Friday, June 27, 2014

Sin Makes You Free

  In case you aren't familiar with the above slogan, allow me to translate it for you; work makes you free.  That sign  hung above the front gate of Auschwitz as well as a number of other German camps, and was often the first thing  the detainees would see as they were hustled through the gate.  That sign isn't there by accident; it was yet another part of a great violation perpetrated by a monstrous regiment. I am of the mindset that  this  particular sign is as evil, if not more evil than anything that  happened inside Auschwitz's gates.  Long before you were sorted into a 'live' or  'work to death' group , you saw this sign.  Long before your  belongings were  taken from you and  you saw your  wife and children for the last time, you saw this sign.  Long before you were  offered a shower, you saw this sign.  Long before you were tattooed with a number, you saw this sign.  That sign was there to keep you from panicking, to keep the crowd under control.  It was a calculated lie so at odds with  all other evidence that you didn't resist until it was too late.   Some camps, particularly Treblinka, were made to look like railway stations, complete with fake train schedules and  landscaping.

  People strolled casually along, and although there were armed guards and  vicious dogs and towers and barbed wire, the detainees assured themselves that  their concerns must be misplaced.   Surely no one would hang a sign up  promising freedom if all they offered me was slavery and death, would they?  Nazi guards even offered to hold the  teddy bears of small children while they took a 'shower'.   The effect was very successful that, according to survivor Olga Albogen.

"…We didn't even say goodbye to Mother and the little ones. We just had some food yet from home and I gave it to my mother and said, 'We'll see you tonight.' And that was it and I never saw them again. It was such a commotion there in Auschwitz… So many people… And when they emptied the wagons, thousands and thousands and trains kept on coming from all over Europe, not just Hungary. It was just unbelievable."
  The Nazi's make convenient villains,  in that their actions were so very horrific, but dastardly characters of exactly the same stripe still roam among us, and the tactic is still the same; come with us , and we'll make you free.  These villains show their face in  the advertisements for beer, wine and liquor.  The advertisements always show a group of smiling people having a blast. The men are all  handsome, the women all busty and friendly.The message is clear; these people are having fun, and our product got them there. Drink will make you free.
 These villains show their face in the plotlines of movies and television shows where adultery and fornication  or perversion are portrayed with great glamor. Basic animal urges are indulged with  reckless abandon, and no consequences.  The message is clear; indulging your flesh will make you free.
  These villains show their face in the  sitcoms where the  bumbling dad is rescued from his own ineptitude by his strong-willed wife or his smart-mouthed kids.Over and over again, they preach their gospel of  how the kids know best, or the wife knows best. The message is clear; the old ways are foolish.  Rebellion will make you free.
  Just as the villains of old  didn't mention the  gas chambers, or the mass graves, or the starvation, their modern day counterparts leave out quite a bit.  The liquor ad conveniently omits that  the fun party girl doesn't really look like that, and even if she did, their product will wreck her beauty in short order.  The  bartender doesn't mention the wino at the end of the bar who has been playing this game, and losing, long before you came along to try your luck at it.  If battered wives and shattered homes and broken vows are mentioned at all, they are  used as an example of someone who took it too far.  The poor sap  at the bar stool is reassured, in a hundred different ways, that the debris field of ruined lives is the exception not the rule.  Pay no attention to what's right there in front of your eyes, just remember that you're having fun, and having fun will make you free.
  The cinematic villains will never show you the hospital beds and broken hearts and seared consciences that the life they promoted has caused. If they do, they will do their best to ennoble  the AIDS patient or glamorize the unwed mother.The movie stars , by their wealth and celebrity are  often shielded from the  consequences of their actions, but you aren't.  You know this, if you  stop and look at what is  right in front of your eyes. But most people won't because after all, there's a sign up that says we can be free if we play their game.
  The sitcom villains will never show you the bitter wife who has struggled to be in charge then found it to be  an empty , unfulfilling thing.  They won't show you the estranged families that result from  rebellious children. They will white-wash over parents ashamed by their children, and children who are strangers to their parents. Whole generations can be destroyed this way. Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, but they still claim it will make you free.
  In fact, the only place where you can get the truth about those signs is in an old black book that  sits patiently waiting at the heart of  human  experience. It sits there as a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, watching humanity  walk around it and pretend it's not there. It warns that "the wages of sin is death" and that "the soul that sinneth, it shall surely die".  It says, to whoever will  listen that  "he that commiteth sin is the servant of sin" It speaks of a day in which God will  "judge the world in righteousness". It tells you  to "flee from the wrath to come."
   Imagine a man standing at the gate to Auschwitz proclaiming,  "Look at the guard towers, look at the  dogs, look at the soldiers with guns. This is  not freedom, this is death!"  How many people would ignore him? How many people would look at the sign and say to themselves "Poor deluded fool. Can't he see the sign? Work makes us free."  How many people would argue with him, or mock him?  How many people would say to him "I agree with you, but this isn't the way to warn people. You have to be their friend first."  If you sincerely believe that  most people wouldn't just stroll on by into the gaping  maws of their awaiting captors, I submit to you that you  haven't spent much time spreading the gospel.  That is exactly the nature of the opposition and exactly  the nature of the  ministry.  We stand at the  gates of sin and  sorrow  proclaiming that there is another way; repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Humanity strolls by, some indifferent, some hostile but most of them  continuing on through the gates of death to the consequence-free liberty they have been promised. 
  It would make no sense to  build a building with comfortable seats and air-conditioning off to the side of the gate and invite people  going through the gate to stop by, if it wasn't too much trouble.  The urgency of the  hour demands that we  "lift up our voice" and "cry aloud",  The seriousness of  what's inside the gates demands that we  stand in the way, and  compel whoever we can, even as we know that they "hate him that rebuketh in the gate".  This is the gospel ministry. C.T. Studd said, "Some wish to live within  the sound of church and chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell!"

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Napoleon May Have Been Right

"What is history, but a fable agreed upon?"
-Napoleon Bonaparte

  I am a  history geek.  You have to know this going in.  At any given point I am reading  4 or 5 books simultaneously, and at least 1 of them will be a history book. As we speak I  am reading a history of the New Testament churches as well as an introduction to  a study of the Middle Ages.  My  specialties tend to be American history with a  Civil War emphasis, and church history( which is why most of my examples in this article come from those two worlds). I have read more  church history than anybody I know , except maybe Doug Stauffer. I have  read Esebuis and Plutarch and  Josephus. I  have multiple copies of Foxe's Book of Martyrs and Philip Schafer's work on church  history. I have Mannheim's ecclesiastical history , and  reports from most of the major English missionary societies from the 1830's.  I've got books on the major revival movements in Scotland and Wales, and  at least 2 or 3 books on the Waldensians and the Lollards.    I have even tried my hand at writing a history book  which apparently will never be finished.  In researching it I  read scores of  obscure smaller histories, and it has become  apparent to me that the  thing I love so much about history also completely validates the Napoleonic sentiment.
  The truth is that you never have all the facts.  It is literally impossible to have all the facts.  When I was researching my own history book I found that, at a certain point you no longer have any primary sources.  What you have is somebody who quotes an earlier work; you don't have the earlier work itself.  You have to, by necessity,  trust that the quoter is giving you the proper context of the information.  In case you  have ever wondered what the big deal was about the library at Alexandria; that's it. A lot of primary sources went up in smoke, and all we have is people citing other people.
  But even if you have the primary sources, the problem of not having all the facts doesn't end there.  As an example, most of the early church history  (the first  3 centuries especially) we have was written by the enemies of the church.  We know who the martyrs are because their oppressors kept records of who they killed, but all you know about them is what their murderers wrote down.  It's hardly an unbiased source, and hardly gives you the complete picture of who that person was.  All you have is a brief snapshot of that persons life, usually at the very end of that life, written by people who thought the subject was deluded or dangerous, or both.
  Even if you have the primary source, and the source is  unbiased, the next problem is that any attempt to chronicle history involves, by necessity, oversimplification and generalization.  If you take one life, that life  literally touches  dozens or hundreds of other lives, and to get the story that you're trying to  get, you have to at least briefly touch these other lives.  For example, General Robert E. Lee's father  was 'Lighthorse' Harry Lee, a Revolutionary War hero who, after the war,  acquired such massive  debts through bad business deals that he only way his son Robert could afford  college was to  attend West Point.    Without Lighthorse squandering the family  funds,  Robert never goes to West Point and never becomes the famous general.  He would most likely have  studied engineering like his older brother and died in complete obscurity.  Nobody exists in a vacuum and any story leads to a hundred other stories. It's impossible to have all the facts, and the facts you do have almost require a certain amount of omission.
  Part of this oversimplification process involves making sweeping statements, some of which are pretty hard to  back up by themselves.  Groups don't have beliefs, people do, and to make a statement like "The early church believed.." or "Antebellum Southerners felt.." means you have to take the opinions, convictions, and passions of hundreds of thousands of people and  condense them into one or two statements. It's impossible to say the early church 'believed' anything because within that community you could literally find scores of  opinions on any given subject, just as you could today.  But the  attempt to  tell a history sometimes  forces you to present a group of people as a homogenous  glob of opinion whether you intend to or not.  It's easier with individuals. I could say "Robert E. Lee said.." and then provide a quote, or "General Lee did.." and then describe a concrete, verifiable action.  But the  further you get away from the individual, the less accurate your history becomes, and I don't know of any way around that.
   Undaunted by all these hurdles, the historian will sit down with his incomplete facts and his  tangential accounts  and try to make a coherent narrative of it all.  Here is where  the Michael Alford Principle of Life #2 comes into play; to wit "Everybody has an agenda."  I have an agenda, you have an agenda. Everybody has an agenda.  Having an agenda isn't a bad thing, but to understand anything about a history, you have to understand that the agenda exists.  You don't have all the facts, and  all the facts you do have aren't relevant, so you as the historian have to decide what facts to include. Whatever your agenda is will determine what you include and what you discard. Generalizations and simplifications are almost always crafted to fit a narrative.
  Let's say two men sit down to  write a biography on Elvis Presley. One of them doesn't care  very much for him, so he chronicles the  drug habits, and the  constant fornication. He mentions the obsession with the bizarre, and he touches on  Elvis's poor hygiene.  He highlights the  manipulation from  Elvis's  inner circle that eventually contributed to  his death. The picture of Mr. Presley  that he  presents would be one of, as Steven Banks would say, "poor white trash turned rich white king".
  The other biographer mentions Elvis's start in and lifelong love for gospel music. He talks about Elvis's strong family connections and his  perpetual generosity.  He  dwells on the  isolation that Presley's fame brought him, and the very real tragedy of such a good man trying to satisfy the constant demands from  the not-so-good people around him.  Both biographers are presenting facts, and  both sets of facts are completely true.  Both biographies are crafted to fit a narrative.
  When you consider all this, you have to agree with the famous Frenchman, (who may not have even actually said it) that history really is a fable we all agree upon.  I would  go a step further though and say that  most history is not only a fable we all agree upon, but a fable carefully crafted to present a certain view and to fit a certain narrative.  There's always more to the story, and always something you're not being told.  Frankly, that's the part I love, and also the part that drives me crazy.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Happily Intolerant

 It's  an odd but constant refrain when we minister in public that we are 'intolerant'. This is usually parroted by  someone who refuses to tolerate us. We are  often called 'hateful' or 'judgmental' by people who are being hateful and judgmental. If we were truly any of those things, at least the accusations would make sense, but since people hear what they want to hear it's fairly common for exhortations  of God's love as displayed on Calvary to be called 'hate speech'.  We tell them God loves them, and they hear that God hates them, or at the very least they  hear that we hate them.   The evidence that we hate them is the fact that we spend our own money and our own time to go tell them that God loves them.  We  quietly and  graciously (for the most part)  take their  verbal abuse while pleading  with them on the Saviour's behalf. We do this because, apparently, we hate them. Hmmm....

 In the George Orwell  opus 1984, Big Brother  was constantly changing what words mean. This was done  in order to not only steer the conversation of  his subjects, but to  steer their thoughts.  We don't have a Big Brother ( although we're getting really really close) but we do have a woefully mis-educated public that can no longer think, opting instead to   repeat  buzz words or catchphrases whose  true meaning they no longer understand. It's not just that they all use words that  don't mean what they think they mean, it's that there is a frightening uniformity as to the vocabulary of the scorners.This groupthink (another Orwellian contribution) is  quite obvious when you   realize that over the last  two decades while preaching to thousands on both coasts in cities big and small, the same phrases and words are hurled at us over and over again. Words like 'intolerant' and 'hateful' and  'judgmental' pop up as if  on some spiritual level  everybody was reading off the same cue cards.
  But to the scorners, I'll  will play your game. I will concede that there are at least 2 definitions to these words; the correct ones and then  the ones you use.  I will grant you that although I  may not be intolerant or hateful or judgmental according to the actual definitions of the words, I may  very well be all those things in the scorner-alternate-universe dictionary.
 Tolerance in the scorner lexicon appears to mean that you are willing to tolerate sin without once mentioning it.  It's akin to having  supper at someone's house without mentioning the  rotting corpse underneath the table.  No matter how bad it smells, and now matter how  many flies circle around your head, you are expected to smile and continue eating. You are  expected to choke back your gag reflex and  , for the truly tolerant, praise the presence of the corpse with  cheerful words like "He  seems so lifelike, except for the squishy parts!" To point out the obvious , such as 'What's up with the stiff?', would be the height of impoliteness.  The more sin you are willing to ignore, the more tolerant you are.  The more tolerant you are, the more understanding and enlightened you are. The  more understanding and enlightened you are, the better a person you are. A good person will ignore or even  approve of  gross, and destructive behavior.  Maybe your dinner host likes the smell of rotted flesh during their meal. After all, who are you to judge?
  Which  brings us to the next  term; judge. To judge is to ascertain that one item or activity is better  or preferable to another.  Judging  implies an objective standard;ergo water is superior to arsenic for drinking purposes. That is the true definition of judge, but in the scorner dictionary, to judge is commit an unpardonable crime against society.  Water is not necessarily superior to arsenic , you know.  And corpse dinner company  isn't necessarily superior to non-corpse dinner company. How intolerant of you to suggest such a thing!
  Rounding out this ridiculous trinity is the word hateful. Now hateful is a tricky one, I must admit. You would think that to  scream verbal abuses at a total stranger would  be hateful.  But  in the thesaurus of scornfulness, hateful behavior  can only be displayed by the intolerant. In fact, anything done or said by  the intolerant can be declared hateful by a tolerant person. Having  sufficiently displayed how tolerant they are (by welcoming the fetid corpse of sin with open arms) the tolerant are then free to  abuse the intolerant by yelling or  swearing or even throwing things.  Such behavior is actually virtuous in the scorner lexicon, and should be protected  behavior by the authorities. Conversely intolerant behavior such as public preaching or tract distribution or standing for righteousness should be punished. If this is  hard for you to get your brain around, it's because you're intolerant. And stupid.  So says the  tolerant who are being neither judgmental nor hateful.
  I guess there is no need to beat around the bush, I am, by their definition, all three.  Guilty as charged. I am intolerant in that I point out   things that grieve God according to the Bible. I  judge that such things bring condemnation upon those that practice them. And I am completely hopelessly hateful in that  I stand in public and point out the corpse of sin under the dining room table, and I do so without apology.
  The reason I  am happily intolerant (by their definition) and happily judgmental (by their definition) and happily hateful (by their definition) is because their definitions are absolutely moronic.  Their definitions are upside down and backwards and are not only an affront to  linguistics, and an affront to common sense but they are an affront to the God that made them, and to whom they will give account. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Insanity of It All

I still haven't completely paid my property taxes. I know, I know. Calm down.  Inherently more interesting than my slackedness in this most solemn of obligations ( according to some people) is the reaction from the entity of the local tax authority.
  From their air-conditioned offices up the road  they dispatched to me via the U.S.Post Office a small envelope that appeared to be from some outside contractor. It featured the same 'tear to open'  style that  a W-2 or 1099 arrives in. Emblazoned on the outside was the phrase 'IMPORTANT TAX INFORMATION INSIDE'. On the inside was a missive that addressed me as 'Dear Taxpayer'. My first thought was that not only was this insultingly anonymous and form-letter-ish, but it was very disingenuous.  I   highly doubt that I am 'dear' to them, except insomuch as their continued livelihood relies on my compliance.  I think the word for that is 'parasite'.
  The letter went on to say that their firm had been  retained by the local tax authority in order to, if necessary implement a lien against my property, and if necessary facilitate the sale of my property to satisfy the number that  the tax authority has decided I owe them.  The letter gave me  a deadline to meet, and  failing to meet that deadline, a vaguely menacing process will be initiated, including the  very real  chance of  the sale of my property.  Fret not, I've got the money.
  But ponder for a moment the sheer insanity of their demand. After all, that's what it is; a demand.  The tax authority came up with an amount and, having offered me no services, demanded that I  pay this amount. When I did not  meet this demand in their timeline, they  retained a firm to club me with.  Their insanity is perfectly illustrated by the fact that they  refer to it as 'your property'  three times in this brief letter, and in the same paragraph, claim the  ability to sell 'my' property.
  My remaining tax bill is less than 500 dollars, but this firm appears to have been empowered by the tax authority to sell something they do not own in order to meet this obligation that I did not agree to.  They are exercising  a power I could not exercise, and  a power nobody should be able to exercise. And as obvious as it is that nobody should be able to sell the property of another (especially  as I doubt my acreage would sell for  only 500 bucks and I also doubt I would receive the difference), somehow the tax authority has this counter-intuitive ability to  sidestep the natural laws of  property.
  When people refer to taxation as theft, or say that the power to tax is the power to destroy this is exactly what they mean.  With the power of the tax authority jabbing me in the ribs,  I have no choice but to consent to the highwayman's demands.  I'll give them their money, in person, and, if I get the chance, tell them exactly what I think of their filthy business.  I won't pretend that it's legitimate or that it's anything less than thievery.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Catacombs

 In the   first  400 years or so following the ressurection of Jesus Christ there  existed a community of  believers in the city of Rome that lived and died  under  unique circumstances.  Roman society and culture was a culture where every aspect of life was given over to a pantheon of false gods.  If you were a Christian living in Rome at these times,  at every turn you were faced with  the choice of  giving some sort of  acknowledgment to these  man-made deities or face ridicule,  scorn and persecution.  Whether it was the  public prayers  offered up at virtually every public event, or the  oaths to  gods   compelled  during  military service, or the paganism of your neighbors, a subtle oppression existed everywhere.  To abstain or speak up might cost you  your job, or your social standing.  To proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ  might mean the  severing of family ties or physical hardship.
  On  top of that, they endured  the occasional  period of state persecution in which various emperors would pledge to wipe them out. Emperor worship and overall state worship was very  much a  part of Roman life , and the early Christian  community made it clear that they would  pray for the king, but not to the king. Christians were  declared enemies of the state and their practices were said to be injurious to the homogeneity of Roman society. Christianity was proclaimed "strange and unlawful" in AD 35 by the Senate.  It was called "deadly" and "detestable"  by Tacitus, "wicked and unbridled" by Plinius, "new and harmful" by Svetonius and "mysterious and opposed to light" by Octavius.  Diocletian even erected a column  proclaiming his  victory over the Christians in his realm. The properties of followers would be  seized, and their houses burned to the ground with full governmental approval. They were set on fire,  or fed to lions for public sport. To stand up for Jesus in  Rome  meant at least discomfort, and possibly martyrdom before a  cheering crowd of bloodthirsty pagans. The  gospel of Jesus Christ  thrived under these conditions, and  one of the greatest monuments to the persecuted church exists in  the form of a series of winding underground  caves, tunnels,  and rooms beneath the city.   These catacombs were referred to by Charles Maitland as “..a vast necropolis, rich in the bones of saints and martyrs; a stupendous  testimony to the truth of Christian history, and  consequently, of Christianity itself; a faithful record of the trials of the persecuted Church….”   Author Selina Bundy  referred to  the catacombs as the "infant church in it's underground cradle".  For  over 400 years, the  Christians of Rome, met, worshiped, and were buried out of  the sight of their oppressors in this underground city.
  There is some speculation as to how this  underground city even came to be. In early Rome, the bodies of prominent people were burned on elaborate funeral pyres, and one theory is that the early Christians began burying their  dead underground to separate themselves from this practice.
 Other researchers say that the tunnels weren’t dug by the Christians, just occupied by them after the rock and sand were removed to build  houses.   The  sandy volcanic  material  known as tufa was mined from the  Roman countryside and used in cement.  It has been suggested by some  chroniclers that  Roman soldiers who who were known converts to Christianity were made to labor in the excavation of this  building material.  This provided the empire with cheap labor and also  put the soldiers in the position of digging out the  future resting place of other Christians. Either way, the  tunnels and chambers and graves stretch out under the  ancient city in all directions for  roughly 15 miles.  Some join up to the family crypts of believers, and  some have entrances that existed under people's houses.  

 In some places, the  tunnels go down several levels, hand carved through rock , with the graves themselves being chiseled out of hard rock and then  sealed up with plaster.
   When one of their own was killed, the Christians would recover the body and take it beneath the city for burial. But it wasn't just a  graveyard, it was place to flee the  sporadic persecutions of the Roman government. Found inside the catacombs are chapels carved from the rock, altars,  benches, chairs and  fountains that supplied water to those hiding there. This was such a well-known fact that   several pagan Roman emperors ( Vallerian, Gallenius, Maximus) forbid entry into the underground city, and would arrest those found at the entrances.   Despite their best efforts though, the Roman state was never able to plug all the holes or block all the entrances, and the  underground community grew and grew, with a  population of approximately 40,000 dead, although an exact number is impossible  due to  vandalism and grave-robbing.

  The graves themselves offer remarkable insight in to  this community.  The mourners would  write epitaphs for their departed on the cave walls, or in the wet plaster, and we often see a very human side of these dear saints. We read of their families, of their faith, and of their murders.

translated 'The Tomb of Philemon'



Sometimes persecutions were so severe, and    internment so hasty, that what results is a sort of mass grave.



  Equally compelling is the artwork that adorns  the walls of the catacombs.  Hand-painted and personal, it not only gives us  a picture into the  heart of the church, but it also  documents a shift in the  mindset of believers from the period immediately after the Resurrection to the  slow rise of what would eventually become the Roman Catholic Church.  In these paintings you can see a slwo  drift away from  Biblical Christianity to paganism and then the very beginnings of Catholicism.The early artwork  highlights the biblical focus of the church, with  Old Testament Biblical scenes being represented, such as Noah's ark as well as New Testament themes such as the Good Shepherd.

Noah's Ark

Jonah and the Whale

The Three Hebrews from the Book of Daniel

The Good Shepherd

   Unfortunately as time went on , apostasy began to creep in, and the catacombs become adorned with  vague 'Christian' symbology. Decorating  graves with symbols as opposed to words was a well known pagan custom.

The 'Christian' fish




 By the time the  catacombs fell into disuse by the close of the  4th century,  the Catholic elevation of Mary had already begun, and her steady rise in the minds of  believers   shows itself in  the  catacomb paintings.  Admiration of martyrs in the  first century became, sadly, worship of martyrs  by the 4th century.


   Due to a multitude of factors, including the  fall of Rome and  it's invasion by foreign armies, the catacombs were  lost to history for almost a thousand years.  The faithful in Jesus slept  beneath the city while  on the surface upheavals and invasions were happening.  The catacombs were rediscovered in the 1500's and were  excavated  off and on for the  next  several hundred years.
 Unfortunately, at the time of their rediscovery the  Roman Catholic church was at a  peak of great power, and  claimed the catacombs for themselves. What remains today is still under Vatican control. They rewrote the history, claiming the catacombs as 'proof' that the Church of Rome was the   one great true church.  They used the catacombs to establish a legitimacy that they could trace back to the  time of Christ, although a careful student of history will note the difference between the church of the catacombs and the  Vatican  monstrosity.
  Vatican thugs plundered the  catacombs.Graves were opened, and  the bones removed to be treated as relics and worshiped. Artifacts were stolen, and sold to the highest bidder.   Complete fabrications  and histories were drummed up by  Vatican propagandists.  Parishes  paid large sums to  acquire a  finger bone or leg bone from the catacombs. They would then proceed to charge  money for pilgrims  to see it or  kiss it. 

a plundered tomb
  But it didn't stop there.  For the right price, you could do much better than  just a finger bone; you could get yourself a mummified believer or even a whole corpse, grotesquely arrayed for veneration and  trotted across the countryside.   Special indulgences and  privileges were extended to those who would show the remains 'proper respect'. They were set on thrones and  bedecked with jewels.  Parishes across Europe clamored to  either get their hands on such a relic or arrange for one to tour through their district.

 The movement of a dead saint from place to place would draw a crowd, and   drawing a crowd was good for business. Small parishes couldn't always afford the real relics and so a  huge  underground black market developed for forgeries. This led to further pillaging of the graves and grave robbing to feed the demand.  It wasn't that hard to  visit your local graveyard and claim the bones you dug up belonged to  John the Baptist or some other famous name in  Christianity.  This led to by some estimates, hundreds of parts of the same saint existing simultaneously all over Europe, a confusion that continues to this day.
  What also continues to this day is that  Rome  claims the exclusive right to interpret the history of the catacombs in Rome, and the handful of similar structures that have been discovered in other parts of Europe.  The entrances  to the catacombs are dominated by popish structures, and adorned with all manner of relics, such as  the rock at San Sebastiano which purports to contain the footprints of Jesus Christ. With their well-established morbidity, and flair for the  absurd,what should be a celebration of being steadfast and faithful unto death, has become a pageantry of death and   whitewashed history.
Most of this plundered grave material  lingers on in our  modern world in the Gallery of the Vatican.

 But before we  get too busy lamenting that this  crucial piece of church history has stayed for so long in  the hands of the  church's greatest enemy, consider the words of Selinda Bundy who wrote "In Rome, destined to act so great, so awful a part in that church's future history, a cradle for those whom the Lord out of the world was provided, even beneath the  ground over which their opponents trod in pride an power; and a receptacle afforded for the ashes of the martyrs who had been faithful unto death, and who, with others more peacefully fallen asleep in Jesus left their tombs as a testimony to ages and ages yet to come, of the truth of that religion for which they  suffered, bled and died"



Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Submission Post

 I  was reading one of those  'anti' websites.  This  'anti' website was aimed towards my particular  flavor of Christianity.  There's a handful of  sites like this out there,  populated by  remarkably bitter people who  have, in a lot of cases, taken legitimate grievances and allowed those  grievances to poison their souls.  This  site had  various  doctrinal positions  categorized as 'deception' like 'The KJVO Deception' or 'The  Homeschooling Deception'.  The overall vibe of  the site is that people like me  are  stupid dupes at best and  oppressive control freak jerks at worst.  Frankly I've been called  worse by better people, so that doesn't bother me.
  What does bother me  is the  flagrant abuse of the meanings of words to promote an agenda.  You see this in the political realm where  words like  'tolerance'   are used to say 'I can talk, you must shut up'. This happens in the  bible realms too, where a word is redefined by usage to mean things that it doesn't really mean.These  folks at the anti-site have taken  enormous liberties with the  word 'submit'.  There are postings that talk about the horrible  egregious wrongs committed by oppressive control freak jerks from the pulpit in regards to  women.  They  attempt to make the case that these aforementioned jerks are wrong, and they make their case by changing the definition of the word 'submit'. They do this by appealing to  their dictionary, or to the 'original languages' or the marginal notes in their  NIV (as long as those notes agree with them). By the time these anti-folks are done, the word 'submit' means 'do whatever you want'.  It's quite a trick.
  But  what a word means in the Bible isn't defined by what the dictionary says it means; what a word means in the Bible is defined by how that word is used.  With that in mind,  before we  take a look at Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 (which are the passages whose application bothered them) I think it's fair to look at every other time  in the Bible that the word 'submit' is used in order to see what it means before we  try to figure out how to apply it.
  In Genesis 16,  Hagar the slave is skipping town to get away from Sarai how is ,at the very least, openly hostile towards her when  Hagar turns out to be  fertile where Sarai is barren. Is it   permissible to  be hostile towards your servant after she has a  child by your husband, especially after it was your idea? Probably not. Was Sarai in the wrong?  Probably so. However, in verse 9 Hagar is commanded to return to Sarai and submit herself under her hands.  I understand how  hard a thing that is to grasp in this modern age, but the fact is, in the very first appearance of the word, God tells a woman to return to her mistress even though her mistress is probably in the wrong! See how contrary that book runs to the desires of our flesh?
  What was Hagar supposed to  do when she got back?  What did God mean by 'submit'?  In 2 Samuel 22:45 the word is defined.  It says "Strangers shall submit themselves unto me: as soon as they hear , they shall be obedient unto me."  To submit is to hear what somebody says, and do it.  Not only to obey, but to obey as soon as they hear it. Delayed obedience is  disobedience. This definition is  backed up in Psalm 18:44 where the Bible says "As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me." My opinion or your opinion on this is  amazingly unimportant. That's what the word means.  Hagar was supposed to go back to Sarai and do what  she said as soon as she said it, even if Sarai was wrong.
  You don't have to agree with the commandment to submit.  You can think the commander is wrong, and you may even be correct in that assessment. From Psalm 66:3, you can even  be at enmity with somebody and still submit unto them!  The definition is  very narrow and doesn't require your agreement ,only your obedience. If you're looking for an application according to Psalm 68:30, one of the ways you  submit yourself is to part with your money, and give it to the one to whom you are submitting.
  The Bible moves  smoothly from definition to application and  in the New Testament the Corinthian church is told in chapter 16 verse 16 that they are supposed to  find people who are labouring  in the ministry, and submit to them.  If the definition holds, these  labourers may occasionally be wrong.  Everybody is.  The God who commanded you to submit  acknowledges throughout the Bible that 'all flesh is as grass' and that 'there is none that doeth good, no  not one' and  that 'man at his best state is all together  vanity'.  That same God  tells you to find people who are  legitimately labouring in the ministry, and   do what they say, as soon as they say it!  The qualification given in  1 Cor 16 isn't that  you submit yourselves to  people you agree with all the time or who see things the way you do.  The qualification is that  you submit yourself unto people who addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.  If you have a person who has addicted himself to the  ministry of the padding of his own wallet, or addicted himself to the ministry of his own self-exaltation then congratulations, you're off the hook. But you are still obligated to find somebody that is labouring, and  help them.  The way you help them is  you  do what  they say  as soon as they say it!  The Bible really isn't that hard to understand.
  The person you are submitting  to doesn't have a blank check in regards to you.  The burden and accountability they have  before God  is  really quite frightening according to Hebrews 13:17 and until you've had people labouring with you and  submitting themselves unto you, you have no idea how much sleep  the position costs you.  In the military and in the ministry, I have had people looking to me to make a decision, and I've had to  proceed on, worried  both before and after whether or not  my  judgment calls were  the right ones.  I have had people  labouring with me and submitting themselves unto me that were  much more talented at what we were doing than  I was. In fact, that has been the case more often than not. The decision , and accountability, was still mine, not theirs.  All they had to do was do what I said, when I said it, and if it was wrong, God would judge me, not them. True biblical submission  protects the  submitter, and  brings the submittee under the  scrutiny of the judge of all the earth.
  James 4:7 says we are to  "Submit yourselves therefore to God."  If the definition holds we are do what God said as soon as he said it.  What did God say? Among other things he said that you are to "submit yourselves unto the elder" if you are the younger (1 Peter 5:5).  As my dad  has told me more than once "I didn't get this old by being stupid."  God also told us  to "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake..." and if there was ever a commandment of God that I have struggled with, it's that one.  If you don't believe me, ask my wife.  The truth is I want to do what I want to do and I think I know best for my life.  I may even be right, and the  local government wrong, but the Bible still says what the Bible says.  Speed limits may  really be about revenue generations more than public safety, but I still have to do what they say as soon as they say if I am submitting myself to God.  My spirit bucks so hard against that I don't even like typing about it. 
  Now, having  prepared the  ground, let's look  at  Ephesians 5:22 ("Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.") and Colossians 3:18 ("Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.")  If that word still means what it means  every other place in the Bible, my wife is supposed to do what I say when I say it.  She is supposed to  do that even if she thinks I am wrong.  She is supposed to do that even if I am wrong.  She is supposed to do  it even if she is smarter or more spiritual than me (both of which happen to be the case at the Alford house).  There are no qualification  given in either chapter other  than  it be to  "your own husbands".  If I am wrong, God will clean my clock, not hers.  She is protected from the judging eye of God by her obedience while I am left flapping in the breeze by my position.  Knowing that, and knowing that God has given her gifts to be able to minister  to me, unless I'm a complete chucklehead, I'll listen to her counsel. I will consider that we are heirs together of the grace of life.  I will think about her and the kids before I decide. I will seek safety in a multitude of counselors. I will scrutinize what the word of God says.  But, and here's the tough part, even if I do  NONE of those things, she is still required by the  scriptures to  do what I say when I say it.  If I say 'wear this' or 'read that' or 'turn off the Facebook and come to bed', she needs to do it. Even if she doesn't want to. God will bless her and judge me.
 In closing, let me say this; the women's liberation movement  produced an entire generation of disobedient women who, after having  stepped out from underneath the protections of submission, raised  a generation of silly women laden with diverse lusts.  They 'preached' freedom, but they produced miserable slaves.  Unfortunately, that's the way that sort of thing always  turns out.  And if some preacher somewhere was a control freak jerk and mis-used his scriptural authority, just stand by, God's been dealing with stuff like that for a long time, and knows exactly how to  trim his wick.  Don't get bitter, and don't get rebellious.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Advantages of the Secret Church

  I feel I must start this  post with a disclaimer that everybody already knows; I overthink everything.  Now that we have that out of the way...
  It's that time of the year in the America South  where  local churches are having their vacation bible school programs.   You can see these signs on the side of the road advertising the 'theme' for this year, and since most VBS  programs are  a pre-packaged  curriculum purchased from some  church  curriculum publisher warehouse, complete with promotional posters and  handouts, it's not uncommon to see the same poster on the side of the road for different churches.  It's not even that rare for different denominations to have the same program going on, at the same time.  Secret agents are big this year, in case you were wondering.
  I'm not against VBS.  There is one put on by a local church that my kids attend every year even though we don't attend their church.  It's the closest thing to a date night that  my wife and I usually get.  I'm not against VBS workers who take   every night of their lives for a week or so  to spend time with  other people's children,  including mine.  They labour, unpaid, in an attempt to  reach the lost and encourage the saved.  I think it's probably better to have an activity like a VBS than it is to not have it.
 Having said that, I think the  church of Jesus Christ  loses something when it becomes mainstream.  It's hard to imagine the  early church putting signs on the side of the road advertising their  summer program.  It's equally  hard to imagine the  early church meeting in opulent buildings with padded pews.  It seems to me sometimes that  the norm of biblical Christianity should be  a certain amount of persecution, or at least disdain from the locals.  When you lose that, you lose something that is so nebulous that I don't even have a word for it.  It seems to me that 'real Christians' (like a missionary friend of mine in China right now) should be  existing just on the edge of being thrown in jail for their beliefs.  In those  scenarios, there are no lukewarm believers because their faith actually costs them something.
  I think that biblical Christianity can be  the victim of it's own success and when the believers are a substantial part of the population, there is no need to hide.  But with no need to hide, you lose an essential part of what it means to  be  a follower of Jesus Christ.  Within a generation or two, you have a  body of believers who, having grown up without persecution, don't see it as essential, and  therefore avoid it a at all costs.  A generation or two later, and you have a Joel Osteen rear his toothy head.
  But back to VBS.  It's equally difficult for me to  imagine the early church  catering specifically to the children in their midst with  pre-packaged  programs that  try to impart biblical truths by linking them to spacemen or secret agents or safaris.  Part of  me recoils a bit as if God somehow isn't interesting enough to stand on his own.  Do we lose something  when we try to make God relevant?
  I am  familiar and  sympathetic to the argument (advanced by my wife when I start overthinking it) that the goal of evangelism is to  'turn the world upside down' and  one of the  hallmarks of  having some success in that area is that the local community isn't always burning us at the stake.   Signs on the side of the road are progress. We've done the  job and  won  the  community so there is  no longer any need to meet in a cave or in a catacomb. But I am also painfully aware that the Bible says "all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" and I  just don't think I've done much suffering.
  I think , even as a street preacher who takes his fair share of  verbal abuse from the community, my persecution  level is so low that it doesn't even register. I sincerely believe that at that judgment seat of Christ, people like me will be told that we received our rewards down here, and therefore  don't receive so many up there. After all,  I will drop my children off  at a  comfortable, climate controlled building where modestly  dressed women and spirit-filled men will take time with them and teach them some bible truths.    If that's not the easy life, what is?