Hall of Silence

A quiet place to reflect on God, His Word, and His Church

Month: January, 2012

Practical Atheism

“He who is not with Me is against Me…” (Matt. 12:30)

“You will know them by their fruits.” (Matt. 7:16)

There is a line drawn in the sand by our Lord, and it is unmistakable:  you are either with him or against him.  You cannot play both sides.  No man, as our Lord observed, can serve two masters.  The reason for this is simple:  there are only two possible masters—God and Satan—and one of them demands our all.  We must have allegiance to one—and only one—of them.  Furthermore, our allegiance will be seen in our daily actions.

Many have claimed to be on Christ’s side, but their daily actions say otherwise.  They claim to believe in God, to love him, and to serve him, but for all intents and purposes they are practically atheists.  Their behavior says quite clearly that do not believe in the God of the Bible.  How else can you explain their behavior?  Practical atheism, then, has two significant components:  our actions and our inactions.  Of course, our actions are predicated on the thoughts and intents of our hearts (cf. Prov. 23:7)

In the first place, practical atheism reveals itself in the absence of Godly thought and the corresponding absence of Godly behavior.  This is known as the sin of omission.  We are expected to have Godly hearts (cf. Gal. 5:22-23).  This, in turn, should lead us to have Godly lives (cf. Eph. 5:1).  When we lack Godly hearts and Godly behaviors, we are essentially acting like atheists; our behavior is no different from theirs.

In the second place, practical atheism is revealed in our lives by the presence of ungodly thoughts and actions.  This is known as the sin of commission.  There are certain heartsets that God condemns (cf. Mark 7:21-23).  There are also certain behaviors that God condemns (cf. James 1:21).  When we allow evil thoughts to enter our hearts and allow certain behaviors to govern our lives, we are essentially acting like atheists, for our behavior is no different from theirs.

So, the question for us is this:  does our behavior as nominal disciples of Christ differ in any appreciable way from that of atheists.  Sadly, the answer for many brethren is no.

Doctrine and Theology

Ever wonder where self-contradicting doctrine comes from?  It comes from not understanding God.

There is a general tendency for students of God’s word to spend time studying the finer, esoteric points of doctrine, usually in the guise of pursuing truth.  While it is true that one can find truth in the gritty details of Biblical doctrine, it is still easy to get sucked in to believing a self-contradictory doctrine if one does not see the big picture before delving into doctrinal details.

Studying the big picture is called theology.  Theology means the study of God, and refers to the process wherein one comes to a better understanding of God and his nature.  This is not always easy to do, as it requires prolonged rational abstract thought, as well as a broad Biblical perspective.  God is likely totally incomprehensible to man, although that does not mean that man cannot come to understand some aspects of God’s nature.

Anyhow, the theological approach to Biblical interpretation and doctrine, though difficult, provides a more consistent framework for doctrinal interpretation as it necessarily gives one a broad-based view of the Bible.  As such, one must always find balance in interpreting individual commands and tenets in order to avoid taking a position that contradicts another position.

But beyond this, all doctrine is derived from theology anyway.  People who take the approach that God will make an exception for them (say, because their heart is in the right place) are basically saying that God is a respecter of persons.  Those who spend much time trying to regulate how church treasury funds are used are basically saying that God is both materialistic and an accountant.  (It is amazing how some brethren spend more time talking about the Lord’s money than the Lord does.)  But, at any rate, doctrine and theology go hand in hand.  If your doctrine is self-contradicting than it is likely that your theology is wrong.

In sum, theology is the big picture and doctrine is simply the details of the aforementioned big picture.  There is thus no point in quibbling over details if we don’t understand the big picture.

Emotional Conversion

Repentance is commonly defined as “a change of heart and change of mind that results in a change of life.”  This is an excellent definition for repentance, as it captures the necessary components:  emotional conversion and intellectual conversion.

In the Church of Christ, we have a tendency to focus exclusively on the “change of mind” (intellectual conversion) side of things to such an extent that we neglect the other half of the equation.  We focus so much on getting people to believe in God that we never get around to getting them love God.  We are all mind and no heart.

Now, this is not say that there is no place for intellect in conversion.  As is well known, having an intellectual belief in God is necessary to conversion (cf. Romans 10:10ff.).  But that is not the only requirement for effective, actual conversion.  People must love God as well (Matt. 2:37-38).  This is where the Church has largely failed.

We never ever focus on getting people to love God.  We think that belief is sufficient to compel obedience.  But this isn’t true. Love must compel obedience, or else we are simply going through the motions.  And, in many congregations, many are simply going through the motions.  They are trying to “think” their way to heaven, and in so doing they create a variety of checklists to complete on a daily, weekly, and annual basis.  They have become Pharisees.

And, in a sense, they have never truly converted to Christianity.  They do the works of a Christian, but their hearts aren’t in it.  They’ve never a change of heart.  They’ve never truly repented.

Intelligent and Stupid Christians

In I John 2:16, John outlines three broad categories of sin: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.  One thing I’ve noticed is that one’s intelligence appears to play a general role in determining what sort of sin one falls into.  Please note that a general correlation is not the same as an immutable law.

From what I’ve observed, intelligent Christians are more likely to fall prey to the pride of life, and fall away gradually without noticing that they are doing so.  Conversely, less intelligent Christians are more likely to fall prey to the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, and fall away quickly without caring that they are doing so.

I think the reason for this is due to the fact that intelligent people tend to be more aware of their own lust, and respond accordingly.  Because of this, intelligent Christians feel good about themselves for mastering their base desires, and tend to succumb to pride for feeling superior to their less intelligent brethren.  On the other hand, less intelligent people have little to be proud of, although they often aren’t aware of their own lust.  As such, they are more likely to succumb to their base emotions.

The lesson to be taken from this is that there is no perfect blend of human attributes that makes us impervious to temptation.  Those who are intelligent will face different types of temptations than those who are less intelligent.  The wealthy face different types of temptation than the poor.  Men have different types of temptation than women.  But in all cases, everyone faces temptation.  And Satan always tries to tempt us where we’re most vulnerable.

Drugs and the Church

Virtually every member of the Church of Christ that I have met believes that using drugs is sinful.  Most of the arguments they offer to prove this have serious flaws.  Here’s a list of many anti-drug arguments are bad.

Bad theology:  Some Christians argue that drugs are inherently immoral. However, God created everything, and everything he created was “good” (cf. Gen. 1 and 2).  Now, certain synthetic drugs would be excluded from this theological consideration, but organic drugs like tobacco and marijuana were most certainly created by God, and therefore have his stamp of approval.  This does not mean that God expects man to get high, but the claim that drug use is wrong because drugs are inherently immoral is simply absurd.

Double Standards Regarding Drug Use: Some Christians disapprove of certain drugs because they are illegal (think LSD, Marijuana, Ecstasy, etc.).  However, these same Christians readily approve prescription drugs simply because the government has approved of their (limited) usage.  That the government approves of one drug but bans another is not proof of the morality or immorality of using any given drug.  The government is not the arbiter of morality, God is.  As such, the ultimate standard for the morality of using a given drug is not the government but God.

Bad Terminology:  Some Christians argue that drugs are wrong because they are mind-altering.  There is simply no way to prove this, except tautologically. Even then, any given tautology could only apply to the one asserting it.

Bad Science:  Some Christians recognize that a more-provable assertion is that drugs are brain-altering.  This assertion is predicated on a false assumption.  Namely, that the brain is a static organ.  Neurological research indicates that the brain is very much a dynamic organ (cf. The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge), changing its structure on a daily basis.  Its function also varies second-to-second.  This means that the assertion is based on the assumption that there is a “normal” (or static) state of the brain that drug use causes deviation from.  There is absolutely no evidence for this view.  In fact, most evidence suggests the exact opposite.

Double Standards Regarding Drug Effects:  Some Christians argue that drugs have a measurable impact on brain function, by the way they stimulate the brain.  This argument is hypocritical in a variety of ways.  First, all stimuli have a measurable impact on the brain (eating food produces a sort of high, drinking a soft drink produces a sort of high, standing in sunshine produces a sort of high, etc.).  Second, some drugs impact the brain in the same way certain God-approved activities do. For example, ingesting crack is neurologically identical to having sex.  Are these same Christians now going to condemn any and all forms of sex because it has a measurable impact on brain function?

Bad Statistics:  Some Christians claim that drug usage is a gateway to other sins (e.g. smoking pot leads people to participate in crimes unrelated to drug use, like theft).  A simple statistical analysis shows this claim to be false, for it is reported that around 41% of adult Americans have tried pot.  Yet, less than 22% of all adult Americans have committed some sort of crime.  For those who are bad at math, 22 is less than 41.  This means that, at best, there is a slightly better than 50% chance that a drug user will also be a criminal.  50-50 odds just aren’t that good.  Thus, there is minimal positive correlation between drug use and other crime, and so this assertion is also false.

Term Conflation– Many Christians have a tendency to treat all drugs the same.  However, there is simply too broad a range of drugs to lump them all together.  Hallucinogens are different from depressants, from stimulants, from amphetamines, etc.  Not only that, they also fail to consider the difference between organic and synthetic drugs.  Different drugs have different purposes and uses, and these need to be considered when addressing the issue of drugs.

When all is said and done, it appears that many in the church have failed to think through this issue as they ought.  This failure to consider the issue of drug use has led to sloppy thinking, sloppy argumentation, and bad doctrine.  We need to do better.

Are Preaching Schools Valuable?

Note:  this blog post is based entirely on personal anecdote.  It is possible that your personal experience with the subject will differ from mine.  Because I cannot find any studies that even address the matter, let alone does so in a reasonable matter, this subject will naturally be confined solely to personal anecdote and theory.

One thing that I’ve noticed about men who have graduated from preaching schools is that they a) are not particularly good at preaching (though many are good at public speaking), b) are not adept at thinking theologically (but are good at thinking doctrinally), and c) are not good at using logic (but many are rhetorically gifted).  This seems highly problematic to me, for the general result of preaching schools is that they teach young men what to think and how to speak instead how to think and how to preach.  This has led to what amounts to an assembly-line approach to preachers and preaching, wherein it is assumed that by taking the right inputs—evangelistically-minded, easily-molded young men—and sending them to the right throughputs—in this case, preacher schools—will result in the right outputs—dogmatic, rigid men who will rail against denominationalism.

The question that remains unasked is this:  is the church well-served by these type of men?  By extension, is the church well-served by preacher schools?

What good are men who can memorize doctrinal talking points and spew them out when door-knocking if they have no understanding of God and his nature?  Keep in mind that Christians are expected to be imitators of God, which requires an actual knowledge of God, and not simply a familiarity with Biblical doctrine.  What is God like?  What is his character?  These are theological questions, not doctrinal questions, and graduates of preaching schools are generally ill-equipped to answer them.

And what good are men if they can only speak, not preach? There is a difference between the two, after all.  The former refers simply to the ability to convey an idea clearly; the latter refers to the pricking of men’s hearts.  Many graduates can articulate Biblical concepts in clear, easily understood ways, but they do not change anyone’s hearts and therefore do not change anyone’s lives.  Their preaching is formulaic, generally consisting of a clear introduction, three points with three sub-points, and a concise conclusion that summarizes the lesson.  The problem with this is that the church needs preachers, not college professors.

Finally, what good are men who cannot think logically?  Many graduates seem unfamiliar with formal logic (i.e. the syllogistic form), and few are familiar with any of the various informal fallacies (e.g. the “fourth term” fallacy, ad hoc fallacy, and ad hominem fallacy).  They do not, and apparently cannot, think rigorously.  They can’t recognize term conflation, leading them to offer invalid arguments as proof for their predetermined doctrine.  When confronted with their illogicality, they bray loudly, hoping that volume will trump reason.  And when they finally ignore their opponent into leaving, they brag about how well they have stood for truth.

As should be clear, the church is not well-served by these types of men.  The church needs men who can preach, who can think about God, and who can think logically.  And these men do not come from schools of preaching.

The Instrument God Authorizes

Does God authorize any instruments in worship?  If Ephesians 5:19 is to be believed, he does.  The passage says:

Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord…

The word that’s translated “making melody” is the Greek word psallos, which means to play or to pluck.  The idea of the word is that one is very much playing an instrument.  But what instrument is to be played?

The answer, fortunately, is contained in the text.  The instrument that is to be played is the heart.  This is also in keeping with John 4:24 (“in spirit…”).

Each Christian, then, is expected to play an instrument when worshiping God, and that instrument is the heart.  A failure to play this instrument when worshiping is a direct contradiction of God’s will, and is thus a sin.

Go Into All The World and Preach Against Denominationalism

To hear most preachers tell it, you would think that the entirety of the gospel is a screed against denominationalism.  While denominationalism is most certainly condemned in scripture, the scriptures, and the one who breathed them, are concerned with many more things.

One of the many problems facing the Church in this day and age is that preachers have an anti-denominationalist mindset.  This mindset pervades their thinking, and is quite wrong.  They are called to preach the gospel, not anti-denominationalism.

The distinction is crucial.  The gospel and anti-denominationalism are two different sets (though they overlap to a limited extent, creating a sort of Venn subset).  Preaching anti-denominationalism is a disservice because it shortchanges the gospel and is overly negative.  While God is negative at times, he is not always so.  He balances the negative with the positive.  We must do the same.

Also, anti-denominationalism, taken strictly, is also anti-truth. By this I simply mean that opposing every denominational practice will eventually lead to the condemnation of every correct practice.  Most denominations, for example, have correctly identified the first day of the week as the day of worship.  Some have correctly noted that mechanical instruments are forbidden from worship.  Others have noted that baptism is immersion, and is necessary for salvation.  In fact, all denominations have some element of the truth within their teaching.  As such, condemning denominational practices wholesale necessarily includes condemning the truths that denominations have latched onto as well.

The better practice is to simply preach the word, and let the chips fall where they may.  We needn’t target denominations, but those teachings which are clearly in contradiction to God’s word.  We should seek common ground with denominationalists and build from there.  There is no point in making a wholesale condemnation of something when it is not warranted.

Quite simply, the best thing to do is preach God’s word.  Nothing more, nothing less.  We need to preach the word and stop defining our doctrine by what denominationalists teach.  If they get something right, so be it; if they get something wrong, so be it.  What matters is not what they teach but what God says.  Therefore, let us preach God’s word and not anti-denominationalism.