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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

Remarried, and Ordained?

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north_dakota_abandoned_farmhouse “..The Husband of One Wife”  An odd phrase, to our ears today. One husband to one wife, one wife to one husband, isn’t that the way it works? But the New Testament requires a candidate for Church office be that kind of husband. What does this mean?

In modern churches it is common for that phrase to mean that if a man has been divorced, or remarried, he is disqualified because he is either no longer the husband of the wife from whom he is divorced, or if remarried, then he is still actually the husband of two wives. Alimony could be a factor in this, but it is not. What is the source of this thinking?

During the monastic movement of the Middle Ages there was a strong trend toward a formalised sacramentalism. What this means is that, for instance, while being baptised is a sign of one’s having come to faith in Christ, “Formalism” would say that the sacrament of baptism causes the conversion. With this kind of thinking, reading a passage in which Jesus says, “What God has joined, let no man put asunder,” gives the idea that the marriage bond, that is, every marriage, is something mystically created by the will of God and is therefore more sacred to God than the lives of the people in that bond, and that it is impossible for that bond to be violated. One way of looking at it would be to suppose that at a wedding ceremony, after the vows (the covenant) have been repeated and witnessed before God and the Church and community, and the priest, rabbi, or minister says, “I now pronounce you man and wife. What God has joined, let no man put asunder,” that the second sentence anulls the vows and makes his own pronouncement the grounds for the marriage. It no longer matters that they have vowed to love, honor, cherish, and be faithful to one another. Those are the conditions of the agreement, but the sacramental statement has just made the marriage unconditional. If unconditional, then in effect each partner is allowed, even licensed, to break all the vows, to break, disgrace, and endanger one another, all the time their misdeeds having no effect on the “marriage.” After all- Marriage is a “sacrament.” The Bible says so, doesn’t it?

To offer an answer to this, we have to consider two things. First, we need to see that a sacrement, as an “outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace,” is an indication. It is not in itself the cause of anything. But how do we have the idea that Marriage is sacramental? We read in 1st Corinthians thp at the marriage relationship is a “musterion,” a puzzle or a revelation, which reflects the relationship between Christ and the Church. While the Greek New Testament called it, “musterion,” the Latin which the monks in Europe would use translated it as “sacramentum.” This was a fair translation in the 4th century when Jerome used it, but words do change their meaning over time, as reflected in the way in which the word shifted over the next 800 years from what could indicate a grace given to being the grace itself. In other words, God taught Paul that he could use the love between a husband and wife as an example (musterion) of Jesus’ love for the Church, and about a thousand years later that became the ground for so many mystically-minded celibate men to presume a kind of “sacramental” aura over each individual marriage which had nothing substantial to do with any marriage in particular. But did Jesus say that marriages could not be broken?

If that had been the case, then Jesus, Whom Christians know and experience as the Word, Incarnate, was contradicting himself. He had given instructions, through Moses, that a marriage could be terminated, for the sake of the wronged party, as a means of protection and for the continuation of the nation (“Be fruitful and multiply.”), and in His Sermon, He had said that, “not one jot or tittle (of the Law) will pass away until all things have been fulfilled.” Divorce, which was instituted in the Law as a “way of escape (2nd Corin. 5:17),” guaranteed the right to remarry, thus declaring the former covenant null, void, and unenforceable. The (former) husband of the first wife was free from that bond and could go on to build a family with another wife, with no disgrace, but rather with the support of the community. In his second marriage, he would still be, “the husband of one wife.” But what about the Corinthians, and the Church today?

The Greek culture had developed, according to Philo, largely from the Jewish wisdom brought there by the Diaspora from Babylon, or possibly from the Samaritan dispersion. Their understanding of divorce, then, was similar to Moses’. For someone to remain single was unnatural. Such a one was not upholding their civic duty to provide children for the next generation and might be taking an unhealthy interest in other’s mates. Why would someone want to remain single, anyway? If someone were divorced, it was in order to have the right to remarry at some point, and probably with little delay. What was Paul’s response?

In 1st Corin. 7 Paul was responding to a letter which had proposed that a celibate life was a good thing (v. 1). Indeed, he said, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (v. 2)” While he does spend some discussion in this chapter on the practical advantages of celibacy he then goes back (vv. 25- 28) to point out that, for betrothed or divorced, marriage is yet an acceptable choice. How should we understand this today?

In short, today we have a church culture which, because of a mistake by celibate mystics some 1,000 years back, puts divorced people in an undefined category somewhere between regular fellowship and irredeemable. Though they may have divorced as a last-ditch effort to save their lives or the lives of their children, they, being divorced, cannot be a regular part of the fellowship and, on the other hand, must surely never remarry! No Scripture supports this approach, though many reprove it. To make matters worse, if a candidate for ministry has a divorce in his past, and especially a remarriage, this same superstitious misreading of Scripture bars him from doing what God has called him to do, and so bars the Church from hearing the messenger God has sent. In a culture in which nearly everyone is affected in some way by divorce, the preacher most qualified to minister to such is the one preacher denied the opportunity to do so. It is hard to imagine the pain this kind of policy creates and prolongs; it is hard to imagine the number of called and qualified pastors whose ministries are cut short and destroyed; it is hard to imagine the number of people who are denied Gospel ministry; but most of all it is hard to imagine how God is glorified through such a confused sense of “obedience.”

Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 4 October, 2009 at 21:54

May the Divorced Remarry?

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divorce trauma3
This question has plagued people now for centuries. The consensus in many “Bible-believing churches (should this be redundant?)” is that Jesus said it was an absolute no-no because God has decreed that every marriage is forever, end of discussion. But is this the case?

Before going farther, there is no intent here to encourage anyone to take the marriage vows any less seriously. “Til death do us part” still means the same thing and, as many of us know, divorce can be even worse than death for those so-affected. If you are married, then unless your life is in real danger, that is, if at all possible, make it work, please! Many go running out that “back door” only to find themselves slammed through the brick wall on the other side of the doorway.

If Jesus said that divorce is a sin, and that those divorced must stay single, then we have an interpretation problem. In the Sermon on the Mount He had said that He would not be changing “one jot or one tittle” of the Law of Moses, but to fulfill it. As a body, it is “fulfilled” when every figure and prediction has come to pass. At present count, the 2/3 which covers the Second Coming and the Kingdom Age is yet to happen. The Law, then, including the parts in which God gave the statutes for divorce as well as the parts for honoring parents, respecting others’ property, and loving God with our all, are still in effect.

“Giving divorce?” Yes, before the Giving of the Law divorce did not exist. A man had all rights in the marriage, including to expect a deserted wife to wait for him indefinitely in case he wanted to come back in a few years and sell her and her children on the auction block. God, through Moses, changed this for His people. “For the hardness of your hearts it was given” Jesus said. To protect the injured party from continued neglect, abuse, or infidelity the Law allowed a clean break, with a certificate to show that person was free to remarry or, as Moses wrote it, “free to go where she will.” Marriage, even remarriage, was the norm because of God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” and the male-driven economy which made it nigh-to-impossible for a woman to strike out on her own. This would have been the exception, not the rule.

If we but recognise that Jesus is, Himself, the Word, the Logos, of God, then we see that for Him to change course with any detail of the Law would be for Him to contradict Himself as the Law-Giver. It was not His purpose to outlaw divorce, or any other detail of the Law. As much as it can hurt, and yes it can be about like an amputation, if the amputation takes years to complete and the anesthetic is in short supply. But like an amputation it is not done for cosmetic purposes unless one is either incredibly dense or psychotic, but to save a life. In like manner, for the Church to marginalise the divorced would be like a handicapped parking spot being open for all but amputees.

Is this the whole story? Not by a long shot. There is more- We have yet to touch on Jesus actual words on the subject, or the implications in the Church for leadership, or the charge given to modern pastors and leaders for dealing with the situation as it stands. But this is a good spot to stop for questions. What’s yours?

Written by Robert Easter

Wednesday, 9 September, 2009 at 20:21

Pearls Big Enough to Walk Through!

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[Picking up from “Eternal Candyland’ (below):]
We read in Acts that Paul’s gospel was that “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” A pearl only comes from patiently dealing with trouble. A piece of grit gets up under a clam’s neck and troubles it, and the way the clam deals with the trouble produces something of lasting beauty and value. In order to get into that city, to see Christ, it will take perseverance. In fact, in we read that God, “will give eternal life to those who persist in doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves…” Jesus said, “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to (eternal) life, and those who find it are few.” So those that see those gates of pearl will be the ones that know what the pearl is all about.

At about this point, some will be asking if we’re talking about our own hard work saving us, or impressing God so much he’ll just have to let us in. Short answer- not even a little bit. Come back for the next installment to see what kind of road we’ve got for the journey!

Written by Robert Easter

Tuesday, 25 March, 2008 at 23:00

A Bargain at Any Price!

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We all know what it is to play warfare in mock battle, that it means to imitate everything just as it is in war. ..everything exactly as in war, lacking only one thing . . . the danger.

So also it is with playing Christianity, that is, imitating Christian preaching in such a way that everything, absolutely everything is included in as deceptive a form as possible–only one thing is lacking . . . the danger.

[Søren Kierkegaard, Attack Upon Christendom, trans. Walter Lowrie (1944; reprint, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 180. Borrowed from

Where is the danger in Christianity? Is there any challenge? What is the hope? Some church people won’t even talk to others if those others talk like this. “They actually believe that there can be a danger!” they say. Did God send prophets to promise Israel a free ride to a candy-coated oblivion? Did Jesus bring such a message?

Jesus said if we want to win, we’ve got to learn to lose, to be the chief means to wash feet, and to find life means yielding our lives to Him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” So why do millions risk their lives in hostile countries to claim his name? Stay tuned!

[Painting, Crucifixion, Emile Nolde, 220.5 x 193.5 cm, Oil on Canvas, 1912]

Written by Robert Easter

Thursday, 20 March, 2008 at 19:53

The Best there Is!

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“I am the vine,” says Jesus, and proceeds to explain to His disciples that each of His followers is like so many branches growing from the one plant, nourished from the same root. A popular spin from that has been that vines don’t know anything about fences, so there is no need for “established religion.” That argument goes on to say that since “wherever two or three are gathered” Christ is there, then that is all there really is to “Church.”

This sounds great for its simplicity, but then there are two meanings for the word, “Simple,” aren’t there? Taking the second idea first, if “wherever two or three are gathered” is the Church then haven’t we traded the vine for a scattering of mushrooms? A vine is not so many bits of green here and there, with no relationship except with the root, or a gathering of green bits from here and there to form a vine. The root produces the vine, which grows branches which then grow tendrils and keep growing. We could go a lot farther into this picture, but the main point for today is that we are all connected (established) in Christ as so many parts of a living structure, supplying each other with that
grace which we ourselves are supplied by others. This brings in the ministries touched on in Ephesians 4 as well as Romans 12, &c.

As for the fences, the interesting part of that is a question: When have you seen a grape vine growing without some structure on which to climb? If we see such a thing, it is always a young vine, and without much fruit. A big, healthy, productive vine is a tended vine with a good trellis to support its branches. The vine Jesus was talking about was such a vine, with the Father Himself as the Vinedresser. Why would we want to paint ourselves as a wild vine, crawling through the weeds and thorns if God wants to prune and protect us?

In history, we started off with “established religion” as the Apostles and prophets, evangelists, and pastors labored together to nourish a single vine which withstood persecutions, heresies, and plagues for about a thousand years before suffering the first division (between the two ranking bishops, over what may yet be shown to have come primarIly of a language difference), and half another millennium before further divisions occurred. It may be argued that in nearly every schism the group leaving the larger body did so with great reluctance, and labored to prove itself to be, essentially, still part of that historical progression that is the “established” Church.

Roll the clock ahead a bit farther, and let Scholasticism gain its full growth and birth Humanism and Rationalism (yes, this is a simplified story!), and we see the coming of “movements” as diverse as Seventh-Day Adventism, Theosophy, Mormonism, Darbyism, and the “Watchtower.” The Christian “Establishment” now consists of thousands of separate groups, each telling the other, “I have no need of you,” while millions of people wander off into the void to be “churches” unto themselves.

We could follow this thinking to say that all Christians should therefore be members of the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches, or even that one must be be saved. Conditions as varied as human history and God’s grace would say otherwise. Then, what?

First, just as the vine to which Jesus compares us needs a frame to protect it from animals and rot, and to hold it separate from the other plants, the Church needs to grow on the framework He has provided us. Like it can be said that a vine has “generations” of growth from season to season, the truth, the spiritual DNA which defines our makeup as Christians, has been passed on to us from Christ, through our faithful (spiritual) ancestors. To be sure, there has been some lost and added, and so the need to find the “standard” as close to the root as possible so we can have some assurance that we are not just tied in to the latest religious fad to hijack that holy Name.

As well, we need to see that the vine really is distinct: Like a specialty grape compared with the thorns and weeds that grow around it. Just like the whole vineyard belongs to the vinedresser, so the world in general belongs to God: But just like the vine is uniquely his, the reason for his building the vineyard, so the Church is God’s peculiar possession, the object of His love and attention. To be His means to be holy: any other option is rebellion.

Do we end on a negative note? Not at all, because that holiness is not a “work of rightousness” that we have to perform, but a blessing He wants to give us, a miracle for Him to work in our lives. Just as salvation, the New Birth, enables us to love God from a redeemed heart, His plan is to cleanse and renew us so that we may live and grow in that love “without wrath and doubting.” Is this not the best there is?

Written by Robert Easter

Thursday, 31 January, 2008 at 18:30

Having a Celibation!

with 2 comments

A friend in college, a Christian girl from a “mainstream”
Pentecostal background, said one time that she was afraid the Lord
wanted to give her “the gift.” Her idea of a fulfilled life was a
husband in her bed and a house full of babies, and she did not
want to miss out.

She was talking about a part of 1st Corinthians that says,

For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath
his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I
say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they
abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is
better to marry than to burn. (ch. 7:7-9)

To tie up the story, after finishing college she did marry. Her friends
were upset at the way she was going about it, her groom’s best man and
ushers were trying, up to his walk to the altar, to dissuade him. A
visit to their home two years later showed her nursing and pregnant in a
cluttered apartment with a depressed, exhausted husband. Was this the
fulfillment she struggled for?

We tend to think that “celibate” people spend their lives fighting off
loneliness on one side and sexual desires on the other, all in an
attempt to “be good.” This makes about as much sense as painting
Christianity as a suffering lot of “fun-suckers.” What Jesus said, “I am
come that they might have life ..more abundantly,” was conditional, but
/He/ is the condition. Not marriage, or house, or cars, or indoor
plumbing. Paul later wrote that “Christ is our life,” and David wrote,
“In Thy presence is fullness of joy!”

Knowing God in Christ is a joyful, splendorous, thing. To
want to belong wholly to Him is the norm of Christian life. Would a
desire to be free of worldly distractions in order to better serve and
enjoy Him then be a sad and miserable existence? Never in a million
years! As hard as it may be for young people, and for anyone brought up
on Hollywood movies and sitcoms to comprehend, marriage is not the
summum bonum the “highest good.” God did not create us just so
we could make families, but rather so that we could be His family, and
if we even take a look at our own makeup, the drive for relationship and
intimacy that even marriage can’t quite meet, and our drive to know the
“Other” that no science can satisfy, we realise that we are made,
ultimately, for Him. There is not higher joy, no greater good, no more
intense pleasure!

Written by Robert Easter

Saturday, 29 December, 2007 at 11:37