Hall of Silence

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

Month: February, 2012

The Piety of Debating

In a prior post on status-mongering, I had noted that some members of the church demonstrate their piety by defending the truth via debating others on various matters.  The willingness to defend the truth via the mechanism of debating is certainly commendable, but that doesn’t mean that one’s motivations for debating are always pure, nor does it mean that the debate into which one enters is actually profitable.

In the first place, there are plenty of potential downsides to the debate format.  It may be that you, as a defender of truth, are not as adequate to the task as you believe yourself to be, and so your defense actually causes your brethren to be ashamed of their association with you, and of their association with the church.  It may also be that those who are attending the debate (assuming you’re in hostile territory, so to speak) are simply swine, and nothing you can say will cause them to believe in the truth.  Alternatively, (assuming you have home field advantage, so to speak), you may simply be giving error an opportunity to be taught that it would not otherwise have enjoyed.  Thus, there are several factors that may cause a public debate to work decidedly against God’s Bride.

Given that it is therefore possible that public debates may have considerably negative outcomes, it therefore behooves preachers to consider the possibility of these negative outcomes.  It also behooves brethren to consider whether they should support debates given the potential downsides.  Alas, neither brethren nor preachers seem particularly inclined to consider that there may, in fact, be times and instances in which our attempts at defending the truth may do more harm than good.  Instead, preachers and brethren focus on the more obvious outcome that truth is being taught in whatever way possible.

This focus on always teaching truth, with no concern for anything else, is generally nothing more than simple status-mongering.  Those who practice this are not so much concerned with whether engaging in public debates is going to do any practical good; rather, they are concerned with appearing to do good (or being a “shining light”).  Again, this is nothing more than signaling one’s status, which in this case is piety.  Debating shows piety because one is essentially saying that, by debating against error, one is really and truly concerned with defending truth, and defending Christ’s church from those who would assail it.  By implication, those who do not engage in these debates are inferior either in terms of motives or in terms of ability.

Piety, as demonstrated in debating, and a host of other ways, is the currency of status in the church these days.  Whereas direct displays of wealth were once the main way to demonstrate one’s status, the church has now exchanged physical wealth for spiritual displays.  In essence, piety is the new materialism, and public debates of this materialist mindset.

Again, as noted before, debates are not, in and of themselves, a bad thing; they can be and often are used for good.  This is especially true when debates are used to demonstrate the holiness of God and his church.  However, it seems in recent years that debates have mostly been used to demonstrate the apparent holiness of those engaging in them.

The Christian and the Politics of Abortion

It’s the political season again, and it is therefore time for endless political discourse among Americans, Christian and non-Christian alike.  Of course, most political discourse is nothing more than high-minded nonsense, repeated ad nauseum, such that one’s prayers are especially heartfelt the day after the election, since that means all the empty chatterheads have to start discussing things that are more important than who won the latest beauty contest.

It is during this especially trifling season that many Christians begin to get up-in-arms about their pet social issues. There are many to choose from, but for now we will focus on the hot-button issue of abortion.  Most Christians believe that life begins at conception, and that abortion—being the removal and disposal of the fetus—is thus murder.  Since murder is condemned by God, so is abortion.  But what is the Christian to do about abortion?

The answer that springs to mind for many Christians is that of political recourse.  That is to say, many Christians believe it their God-given duty to vote for pro-life candidates.  Unfortunately, this response is high-minded nonsense.

In the first place, pro-life candidates have a pretty terrible track record at accomplishing the stated goal of ending abortion, especially at the federal level.  Abortion is still legal in all fifty states, and abortionists still receive a sizeable amount of money from the federal government, and many state governments.  Abortion has been legal in all fifty states for nearly forty years, and all the efforts to eradicate it have failed.  In fact, efforts to reduce the number of abortions have failed.  (There has been a relatively minor decline in the raw number of abortions in the past several years; however, there is also a decline in birth rates and pregnancy rates, which suggests that the decline in abortions is due primarily to declines in pregnancies.  Basically, there are fewer potential babies to be aborted, and therefore correspondingly fewer abortions as a result.  The rate of abortions seems to be basically steady.)  Given the sheer amount of resources dedicated to ending abortion, the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the results is that a lot of resources have been wasted.

In the second place, Christians are not commanded to use the political system to enforce morality.  The command is to “go into all the world and preach,” not “go into all the world and politick.”  As such, the Christian’s primary duty is tell others the good news of Christ, and all that the gospel entails; Christians are not expected to impose Biblical morality onto others by government fiat. When we politick instead of preach, we fail at our primary duty.

In the third place, the poltical system cannot change people’s hearts.  As Christ himself said “out of the heart of men, proceed…murders.”  The fundamental cause of abortion is that the desire to kill one’s unborn child is in one’s heart.  If you have no desire to kill your child, then you it won’t matter what the law says because you won’t kill your child.  The law is not an argument, and it cannot change people’s hearts.  It may be able to influence their actions, to some extent, but it will not eliminate the evil desires that are imprinted in their hearts.

Additionally, if a mother would desire to abort her child but is prohibited from doing so, does it not stand to reason that she will likely be an unloving mother?  Should Christians thus vote for politicians to enact laws that force mothers to not only bear their children to term, but also to love them once they are born?  And how could such a law be enforced, anyway?  The simple fact of the matter is that the law cannot serve as a substitute for the heart, and Christians are foolish to try to use the legal system as a substitute for changing people’s hearts.

Finally, note an alternative to the legal system that can and should be used by Christians to combat the evil of abortion:  personal work.  Whether this means personal evangelism or personal benevolence, one thing is for sure:  Christians can more effectively combat the evil of abortion if they personally attempt to get to the heart of the matter.  Instead of trying to legislate someone else’s morality, why not personally counsel someone who is contemplating abortion?  Instead of attending a political rally, why not wait outside an abortion clinic and attempt to talk to those girls who are contemplating abortion?  Instead of donating money to a politician who makes insincere promises of combatting abortion, why not use the money to help a poor girl who thinks she’s too poor to afford a child?  Why not simply do your Christian duty yourself instead of delegating it to a professional liar?

Status-Mongering in the Church

My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.  For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?  But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?  Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called

James 2:1-7 [NKJV]

The above passage is generally used to show that all Christians are equal in the eyes of God, and therefore no one should be treated with partiality.  That is certainly one application that can be made from James, but there is another, broader application that can be drawn:  The church has no place for status-mongering.

The problem in the first century, as implied by the passage, was that wealthy people were making ostentatious displays of their wealth and thus receiving preferential treatment.  By their dress and by their behavior, the wealthy were essentially telling the brethren that they were special, and Christians were confirming the beliefs of the wealthy by treating them with favoritism.  James isn’t clear on whether the wealthy were tacitly expecting preferential treatment (their dress would generally indicate as such) or if the early Christians were alone in taking the initiative.  At any rate, the early Christians paid attention to the displays of status (fine apparel, gold earrings, etc.) and responded by displaying favoritism.

We often do the same thing in the Church today, only our status signals are less overt.  In the first century, the most common display of high status was one’s luxurious clothing; today, the most common display of high status is piety.

Piety is demonstrated in many ways:  defending the truth (often in pointless debates), condemning denominationalism, holding the right opinions (e.g. beliefs regarding the indwelling of the Holy Spirit), conforming to extra-biblical behavioral norms (e.g. having two worship services on Sunday), and so on.  Now, this form of status-mongering is especially clever because none of the aforementioned actions are inherently sinful, nor are they wrong.  But they do serve as status markers nonetheless.

Since we are so clever in signaling our high status through innocent and occasionally laudable means, we are also clever enough to reward high status through equally clever and innocent means.  For preachers that we consider high status, we generally confer high honors upon them, usually in the form of invitations to preach Gospel meetings and, more impressively, preach at lectureships.  For high-status non-preacher males (admittedly, few of these seem to exist), they also get special invitations to participate in high-status events (think along the lines of Polishing the Pulpit and such like).  For high-status women, they tend to receive invitations to host ladies’ days and women’s retreats.

Again, lectureships, symposiums, gospel meetings, ladies’ days, and women’s retreats are not, in and of themselves, bad things.  But they can be used as a way to show preference to high-status Christians, and therefore are a means to status-mongering.

Therefore, our all as Christians is to examine the motives behind our behaviors.  Are we inviting an esteemed preacher to our lectureship because he will do a good job at explaining his assigned subject?  Or are we inviting him because he will lend more prestige to our lectureship?  Are we inviting the ambitious young creator of a successful evangelistic program to our symposium because he will provide people with the mental tools they will need for evangelism?  Or are we inviting him because he’s famous and we want to appropriate some of his fame for ourselves?  Are we inviting an esteemed elder’s wife to speak at our ladies’ day because she’s a good teacher?  Or are we inviting her because her name is well-known?

We are called to act on God’s behalf, without concern for our personal ambition.  And from what we see in James, we are not to act out of concern for others’ ambitions either.  Our job is to do what’s best for God and his kingdom.  Any other motive is wrong, and the work that comes from it will be its own reward for God has no pleasure in it.  Therefore, let us resolve ourselves to do those things which are pleasing to God without concern for the status that can be derived from them.

Must We Always Defend Truth?

Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…”  —I Peter 3:15

There seems to be considerable consensus among members of the church that we must always make a stand for the truth, no matter what.  The aforementioned verse certainly seems to validate this mindset.

However, there is a qualitative difference between being ready to give a defense and actually giving said defense.  It is akin to the difference between owning a fire extinguisher and using a fire extinguisher.  Obviously, you can’t use a fire extinguisher if you don’t have one, and likewise you cannot give a defense if you don’t have the ability.  Also, owning a fire extinguisher does not inherently necessitate using it; likewise, being able to give a defense of the hope that is in you does not necessitate doing so.

Now, there will inevitably be times when we must give an answer for the hope that is in us.  Religious challenges are more common that minor house fires, after all.  But must we always defend the truth?

Consider Christ’s words:  “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”  This is a moral imperative, and the meaning is readily discerned:  do not share the goodness of God with those who will either fail to appreciate it or actively work against it.

God understands that his human servants have a limited amount of resources at their disposal, including the most valuable resource of all: time.  God does not expect his servants to waste their time defending giving an answer to those who are not honestly interested in the answer.  How could a God that wishes the whole world to be saved prefer that his servants to evangelize the determined lost instead of those who are honestly seeking the truth?

There are certain reasons for defending the truth that are noble; leading others to a knowledge of the truth is certainly among them.  There will undoubtedly be some people who genuinely want to know the truth and—hopefully from observing our conduct—will come to us asking to more about what we believe and why.  We should be both willing and able to give an answer for the hope that is in us to these sorts of people.

However, there is one occurrence of giving an answer that is problematic:  defending the truth to show people that we defend the truth.  There is no point to doing this, as this is nothing more than status-seeking.  People won’t judge us in the final day, so defending our faith in God to them is pointless, especially since there are not seeking the truth.  God already knows our hearts, so he doesn’t need us to defend the truth to the dishonest and uninterested to know that we are willing to do so.

Further, in keeping with Christ’s commands to not cast our pearls before swine, there will be occasions when defending the truth is pointless, and therefore we will have an obligation to occasionally abstain from defending the truth.  Our time and energy can be better spent doing other things for the cause of Christ and in defense of our faith in God.

Now, it is important to note that this command requires that we use judgment.  It is up to us to determine if the person who is asking for a reason for the hope that is in us is genuine and sincere in their search for the truth.  We must consider the question and answer accordingly.  We must also examine our own motives, to ensure that we are genuinely attempting to lead others to the truth, instead of simply demonstrating our won righteousness and faithfulness.

In sum, we must always be willing and able to defend our faith, but we must also exercise judgment and discretion when doing so.  We are forbidden from wasting our time with the spurious, rebellious, and dishonest.  Ultimately, our duty is to be ready for battle, as it were, but not to rush into battle blindly or foolishly.  We are called to defend our faith, and we are called to do so prudently.

Lot’s Wife and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Recently, there has been a big to-do from Mac Deaver and others regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in baptism.  The theory is that when one is immersed in water for the remission of sins, one is also immersed in the Holy Spirit simultaneously.  The latter half of the assertion is not stated explicitly anywhere in scriptures, and the examples of Holy Spirit baptism are not consistent with this assertion (timewise, at least).  However, this does not invalidate the assertion.  To understand why, consider the following argument:

Let us suppose that I theorize that Lot’s Wife’s name was “Laura.”  Does the Bible tell me that Lot’s Wife’s name was Laura?  No.  Does the Bible tell me that Lot’s Wife’s name was not Laura? No.   Is the Bible’s silence on the matter proof that Lot’s Wife did not have a name at all?  Such an assumption would be absurd.  The simple fact of the matter is that the Bible is silent on the matter of the name of Lot’s wife. As such, it would be wrong to claim that her name is “Laura,” and it would be just as wrong to claim that her name was not “Laura.”  The silence of the scriptures on this matter proves nothing.

Let us now suppose that I theorize that Holy Spirit baptism occurs simultaneously with water baptism, and causes me to be born of the spirit.  Does the Bible tell me this happens?  No. Does the Bible tell me this doesn’t happen?  No.  Is the Bible’s silence on this matter proof that this is beyond the realm of possibility?  Such a question is absurd.  The Bible’s silence proves nothing conclusively.  It is possible that Holy Spirit baptism occurs simultaneously with water baptism; it also possible that Holy Spirit baptism does not occur simultaneously with water baptism.  We simply do not know.

We are commanded to speak as the oracles of God.  If God is silent on a matter, we must be as well.  We understand this principle when it comes to Lot’s Wife, which is why brethren have never written a lengthy book theorizing about her name.  Why can’t we make the same application to Holy Spirit baptism?

Capitalist Morality

In modern America, there are many who complain about how corporate bosses tend to mistreat their employees.  Some take the opposite approach, and say that bosses should be able to do what they want and employees can accept the job or move on.  Here’s what the Bible has to say:

Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.

And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

The general principle of this passage is that workers should offer their best to those for whom they work. Whether one is an employee, servant, or slave, one should do the best job one can do.  There is simply no excuse for offering less than one’s best, or for doing a job halfway.  Workers are to be industrious and honest, and give their best.

Consequently, bosses are to be fair and kind.  If one’s employees work honestly and diligently, there is no need to treat them harshly.  Consider also Malachi’s warning:  “And I will come near you for judgment…against those who exploit wage earners…”  This can also apply to employers, as a warning to be fair in their payment of wages.  If one’s employees give an honest day’s work, they should receive an honest day’s wages.

Note, though, the element of reciprocity in these commands:  neither employee or employer is to bear the brunt of the responsibility in these commands; both have responsibilities to the other.  Employees are to work hard and do their best; employers are to treat their employees kindly and pay them fairly.  Perhaps the real reason why there is such rancor between employers and employees nowadays is because neither side is willing to act in good faith.

If employees are lazy, why would they expect to be treated well?  It’s not fair to expect employers to pay someone wages they don’t deserve.  On the other hand, it shouldn’t be surprising that employees are lazy if employers don’t pay them fairly or treat them with kindness.  Thus, the current mutual distrust that employers and employees have towards each other has become a self-reinforcing feedback loop wherein employees are lazy and dishonest and employers are harsh and unfair.

The only way to break this is for Christians—both those that are employers and employees—to step up and model the work ethic and kindness that God demands.  Maybe then the whole world will follow suit.  One thing’s for sure:  we won’t know until we try.