Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pleasing the Crowd

The desire to conform is a powerful motivator. There is a story told about the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:15; 2:6). It is probably not true, but it tells us about the atmosphere of the group. The story is told that the Nicolas it was named after was one of the original seven deacons (Acts 6:5). It was claimed that he had a very beautiful wife and, in a fit of very unchristian humility, offered to share her with the other deacons.  This illustrates a particular approach to sin. Sexual impropriety engaged in, not as a result of a grand passion or out of control desires, but in order to please other people.

This fits in with the original description of the Nicolaitans in Revelation (Revelation 2:12-17). They were where Satan’s throne was, a strongly pagan area with temples of Zeus and emperor worship. They also lived in a very decadent society. There would have been considerable pressure to fit in, going through the motions of idolatry and participating in sexual immorality. 

Scripture clearly teaches that there is a danger in being conformed to the world (Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). But it also condemns the brittle self-righteousness that totally withdraws from all outside contact (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Matthew 9:10-13; Luke 19:1-10). This is a complicated tightrope to walk. To reach people, we need to be willing to meet them where they are, but if we do so, there is a danger of being pulled down by them. This is a difficult balance that has been struggled with throughout church history: being in the world and not of the world (John 17:14-16). It is a hard one to maintain.

We need to start by realizing that this is a problem. If we do not recognize we are walking a tightrope, we are in danger of unknowingly leaning too far one way or the other and falling off. We need to realize we are not as strong as we think we are (1 Corinthians 10:12,13; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22). We need to reach out, but to use caution. We live in a culture that is, in many ways, hostile to Christianity, and we must be aware of this. We need to be prepared for it by being grounded in God’s truth (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; 2:15). Our focus needs to be on pleasing God, rather than men (Galatians 1:10; Proverbs 29:25; Colossians 3:22-24). Also, we need to be in fellowship with other Christians who can support and encourage us (Hebrews 10:24,25; 12:12,13; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). We need to be in contact with unbelievers to reach out to those outside, but we need to be in community with believers to be firm in our faith. But it is only if we are careful and take precautions that we can avoid falling off the tightrope one way or the other.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Touch of Humor - Cultural Question

How do we decide what in the Bible is cultural? How do we avoid writing off every commandment we do not like as cultural?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Old Erich Proverb - Defend

We should not defend our own authority but God's principles.

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Voice from the Past - Gregory the Great

But for the most part those who covet pastoral authority mentally propose to themselves some good works besides, and though desiring it with a motive of pride, still muse how they will effect great things: and so it comes to pass that the motive suppressed in the depth of the heart is one thing, another what the surface of thought presents to the muser's mind. For the mind itself lies to itself about itself, and feigns with respect to good work to love what it does not love, and with respect to the world's glory not to love what it does love. Eager for domination, it become timid with regard to it while in pursuit, audacious after attainment.

Gregory the Great,. 540-604 AD, Pastoral Rule, Part I, Chapter IX (translated by Rev James Barmby, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishers, 1997, Second Series, Vol. XII, p. 6)

Is it easy to fool ourselves about our own motives? How do we avoid this?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thomas a Becket - The Battle Continues

Thomas a Becket was a key figure in the ongoing struggle between the church organization and the state. My initial sympathy is with the church organization, which wanted to stop the political leaders from appointing church leaders and often putting in people without spiritual or educational qualifications, who then farmed the work out to others equally unqualified. But in the end, the church organization became so concerned with its own power that it became more corrupt than the political leaders. Now Thomas a Beckett was a determined, principled, and courageous individual (he died for his principles). I do not know his heart, but I would like to believe there was there some genuine desire to honor God. But he does represent a step away from protecting the congregation to maintaining the independence and dignity of the clergy.

Thomas had one problem, holding multiple offices in the church organization and presumably farming them out. But the issue he fought over was whether the clergy could be tried in the civil courts or only in their own courts. Now Scripture says we should be subject to civil authorities on civil matters. It was objected that the clerical courts were more just and less cruel than the royal courts. But maybe they should have worked to make the courts better for everyone. There was also the danger that the royal courts could try to trump up charges against clergy they did not like. But this should have been handled on a case-by-case basis. However, the final issue was that Thomas had refused to remove excommunications from clergy that had taken the King's side (Henry II of England) and had invaded Thomas' prerogatives. Whether this was lack of forgiveness or standing on principles (there is no indication these individuals had repented) may be argued.

Thomas was the kings' chancellor and had been appointed by the king as Archbishop of Canterbury. He appears to have been a conscientious individual who tried to fulfill all his offices according to his sense of duty. Thomas ended up in conflict with the king and went into self-imposed exile, to urge the pope (Alexander III) to take action against the king. But the pope, being under pressure politically and not wanting to offend Henry, tried to negotiate. Ultimately, Thomas was restored, but Henry in a fit of rage asked to be rid of him. Four of his knights, whether rightly or wrongly, took him literally and killed Thomas. Thomas faced his death bravely and became considered a martyr. Henry was forced to concede the principles in question and to allow himself to be scourged before Beckett's tomb as penance for his deeds. This did much to further the clerical cause. And to lead it into what it ultimately became.   

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Encourage One Another

How can Christians encourage one other and build each other up? Let’s face it, there are a lot of things in life that work to tear us down. There are problems we face and failings in ourselves we may have to deal with. Even other Christians can sometimes tear us down by what they do. Now we cannot control the actions of others. But we can ask how we can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. 

We need to start by loving one another (1 Peter 4:8; John 13:34,35; Ephesians 5:1,2). But this is not always easy. Some people are hard to love. Some people are hard for us to love because of personality conflicts. Where do we get this kind of love? We need to start by remembering how has God loved us (1 John 4:7-19; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 2 Peter 1:9). As we remember how Christ has loved us, we are encouraged to love others the same way. This love means not looking down on others because they do not measure up to our standards (Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Ephesians 4:1-3). We have nothing to be proud of, for we also are saved by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). And sometimes we just need to trust God to work in our lives to change our hearts toward people (2 Corinthians  3:18; Philippians 2:13; Galatians 5:16).

We also need to realize that we have something to contribute to help build up other believers (1 Peter 4:10,11; Romans 12:3-13; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Sometimes we can think we have nothing to contribute, but God says He has given us gifts to use to build up other believers. Now part of the problem is that He has given us all different gifts. It is easy sometimes to assume that if we do not have certain gifts or are not outgoing or lack some other character trait, we have nothing to contribute. But all contributions, even quiet, behind-the-scenes contributions, are important. And God has promised to work through us to accomplish His purpose (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Colossians 1:28,29).

We need to realize we are all people in process and are not there yet (Philippians 3:12-14; Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:14-25). Therefore, we need to overlook others imperfections (1 Peter 4:8; Ephesians 4:1-3; Colossians 3:12-14). Now there is a point where we need to correct people. But this should done with gentleness, with an eye to restoring the person involved (Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Hebrews 12:12,13). But we need to be careful of holding people to a standard of perfection which neither we nor they, as fallen people in a fallen world, can live up to. If we are looking for a church full of perfect people, with no strains or struggles to get along, we should desert this quest and rather go out and look for the Loch Ness Monster. The Loch Ness Monster might exist.