Same-sex marriage and the church

June 30, 2013

One of the fundamental themes in the apologetics of Francis A. Schaeffer is the way that radical new ideas influence society. In his earliest books, such as Escape from Reason, he argues that as a general rule, ideas begin in the academy (particularly in the humanities, such as philosophy), then work their way out into the arts and music, and spread into the general public. Finally, they come into the church.

This is the stage that has now been reached on the gay-rights front, particularly on the issue of same-sex marriage and benefits. Even 20 years ago, the idea of two men or two women actually marrying would have been practically unthinkable. Now, it is generally accepted by nearly everyone that same-sex marriage is a Good Thing, while opposing it is “homophobic.” Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decisions concerning the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 essentially repudiated the traditional view of marriage as backwards and bigoted. By contrast, the time between the Emancipation Proclamation and the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which prohibited discrimination based upon skin colour) was just over a century. And that is for a cause that virtually all rational people today accept as a great good! The rapidity with which same-sex rights have been accepted is almost preternatural. (In my opinion, this is primarily due to a full-court press by the primary agenda-setters in the public mind—the media and the entertainment industry, who speak with a nearly unanimous voice in favour of gay rights, something that would not necessarily have been true for previous generations.)

Now, advocacy for same-sex marriages is finding its way into the churches. I don’t mean merely the liberal churches, such as the United Church of Canada or the Episcopal Church, where no leftist cause célèbre ever went uncelebrated. We would expect that kind of thing from institutions who abandoned the faith for social activism ages ago. I mean evangelical churches, where the authority of God’s word is still supposedly held in high regard. The official position of my own church, for example, is that marriage is an exclusive covenant relationship between one man and one woman. It is enshrined in the statement of faith. Nonetheless, I know of a handful of people within the church who are no longer convinced that the bible teaches this. Maybe some of them never were truly convinced.

For anyone who claims to believe in the authority of Scripture, this is simply untenable.

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Wednesday cruci-fiction

March 27, 2013

There are two constants on the fundamentalist liturgical calendar. One occurs in late October, as Hallowe’en approaches: the Annunciation of the Evils of Trick-or-Treating. The other takes place in the spring: the Epiphany of Good Wednesday.

Yes, Good Wednesday: the belief that Jesus’ crucifixion had to take place on Wednesday, and not on Friday as tradition (read: Roman Catholic) has maintained.

I’ll grant this: These folks take the authority of the Bible seriously, unlike, arguably, the majority of Christmas and Easter Christians who come to church a couple times a year to assuage whatever guilt they have, and can’t be bothered to think these things through the other 363 days of the year. It seems to me, however, that the Wednesday crucifixion thing just doesn’t work, and I think a better case can be made for the traditional view.

Some years ago, the only people you would have seen making this kind of argument were from Sabbatarian sects, such as the Seventh-day Adventists or the various groups that grew out of Herbert W. Armstrong’s teachings. It’s clear why they would advocate for a Wednesday crucifixion: they want to undermine the foundations of Sunday worship in favour of their Sabbatarian theology. Christians gather together on Sunday because that was the day Jesus rose from the dead. I don’t see why any group of Sunday worshippers would want to copy their arguments, however; I guess it has something to do with a suspicion of all things Roman Catholic. Just because it’s traditional doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, and if our timeline of Holy Week is based more on some kind of “Romophobia” than exegesis, then we’ve started off on the wrong foot.

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Palm Sunday

March 24, 2013

Zechariah (along with Haggai and Malachi) is one of the three post-exilic prophets of the nation of Israel. He ministered to the nation beginning around 520 BC, during the reign of Darius I and about 10 years after Cyrus the Great had permitted some of the Jews to return to Palestine, under the leadership of Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua, and begin to rebuild the Temple.

Zechariah came from a Levite family, and may have been a priest himself. Certainly, his concern for his nation is pastoral. The present problems within the nation are the focus of his ministry: the continuing work on rebuilding the Temple, the integrity of the leadership, and the moral state of the nation as a whole.

However, Zechariah is also concerned with the future. God is working out his sovereign plan with Israel—its deliverance and restoration—in the present as the nation rebuilds. But his work continues into the future, prominently carried out by his chosen servant, the Messiah.

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They will look on him whom they have pierced

April 21, 2011

In Zechariah 12, the prophet has an oracle concerning a future invasion of Judah and Jerusalem. But, he says, the tables will be turned against Judah’s enemies: Jerusalem would be a “cup of staggering” (12:2) and Judah a “flaming torch among sheaves” (6): small, but it will consume the nations that surround it.

God is a warrior. He fights for Israel – saving Judah first because of their dependence on Jerusalem, and protecting Jerusalem itself. God’s power is such that Jerusalem’s weakest citizen will be, as it were, a warrior like David. And thus will God destroy the enemies of his chosen people.

And then, Zechariah says, God will pour out a grace upon them the like of which they have not seen, and Jerusalem and the house of David will “look on me, on him whom they have pierced,” and they will mourn, like one mourns over the death of a child (12:10). The sins of the nation are as if they have run God himself through with a spear. But even when they forgot him, he did not forget them, and he will grant them the grace of repentance.

Five hundred years later, the John witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. He saw his rabbi, whom he had followed for three years, run through by the spear of a Roman soldier. And John writes that Zechariah 12:10 was fulfilled in that act: “they will look on him whom they have pierced” (John 19:37). As he died, Jesus was looked upon by his kinsmen, his mother and her sister; and his friends, Mary Magdalene, John, and others who knew him and watched from a distance. Whether Jesus’ other disciples were present isn’t specifically said. It seems unlikely. Some of the rulers were th ere too, mocking Jesus and taunting him to save himself (Luke 23:35). Literally, he was looked upon by his fellow countrymen who pierced him. Some of them, like Joseph of Arimathea, looked upon him with penitence instead of scorn.

But this time of mourning has not yet come for the Jews, although a few of them have turned to Christ, along with untold Gentiles. This situation led Paul to ponder whether the promises of God had failed (Rom. 9:1-6) No, he concluded: some had obtained them, but the rest were hardened (Rom. 11:7), and because of their stubbornness God’s grace had come instead to the Gentiles for a time. But once the Gentiles have been brought into the Church, God’s mercy will come again to his people Israel (Rom. 11:25).

The time will come when all the families of Israel will look upon Jesus their Messiah and mourn for their sins. That time is not yet. It is, I pray, not far away.

Rejoice greatly!

April 17, 2011

The three post-exilic prophets – Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi – ministered to the people of Israel after their return from exile, while the rebuilding of Jerusalem (starting with the Temple) was under way. Their message was a call to repent from unrighteousness and religious complacency, and return to covenant faithfulness to their God – who, although they had forgotten him, still loved them and had not given up on them.

The message of Zechariah in particular is much fuller. He calls not merely for repentance and restoration in the present circumstance. Rather, he offers a prophetic glimpse into the future. Though through struggle, God’s purposes would be worked out, good would triumph over evil, and God would establish his Kingdom forever.

In chapter 10, Zechariah pronounces God’s judgment on the nations surrounding Israel and Judah: in particular, Syria, Phoenicia, and Philistia. It’s called “the burden of the word of the Lord,” but though the responsibility rests on Zechariah to deliver it, the message is so positive that it must be a joy to deliver. The nations that have oppressed God’s people – these seemingly powerful and indestructible kingdoms – are to be judged themselves. Jerusalem, on the other hand, will be protected: encamped all around, as it were, with God’s ever-watchful eye.

Thus, the prophet tells the children of Zion: Rejoice greatly! God has promised to protect Jerusalem and make his home there. In fact, he is coming now, marching toward Jerusalem from the north where he has conquered his foes.

This king is righteous: he will do justice, and the right will triumph. He is victorious, having been delivered from his enemies and prevailed over them.

More significantly, he is humble. Elsewhere, Zechariah describes the Messiah as God’s servant (3:8), a common messianic figure of speech, used most notably in Isaiah 40-55. He comes into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. In the Middle East, princes rode on horses, especially if they arrived as conquering heroes. In Israel, there was a prophetic aversion to war horses (see, for example, Isa. 31:1). A humble donkey was an appropriate mount, therefore, for a king who comes in peace.

Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, commemorating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It certainly doesn’t seem very triumphant, knowing that in a few short days, Jesus would be dead, crucified by his enemies. But when he arrived in Jerusalem, he was greeted as a returning hero. The multitudes paved the road with their cloaks and with palm fronds, and shouted “Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:8-10). At Jesus’ direction, his disciples had procured the use of a donkey colt to ride into the city. Matthew affirms that this took place to fulfill Zechariah 9:9:

This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, the foal of a beast of burden.'” (Matt. 21:4-5)

The Gospel writers, all of whom record this event, give the impression that procuring the donkey was a spontaneous thing. But I see no reason to doubt that Jesus had made the arrangements beforehand. He knew that the people of Jerusalem would be familiar with Zechariah, and understand the significance of his entry in this fashion. He was not merely fulfilling a prophecy by “coincidence”; he was openly declaring himself to be the anticipated messianic king.

Zechariah’s prophecy continues to say that the king would “speak peace to the nations” by defeating their chariot and war horses, thereby establishing universal rule (Zech. 9:10). It is ironic that the Prince of Peace, arriving in peace on the back of a donkey, will make global peace only by destroying the nations’ ability to make war.

We need only look to the news that continually comes from the Middle East to see that this part of Zechariah’s oracle has yet to come to pass. I do not believe that any human agency will ever reconcile those ancient enemies. They might, at best, facilitate a temporary truce. Nothing short of divine intervention will ever bring permanent peace to that or any region.

But there is another peace that the Prince of Peace brought to Jerusalem: not peace between nations, but peace between God and men. Christ’s triumphal entry was triumphal not merely because he entered the city in the fashion of a king. The atoning blood that he shed on his cross, a few days later, truly reconciles God with his people. Zechariah wrote that God would take away the abominations of Philistine pagan worship, and that a remnant of them would be like Israelites (Zech. 9:7). God’s salvation is not for Jews only, but for his chosen people in every tongue, tribe, and nation: Philistine and Jebusite, Jew and Gentile, Palestinian and Israeli. In Christ, all can be bound together as brothers.

Merry Christmas

December 25, 2009

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things were made through him,

and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life,

and the life was the light of men.

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light,

that all might believe through him.

He was not the light,

but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light,

which enlightens everyone,

was coming into the world.

He was in the world,

and the world was made through him,

yet the world did not know him.

He came to his own,

and his own people did not receive him.

But to all who did receive him,

who believed in his name,

he gave the right to become children of God,

who were born,

not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man,

but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,

and we have seen his glory,

glory as of the only Son from the Father,

full of grace and truth.

(John bore witness about him, and cried out,

“This was he of whom I said,

‘He who comes after me ranks before me,

because he was before me.'”)

And from his fullness we have all received,

grace upon grace.

For the law was given through Moses;

grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God;

the only God, who is at the Father’s side,

he has made him known.

(John 1:1-18 ESV)

No– no– notorious

September 12, 2009

I’ve said many times that I have somehow become the intellectual equivalent of the opposite of a “chick magnet.” That is, instead of naturally attracting supermodels or society’s most brilliant thinkers, I seem to naturally attract kooks, cranks, and assorted weirdos.

My previous post managed to attract no less than its subject: Periander A. Esplana, the author of the mathemagical “miracle” that supposedly proves the divine origin of the 1611 KJV, even though it doesn’t actually work with the 1611 KJV. And then the roof fell in. My blog is strictly small potatoes, so it’s rare that I get even a handful of comments on any one post. But my previous, as well as its counterpart on the backup blog on WordPress, have already garnered a total of 29 comments as of now – including further rants by Esplana himself. (Nothing really seems to bring out commenters like a KJV-only post. I figure they must be trolling Google Blog Search just to find something to get indignant about.)

Meanwhile, Esplana has also discovered the Bible Version Discussion Board where, posting as “sciencephilosophyreligion,” where he continues to hawk his math trivia. Not only that, but he has taken his rebuttals to posts on that forum, and for some reason thrown them into an ebook instead of posting them to the forum directly, as though putting his opinions into a PDF file makes them seem more legitimate.

Espana continually crows that no one can answer his “Bible Formula Challenge.” Of course, I do have an answer. It’s two words, in Latin:

non sequitur.

This phrase means does not follow: in other words, the argument doesn’t lead to the conclusion.

The letter count of the first and last verses of the Bible simply doesn’t matter. Is it a statistical curiosity? Sure. Is it an interesting bit of trivia that the letter and vowel counts of Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 22:21 sum up to the same count in 1 John 5:7? Sure, why not? But what Esplana and other math magicians fail to show is how this proves the divine origin of the KJV. Scripture itself never says that the proof of its divine origin lies in letter counts. God commands faith, but he doesn’t point to 18th-century typography as proof of his existence.

Before Esplana can convince me that letter counts are proof of the divine origin of the Word of God, he has to demonstrate that it’s proof of anything. On the contrary, it’s completely arbitrary, and I won’t let numerological nitwits like Gail Riplinger, Peter Ruckman, or Periander Espana bind my conscience contrary to the Word of God.