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Church Tribalism

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We were surely all shocked at the news of the brutality that swept Rwanda, and, more recently, Kenya. No doubt this bolstered the prejudices of people who had been brought up under Darwinism to see the African people as in some way less-evolved and more volatile. Groups ranging from the Mau-mau of the Kenyan revolt to the Black Muslim/Nation of Islam have profited from Mr. Darwin’s opinions on this. To look closer, though, we have to notice that the skin color does not make a person more or less human, whether that means reflecting God’s image or whether it means marring that image to near obscurity. After all- the first “race riots” in the US were whites in New York City protesting the threat of blacks being freed en masse, and a black slave on temporary contract in Boston wrote his Southern master complaining of being treated like an Irishman! In the West, many of the Native tribes called themselves by names which translated simply as “people,” “human beings,” or, “family.” Simple and noble in one way, but what would that imply about an outsider?

We have seen, in the US, violence and discrimination against people for all kinds of “other”-ness, which can all fit under the greater heading of, “tribalism.” A recent visit to Canada, where they pride themselves for their lack of prejudice, revealed that they do “reserve the right” to hate “idiots.” If a cause can be found to classify someone as an idiot, then that is not discrimination, I was told. So there is not a code against black people, but Haitians, Jamaicans, etc., are marginalised as “idiots” because of some excuse gleaned from their opinionated Press. Americans, I was told, are all idiots because “they” all voted for George Bush, “and Bush is an idiot” according to their, unquestioned, Accepted Wisdom. There is something in the human animal that demands a “lower class” to despise, or we somehow feel incomplete!

Is the Church exempt? What does “all things are new” really mean here, or is there a problem with the “in Christ” part of that promise? Does being baptised, received, confirmed, having “prayed the prayer,” “received the Spirit,” or being “wholly sanctified” make us immune to such nonsense? Is there anyone we exclude from our “tribe” of Accepted Human Beings?

Of course, there are Spiritual Formation issues- We want to make sure that a pastor has a godly lifestyle like we want our surgeon or air pilot to be reasonably sober, and it would be nice to know who is watching our children, but do we use circumstances which may be beyond a person’s control to keep them away from our fellowship, and from sharing in the grace of God? In the last count, do we only love the ones we choose? Has the Church become like the proverbial Dog in the Manger who has no real use for the straw he sleeps on, but chases off the hungry ox to protect his own comfort? If we fail to welcome someone, or somehow keep them away from the eternal life Christ died to give to us all, then are we better, or worse, than the frenzied Rwandans who denied their neighbors earthly life?

We can leave this where it is, and most readers will close the page thinking of all the ways that other people need to read this. Is that so? Today in America, millions of black churchgoers are in need of a studied theological message in their sermons, and millions of white churchgoers will leave church this Sunday with their hearts no more touched in the service than if they had been watching Mr. Rogers re-runs. Cross that line, and do not expect a call from the pastor the next week. (At least there’s not the likelihood of a midnight visit from the deacons!) How about the man who tells the pastor, “I so adored the service?” What about a single dad? How many members are actively working to care for those in need during the week? Do we think that the “Sheep and the Goats” is just a parable Jesus forgot to explain? Wouldn’t the little dog rather go rest in his Master’s lap than wear himself out snarling at other of Master’s creatures?


Written by Robert Easter

Saturday, 31 October, 2009 at 11:53

The “Christian Minority”

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In Western society the Church is in the minority. In even the “Bible Belt” only a minority of the population is actually in church on a given Sunday, or is even nominally active in a church. This much is known and noticed. Yet there is enough of a minority that it should have a significant influence- far more than it does, especially in terms of real evangelism. What is the problem?

In actual fact, the “active” Church is far smaller than what is recognised. We start with recognising that 80% of the work, as in any organisation, is done by 20% of the membership, but then let’s look at that membership.

In any given church today, between 55% and 80% or more of the congregation is women. Church traditions vary from one group to another, but it is safe to say that of the roles most directly linked to the ministry of the church, most of them are closed to women’s participation. Without getting close to approaching the Women’s Ordination question, we do well to ask of the Lord had the same policies when He chose women to announce His Resurrection to the men and defended a woman’s right to sit at His feet to learn theology. There were men and women receiving the Spirit in the Upper Room, Philip’s four daughters preached (one may preach (proclaim) without prophesying, but prophesy without preaching?), and it was not uncommon for Paul to recognise female “co-labourers” in his epistles.

Due to factors better discussed elsewhere, the Church has over a 60% divorce rate to a 50% rate outside. In many churches, divorce is seen as a permanent disqualification for service in the Church, except maybe something behind the scenes like knitting or taking a turn cooking for the men’s breakfast. This, of course, is seldom a problem since once a person does divorce they generally become an unwelcome stranger to their best friends, and are gone within a month. This is a majority of the Church’s adults, lost to their churches. Very often, these are people who have risked all they had to save their marriages, and possibly survived the break-up only at the very highest cost, only to see their best friends all to ready to believe any bad thing heard or imagined against them. Not only does this cost the churches some good people, but the ones who stay are poisoned by the violence they have done to their hurting brothers and sisters.

So, then, before examining the increasing marginalisation of seniors and the all-too common practice of giving the “prominent” members full reign in church matters, and before bemoaning that the noble 20% are carrying the load, we have already reduced the number eligible for much else but parking cars down to 20%. If only 20% are allowed to serve, and the 80/20 rule applies, that means that the churches are presuming to carry on with the talents not of 20%, but of closer to 4% at best. And that 4% can’t even claim any great dedication, since they’ve reduced themselves to such an “elite” group by running off all those who wish they could serve. Now if we take that 4%, and divide out the ones holding to an authentic Christian faith in the face of so many innovations, and find what part of that group is not affected by a sense of prejudice and elitism in their having “attained” that status, we might be close to identifying the actual, living, Church.

Faithful Reader, if you’ve read this far, please take this as it is intended: Not to build a spiral of ill-feelings, but to encourage, exhort, beg everyone to examine ourselves in light of the revealed truth and love of God, and apply ourselves to be “part of the solution,” regardless the cost. The Gospel went out to the known world, at first, with no more than what meets at your church on a Sunday. That was with all the technology of a scribe’s brushes and the back of a strong mule. Once the Christians are right with God, once we’ve turned from our own prides and prejudices, and been transformed and anointed for the work we can finish the job, but not before. The time to repent, to learn, and to act is now.

Written by Robert Easter

Saturday, 26 September, 2009 at 21:21

The End of America?

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Wiley+Miller+Judgment+DayOkay, so you’re a Christian. Odds are if you’re reading this you’re an American, where 85% claim to be “saved.” There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of agreement on what we’re supposed to be saved from, or saved for, how we came to be saved, or why. But we’re saved. You can bet on it.

So a Christian society endorses pornography, abortion, drunkenness, adultery, divorce-for-convenience, euthanasia, and all kinds of sexual immorality in degrees unparalleled since the fall of Rome, and brags about its “liberty.” It even sits idly by as its leaders enact a new law giving pedophiles protected status that in the same stroke they denied their returning war veterans. Yet we indignantly wonder that other countries, despite lavish “foreign aid,” don’t love us unquestioningly. Do we even imagine that the fragrance of our religion doesn’t utterly gag the Almighty? Yet we’re so sure we’re all destined for eternal glory. We’re Christians, after all! Well, let’s not bet the farm on it. Or our old bug collection for that matter.

God had His witness in Sodom. “Righteous Lot” lived among the people as God’s representative, but his desire to do business compromised his life, and he nearly died in their judgment. His wife did not even survive. Nineveh was, if anything, worse even than Sodom, but one unwilling prophet appeared on the scene to proclaim, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed!” Nineveh turned to God, and He held off His judgment.

Is there hope for this country? Will the US survive? Every lesson from history seems to scream to the negative. America has in the past been a savior to the other nations, pouring military and humanitarian aid into many nations to defeat dictators, to fight hunger, to help in education. Lately this is being more and more off set by our role as the UN’s pet bulldog in areas like the Balkans and the Mid-East. The humanitarian aid often “misses” areas that are in the worst need, and the education is more about self-worship and greed than anything useful or even honest. We think of Sodom as being some city-wide, full-time, romp, but the descriptions we see in the Bible could as well be about any city in this country. Where are the prophets? For over sixty years our recognised “prophets” have been clucking their tongues like an indulgent grandmother about, “not having God’s best” when the Spirit would have them issue a call to repent from the sins that are destroying this nation, and each life in it, from the inside out.

These “prophets” tell us that a revival will come when God “sovereignly” decides to send one, so we sit calmly in our sinking boats, refusing to either bail or row, and assure ourselves that we are in God’s will. God’s will is not for the churches in America to founder and sink. He has given us everything we need to not only stay afloat but to rescue those drowning all around us, but we adjust our deck chairs and religiously mutter, “But that is God’s job!” The Church is not preaching repentance, is not preaching righteousness, but is telling those drowning all around them that such things are only invisible legal fictions in the courts of Heaven. Can this nation survive if no preachers are even calling it to receive the life God has been trying to offer it? Can this nation turn to God if it truly believes that such a turn is only a matter of putting the right face on things? Nineveh heard their prophet, turned, and lived. Sodom compromised their prophet, and corrupted his message. Is there hope for America, or is this encroaching “secularisation” merely the darkness approaching as God withdraws His light?

The answer is up to us. “Ask, and you will receive, seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened.” By His grace we are able. Let us not let it slip!

Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 24 May, 2009 at 9:24

What Gospel?

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Today we see a vast spread of what we call Christianity. Churches are springing up worldwide, largely influenced by the glut of “Good Christian Teaching” from the US. The problem, though, is seen in looking at the state of affairs in the US Church. Substance abuse, teen pregnancy, STDs and marriage breakdowns match if not outstrip the “sinners” who never darken a church door. The “Hardshell Baptist” has become a standard, and a bye-word, for American religion in general: Quick enough to state a position, but completely unable to give a reason for it which reflects in a godly life. The shell is there, and in good repair, but the yolk has been sucked out years ago, leaving what looks like a healthy egg, but neither food nor life inside.

Severe words? Yes indeed. Un-called-for? Then why do we have cities in the middle of the “Bible Belt” where churches outnumber filling stations, nearly 90% of the people report being “born again,” and the biggest two industries seem to be illegal drugs and prostitution? Why does the head of the Evangelical Alliance have to resign because of a queer sex scandal, the biggest “evangelists” on the media circle the wagons when asked about their finances, and one of their number pack a sports stadium while refusing to confess Christ as Savior on national television? Ranting? Yes. Called-for? What do you think? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 3 August, 2008 at 18:02

The Christian Life, or Prison Life?

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An illustration from yesterday’s sermon had a prisoner on death row, hopelessly awaiting his execution date to be set. The President shows up at his cell to offer him a full pardon. What does he do?

The text was Deuteronomy 11, where God is offering Israel a path of blessing, or of cursing. Abundance or famine, freedom or bondage. History, even the Hebrew Bible, tells us of their choices. Back in the sermon, the question was about whether the prisoner accepted the pardon or mocked the offer. If he were so foolish as to mock, we decided the President would not take it kindly. But let’s look a little closer at that picture, and how you and I might find ourselves playing a part. The pardon has been declared, and the prisoner sits in his cell, pardoned and free.

Many in the Church today might find ourselves sitting in just that cell. We have heard the sentence. “The wages for sin is death.” Everything we see is witness to the fact that we are guilty, and that we cannot make good the debt we have accrued against ourselves. But we have also heard the offer. Full pardon, yes, and freedom- freedom from the penalty, and freedom from the power of sin!

“That can’t be!” we reply. “We’re all sinners- that’s just the way we are, isn’t it?” We have heard the offer of freedom, but we keep staring at the walls of the cell. This is where we live! Can we even imagine living anywhere else than in the realm of condemnation? We read Romans 7, just the way we’ve been taught to read it- assuming that the “wretched man that I am” passages are somehow “more true” than the next chapter, which says, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” and, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” In chapter 6, in the very part that says, “The wages of sin is death,” the main point of that passage was using that “wage” to contrast the gift of life and freedom that Christ offers as it says, “ being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Simply put, if we are still sinners, then we are still under condemnation for our sins. If we have the “gift of God” which is, “eternal life through Jesus,” then we are “free from sin,” and the deeds of the flesh have no more power over all who have received the Spirit of God. As we also read in Romans 8, if anyone is in Christ and, therefore, Christ in them, then the “body (the power of the physical and mental temptation to draw us into sin)” is dead, and it is no longer our lusts and desires that keep us going, but the Holy Spirit, Himself. So if we do sin, it is not because that is our nature, but we are going against our new, Blood-bought, nature and resisting the Holy Spirit Himself, to do so.

It is not that Christians sell themselves short when they call themselves “sinners.” It is not humility to say that one’s sinfulness is too big an obstacle for God to overcome, but it is selling God very short indeed. There is plenty of witness, throughout the Bible, that Christ came to save us from our sins. None at all, however, to allow for the impression that it is just the penalty that He died for. If we are saved, we are saved from our sins. If we are freed from the prison cell, it is no longer our home but a new home awaits us, “wherein dwelleth righteousness.” Let’s all leave that cell behind- There’s a world of daylight awaiting!

Written by Robert Easter

Monday, 2 June, 2008 at 15:23

Right Heart, Right Mind!

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One enduring fallacy from the 16th Century is that understanding God’s Revelation is all a matter of logic and reason. Some of the same people who are first to say, as Calvinists, that it is only by God’s grace that we are able to know or do what is right will also claim that a person can be in sin and still “do” good theology. To my own limited imagination that would be like saying that a chef with a good cookbook can serve wholesome food out of a filthy pot!

From the beginning of the Faith, the Church has had the principle that, “worship precedes theology.” First the Church Fathers would spend time in prayer, and unburden themselves of all anxieties and harmful lusts, and worship the Lord in the beauty of His holiness, and then they would approach the Scriptures. It is through this wisdom that they were able to answer the complex questions raised by gnostics, heretics, and newly-converted philosophers and provide the body of truth that the Church ever since has built on, even when we haven’t realised it!

When God judged Israel’s sins, as John the Baptist predicted, He struck at the root. When Jesus was teaching His disciples how to discern a false teacher, He told them to look at the fruit of his teaching. In any body of thought there is a root, and there is fruit. If the root is good, or corrupt, Jesus said, so will be the fruit. Now, there can be sound fruit found on an ailing tree, but even then the fruit might be a lot prettier on the outside. Even so, as teachers, we can dress up any old thing we find on the roadside and feed it to our congregations, but the shiny skin can mean anything from health, to polish, to poisonous waxes.

Now, Brother Preacher, let’s look at something: When we preach, there are two things we want to happen. We want the people to consider what we say in light of God’s own Revelation, and we want them to receive it into their hearts as something good, sound, and useful for their lives. Isn’t that right? But is that how we receive it from God, with open hearts to His Word, or do we collect insights from our own favourite sources?

It has been said that Calvin said, “Read the Bible to learn the doctrines of God;” but when he died, Beza preached, “Read the Bible to learn the doctrines of Calvin.” And so Melancthon with Luther, Bullinger with Zwingli, etc. Each reformer had his own following, and each following canonised its own reading of its founder’s views as infallible, and so there came rivalries and wars throughout Europe which caused many to turn from faith to a humanistic rationalism which in turn led to the French Revolution and Reign of Terror which in turn spawned the Russian Revolution, Maoism, Pol Pot, etc. Millions of people dead and enslaved, and the spark behind the whole blaze could well have been from people holding their leaders in the place reserved for the Holy Spirit!

The good news is all the better. As in Romans 5:15, “But not as the offense, so also is the free gift. For if through the offense of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many,” God’s grace is so much greater than our offenses that, though a slavish dedication to favorites led to so great loss, a disciple’s love for his Master’s voice can lead to even greater glory. How can this be? I don’t know. It’s not my question. But what is impossible with man is entirely possible with God, and it is God “with Whom we have to do.”

Written by Robert Easter

Tuesday, 18 December, 2007 at 21:46

Where is Your ID?

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Here’s something- Has God always been sovereign? Most folks would immediately answer, “But of course!” When we stop to think about it, while not diminishing one glimmer from His greatness, we find a bit of hitch. It works like this:

God is God, which means He has always been. The Universe, regardless of which data we look at, has not. If Sovereign means greater, then there would have to be a lesser for which the “sovereign” to be greater. Just a word game? Maybe not. As His creation, in His image (even if we don’t recognise it), our understanding of ourselves, of “life, the Universe, and everything,” hinges back on how we understand Him. Here’s a small example that has made a huge difference in the course of churches and nations over the past few hundred years, and has a huge impact today.

If God is not, first of all, sovereign, then what, first of all, is He? We could say that holiness fits the bill, bur only if we see holiness as that which pertains to God alone. Before Creation, though, what was there to be distinct from? John, “the Beloved.”​ wrote that, “God is love.” If God always has been (or, always is) then the love of the Father, or the Word, or the Spirit, Each for the Other, is from eternity. We know from two thousand years of revelation, worship, and study that Each Person is eternal, so the fact of that relationship is the oldest known fact about the One Who has always been. Just academic? Let’s find out:

In the first picture we have a “sovereign” God and a sinful human race. In view of God’s absolute sovereignty our sinful race is totally rebellious, depraved, helpless, and blind to all that is good or helpful. In order to prove His sovereignty even over sin, God chooses (something only He can do) to send the Word as a man and decree death on Him to give Himself a means by which to save a few humans, and to give Himself a Standard by which to damn the rest. Only those, and all of those, whom He chooses to save will be saved, and the rest will burn eternally to show the power of His wrath on those He chose not to rescue from their congenital condition. So the “Elect” respond to His salvation by acknowledging it was His doing that they are saved as members of a sovereignly-chosen class of sinners. Nothing we could do could affect that decision, and nothing we can do will affect its outcome. God is above all, and beyond all, we are all pitiful sinners, only forgiven.

In the second picture, God’s sovereignty is more about how we see Him than the defining word for His attitude toward us, or His decision about how to deal with us. We recognise God, first of all, as love. To be specific we would have to say, holy love. The point is that it is the total, giving, love, above all that we can but dream of, from the heart of the One Who cannot be tempted with evil. He is only good. When we see God’s motive for creation, and for redemption, as holy love rather than sovereignty, we find a picture not of judicial force but of reconciliation. God sees us, unable to make ourselves “good” except to our own minds, and takes pity on us. To declare us “righteous” without making us righteous would be a charade, but He sees that we need to be really made righteous in order to be reconciled to Him Who is the standard. He has shown us what it means to love, and set His love upon us, but being reconciled to Him means that His love lives in us, and through us, to complete the work, so marred by sin, of His image in us.

How does this happen? In His love, His Spirit is at work in all the world to convince sinners of their need for God, and enables them to do so. It is not that people are “not that bad,” so that we are showing our goodness in turning to Him, but that we are admitting to what He has shown us: Our need for Him as our only hope! He draws us to himself, and works in us to grow us up to be like Jesus, from the inside, out. No one is saved without having a say in the matter, and no one is lost without any responsibility in the matter. To the contrary, to the saved He opens every door to grow in His grace and to be made holy, in Hi s own likeness, by the very power of God acting in and through our lives as He teaches us to obey and follow. The model here is not simply the great King and the lowly servant, but the great King is so many other things to us as He calls us to approach Him- to be near Him, to belong to Him, and to be like Him. The difference is that, in the first picture we have God as a boatman motoring through a shipwreck cherry- picking among the drowning for reasons known only to Him; and the other He is seeking to save each one, showing each the reaching to each, and somehow giving each one the strength to grab the oar outreached. Each one saved is not merely stashed in the hold but empowered and employed in the work of bringing others onboard as well, and at the same time becoming like the Boatman through time spent with Him, and listening to His voice.

So what’s the key difference? Just what do we think God’s “Primary attribute” might be? Whether or not we actually have a free will? Whether it’s possible to fall out of the boat? Or how dearly God really loves us? All these are good for a discussion, but maybe it’s about the image of God (Imago Dei) on each of us. The Bible tells us that He made us, male and female, in His image. Then came sin, and the image was marred. We are free to consider whether the ID is marred or destroyed, but the fact that we are free to consider suggests some part of the ID is still there, or else that the Spirit is present to restore it in this life, and that restoring work is what it’s really all about.

Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 18 November, 2007 at 19:43