Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Temple, Incense, and the Mind

"And the Lord said to Moses, Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense, (of each there shall be a like weight). and make an incense, blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. You shall beat some if it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of the meeting, where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. And the incense you shall make according to its composition thereof:, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the Lord."- Exodus 30:34-37

I realize that many of my fellow believers find the idea of incense to be almost repulsive in church, owing to the fact that it is used in Roman Catholicism. As Scripture makes clear, the Roman Catholic Church didn't invent the idea of using incense in worship, but rather God ordered it Himself. I think there are a few reasons for this, which I'd like to explore a bit here. First, it is always a good thing to offer God all we have, all the blessings of creation, all the blessings of the human mind in worship and praise of Him. This would include money, food, our homes, land, and yes, incense. After all, we're simply the custodians of these blessings for a short time. With respect to incense in particular, it also appears to be an earthly reflection of a heavenly reality.

"..and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel."- Rev. 8:4

Another reason, which seems to be physiological and psychological, is that incense does have an impact on emotional states. A few studies have demonstrated that the scent molecules correspond to select receptor cells that line the olfactory epithelium. These scent molecules then activate the lining of nerve cells, triggering electrical impulses to the gustatory center (the place where taste is perceived), and the amygdala, the place where emotional memory is stored. It then goes on to impact other limbic areas of the human brain. When we smell something familiar, it usually triggers an emotional memory of a time and place. It can be either pleasant of sorrowful. Psychologists refer to this as "associative learning". If the emotional memory is a pleasurable one, we always associate that scent with that emotional state, even if unconsciously. Certain fragrances, mostly those taken from nature, such as those God commanded Moses to make an incense from, have an impact on our minds and bodies through the limbic system of the brain, which controls our heart rate, blood pressure, stress levels, etc. It is interesting to note that, of the five senses God created humanity with, only the limbic can have this impact. It is important because this is where our fears, anxieties, happiness, joy, etc. all come from. For the Israelites, going to the temple and being met with the scents from the Altar of Incense would have placed them in the frame of mind to worship the Lord. It would bring to mind their need for repentance, as well as to praise Him, give to Him of their goods, and to leave the temple with a renewed fervor for His ways. To me, this says God immersed the Israelites fully in worship of Him; as fully as a human possibly could be. They were immersed with all their senses, thoughts and emotions, as well as their bodies.

I know some are still afraid of incense because they associate it with eastern religion or "mysticism", but if God commanded it to be used in His worship, then our perceptions, as correct as they may be on a mundane level, do not reflect the mind of God on the matter. The difference is one of intention. Are you burning incense because you think it somehow makes you more holy, or brings you closer to God? That would be an error. If, however, you burn it to simply relax, it helps you be more studious in Scripture study, it is a psychological aid in your worship, or it helps you decompress and focus during prayer, then there is no sin involved. That's my take on it. I'm open to hearing yours.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Error of Cultural Relativism

The basic premise of Cultural Relativism is that morality and ethics are relative to the current culture. In fact, those who propose this philosophy take this to the next level by further stating that all moral beliefs are nothing more than "cultural norms". Euthanasia, for example, can be viewed as right or wrong only within the context of a given culture at a given time. If a culture legalizes the euthanasia of the elderly for the perceived greater good of a community, then it is morally acceptable to have the elderly euthanized. It could also be viewed as a moral good for the elderly to request such for the good of the community. In other words, whatever is legal is considered moral.

I would argue that simply observing a cultural norm is not evidence or proof that the observed action is moral or good. To make such a claim means that a culture could make any action moral simply be the power of legislation. Just because the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that it is okay to murder an unborn child does not make that action moral. Perhaps more to the point for the Cultural Relativist, we should point out the racial hygiene laws of National Socialist Germany. Under these laws many crimes were committed, yet if we accept the premise of Cultural Relativism, we cannot call these actions objectively evil or bad. They were simply laws that were seen as benefiting the community and culture of Germany at that time. This also means the Holocaust could not be viewed as an objective  moral evil. The Cultural Relativist is, if he is to be consistent in his philosophy, forced to accept such actions as moral for that time and place.

This also means that morality is ever changing. A thing that is moral today may be immoral tomorrow. This would mean that a culture would be proposing two opposing sentiments, and thus either one is wrong and the other right (and thus objective moral truth), or both are wrong, and objective moral truth is simply not yet realized by that culture. Indeed, the same could be said of two different cultures, each adhering to opposing views on a given moral issue. For example, if a culture practices the oppression of women, then that action is assumed to be right because that is what is happening naturally in the context of that culture. Any culture that opposes the oppression of women is merely expressing their unique morality, and not in possession of any objective standards. Perhaps this is one reason Leftists support and turn a blind eye to those Islamic cultures that commit atrocities against women, children, gays and Christians. It also explains the Leftist resistance to the preservation of any given culture, nation, borders, etc., since these things would simply be relative to time and influence and possess no objective value, and thus would naturally change. In their Cultural Marxist worldview (of which Cultural Relativism is a part) they simply view these crimes against humanity as a natural experience of those particular cultures with no objective moral implications whatsoever.

Cultural Relativism makes many assumptions that are clearly fallacious. In its failure to reasonably recognize universally objective morality, ethics and truth, it leads to the destruction of culture and the people in that culture. I think there is a spiritual dimension to this worldview conflict as well, since if objective truth, morals and ethics exist, then this in turn argues for the existence of an Absolute Source of these things-a moral law giver. For Christians, this moral law Giver is God. I suspect this is really what the Cultural Relativist wants to avoid, since they would then be accountable for their actions and attitudes both in this life and in the afterlife. This means that, like many other philosophies of our modern world, it is merely another component in the worldview war against God.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

What is Truth?

Churchill's comment on truth has proven itself to be accurate time and time again. He is reported to have said, "The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is." 

In fact, the very definition of truth finds itself under assault in our post-Modern culture. Instead of truth being an objective reality, it is now viewed as a subjective abstract, morphing into whatever each individual wants it to be at any given moment. It has no real substantive impact other than that which the individual chooses to give it. This is known as Relativism; the doctrine that there are no absolute truths whatsoever, and that truth claims are all relative to time, place, circumstance and individual. Thus one cannot make moral or ethical judgments, and cannot make any absolute truth claims. Of this, John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae:

"Freedom negates and destroys itself, and becomes a factor leading to the destruction of others, when it no longer recognizes and respects its essential link to the truth. When freedom, out of a desire to emancipate itself from all forms of tradition and authority, shuts out even the most obvious evidence of an objective and universal truth, which is the foundation of personal and social life, then the person ends up by no longer taking as the sole and indisputable point of reference for his own choices the truth about good and evil, but only his subjective and changeable opinion, or indeed, his selfish interest and whim."

Do we not see this today? While biological truth informs us there are two genders, post-Modern culture, under the sway of Relativism says otherwise. In 2021, the Telegraph 1 reports there will be 14 gender options on the national census. In 2014, Facebook updated its system to recognize 71 genders. Obvious evidences of biological science aside, Relativism wins the day. In fact, Relativism has caused such confusion regarding the very nature of reality that chronological "adults" have even identified as cats 2, and babies 3. Truth is clearly under assault and people are, as John Paul II wrote, living by their whims and desires- even if delusional. Unfortunately, we have entire generations who have no understanding at all of the objective nature of truth.

What is truth? A dictionary definition is "that which is in accordance with fact or reality." This simple definition undermines Relativism, since, if an idea or action must be predicated on fact or reality, then it cannot by definition be subjective. You can sincerely believe when you jump off the top of a skyscraper that gravity will have no effect on you, but the reality is, when you do, you're going to hit the concrete like a sack of mashed potatoes. Reality, the way things really are, doesn't conform to feelings or delusions. It often stands in stark contrast to these things. By way of demonstrating what truth is, allow me to share a few things that truth is not:

1. It isn't pragmatic, since some action that might be effective can still be wrong, or based on a falsehood.

2. It doesn't care about your feelings. Truth can be saddening, angering, disconcerting and worrying.

3. It isn't your good intentions. Good intentions can, and have been, very wrong and do harm as a result.

4. It isn't your sincere belief, because you can be sincerely wrong. (see example above)

5. It isn't "yours" or "mine", it simply is. It is transcendent and impartial while being absolute and objective.

Relativism is, then, self refuting. If indeed truth were relative, then the truth claim that truth is relative would itself be relative, which renders the very claim itself absolute rubbish, and only a fool or the mentally ill would base their life on it. As one author put it, when a Relativist says truth is relative, he's asking you not to believe him. I suggest we comply with that request.



1. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/a-nearly-complete-glossary-of-gender-identities-for-your-next-ce/
2. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/12127067/woman-says-she-is-a-cat-trapped-in-the-wrong-body.html
3. https://www.dailywire.com/news/7999/21-year-old-woman-lives-adult-baby-boyfriend-her-amanda-prestigiacomo

Sunday, January 13, 2019

You Don't Understand Discipleship

I've been very open about the fact that I believe modern Christianity has almost no understanding of biblical discipleship. The church seems to believe that all it takes is to pray a "sinner's prayer" and poof!- you're a disciple. This pedestrian approach to discipleship is likely one of the reasons we see so little emphasis on training new believers in things like how to study Scripture, what the basic beliefs of the faith actually are, and how to both live and defend that faith in everyday life. Instead, churches plug new converts into programs- and boy does the church specialize in programs! They get tossed into Wednesday night bible studies, Sunday schools, and the occasional prayer meeting and that's pretty much it. New believers are rarely taught the things necessary to survive in the world they live in, which is always challenging their new found faith, always militating against their continued growth in faith. And yet, we are stunned when someone falls away. We look in pity (a sort of self righteous way in which we can feign concern while ignoring our responsibility to the convert) on them, and shake our heads at the "backslider". The truth is, had we simply taken discipleship seriously-as seriously as the disciples of the first two centuries did- we would see far fewer of these stories of shipwrecked faith.

In the 1st century, Jews of Jesus' time took discipleship very seriously. Starting as children they learned to read and write in a school known as Bet Sefer. Along the way they memorized the entirety of the Pentateuch; the first five books of Moses. And think, all of that before the age of 14! Many of us struggle to memorize one verse a month, never mind the entire Pentateuch. If a student did well he was then able to attend Bet Talmud, where they memorized the rest of what we know as the Old Testament, as well as learned principles of interpretation and how to live the faith in practical ways. It was only the most gifted of students who could go beyond this and actually become disciples of an esteemed rabbi. They would approach the rabbi, ask to become  his discipleship, and would then be subject to a rigorous examination period to determine whether they had the intellectual capability, the requisite theological foundation, and the character to become a disciple. If they were accepted they could then follow the rabbi as his disciple. Discipleship was so intense they would imitate the rabbi in every way possible; eating what he ate, following his daily routine, dressing as he dressed, speaking as he spoke. It was total immersion in all that the rabbi taught and did. It wasn't as simple as a sinner's prayer. The Jews of that time had a saying: "May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi." 

Ray Vander Laan put it this way:

"At five years old [one is fit] for the Scripture, at ten years the Mishnah (oral Torah, interpretations) at thirteen for the fulfilling of the commandments, at fifteen the Talmud (making Rabbinic interpretations), at eighteen the bride-chamber, at twenty pursuing a vocation, at thirty for authority (able to teach others)This clearly describes the exceptional student, for very few would become teachers but indicates the centrality of Scripture in the education in Galilee. It is interesting to compare Jesus' life to this description. Though little is stated about his childhood we know that he "grew in wisdom" as a boy (Luke 2:52) and that he reached the "fulfilling of the commandments" indicated by ones first Passover at age twelve (Luke 2:41). He then learned a trade (Matt. 13:55, Mark 6:3) and spent time with John the Baptist (Luke 3:21; John 3:22-26) and began his ministry at -about thirty- (Luke 3:23). This parallels the Mishnah description quite closely. It certainly demands a closer look at the education process in Galilee. Schools were associated with the local synagogue in first century Galilee. Apparently each community would hire a teacher (respectfully called "rabbi") for the school. While this teacher was responsible for the education of the village he had no special authority in the synagogue itself. Children began their study at age 4-5 in Beth Sefer (elementary school). Most scholars believe both boys and girls attended the class in the synagogue. The teaching focused primarily on the Torah, emphasizing both reading and writing Scripture. Large portions were memorized and it is likely that many students knew the entire Torah by memory by the time this level of education was finished. At this point most students (and certainly the girls) stayed at home to help with the family and in the case of boys to learn the family trade. It is at this point that a boy would participate in his first Passover in Jerusalem (a ceremony that probably forms the background of today's bar mitzvah in orthodox Jewish families today.) Jesus' excellent questions for the teachers in the temple at his first Passover indicate the study he had done. The best students continued their study (while learning a trade) in Beth Midrash (secondary school) also taught by a rabbi of the community. Here they (along with the adults in the town) studied the prophets and the writings (3) in addition to Torah and began to learn the interpretations of the Oral Torah (4) to learn how to make their own applications and interpretations much like a catechism class might in some Churches today. Memorization continued to be important because most people did not have their own copy of the Scripture so they either had to know it by heart or go to the synagogue to consult the village scroll. Memory was enhanced by reciting aloud, a practice still widely used in Middle Eastern education both Jewish and Muslim. Constant repetition was considered to be an essential element of learning (5). A few (very few) of the most outstanding Beth Midrash students sought permission to study with a famous rabbi often leaving home to travel with him for a lengthy period of time. These students were called talmidim (talmid, s.) in Hebrew, which is translated disciple. There is much more to a talmid than what we call student. A student wants to know what the teacher knows for the grade, to complete the class or the degree or even out of respect for the teacher. A talmid wants to be like the teacher, that is to become what the teacher is. That meant that students were passionately devoted to their rabbi and noted everything he did or said. This meant the rabbi-talmid relationship was a very intense and personal system of education. As the rabbi lived and taught his understanding of the Scripture his students (talmidim) listened and watched and imitated so as to become like him. Eventually they would become teachers passing on a lifestyle to their talmidim."

Does this match anything we see in the church today? I'd say not. We have a very Western European, modernized, production-consumption approach to discipleship. That is, it has to be easy to claim, quick to grasp, and readily available to anyone, even those who simply refuse to do the necessary work it takes to be a disciple. Discipleship, while it is open to everyone who sincerely wants to take it up, isn't the egalitarian free for all the church has been foisting off on us. Perhaps it is a desire for quantity over quality. Perhaps a genuine lack of knowledge on the topic. One thing is for sure; we can say with a clear conscience to the modern church, "You don't understand discipleship."

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Transient Life vs. Maximal Life

I was thinking about the life of God in relation to the life of humanity and thought I'd share a few thoughts. The first question that came to mind was, can we actually comprehend God's Life? Is it at all possible to delve into such a topic in light of the infinite nature of God? I believe we can, at the very least, get a glimpse into the topic. We have to start with what we know about God. We do know that whatever we can say about God- He is intelligent, powerful, loving, just, merciful- He is all those things in absolute measure. In other words, he is the Absolute in all things; maximally powerful, intelligent, just, loving, merciful, etc. We can apply this philosophical "maximal property" idea to God's Life as well; something we don't often think about. The first step is changing our thinking about God's Being.

One person, answering the question, Is God a being or force, or something in between?, wrote:

"God" could be something like "Chi". There are religions that count God as a sort of force."

This isn't a fringe opinion either. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 32% of Americans believe God is some sort of force, or energy. Oddly, many believers, while claiming to have a relationship with God, think about Him in abstract ways, such as a mathematics problem. This is an error. God is not an abstract "thing". He is not a thing at all! He is a living, personal being. And since we know that God is Absolute in all His qualities, He is also the Absolute Living Being, who lives maximally. He experiences life fully. This militates against the vague and pagan New Age notion that God is a "force", somewhat akin to magnetism. As much as I know Star Wars is popular, the Force isn't real. The Church Fathers expressed it this way:

"God is not born, nor made. He is of an ever abiding nature without beginning and without end. He is immortal, perfect, and incomprehensible."- Aristides

"Our God did not begin in time."- Tatian

"What must be the condition of the Great Supreme Himself? Surely it must be that nothing is equal to Himself."- Tertullian

"He cannot be seen-He is brighter than light. Nor can He be grasped-He is purer than touch. He cannot be estimated, for He is greater than all perceptions. He is infinite and immense. His greatness is known to Himself alone. But our heart is too limited to understand Him...He who thinks he knows the magnitude of God is diminishing His magnitude."- Mark Minucius Felix

On the other hand, we, as contingent beings, experience life minimally. That is, our lives are limited to time, place and circumstance, and are experienced only moment to moment. This sort of transient experience of life is often why we feel sadness at the passing years, depression over lost opportunities of days gone by, and fear of the end of the rapidly passing days given us. Our sequential lives are minimal and less fulfilling. This is, of course, a result of the Fall of Man, since we were originally created without death, and thus had a share in God's maximal life. Perhaps there is a lasting memory of this in our DNA that causes us to yearn for "something more". We have the opportunity, through Jesus, to once again share in the divine life, a life of maximal property. This is the answer to the desire for something more, something better, and the antidote to transient existence. 

Just a few thoughts.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Early Church on War and Violence

Who can deny we live in a world that is always experiencing war somewhere? We're inundated with reports from far away war lands, complete with images of the most brutal savagery humanly possible. And yet, many who consider themselves disciples of Jesus will cheer on from the comfort of their family room or favorite pub as politicians rattle their sabers and threaten yet another violent conflict over issues that could be resolved in other ways. This brings up good questions. Can we as disciples of Jesus support war? Is it wrong for a disciple to support his country by participating in war? While there are a wide variety of opinions on this topic, if we look to the teachings of Jesus and the practices of the early church, the answer to this question is very clear. 

The Kingdom and the World
The focus of the gospel is the Kingdom of God. Jesus made a clear distinction between His kingdom and those kingdoms of this world. In addressing Pontius Pilate he said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight....." (John 18:36) Jesus didn't encourage His followers to fight, to strike out in an insurrection. He had no concern for the kingdoms of this world. His disciples are citizens of His kingdom- a divine, peaceful kingdom.

"It is not in war, but in peace that we are trained."- Irenaeus

The kingdoms of this world aren't divine in origin, godly in culture, nor peaceful in nature. Even in the United States, where we possess certain freedoms, we can't say this is a Christian or anything near a godly nation. Our government is corrupt, our culture degenerate, and our people increasingly immoral and aggressively anti-biblical. As we've seen, Leftists have made disciples a target of political and social persecution, dragging us into courts for living by our faith, while praising all things that work against it. It can therefore be difficult to live in a nation whose laws and values are inherently worldly while remaining faithful to the standards of God’s Kingdom. Are such worldly kingdoms really worth dying for?

For a disciple living in the United States, which affords us at least the idea of freedom of religion, it is easy to be influenced by and adopt many of the same principles as the surrounding culture. It is easy to fall into the cheering  crowds when a foreign "enemy" gets trounced by our military, all in the name of freedom and liberty. In reality, however, all governments are guilty of the same thing they attack others for. None has a moral high ground. And there is no biblical promise that any government anywhere will be what we would like it to be-not even the United States. 

As Jesus teaches in The Sermon on the Mount: 

"You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away." (Matthew 5:38-42) 

Disciples are called to a submission of our own will to that of God by embracing non-violence. This biblical concept of submission was not only foreign to ancient Israel, but is also foreign to modern Americans, whose nation is, like it or not, founded on rebellion. This teaching of non-violence was not conditional, but was commanded under all circumstances – no matter how evil the oppressor – even to the point of slavery.

"Servants, be subject to your Masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the unjust." (1 Peter 2:18). 

Love Your Enemy
We're not simply to be non-violent, but we have to love our enemies: 

"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:43-45)

Jesus isn't making this easy on us, but demands not only that we refuse to retaliate, but also to love and pray for those who abuse us. This leaves no room for vengeance or cheering on military operations at all.

The Apostle Paul elaborates on this: 

"Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. Therefore 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." (Romans 12:17-20) 

We are to be a people of peace.

"Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord." (Hebrews 12:14) 

While God expects us to be a people of peace, our culture values war, patriotism, and rebellion. Let's be honest, the beatitudes aren't pronounced on patriots, warmongers, and conquerors but on peacemakers, on whom is conferred the greatest blessing, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)

The only war disciples face and are encouraged to fight is a spiritual one.

"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." (Ephesians 6:10-13) 

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds." (II Corinthians 10:3-4) 

Just as the teachings of our Savior on the Law challenged and called Israel to higher standards, so His teachings on non-violence, peace, and loving enemies challenge us today. 

Isaiah's Prophecy
Jesus is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophesy:

"He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4). 

Writing on this verse, Tertullian tells us:

"Who else, therefore, does this prophecy apply to other than us? For we are fully taught by the new law, and therefore observe these practices....It changes the primitive ferocity of swords and lances to tranquility. It remodels the primitive execution of war upon the rivals and enemies of the Law into peaceful actions of plowing and cultivating the land."- Tertullian

Although God had permitted war in times past, the early Christians understood that it was God’s ultimate plan to do away with it and bring peace through Christ. This is fulfilled first in the lives of those who are His disciples. The early church carried on this Apostolic Tradition of non-violence. They didn't consider participating in war a "necessary evil" as many Christians do today. They understood what Paul wrote: 

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21) 

Some examples are in order:

"An enemy must be aided, so that he may not continue as an enemy. For by help, good feeling is compacted and enmity dissolved."- Clement of Alexandria

"If, then, we are commanded to love our enemies, whom have we to hate? If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become just as bad ourselves."- Tertullian

"The Christians does no harm, even to his enemy."-Tertullian

"God put his prohibition on every sort of man killing.."- Tertullian

My Patriotic Duty
As a former soldier and a present disciple, I think the most convincing argument against a Christian being in the military is the fact that you must fight against an innocent person. The men that fight are not the men that cause war. Furthermore, he may be a fellow Christian, which means you're murdering another disciple of Christ. Tertullian gives us the perspective of the early church:

"Now inquiry is made about the point of whether a believer may enter military service. The questions is also asked whether those in the military may be admitted into the faith-even the rank and file, who are not required to take part in sacrifices or capital punishments...A man cannot give his allegiance to two masters- God and Caesar. How will a Christian man participate in war? In fact, how will he serve even in peace without a sword? For the Lord has taken the sword away. It is also true that soldiers came to John the Baptist and received instructions for their conduct. It is also true that a centurion believed. Nevertheless, the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier."

Lactantius adds his voice.

"How can a man be just who hates, who despoils, who puts to death? Yet those who strive to be serviceable to their country, do all these things...When they speak of the "duties" relating to warfare, their speech pertains neither to justice nor true virtue."

Despite these strong beliefs, we don't have an excuse to neglect our duty to the government and leaders that God has put over us. Paul writes: 

"Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." (I Timothy 2:1-2) 

Our responsibility, our "patriotic duty", is to be "salt" and "light", and to pray for our nations and its leaders, not to cheer them on as they engage in violence.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Refraining From Communion?

I recently was made aware of a small group of Christians, of a wide variety of denominational backgrounds, who refuse to partake of the Eucharist due to perceived abuses in whatever church bodies they were associated with. For them, the apparent justification is the desire to not do so in an unworthy manner or in union with those who perhaps fall short of the behavior of an orthodox or sincere Christian. Is this a legitimate position for a disciple of Jesus Christ to hold? If not, why? In John 13:6-10, Jesus required the apostles to allow Him to wash their feet. Peter refused, since he didn't view himself worthy that his Master should wash his feet. Jesus gives him a gentle rebuke by telling him that, if he doesn't allow Jesus to do this, then Peter has no part of Him. Peter immediately relents, as indeed he should. One of the lessons here is this: what Jesus commands of us, we do. To refuse means we have no part of Him. In short, we're not His disciples. A refusal meets with the words of Jesus in Luke 6:46.

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord", and not do what I tell you?"

At the institution of the Lord's Supper (Eucharist), Jesus said, "..do this in remembrance of me." Jesus didn't give this sacrament for His own benefit, but for the believers. It is both a means of grace and, in the apostle Paul's words, "you solemnly proclaim the death of the Lord, until He shall come." (1 Corinthians 11:26) Announcing His death is a very public witness of several things:
  • It testifies that Jesus truly lived and died.
  • It testifies that He gave Himself for the sins of humanity.
  • It testifies that He has power over life and death, proving it by His resurrection.
  • It testifies that He is God.
  • It testifies of our own hope for resurrection.
  • It testifies that He will return.
  • It testifies that we are His disciples and citizens of the Kingdom of God.
A disciple cannot refuse communion on the grounds stated at the outset of this article. An abuse of a thing doesn't negate the proper use of that thing. If a church has done something to abuse others or blaspheme the Lord, or does not properly and reverently observe the Eucharist, then the disciple's responsibility is to find a church that does! A disciple cannot refuse to observe the Eucharist, since it was imposed on us by command of Christ Himself, and he made no provision for a protest movement. There is nothing in the gospel that says, "Do this in remembrance of me...unless a church messes it up and you decide nobody can observe it ever again." The absurdity of the position should be obvious. If one refuses to receive communion then he/she is not doing what the Lord told them, and logically has no part of Him. In short, they've ceased to be a disciple. Refusing to receive this sacrament at the hands of heretics is honorable, and no one can find fault with that, but this in no way absolves us of the responsibility to carry out the commands of our Savior.