Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Old Testament and Saints

As Christians, do we need to read the old testament? Christ is the fulfillment of the old testament. (yes?) Jesus has told us everything we need to know about life and we are to live. (yes?) So, why not just read and study the new testament? -Gordon

The main reason we study the old testament is because we cannot understand the New Testament without it. Yes, it is sufficient to read the words of Jesus-- but we read the rest of the NT so we can gain greater understanding of Jesus. We read the OT for the same reason. Do you think you could understand what Jesus is saying about divorce unless you had read Genesis 2 to see what the context of Jesus' quote was? The NT never describes who Adam was, who Moses was, why the Children of Israel were in the wilderness, why David was a big deal, let alone describing such words as "messiah" "son of God" or "sexual immorality". The OT is the sourcebook of the NT. So we must study the OT to have at least a working knowledge of it, so we can understand the NT. Now, Job is never mentioned in the NT, yet his story greatly resonates with Jesus' theology of suffering. Ecclesiastes is never mentioned nor quoted yet the Preacher's philosophy is deeply connected to Jesus' view of this world.

Another reason is because the OT is the sourcebook for the church. The Chronicals of Narnia is fun, but it just isn't as realistic or gritty as the OT, which talks about people struggling to follow God. No one could have written a better book that helps one appreciate the difficulties and complexities of living for God-- both struggles and joys.

For the same reason, I think we need to read biographies of saints. We need a lot of stories to live. If we don't have stories, we don't understand life. It is a shame that we surround ourselves with secular stories of secular heroes from Arnold S to Jack on 24 to Harry Potter (although there is a religious side to that one) to whatever and yet we have a deep culture of story which helps us know how to live in Jesus through trial and victory. And I don't mean the modern rags to riches stories. The real ones, like the recent movie Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce. And we should read about Francis of Assisi, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Jim and Elizabeth Elliot, Anthony of Egypt, Archbishop Tutu. And have you even heard of Peter Waldo, Cathrine of Sienna, St. Sebastian, Amy Carmichael, George Muller? If not, it is a shame. We should all read about the great cloud of witnesses who have passed on before, to keep their memoires alive, and to be like them.

Heaven and Hell

Okay, we can take these three questions together:

What do we know biblically about heaven and hell? What happens when a soul goes to hell? What happens when a soul goes to heaven? -Gordon

This is a HUGE subject. Randy Alcorn wrote a book called "Heaven", just working with the texts on that topic. An excellent book, BTW, I recommend it for the most part. But lets see if we can summarize, here.

First of all, there are a number of things that could be described as "heaven".
1. The spirit world where God rules, angels, Satan and demons live.
2. A limbo place that Jesus calls "Abraham's bosom" for souls accepted by God.
3. Under the altar, in Revelation 6, where dead souls cry out to God.
4. The kingdom of God, which many call "the millenium", where Jesus reigns on earth with his saints.
5. The eternal kingdom (which, depending on interpretation, might be the same as the kingdom) where God's people live at peace with God for eternity on a re-created earth.

When a person dies in the Lord, they are in a limbo state. They can communicate to heaven and make events happen. They are also aware of earth and all the troubles there. But they have not acheved their salvation yet. They are in comfort, Jesus says, but true comfort as a human is having one's spirit and soul embodied. This will not happen until the kingdom, when the dead in Christ will be risen from the dead, embodied and then ruling with Christ over the whole population on earth.
But the best utopia happens when God himself lives on earth and there is no more sea, but pleanty of water and food. This is found in Revelation 21-22.

Hell: Hell is problematic. Many people, including George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis' mentor, believed that hell would be emptied, eventually, because of God's love for humanity. Jesus, however, is pretty clear that hell is a real place and it is just no fun. Some believe that Jesus' language about hell is metaphorical (although I note they don't say this about heaven). But this is the minimum one MUST say about hell:
a. It was originally created for Satan and his angels (Matthew 25)
b. It is an exile from God ("they will be cast outside")
c. It is a place of regret and shame ("weeping")
d. It is painful ("fire" "agony" "gnashing of teeth")

Now, who goes to hell? This is a question you didn't ask, and you should have. Those who don't believe in Jesus don't necessariy go to hell, like all the revivalists say. Jesus was pretty specific about who will go to hell:
1) Satan and his angels (or "messengers", possibly those who cause people to stumble)
2) Those who oppress the poor (Matthew 25)
3) Those who claim to be of God, but are hypocrites (Matthew 13)
4) Those who cause others to fall away from God (Matthew 13)
5) The "lawless"-- those who have God's command, but ignore it (Matthew 13)
We have a pretty vague comment in Revelation about all the dead being risen and judged according to their deeds. What deeds? It's not mentiond, but I know that oppression or help of the poor is one of them. But note that belief in Jesus isn't the most important thing on the final day-- acting like Jesus is.

So what happens to the soul or body in hell? We're not sure. Punishment after death takes a number of forms:
Not being buried (Jezebel)
Having one's descendents killed (Ahab)
Having a bad reputation for all eternity
Having your body on display as an evil person (Isaiah 66)
Being resurrected in an incorruptable body which is thrown into fire (False prophet and beast) Wow, that's bad.
But this kind of hell, I suspect, is reserved for those whom Jesus describes-- the committers of the Big Four, which are mostly Christians, by the way. So my guess? Most inhabitents of hell are hypocritical Christians.

The Big Four

Is there a heirarchy for sin? Is any one sin worse than any other sin?

We talked about this on the phone. Some sins are certainly worse than others, but if we were to come up with a "top ten" list of sins, that might be a little tough because the way the Bible describes "worse" sins are different in each case.

Hardening of one's heart: So, we have blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12, Mark 4). That's a biggie, because it says that we won't be forgiven it, with the implication being, even if we don't repent. The sin itself is claiming that a clear manifestation of God's mercy and power-- such as casting out demons-- is not from God, but evil. The real sin is plainly seeing God's work and finding any excuse to deny it because of disliking the truth behind it. Really, this sin is then very similar to the sin described in Hebrew 6, which also say that there is no way to repent from: To have received of God's grace, His Spirit, His church, His power etc, from Jesus and then denying Jesus despite obtaining all the blessings. This could be summarized as "hardening of one's heart" sins. Denying God in the face of evidence and mercy. I think that this is the same sin mentioned in Luke 10 when Capernum and other cities will be punished worse than Sodom because Sodom never got the opporunity to see such works of God as the cities that Jesus and the apostles ministered in. Today, irrational atheists, ex-Christians who attack Jesus, and Charismatic bashers could fall under this category

Oppressing the poor: This is a biggie because even the angels, the nations and the godless get judged for this. The whole of judgment day may be based on this issue. Sodom was destroyed on this issue. Any of the people of God who forget to pay fair wages or to give their excess to the needy will be destroyed personally by God (Psalm 82, Matthew 25, Ezekiel 16, Exodus 22:22-23; James 5:1-5; Luke 16) Note that no where in the Bible do unbelievers get judged for worshiping the wrong god-- only believers do. But everyone-- people of God, gentiles, ungodly nations, the "gods" in heaven-- get judged by God for oppressing the poor. It may not seem like it sometimes, but just wait a bit and you will see each person, each nation, each spirit who attempts to destroy or steal from the needy, especially the innocent will be completely demoralized and torn apart personally by God (Psalm 73; Psalm 37). So this is significant because of the frequency of its mentioned, it's thoroughness because of context, and God's personal action. If one repents, one can obtain forgiveness from God, but it is difficult to repent if you have a lot of possessions, Jesus says (Mark 10). Today, pretty much anyone in the upper and middle class in the West fits into this, with the exception of the few that actively participate in assiting the poor.

3. Causing others to sin-- This is major because Jesus says it carries such an extreme penalty. I think it is related to oppressing the poor, actually. Jesus and Paul says that it is those who are weak brothers who would be easy to cause to fall away from the faith. And these who fall are in trouble, but those who cause them to fall, Jesus says, "You see this two ton millstone? Just imagine it chained around your neck. Then someone takes you to the middle of the roaring ocean and drops you into the deepest part of the sea. Still alive. Well if you cause a brother to fall away from the faith, your punishment will be worse than that." Ouch. That's mark 9 and Matthew 18. Paul's take on this is Romans 14-15. To cause someone to "stumble" means to cause them to fall from the faith, either through causing them to disbelieve in God or by causing them to sin to such a degee that they feel they can't come to God. So hypocritical Christians would be on this list, as well as drug dealers and just about anyone who says, "Go ahead, just once can't hurt you.

4. Hypocrisy-- This is pretty much the last of the "big four" for really nasty sins. Jesus targets this one in a big way. Hypocrisy was a Greek word used for actors. So it is people who play a part, but it isn't their reality. Jesus uses it for people who claim to love God, but doesn't produce the works of God. And he distinguishes "insignificant" acts for God, like tithing, from doing justice and mercy for others, which are significant matters. Annais and Saphira were also hypocrites because they were lying to the church and to God Himself that they had done some good deed when, in reality, they did not You can read the scoop on hypocrisy in Matthew 23 and Acts 5. The big deal about hypocrisy is, like hardness of heart, one doesn't often repent of it. Mostly because we lie to ourselves as much as we lie to others.

Other sins that are pretty much a problem unless we repent are these:
Rejection of God, rebellion against authorities, rejection of God's people, hostility, arrogance, grabbing for position or honor, idolatry, greed, drunkenness/drug abuse, orgies, sexual immorality, adultery, unfaithfulness, hatred, gossip.

Monday, December 24, 2007


A response to atheists who are constantly mocking and giving anti-Christian messages on a Christian forum:

Atheism is the position that there is no such thing as a God or god or spirit world. It is materialism.

Some atheists are so because they feel that they have been betrayed by God's people in some way. I appreciate that because many who claim to represent God have done evil things and it is normal for folks to blame God for that, although it is not God's fault, but the evil human

Agnosticism I also respect because why put faith in something one has not personally experienced? These are the Missorians among us, who must experience to believe. They are intellectually honest, for the most part, and, I hope, if they have an experience of the spirit world they will pursue it.

But atheism as an intelletual pursuit is foolish and empty. It is the assurance that something or someone is not there, despite billions of witnesses to the contrary. Can you imagine a conversation with someone along these lines:

George: I was talking to Mike the other day...
Sue: You know I don't believe in Mike.
George: But Mike is my friend!
Sue: Have you seen Mike?
George: No, but I talk to him on the phone...
Sue: And this "Mike" tells you what to do?
George: Well, yes, he's very wise and my life is better for listening to him.
Sue: But Mike doesn't exist, so he can't be very wise and you must be delluded.

The thing is, Sue doesn't actually have any evidence that Mike doesn't exist, she is taking that position as a matter of faith. She hasn't seen Mike, hasn't heard Mike, has no experience of Mike whatsoever, therefore there IS no Mike. She denies the experience of her friend, George, because although he makes sense in some other ways, he insists upon something that she has never experienced.

Look, if you want to say that Christians aren't looking at all the evidence, fine, show us. But if you are taking a leap of faith that there is no God without any evidence that he doesn't exist-- and how can you prove the NON-existence of anything?-- then that takes more faith than I've got.

Jesus Politics

I think the point about Jesus being politically active is very, very important. I have only been studying Theology for 2 hours a week over the last 3 months (half Feminist, half Liberation), and am far from a devout Christian, but the paradoxes just seem so profound to me. I cannot understand the Catholic Church's reaction to Guttierez' hermeneutics. They seem set on seeing Jesus merely as a figure of salvation, and nothing more. They base so much of their values and theology on the scriptures, yet see oppression, poverty and vast inequalities as justifiable because, it would seem, of the spiritual justice of the afterlife. Surely any type of contextualisation would allign Jesus politically with some kind of socialism and revolutionary order? If you agree (at least to some extent), what makes the larger Churches ignore it? -Jacob

Well, I think it has to do with how Jesus does politics, which is really different than how anyone thinks we should do politics today. Just to clarify, I am going to be speaking of the canonical Jesus, here, without historic analysis of the text, but resting on the background of the culture of Jesus' day.

First of all, Jesus' politics were what we would call today "church politics". He wasn't interested in confronting the Romans or gentiles at all, whether violently or non-violently, resistance or non-resistance. He just left them alone. He focused only on the political goings-on of the Jewish peoples. He dealt with the Pharisees in Galilee, where that group held a lot of power, and with the priests, Sanhedrin and Sadducees in Jerusalem, where those groups had power. But he never confronted or tried to reform the Romans in any way. He knew that it was God's people that needed to change, not the world.

Then, Jesus himself spoke of moral reform, but worked to replace the Jewish political system. He established a new Sanhedrin by his 12 apostles, and worked to reform Israel by chosing those who were repenting from their sins to be called the "true" Israel through baptism (which was probably just what John the Baptist was doing).

Lastly, Jesus stated that he was completely dependent on God's effort to make this political change. Although he made a clear protest to Temple practices (which was high priestly work, btw), he claimed that it was God that would destroy the temple and not his disciples. The priests thought he was planning on having his disciples destroy the temple (probably the real reason they had him killed), but we have a pretty well attested statment which says in the passive that the temple will be destroyed. In the first century Jewish culture, the passive is used to speak of God.

So what I conclude from this is that Jesus saw a worldwide change being effected from within the people of God, and that the intial work would be eschatalogical and apocalyptic and he was preparing for it by establishing a community of shalom, developed from the outcast which would be ready to take over once God has done his work.

The modern church, therefore, sees politics out of their realm. But they forget about how they maintain the status quo themselves and how they could change the world from within their own ranks. If the church changes, the world would have to change. But since the church is too concerned with having the world's goods and power and good reputation, they will never enact the internal political changes that Jesus' ethic demands of it.

Steve K

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Corinthians 13


Over the phone, we went over the love chapter. If, 'believe all things,' means to give some one the benefit of the doubt; what about the rest? Would you please expound on 1 Cor. 13. 4-7?

thank you for your time,


Wow. Some instant exegesis, eh?

First of all, I want to point out that the list in the love chapter is pretty close to the list of the Fruits of the Spirit in Gal 5:22-23. The fruit of the Spirit IS love and love, when properly defined, is all of these things-- joy, peace, patience, etc.

Secondly, note that the context of both passages is community living, not solitary. Love is supposed to be the expression of the church, the action of the person toward the group, not something one feels within oneself.

Thirdly, both passages are dealing with conflict in the church. Galatians is dealing with doctrinal disputes and I Corinthians 12-14 is dealing with disputes regarding worship.

One last thing about the context is that Paul is correcting each church's misunderstanding of the manifestation of the Spirit. The church at Galatia assumes that one's doctrine or relation to the law is the true manifestation of the Spirit. The church at Corinth assumes that displaying great signs and miracles from God is the true manifestation of the Spirit. Paul says "no" to both of them, saying that the true manifestation of the Spirit is loving relation to one's brothers and sisters.

Okay, now let's do a verse-by-verse.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

In this section, Paul is basically saying that all of our religious activity, all of our zeal and devotion to God, is pointless without love of others. Everything we think is important in our Christian life is shit unless we care for others. 'Nuf said about that.

In the next section, it is assumed that Paul is defining love. Well, not really, because Jesus really defined it. Agape love is acting for the benefit of the other, no matter who they are, no matter what they've done to you. That's the definition we need to remember as we explore Paul's explanaton. He is really describing what love looks like in the context of others, especially the church.

Love is patient
The term "patience" is better translated "long suffering" as in the KJV. It means we are sticking with it no matter what difficulties arise. In the context, this doesn't mean patience in general-- it means patience with those around us. As they give us problems and difficulties and irritate us and enact sins and complain about stupid stuff-- in all that, we are still to act for their benefit. Nothing they do should change our attitude of trying to figure out how we can best do good to them.

Love is kind
The opposite of "kind" is "harsh" or a negative impact. Thus, we are to act in a benefitial way, and in gentleness.

Love is not jealous
We shouldn't look at the people around us as competitors, who are getting the things that we deserve. We should be looking at people as our allies, our mutual supporters, so a benefit to our brother or sister is a benefit to ourselves, even if not directly.

Love is not arrogant
The term is "puff up" or pride. But it is not pride in the Greek sense, hubris. It is rather the act of making ourselves significant-- one of the great sins of the Bible. We shouldn't be looking at others as an opportunity to make ourselves more important, nor should we put others less important so we can look better in comparison.

Love does not act unbecomingly
This is translated a lot of ways It really means to act in a way that is embarassing or shameful to those around one. This doesn't mean saying an uncomfortable truth, but basically acting as one acts when one is drunk. To act without regard to social norms, to act indecently, not caring how others feel about it.

It does not seek its own
This can mean one of two things in the context-- either seeing other people as just resource to get what one wants instead of people who have their own needs and concerns. Or it could mean insisting upon one's own way to the detriment of other people's way of thinking-- being demanding.

Is not provoked
When we act in love, we do not get instanly upset or angry at others, reacting harshly toward them. A good translation of this is, "It is not irritable".

Does not take account an injury
The term for "account" means to give it words, as in to write it down. It basically means, "doesn't hold a grudge".

Does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth
The term "rejoice" is often used to mean "have a party over". In this context, it means to be happy for another. So, in love, we grieve when someone else commits a sin or wrong. But when someone confesses their sin, admitting their wrong, we do get happy about that.

Bears all things
This also has two possible meanings. It could mean the opposite of "being provoked," putting up with people's irritating habits and sins. Or it could mean to take on other people's problems. When someone has a need, it is no longer their problem alone, but we take it on as our own.

Believes all things
As we said in our conversation, it does not mean that we believe every load of crap anyone gives us. But it does mean that we give them the benefit of the doubt.

Hopes all things
When we love, we don't assume that a person is destined to hell, nor that the worst will happen in their lives. Rather, we hope for the best, for repentance, for deliverance.

Endures all things
The term "endure" in a positive sense means to "hold one's ground". Not just to put up with people, but to stick with them, to not give up on them, to be faithful.

Love never fails.
This should literally be translated, "Love never falls," and it fits with the last two statments. Frankly, we don't give up on people. We remain faithful, hopeful, acting for thier benefit no matter what. Looking at what Paul says in the next statement, it also means that acts of love continue on past judgment, past regime changes, past changes of cultures, past changes of mores. Acting in the benefit of others is always a positive act, no matter what context you live in.

But if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

Paul is saying that the things that the Corinthians are focusing on-- miracles and prophecies and tongues are only significant in the time frame they are living in. Eventually, when Jesus returns, their significance will be little. When we have God before us, what need do we have of prophecy with its guessing game? And tongues will be unecessary, because we will be able to speak to God and hear from God clearly. So these things are just temporary, insignificant in the long view. Focusing on miracles is a sign of our immaturity as humans. Only when we hear God clearly can we do away with them, but that clarity is significant.

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Of everything we do religiously, the only three things that endure past Jesus' coming is our faith, our hope and our love. Our faith, meaning our devoton to God and Jesus, because that is the basis of everything we will do in the future. Our hope, because that's what Jesus' coming is. When He comes, then our hope is realized and all of our actions based on that coming reality will be realized. But the greatest of the three is love. Why? Because according to Jesus' word, that is how we will be judged and rewarded. Not on our devotion to Jesus, not on our hope that He is returning-- but based on our acting in benevolence to those around us. If we fail to do this, then we will be sent to hell. If we succeed in meeting people's needs, at our own inconvenience, then we will obtain life with Him. (Matthew 25:31-46). So love is most important of the qualities we need to succeed in the future.

Alright. I think that's enough. And it's more than you askd for. At least I've got a good back up sermon if I need it.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Discussion on "What is a Christian?"

The other label that I have had a problem with for a long time, however, is “Christian”. Mostly because the concept of Christian is so far from the Christ-follower the label was intended to be. Now, Christianity is Constantinianism and a Christian is a political label as well as a theological one.

I had a librarian last year treat me suspiciously because a friend of mine told her I was a pastor, and you know what, I understand why. Because the term “Christian” so often is equated with hypocrite that I don’t like using the term. In Bangladesh, the term Christian is a cultural term, not a religious one, so the Muslim converts there call themselves Isa followers (Isa being the Koranic name for Jesus). I’m with them. I am a Jesus follower. I am held accountable by the Mennonite church, but if I am anything less than a follower of Jesus– whether Mennonite or Liberal or whatever– then I don’t deserve to have his name applied to me.

Steve K

But can’t the term be redeemed? I notice a tendency of some to retreat from the terms because they aren’t comfortable with the way the term brands them, rather than being empowered to change the perception of the term itself.

Moreover, what are you implying by saying you are a “Christ-follower” instead of a Christian? That Christians don’t follow Christ?

I definitely understand where you’re coming from. I’ve done some inner city ministry, and we consistently identified ourselves as “followers of Jesus,” not as Christians. The cultural assumptions that are tied to the term “Christian” can immediately close some doors, but I don’t think the word is beyond redemption.

I strongly believe that our obedience and love for each other are capable of overwhelming any prejudice against “Christians” in the minds of those we encounter. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples…” I tend to focus on interpersonal relationships much more than impersonal “societies” and “cultures,” though.

In our inner city work, once people got to know us and they got over the fact that we were “church people,” we were able to build some genuinely constructive relationships. I think ultimately the terms don’t matter, so long as we are indeed following Christ and letting people know that we are following him. This is what should unify us, not necessarily the label that we use.


Most Christians don’t follow Christ. They talk about Christ without being Christlike, wear crosses without carrying them, attack their enemies instead of loving them, build up kingdoms instead of seeking God’s.

Of course, not all Christians are like this. But do we really want to label ourselves with something that most people connect in a word association test with “hypocrite”?
Steve K

I disagree with the statement that most Christians don’t follow Christ. I don’t think any of us do. The standard we’re supposed to measure ourselves against is much higher than just not killing our enemies; we’re supposed to love them as well. Jesus says that even insulting someone is as bad as killing them.

Our biggest enemy lies not outside of ourselves, but in our own hearts. We are all murderers. If we aren’t willing to recognize that every one of us is a hypocrite in one way or another, we’re not being honest with ourselves.

Much as I’d like to dissociate myself with people like Dobson and Robertson, they’re my brothers in Christ, and I’m supposed to love them and work towards unity with them. If we can’t love our brothers who we can see, how can we say that we love God, who we can’t see? Instead of trying so hard to associate ourselves with the right group (whoever they are), we should be focusing on doing our best to obey Christ and love others. The rest of it will take care of itself.

I think you’re on to something here. I often feel like we’re good at loving our enemies far away, but when it comes to loving folks like Dobson and Robertson, we’re not so good. Like it or not, those are exactly the folks Jesus was telling us we’ve got to love. That doesn’t mean not challenging them or disagreeing with them, but it does mean that those actions should be grounded in the same compassion we have for our Iraqi brothers and sisters.

As far as hypocrisy goes, I think we’re all guilty of it in different ways. There are a whole lot worse things to be associated with then hypocrisy (which isn’t to say Christianity hasn’t managed to be associated with those too). Hypocrisy at least implies that we have a goal and are falling short. If we’re going to see transformation in the church its going to be when we consistently, lovingly call ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ to a higher standard. But to do that, we also need to identify the common ground we share. Which is what excited me about Zack’s post in the first place. For the first time in a long time, it helped me identify some common ground with Christians with whom I usually only see our difference.

The difference between Dobson and terrorists or the guy who calls me an idiot for speaking the gospel is that Dobson supposedly “knows” the truth. He is a Christian leader who is denying the gospel.

The difference (I hope!) between us who screw up and we know we screw up and that is that we repent. We screw up and then we realize our fault and we try to make it right. What Jesus is opposed is the hypocrisy of those who take their clear sin and make it a part of their theology.

There are a couple ways this could be done– in Dobson’s way, by saying that Jesus WANTS us to bomb terrorists (after all, GWB prays, right?). Or, we could say, “God forgives everything, so we can’t judge anyone, not even ourselves.”

The New Testament strongly disagrees. It says numberous times that we will be judged for everything we do and say, except for that which we repent of. Jesus condemned the Pharisees in very harsh (even insulting!) terms in Matt 23. Paul said that we do not have the right to judge those outside the church, but inside the church, we’ve got to straighten it out. (I Corinthians 5)

Nevertheless, we DO need to love our enemies. And if our enemies are in the church, and they need to repent, then the most loving thing to do is to gently, kindly, tell them to repent and to get right with Jesus.

We can’t just pick and choose which morality we are going to correct in others. We need to let Jesus do that. He commanded us to love our enemies, so we need to pray for the church leaders who are leading their followers gleefully into evil practice. And we cannot compromise.

Anyway, I call Christians really not followers of Jesus, not because they fail. Like you said, we all fail. They aren’t followers of Christ because they deny what Jesus said, because they’d rather listen to their theology than Jesus. “If anyone denies me before men, I will deny him before my Father in heaven.” matthew 10:33

Steve K

I’d be interested to know how exactly you think Dobson and crew are denying the Gospel. The Gospel isn’t a list of social goals that we should be trying to achieve; it’s Christ and him crucified. We can disagree about what implications that has on our social actions, but I don’t think those are necessities of the Christian faith. I think Dobson is very misguided, but God is the one who judges his heart, not me.

I agree that we need to lovingly call the Church to repentance when it strays, and I think that we are certainly capable of judging those within the Church. This is exactly my point, though. By drawing lines with our labels that exclude these people, we remove any possibility of doing just that. If they’re no longer within the Body, we have no jurisdiction and they have no reason to listen to us.

This is so important to me because I grew up on military bases and have bucketloads of respect for the faith of Christians who are just-war theorists, even as I strongly affirm that I believe that they are wrong. As a “convert” to pacifism, I want to make sure that we don’t burn any bridges between Anabaptists and the rest of the Church. If we say that they are misguided, we allow for conversation and possibly conversion, but if we call into question their commitment to Christ, we immediately kill the possibility of dialogue.

Two responses:
First, I think we have a difference of opinion about what a “Christian” is. There could be two definitions– a cultural one in which anyone who gives intellectual assent to Jesus is “Christian”. And there is the biblical definition which is that anyone who ACTS like Jesus is their Lord is a “Christian”. To have Jesus as one’s Lord is not just to believe, but to obey and act like Jesus. Thus, those who talk about Jesus but don’t do what he says (like “Love your enemy” and “sell your possessions and give to the poor”) are only Christians in name, no matter how much they proclaim Christ crucified. This is in accord with what Jesus says in Matthew 7 (as well as other places)– “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father will enter.”

Secondly, I think you do have a point there as far as communicating with those who are “Christian” but do not obey or act like Jesus. If we completely alienate ourselves from them, then we can no longer communicate the full gospel. This is what evangelism is. Finding a way to acceptably communicate the full gospel to people who don’t know it or who refuse to listen to it. So I do not want to show animosity against “Christians”, but I do want to have a lifestyle and a speech in which I am displaying Jesus, but in a way I can be heard.

I hope I am doing that, though I stumble often.

Steve K

Economic Systems

The more I read about capitalism, the more its moral argument fails.

First, it has never been proven that the selfishness of the individual could ever become the good of society as a whole. The only good that has ever been created has been through accident or through self-sacrifice.

Second, Adam Smith, before he wrote the Wealth of Nations, wrote a preliminary essay on what he calls "sympathy", by which he meant empathy. His notion of capitalism depended on empathy-- the seller and employer understanding the needs of the buyer and the employee and desiring to meet it. However, our capitalistic system rather has the seller creating a need rather than meeting one. And the employer is taking advantage of the employee's desperation rather than considering their needs.

The capitalistic experiement was not to create wealth for a few, but wealth for all. Thus, the capitalistic experiment has failed.

Communism is a centrally run system where, again, the top fails to empathize with the lower classes. Thus, it topples.

Part of the problem with both systems is the natural tendancy of people to consider their privilaged status as "natural" or "normal". The corallary to that position is that other's poverty status is also "natural" or "normal".

This is why the position of Jesus and Paul is that social justice is founded on a tranformation of the mind. We have to be a bit more than human to create justice. We have to be willing to see ourselves as more than just who we are right now in order to sacrifice what we have in order to obtain benefits which we cannot see.

This is the Christian basis of social justice. Self-sacrifice to those who are not privilaged on the basis of obtaining unseen benefits. Yep, it requires faith. But that's what the church is about.