Philosophy of the Backbone

I have heard for years that in order to grow our churches we should soften our stand on the issues that society finds divisive. Emphasize unity over truth. Strive to be less offensive on non-essentials in order to earn a right to be heard on spiritual issues. We are paying the price for intentionally softening our resolve.

I have tried to study the issues regarding homosexuality and court cases involving churches. Every church I know has a strong desire to protect themselves from being pulled into court over this issue. There are numerous sources who will issue advice on how to design their documents, policies and procedures to make this less likely. I suspect that it is not possible to avoid the issues completely.

The Bible defines homosexual behavior as wrong. This fact will not go away. Attempts to redefine the Bible only work if you have not given it a serious read. So those of us who read and respect the teachings of Scripture will continue to see homosexuality as a sin.

The courts have been busy deciding that disagreeing with homosexuality is prejudice. This conclusion is based on the idea that homosexuality is less a choice than a result of how a person was born. The phrase is often used that ‘God made them that way.’

So believing this perspective regarding the practice of homosexuality allows the courts to rule that traditional Christianity is discrimination. Since it has become trendy to include sexual orientation in discrimination laws, the idea has legal teeth. There has been an attempt in many places to make laws which clarify that religious freedom is a higher priority than these discrimination cases but the courts have repeatedly stuck these down and probably will continue to do so.

While I will take actions hoping to protect my church from these lawsuits, I don’t believe any defense will ultimately shield us. The battle is going to find us. Perhaps the end result will be that Bible believing churches will no longer be allowed to legally operate or to own property. The result may be that we manage to put the first amendment back into the first position again. I don’t really know what will happen, but I know it will come with conflict.

The reality is that churches in America have gotten soft. Because of generations of living under the protection of the first amendment we have not had to defend Biblical truth. Since we have not had to defend our beliefs, American Christians are not practiced in standing up for what we belief, nor are we accustomed to paying a cost for our choice to love and serve God.

Scripture makes it clear that our association with Christ will bring conflict with the world. We must not allow this to be a surprise; nor should it be a point of dismay. It is a point of opportunity to demonstrate the backbone of Christianity. The church itself will be stronger, more Biblical, and make a more significant impact on the world around us, when our resolve becomes visible.

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Donald Trump as President

I have been watching the rise of Donald Trump’s positioning in the polls with a growing sense of dread.

Many people see him as the cure for all that ails America. I don’t. In fact, I see him as having the same problems we have with our current president. Although I come a lot closer to agreeing with him on the positions he is espousing than I have with President Obama, I see him as having the same weaknesses of methodology, which I do not want to see in the white house again.

First, I suspect that what he verbalizes as his views are mostly for the sake of getting elected. He knows how to say what the listeners want to hear. What he actually will seek to accomplish after being elected, may or may not be what he says he is going to do.

Second, I suspect that he will work around opponents rather than seeking to negotiate or compromise with them. Predictably he will do this in two fronts. Publically he will demonize his political opponents. This is made easier by the press. Since media outlets are as divided as political parties, the deceit of the tactic is never brought to light and the claims are dismissed by supporters as political rancor. While this will get things done, it will also continue to divide America.

Less publically I expect he will ignore the normal processes of government and continue expanding the power of the presidency. We don’t need an executive officer who believes he can lead the country through presidential proclamations.

We need to return to legislation and work through the processes defined in the constitution. Seen in this light, and recognizing that this is the character the candidate has presented thus far, I believe he is not the solution to our problems but will serve as the continuation of them.

Immutable God

I believe that God is relational. But the details of God being in relationship with humanity can be confusing. For example we think of God as being perfectly consistent. We even have a fancy theological word for this, immutability. Unfortunately relationships are never perfectly consistent, absolute consistency is far from perfect, and for that matter immutability doesn’t mean what many of us think it means.

We tend to picture God’s immutability as a strict set of rules down the order of, “if we do this, He’ll do that.” Or to put that another way, we want to formulate God. For too many people their entire spirituality is a series of observations about God and His past choices, assuming He will make the same choice every time a similar situation arises.

A boy steals a candy bar. His mom catches him, and punishes him. The child then believes that God will punish every thief. (When we do this, God will do that.) Being able to formulate God’s choices like this is only useful if you are looking for ways to manipulate or control Him.

The truth is that relationships disallow this kind of formulation. People who are in a relationship have to deal not only with variations in their own preferences and choices but also with these variations in the other person. God has a right to respond to the same situation in different ways at different times and with different people, just like we do.

God is immutable in that His character in unchanging, in that His purposes never waver and in that He remains absolutely sovereign. But these facts don’t change the reality that he might react one way the first three times you do something and then choose another reaction on the fourth. God may choose to draw a person to salvation with a heavy hand, or choose another person for some highly significant role in the kingdom, while clearly not doing the same for all people.

This is not inconsistency in God, it is just God expressing His sovereignty. He knew exactly what He would do in every case before history began, that is an expression of His immutability. This is not God being unfair, it is God being God.

The Impact of Foreknowledge

Foreknowledge is an interesting twist, doctrinally speaking. It changes things to know God does not have to wait to see what we do and then react to it. Instead He knows what is going to happen before it does. Therefore He doesn’t consider anything as it happens but whatever decisions He makes, were made in advance.

Some assume that since God knew what would happen in advance, He must also have made all the decisions. I don’t believe this logically follows. All of us who have been parents have known at times what our children were going to do before they did it. Perhaps by the look on their face, an established pattern, or perhaps a lack of experience, but however we knew, we knew. Many of those times we decided how we would respond before the child took the action. Why can’t we believe that God does the same thing, except much, much better?

Others understand that God can choose His reaction to our choices in advance without making every decision for us, but believe that we are incapable of making the most important decisions. Specifically, they believe that no man can choose Christ, and instead Christ chooses us. But I think that to believe this you have to ignore the importance of the concept of foreknowledge at the times the word is used in Scripture.

If I recall correctly the word appears four times in the New Testament. Acts 2:23 talking about God’s plan to redeem us in Christ. Romans 8:29 where he is describing the predestined. Romans 11:2 referring to His relationship with Israel. And finally in 1 Peter 1:2 while describing the chosen.

Three of four uses of the word then are directly related to God making choices and how His foreknowledge played into the decision. If God determined who would be saved then it would make sense that the Bible would describe His decision making prior to His foreknowledge or perhaps leave foreknowledge out of the picture completely. But if His foreknowledge is described preceding His decision making, then it would seem that what He is saying is He was responding in some manner to our decision, specifically our decision to receive His offer of salvation.

As I said three of four uses of the word combine foreknowledge and God’s choices. Two of these have His foreknowledge mentioned as the basis for His decisions and actions. Romans 8:29 does this by setting up a series that moves from foreknowledge to predestination to calling to justification to glorification. In 1 Peter 1:2 He describes his choice as being according to His foreknowledge. So both of these verses strike me as saying God was responding to something about us. He chose how He would respond before the event actually happened, but foreknowledge allows this possibility.

The other verse that combines foreknowledge and God’s choice of actions puts His choice first, mentioning it prior to His foreknowledge. This is Acts 2:23, where He is describing his decision to have Jesus die for us on the cross. In this case it makes sense to mention the decision first because He is referring to His own decision making rather than His advance knowledge of someone else’s decision. He chose to redeem us and then held to His knowledge of His own plan.

I’d be happy to hear your ideas on my analysis, as long as they are civil. But it appears to me that understanding election, God’s choice, or predestination requires that we also evaluate foreknowledge.