Hall of Silence

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

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.

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.