is: “No, I’ll never join your church.”

Optimism

It’s difficult to be optimistic about the future given the last few decades of financial crisis, natural disasters, and man-made catastrophes one after the other. Every year, new block-busters about the apocalypse are released, new novels are written about the end of the world. By the time I was a kid, the Left Behind series was gaining popularity – more and more there were teachings about Revelation and Bible prophecy unfolding in our lifetime.

Perhaps that has something to do with the pessimism that is so prevalent these days. Why bother fixing what is broken when very soon God’s going to destroy it in one of the bowl judgements, the trumpet judgement, or the seal judgements that we have all been taught are going to come to pass? Why bother dealing with poverty when it’s always going to be here? Why bother with being a peacemaker when we have been promised wars and rumors of wars right up until the very end? If we just wait for Revelation, won’t God destroy the whole world and then make a newer, better one?

Have we stopped dreaming for a better, brighter future? Have we stopped hoping for a future without war, disease, poverty, and hunger? Do we even want a future where the only challenge is to improve ourselves and upon our knowledge and understanding of the universe we inhabit? Will we ever travel so far into outer-space that we find another civilization as advanced as ourselves?

I wonder if the story of the Tower of Babel serves as a cautionary tale – that humans should only go so far and no further. We should do only so well and no better. We should reach only so high and not higher; for fear of calamity. We could very well cause the apocalypse we so dread and we so very much look forward to.

I get it – the world’s in bad shape. Our infrastructure is deteriorating, our debt is piling, and our issues are mounting. It’s really easy to do nothing even when it is in our power to do the tiniest thing. Here’s a great opportunity to learn from the Eastern side of the world – where putting people at work is a higher value than working efficiently (with fewer people and more resources.) We can choose to let thousands of robots put people out of work, or we can choose to put thousands of people in those jobs to help them support their families and the generations to come. We can choose to be selfish or selfless. We can choose to donate blood to save lives. We can choose any number of small ways to make a difference – to aim for a brighter future.

Are we afraid that we’ll delay the apocalypse? It’s going to happen on schedule – nothing we do will change that. it might be five minutes, five decades, or five centuries from now. If we imagine it’s five minutes from now, then there’s no amount of preparation one can make that will be sufficient. If it’s five decades, that’s still plenty of time to actually enjoy living life and watching a generation grow up. If it’s five centuries – then whatever we do will ultimately have no impact. Nothing we hoard will last that long. Nothing we save up will endure that long. Nothing we build will stand that long.

Christians were not called to fear the Apocalypse – they’re supposed to be tending the ill, visiting the prisoners, feeding the hungry, and providing basic necessities for all people. They’re supposed to side with the poor and oppressed and stand with them against the rich and the oppressors. To me, the apocalypse is what happens when fear drives Christians to hoard instead of share. To hate instead of love. To take instead of give. To preach the Word instead of living out the Word. To take care of their own instead of taking care of others. We’re supposed to be the optimists who believe that whatever we do matters – it makes a difference even if it’s just a small thing.

Order and the Trinity

One recent teaching explains that God has designed the Trinity into all spheres of life. When I first heard it, I thought that it was a brilliant teaching. Now I’m not so sure. A few examples of the trinities that were discussed include:

the Godhead – Father, Son, Holy Spirit
the Family – Husband, Wife, Children
the Church – Christ, Leaders, Flock

The Trinity is co-equal, co-eternal, the same being of one substance. All other trinities cannot boast of such circumstances – yet the expectation of fulfilling one’s role by submitting to authority or being in authority to maintain unity is yet another system that is humanly impossible to maintain. Power corrupts, even biblical, holy, righteous power corrupts because it’s the kind that we least suspect would cause us to do terrible things. Surely, we say to ourselves, only the bad kind of power can corrupt people – like a politician or a banker; people who are entrusted with too much power and responsibility. This is true of Christianity, people can be entrusted with too much power and responsibility – even the good kind – and give into temptation anyway, to steal, to destroy, to control. Sometimes good intentions pave the way for terrible consequences.

Try as we might, we are not infallible co-equal, co-eternal beings of the same substance as each other. We’re human beings, and with that comes our tendency to mess up. Everybody does – most of the time they’re small mistakes that don’t get a second notice. Every now and then it’s a bigger mistake with far reaching consequences not necessarily to ourselves alone, but affecting those around us.

This ‘we’re all part of built-in trinities idea’ is problematic because of that. What about men and women incapable of bearing children and unable to afford adoption? What about single men and women who are not called to marriage? What about single mothers? What about families that are recognized by the state but not the church? Are we to just say, “Oh well, we broke the trinity that God designed into this relationship and the two of us just have to the best we can without our counterpart.” or “We are incomplete, but surely God can work with our brokenness to restore the trinity.” Isn’t there the slightest possibility that this trinity in everything teaching is not true?

I know, it’s a little out there – but you have to remember that when the family existed (in the traditional Biblical sense) a household consisted of one man and his wife and their grown-up sons and their wives and their sons and their under-age daughters until it was time to marry them off, and any number of servants to help everything keep on running – that doesn’t fit the Husband, Wife, Children trinity when it’s a multi-generational family plus servants usually numbering somewhere around seventy or eighty people or so in all.

And it’s difficult to say that particular trinity exists in the church – after all, ‘leaders’ is pretty generalized, are all leaders co-equal? A quick reading about Overseers, Elders, Deacons tends to make that unclear. Anyway, in most churches Pastors are seen as having most authority and the rest of the leadership team not so much. We have seen what happens in recent years when shepherds (in keeping with the metaphor) wield absolute control without checks and balances. In these cases, the flock’s role of submitting to authority doesn’t give them much choice or protection. Some denominations rule by committees. Some denominations rest the authority squarely on elders or deacons. Some denominations have the pastor in charge. Very rarely is there an inherent equality in the authority of the leaders and the flock. (Isn’t it a mixed metaphor anyway? It’s Leaders – Followers or Leaders – Subjects and Shepherd – Flock. I wonder why they did that.)

Both are very much unlike the trinity – in persons, in roles, in abilities, in unity, and in so many ways. Yet the teaching endures that Christians are to pattern their lives in a fashion after the trinity, submitting to authority be they bosses, leaders, heads, presidents, kings, and wielding authority over employees, followers, the rest, citizens, and subjects. It’s just asking for trouble to give people too much power without checks and balances. Our founding father’s realized that – perhaps from any number of times that the Kings of ancient Israel and Judah abused their god-given authority, lead the people astray, and out-did previous generations in terms being evil. If they could not exist in this divine imprint – then we must recognize the possibility that neither can we. How are we to live then? I would think that finding whatever works for each family or church and sticking with it, and trial and error until we find it, are two good approaches. We should not just assume that what works for one will work for everyone. That’s not a failure in terms of not being able to do the same thing the same way all over the world, it’s honoring God through diversity of approach and thought, and that’s they way it should have been all along.

Order of the Trinity

Why is the order of the Trinity always discussed in terms of Father, Son, and then the Holy Spirit? Why not the other way around: Holy Spirit, Son, and Father? or Son, Father, and Holy Spirit or Son, Holy Spirit, and father? or even Father, Holy Spirit, and Son? or Holy Spirit, Father, and Son? Is there some significance to the usual order being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Does any other possible order diminish the Trinity in some way, shape, or form?

What we now know as Trinitarian teachings were developed at the Council of Nicaea and proposed by Athanasius of Alexandria. There is even the Athanasius Creed that fairly well defines the result. The truth is – it wasn’t an easy teaching to develop.

The Homoiousians held that God the Son was of a similar, but not identical, substance or essence to God the Father.

The Homoousians believed that they are of the same essence and are equally God.

The Homoeans declared that the Son was similar to God the Father, without reference to substance or essence.

Other Homoians declared that God the father was so incomparable and ineffably transcendent that even the ideas of likeness, similarity or identity in substance or essence with the subordinate Son and the Holy Spirit were heretical and not justified by the Gospels. They held that the Son was like the Father in some sense but that even to speak of “ousia” was impertinent speculation.

Heteroousians said that the substance or being of God the Father and the substance or being of the Son of God (Jesus) are different. This was also known as Arianism and was the chief heresy that Athanasius fought against.

These represent the main schools of throught, however there were countess variations of them over the centuries. And yet here we are roughly 1500 years later, we hold to the homoousian (from “same” and “being”) without giving a second thought to every other teaching. In this way the ‘victor’ has re-written history so that all other teachings are heresy.

Does that make every other interpretation wrong? Does that make all of our default teachings automatically right? After centuries of debate – we still don’t have a firm understanding as to the nature of the Trinity. The first few hundred years the disciples were confused and that didn’t make them love God any less. After all, being a mysterious being is part of what makes God worthy of worship.

I wonder if there is an implied greatness in the order of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Generally, first is foremost. Best. Greatest. Perhaps it has a lot to do with the order of appearance – though the other two persons of the Trinity are hinted at, God The Father is the primary agent of the Old Testament. The Son and the Holy Spirit share the New Testament and are featured in that order. In terms of Power, The Father displays it throughout … from the plagues of Egypt, to judgement against entire peoples, to prophets who bring a powerful miracle-backed message. Jesus does no shortage of miracles, and the Holy Spirit enables similar miracles but they are not on the same scale. Were all three members of the Trinity co-equal, then there really should be no reason that The Holy Spirit or the Son be referred to first, or Father or the Holy Spirit referred to second, or the Father or the Son be referred to last.

We have to remember that the passages that we use to explain who and what the Trinity are were written a few hundred years before the concept of the Trinity was defined and agreed upon by the representatives of the Council of Nicaea. It might not have been what Paul or the other New Testament authors had in mind when referring to persons of the Trinity to make a point about other teachings. We have to be careful to search for all possible meanings that exist outside of “obviously this refers to the Trinity” teaching that is more or less a default. We should ask ourselves: “What might have the early believers (before the council of Nicaea) have thought that this passage meant?”