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Now don’t run off on me!:) I am aware that terms like “morality”, “virtues” and “ethics” seem quite dry and archaic.  But I think that some of my readers that would initially tune me out here will find this post very encouraging and invigorating.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a classical historical work by Edward Gibbon that was been a foundational authority on the Roman Empire for the past few centuries.  It is certainly not an easy read, but it is full of priceless information about the long period of time that the Empire existed.  This work is important to Christians because it is during the reign of this empire that Christ lived, died and rose again.  It was during this empire that the early church grew rapidly and thrived.  It was eventually this empire that would adopt Christianity as the state religion under Constatine.  And when this empire collapsed in the West, it was Christainity that remained as the leader of the West in its institutionalized form as well as in its pastoral role.

In one part of this great work, Gibbon addresses the phenomenon of how the Church grew so rapidly in the first several centuries.  Gibbon gives five solid reasons.  For the sake of this post we will examine one, and address the others in later posts.  The one I want to focus on in this post is that the Church grew rapidly because of “The pure and austere morals of the Church” or as he puts it later on “The virtues of the first Christians.”

Gibbon points out that the early Christians “demonstrated their faith by his virtues.”  That is to say, someone outside the Church could pick out a Christian based upon their virtues, moral and ethical behavior.  Imagine that.  In a contemporary society when pastors are divorcing their husbands or wives; ministers are having adulterous affairs or skimming off the top of ministries to buy a Rolls Royce or expensive clothing; Christians are suing Christians at the drop of a hat and so on.  Yet, these early Christians put strong emphasis on the transforming power of God to cause a change in their behavior that they committed to maintaining.

When they repented, they expected a “reformation of manners.”  Good ethical and moral behavior was expected of them.  We see this taking place even in Paul’s letters to the church of Corinth.  In the words of one of my professors, Paul was basically saying in those letters, “Stop acting like that…true Christians don’t behave that way!”  A life of vice was not acceptable.  So much so, that when the “most abandoned sinners” observed this lifestyle, many were attracted to the faith and the possibility that they too could be changed into the image of Christ.  They observed that the “driving passion” of these Christians was a “perfect life”, that is a virtuous lifestyle free from malice and vice.  In fact, they were so concerned with living holy lives, that if they were guilty of anything they were “guilty of an excess of virtue.”  Some of those early Christians would read scripture and take things very literally and at times perhaps legalistically.

The pagan world looked at that early Church and although they might not understand why there was a change in their ethical behavior, they were amazed by it and often drawn to it.  This is recognized by historians like Gibbons, who often states that he as a historian is not interested in establishing theological truths but understanding and stating history.  Yet it is also recognized by external evidence by secular officials of Rome like Pliny the Younger.  While emperor Trajan was in power, Pliny wrote to him asking how he should deal with the people known as Christians in the mid to late second century.  It is a priceless document because in it Pliny states that besides the fact that the Christians refuse to worship Caeser as a god, they are law abiding, loving, and good citizens.  He attests to their moral fortitude.  In fact, the early Christians thought it very important to be blameless citizens, unless the laws interfered with the laws of God.

Further on in the Roman Empire, Justin the Apostate came to power.  Under his reign he attempted to reestablish paganism as the state religion.  However, he admitted that he had an enormous struggle.  The struggle was that even though he had estabished a pretty efficient system of bishops and officials to oversee the practices of this pagan religion, the Christians’ moral and ethical behaviors, as well as their endless acts of charity far outweighed anything the pagans could do.

Gibbon and many other scholars point to this as one of the main reasons why Christianity grew so quickly in the Roman Empire and throughout the world.  There is no doubt in my mind that the Church today needs to return to this.  The Church needs a moral, ethical, love revival.  The Church needs to stop apologizing for its high moral standards found in scripture and tradition and begin to live it out.  Part of why we do and don’t do the things we do is because God expects us to be holy and different than the world.  There should be a contrast that is markedly different about us.  So that when it comes to issues like pre-marital sex, drunkeness, violence, gossiping, bickering, oppressing, ridiculing etc–the Church should be pure and blameless.

Many unbelievers argue that they can be moral and ethical too without Christianity.  I argue that they do not have the longevity, pure motives, and complete ability to do so.  I argue that all you have to do is walk into a mall and see just how well they live out those so called morals by the way they treat each other.  I also argue that the morals and ethics they have are not solely intrinsic but they are running on the fumes of morality taught to our culture by Judeo-Christian inheritance.  Lastly, I argue that any ability they have to give the appearance of morality is based upon what the patristic fathers saw as a mere imprint of the image of God that they were originally created in.  That is to say, that their morality is based upon an inward conviction that God has installed to warn them of what is wrong and right.

The problem today is that the world looks at the Church and doesn’t see much of a difference.  People are not dumb, they know when we talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.  I argue that Christians through the power of the Holy Spirit have the ability to live moral and ethically pleasing lives before the Lord.  However, most Christians don’t even try.  We join churches (which are basically social clubs for many) take on the title of Christians, carry our Bibles, act special on Sundays and then lead worldly lives the rest of the week.  This is not good enough.  Paul would say, “That is not how Christians behave.”

 

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In the past week I have had several conversations with Christians about violence, particularly our involvement with it.  There are three possible scenarios that seem to surface during these conversations.  They are: self-defense, war, and capital punishment.  One of the conversations I had was with a friend of mine who I had already known is by no means a pacifist.  If anything he is the complete opposite.  So when he defends his position I am not surprised with the rhetoric he uses.  However, the second conversation was in the middle of a seminary class with a professor of mine.  As we discussed the Sinaitic Covenant and therefore the Law, I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought about all the death and violence God demands of his people. 

In Exod. 21:15 for instance, it says “Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.”  Now this law is followed by several more such commands.  It seems to me that this is not “an eye for an eye or tooth for tooth.”  This seems a bit too extreme.  Now my professor, to my surprise, is also by no means a pacifist and proudly claimed so in class.  In fact, I should set him and my buddy up for coffee so they can talk about their blood-lust.  Okay maybe that’s extreme but I can’t help but wonder why they are so proud of their stance on violence.

Let me summarize my professor’s argument.  In short, he said that the laws had the clause of death so that the people understood that obedience to God was a matter of life and death.  Secondly, he said that we could only sit and theorize about our role in violence as Christians because of those who went on before us and died for our freedom to do so.  Third, he has a hard time buying questions about violence in the bible when we live in a country that is so far removed from threats of violence but also watches violent movies and plays violent video games.  Fourth, he attempted to point out that Jesus was only one person of the trinity but also tried to point out how Jesus was not a pacifist.  His example of this was Jesus reaction to the tower of Siloam falling on people and killing them (Luke 13:4).

Here’s my response to such arguments which I shared in part with him during the class but also afterwards.  To the first point, I understand his thought about communicating the seriousness of obedience as a matter of life and death.  However, if God wants to punish and poor out wrath why doesn’t he do it himself instead of having those of us whom he has also commanded not to kill do it?  Why do we have to do the dirty work?  Maybe he figured this part out by the time he got to the invasions of Israel (722 B.C.) and of Judah (587 B.C.).  Instead of using the faithful remnant to exact judgment he used exterior forces such as the Assyrians and Babylonians.  I understand God’s sovereign right to punish the disobedient but as Christians are we still that tool of death?

To the second point, I told the professor that his answer sound s too America.  Although he uses this answer to honor those men who “sacrificed”, it doesn’t give us permission as Christians the right to partake in war and kill.  Is this how we are to spread the kingdom of God—by warfare?  I think our love affair with democracy muddies the water of our responsibility as Christians.  We are to be radically counter-cultural and just because our democratic government beats the war drum it doesn’t mean that it is God’s will for us to get in line.  If Jesus was so concerned about freedom and liberty from the world’s perspective, then why didn’t he lead a revolt against Rome?  I will tell you.  He didn’t lead a rebellion because he came to teach us that the answer to the oppression in the world is not to launch a war against evil by the means of carnal weapons against enemies of flesh and blood.  For Jesus, the kingdom of God was spread by living counter-culturally.  That means, doing the opposite of what the world expects, like “turn the other cheek.”  May I also add, “vengence is mine, I will repay (Romans 12:19; Heb. 10:30)”?

To the third point, playing Mortal Combat or Call of Duty is a tad bit different than actually picking up a stone and whipping it at the head of a woman who may or may not have been wrongly accused of adultery.  “Cast the first stone”?

Fourth, I think a person looking for the violence of Jesus is far more hard-pressed for evidence than the pacifist.  Though Jesus believed in the judgment of God, he by no means, anywhere, encouraged his disciples to partake in violence.  Even when you come to the violence in Revelation, it is only the two-prophets that will exact any sort of wrath (Rev. 11:5).  Yet this passage is so enigmatic that it is neither an explicit or implicit encouragement to do violence.  No, we are commanded to pray for or enemies and overcome evil with good (Matt. 5:43-48; Romans 12:21).

It may come as a shock, but I am not a pacifist, yet.  However, I am tired of Christians being so cold and arrogant to proudly say “can you tell I am not a pacifist” without a hint of humility or concern in their voice.  If I ever have to kill a man for threatening my family, I will do it reluctantly and with fear and trembling.  I would also be remorseful and grieved for the rest of my life over the matter.  If we are ever pressed into a situation of violence, I pray it will be with the utmost hesitancy as Dietrich Bonhoeffer was when he chose to resist Hitler.  Yet the responsible Christian must note, he resisted after deep contemplation and even then resisted with utmost humility.  There may be situations where we need to act quickly without the time to think.  However, the Christian should live a life of much contemplation in these areas so that our actions are not mindless.  Have the mind of Christ I pray.

Recently in my studies I have come acrossed the stories of high priest in Israel, especially in the second temple period.  I was sickened by these horrific stories.  The history of the high priesthood after the return of the exiles to Judea (due to the generous decree of Cyrus the Persian) in the mid-sixth century B.C. is one of avarice, waste, murder, violence, deception, bribery, black mail, and pure evil.  During the times of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid wrestling match for control over Judea, the high priesthood was a joke (except for a few HP, namely, Onias III).  The position was basically up for grabs for the most ambitious and soul-less person.  For a period under Antiochus III and Epiphanes, the HP was available to the highest bidder or he who was evil enough to murder the present HP. 

This sort of Godfather like reality continued well into the first revolt of the Jews against which led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Roman leader Titus in 70 A.D.  The HP was a financial and political puppet and puppeteer.  

As I read, I couldn’t help but recall the book written to the Hebrews.  The author describes Jesus as our great high priest.  I imagine that the audience who received this letter chuckled at this oxymoron.  “Really, a great  high priest?”  I coul imagine them saying.  “Does such a thing exist?”  Yet truly he is great because he stands in bold contrast to the disgusting institution that evil self-serving men made the high priesthood.  I for one have become so grateful for the true high priest, who can relate with our infirmities and identify with us.  Thank you Jesus for replacing that corruption with your incorruption!  Amen

At the risk of sounding arrogant and bitter about a particular issue, I am going to address an observation I experience frequently.  Yet let me establish from the get-go that this is not an issue of pride but of legitimate concern that I have.  I can only speak genuinely from my heart, knowing that others may misinterpret or prejudge what I mean.  Fortunately, I know others will be able to relate.

I would like to suggest that: When it comes to Christianity, most Christians like to talk but few submit to being taught.  In simpler terms: Christians are rather unteachable folks.  It is true that every Christian is a theologian, that is, every Christian is going to develope a systematic framework by which they structure and understand their faith.  However, this reality has been taken a bit too far by many if not most Christians.  When stating, “Every Christian is a theologian,”  many interpret this to mean, “My opinion, interpretation, and application is as valid and scriptural as any one else’s.”  How does this attitude play out in everyday life?  Usually, most Christians will do what they want according to their opinion without any input from scripture, pastors, teachers, deacons and shall I add–God.

“Where is this coming from?”, some may ask.  From typical everyday experiences.  Since I was a young boy I felt a calling on my life.  As time progressed I came to understand it is to be a teacher of biblical studies.  Now I would not consider myself a scholar or expert as such but much of my life is absorbed by studying, reading, praying, teaching, and being trained and educated toward this goal.  For this reason, many people come to me asking questions about the faith or the Bible.  They often ask for advice or just desire a conversation about God.  Although I welcome all of this, I have noticed that the majority of folks never get what they come for because they are too busy talking.  So the conversation ends and I am bewildered by the experience wondering, “What just happened?”

Now all the pastors, teachers and leaders in the church reading this are nodding their heads thinking, “Oh yeah, I know what you’re saying.”  Why?  Because we live in a culture of KNOW-IT-ALLS’.  In post-modernism where relativism reigns, everyone feels self-endowed to agree or disagree based upon if they like it or not.  If I were to say, “Divorce is a sin” there would be a mob of Christians (yup that’s right) who would be ready to stone me to death.  Yet few would ask what scripture says about divorce or even care to hear an explanation. 

Others come for advice on various issues in life, but this is usually how the conversation (for a lack of a better term…maybe monologue would be the best) goes: 1) Christian introduces topic; does not pause for response 2) Christian explains issue; does not pause for response 3) Christian explains what they have done and how they would do it differently; does not pause for response 4) Christian explains what they think scripture says about issue (many skip this step but the more pious go here and it’s typically their opinion with no other insight); does not pause for response 5) Christian explains what they are going to do; does not pause for response 6) Christian walks away.  I call this the “6-points if KNOW-IT-ALLISM.”

At this point I look and feel like a deer that almost got ran over by a semi.  You may laugh but this happens more often than not.  Now I welcome the fact that some people just need someone to listen and need to think it out themselves.  However, the majority of folks could use further advice and scriptural support that would go a long ways in assisting them.  What I have observed is that it is these very folks who usually do not get out of their issue and if they do they get the glory.

Others may ask a question about how archeology supports or relates to scripure.  Then they proceed to tell you everything they know about it and the conversation ends with them walking away or ending the phone conversation without receiving an answer or allowing input from the other end.  This is all like going to the doctor, telling him your symptoms, then telling him what you think and are going to do about it, walking out of the office and driving off.

I am concerned that if Christians are doing this to me and other leaders in the Church, they are doing this to God.  I know I have done it to God many times in the past and for many years.  Yet no one is going to become the person God wants them to be if this is where they stay.  Does your prayer life look like the “6-points of KNOW-IT-ALLISM” as mentioned above?  Are you unteachable?  I know that in comparison to most Christians I know a lot about the faith and scripture but I recoginize that I can learn from the simplist little child.  It is those like little children who know more about the faith than we give them credit for.  Yet those are the ones in the small percentage who are teachable.  “Be slow to speak yet quick to listen.”

I tend to frequent a blog (Cerulean Sanctum) that has been a blessing to me over the past couple of years.  As I work toward education in theology and biblical studies, the programs strongly encourage students to maintain their spiritual formation.  It is vital to do so because intellectualism can become the instant, sole and unhealthy goal if it is not paired with spirituality. 

I enjoy this particular blog because the author (Dan Edelen) causes me to do exactly that; come back to reality and look at reality spiritually and not just intellectually.  However, Dan seems to be going through some personal issues that has caused his postings to be less frequent.  I ask you to pray for him first of all, but also to read his latest blog that touched my heart but also saddened me.  What he  writes about is unfortunately an epidemic in much of the churh today.  That is, Christians can tend to be self-righteous critics who are often going about slamming each other rhetorically as though they are modern-day prophets.  They think it is their job to correct what they perceive as all the wrongs.  However, the attitude is often less in gentleness and love and more in harshness and malice.

The name of this latest posting is called: 

Angry Prophets, Reader Rebuke, and Simple Faith

and  I have linked it for your convenience.  Below I have also posted my response to him.  I do this not for the sake of drawing attention to me per se, but to intiate thoughts in you that I hope you will share. 

“Dan,

I praise God for you and your ministry because you are a voice of faith, reason, and wisdom. I am blessed most often by your wisdom. You are a profound observer of the world, as well as the church with most excellent critiques that make sense of this chaotic world. You, my friend, are able to put in eloquent words what many of us are feeling inside but can’t quite articulate as well. I urge you to “keep on keeping on.” I pray for you, that during this month of sabatical you are able to be re-energized and find peace.

As for the sad rhetoric of Paul Overall and the likes, I pity these folks for they have not found the absolute joy and love that comes from knowing Christ and his inspiring Word. I pray for Paul that he is able to set himself aside and take on Christ. I sense jealousy and bitterness more than the love of Christ. Sure, we will have to correct our brothers and sisters in the body at times, but it is always to be done in gentleness and love. That email possesses neither. It imposes more of an attitude of totalitarianism and self-righteousness that has invaded much of our Church.

You mentioned reading Jeremiah. Now as I am working on a Masters of Theology I always look back at one class for my undergrad that stands out to me over and against all the other Bible classes I have taken. The class was “The Prophets of Israel” but we mainly focused on Jeremiah. Though you are nothing like him in most ways (given that you don’t live in 7th-6th c Judea, with no family and a scribe of your own) there is a sense about your message that is indeed like him. You boldly confront the temple cult that has become more of an institution than a house for the presence of God (c.26). You are looking for the Spirit and not just the sacrifices and offerings of an idolatrous people (6:20). A Spirit that loves and yet fears God. A Spirit of unity yet not compromise. Although their may be many who oppose your Godly message like Hananiah did against Jeremiah (c.28), there are many of us (like the house of Shaphan; c.36) who heed the words you write and speak because we sense the Spirit in your words. We recognize his voice (John 10:4).

Thank you! You are a blessing!

Jeremy”

Have you ever been so at odds with someone that you find yourself making very stubborn, hard-headed decisions specifically to spite that individual?  To be honest, I have.  I have been so mad at a person that I have done things and reacted in ways that caused bigger headaches for me than the one I was trying to spite.  But you know, it felt so darn good at the moment.  Looking back I am embarrassed and ashamed at the immaturity in which I have handled myself at times.  Yuck!

The unfortunate thing is that I am not the only one who has done this.  The Church pews are filled with Christians who do it to their brothers and sisters often.  Growing up in the Church, I have observed that Christians can be the most vengeful and vile creatures that have ever walked the face of the earth.  How odd when our Lord has commanded us to love one another and that it is this very love that would set us APART from the world. 

I bring this topic up because today I read an article in a popular biblical archeology magazine.  The article mentioned that there are two horrid and ugly scaffolds that dangle oddly from the temple mount in Jerusalem.  There is one on the eastern wall and one on the western.  Why?  Because some years ago work had to be done on the walls because the stones in the wall were bulging out.  Why were they bulging?  Well it depends on who you ask.

If you ask the Jews they blame it on the Muslims who brought in a bull dozer some years ago to dig up the ground on the mount.  Well why shouldn’t they, they own the area up there?  They dug up the ground to put in underground mosques.  As they dug they dump much dirt and debris over into the Kidron Valley.  Carelessly they unearthed many archeological riches that were underground in what is known as “Solomon’s Stables.”  They discarded into the valley ancient pottery, vessels, a pillar, and an assortment of goods.  The Jews say that during this process they compromised the ground causing it to put added pressure on the walls.

If you ask the Muslims they blame the Jews, saying they somehow mischievously interrupted the structures so that they could cause an uproar and blame the Muslims.  Others say that it was from years of erosion, given the fact that their had been an earthquake and unusually heavy snowfall the same winter.

Regardless of who was to blame, neither party would allow the other to fix the damage because of pure bitterness and mistrust for each other.  So what did they agree to do a year after bickering?  They hired the Jordanians to do the job.  Well unfortunately the Jordanians did a shotty job and it looks horrible.  The new stone brick they used stands out like a sore thumb next to the old brick and they did nothing to blend it together so it would sort of flow.  To add insult to injury, they took off when the job was done (I use that term lightly), leaving the ugly scaffolds still suspended against the walls. 

Years later the scaffolds remain.  Why?  Because the Jews and the Muslims can’t agree to who should take the stupid things down.  Right now you are probably thinking what I’m thinking–WOW!

Yet miles away, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands a ladder that has been in the same position for 200 years.  Why?  Well that’s simple, because two conflicting schools of priests will not agree on who should move the thing. 

We may laugh but I would venture to guess that something of this nature is occurring in every church in America, not to mention the world.  Picture this, So-and-So not talking to Mrs. and Mr. Whatsdername because they sat in their pew one Sunday that they have been sitting in for the past 15 years.  Or how about a rotting steeple that’s ready to collapse because the Board of Trustees can’t agree if the extra money in the budget should fix that or by new hymnals for the sanctuary.  Or a shared parking lot in disrepair (causing a hazard to everyone) won’t get fixed because the Baptist Church can’t agree with the Methodist Church (or you fill in the denominational name) on whose turn it is to pave it.  Worse yet, the outreach program to the inner city gets cancelled because there was too much bickering amongst the church on if they should allow homosexuals into their church or not.

For whatever reason we snicker when it’s those Jews and Muslims shaking fists at each other or when those Protestants and Catholics are throwing rocks in Belfast, but when the light is shone on our silliness we squirm.  Yet these words of Paul come to my mind and stand in blinding contrast to our shallowness.  To the Corinthians in his first letter in chapter one he writes:

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose.  11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.

Then again in 3:1-4 he writes:

1 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human?

We see here from Paul’s letter that there was obviously division as silly as the ones mentioned above in the church of Corinth.  Paul’s message is that such division is according to the flesh.  Such fleshly attitudes and behaviors lead to our spiritual lack of growth.  As long as we get hung up on such things we will never be ready for the meat of the gospel. 

I pray that you and myself are able in all things to be humble in all circumstances and passionate about the unity of our family in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

The Digital World: Good, Bad or a Non-Issue for Christianity?

This article was written by a friend of mine.  He is a PhD Fellow at Regent University in Virginia in the field of communication.  I think my readers will find this article most intriguing.  Click on the title of the article above and it will link you to his site and the article.  Below I have posted my feelings on the issue.  Please feel free to comment on his site, I know he would greatly appreciate it.  In addition, I would very much enjoy to hear your responses (both to his article and my comment) here at “Jeremiah’s Trumpet” as well.   

“Mike this is such a thought provoking topic and mental exercise. By the way–great paper! I really think that the ethics of this age of digitalization is dependent on how the Church chooses to respond to it like all ages in Church history. Will we respond like we did in the age of Augustine and then Aquinis, often putting philosophy above scripture? Or how we responded in the modern era? Some of the church over-rationalized at the expense of faith while others ran and hid the light as it were under a haystack.

In this age of digitalization, will we run up the white flag of surrender and yield our ethics and message replacing Jesus with this new god? Will we over-digitalize the church, scripture, faith, and our Lord? Will we run and hide in a monastic commune somewhere wearing 1900’s clothing and only watching movies on Beta or VHS because new technology is evil (if you follow my satire)? I think all these responses are cowardice and unscriptural.

As always the Church is to engage the culture, being it’s conscience, and leading the way in using technology responsibly and ethically. We ought to be using the minds Christ gave us to explore and contemplate the dangers and abuses of digitalization and be teaching the flock to be responsible.

Obviously, the factors run very deep on this issue but I believe as always, if the Church is following the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit on these matters she will flourish. We need to be teaching the body of Christ that it can engage digitalization soberly while keeping up as Paul says in Romans on “the renewing of the mind.” We are aware of many of the issues at hand already and must educate our people so that they are not sucked into the black hole of “second life”, “facebook”, and endless searching. It is up to the Church through the guiding power of the Holy Spirit to alter the future of society and not become inept victims of it. (Sorry its wordy:)”

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