Saturday, April 15, 2017

Politics and Religion: Is There a Right Side for Christians

20th century Christian author GK Chesterton


Put not your trust in princes. 
Wise words and yet we so seldom keep our skepticism intact when some smooth-tongued demagogue advances ideas we find attractive.  Recently my church has become more divided along political lines.  A recent article in Adventist Today remarked on how divided Adventists were on the issue of famed SDA neurosurgeon Ben Carson's 2016 candidacy for president and appeared to support efforts by Democrat progressives to "keep an eye on Carson."

Oddly enough the same folk who chided me for vocally supporting Carson, telling me Adventists were not supposed to get involved in politics, are posting one political article after another criticizing the new president and his policies and his cabinet picks - even though one of those picks was one of our own. I do not understand this in any other way than to assume that many of our magazine writers and a significant number of our influential SDA administrators and members have declared for the progressive left. If they have not, their writing and commentary certainly makes it sound that way.

So I don't get it. I sat in the same classes, the same Sabbath schools and heard the same sermons and attended the same evangelistic meetings. How does one get from all of that to progressivism?  Let me try and make my point with a little Q&A here.  Dividing the political spectrum into progressive left and conservative right, please tell me which side supports the following political goals. Remember, when I talk about the conservative right that does not mean TV evangelicals, most of whom lean to the left in their core beliefs. Okay, here we go:

POLITICS & RELIGION QUIZ:

Select conservative or liberal (progressive) as the political movement most likely to endorse the following policies:

1.  A single unified world government "with teeth" as proposed by Pope Benedict to be organized by church leaders, trade unions, industrial organizations and international political parties.
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

2.  A United Religions organization similar to the United Nations with the Pope as the logical head of the organization as proposed by Shimon Perez last year.
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

3. Signing a declaration ending the Protestant Reformation, resolution of all differences and reunification of the Christian Church under Roman Catholic leadership as proposed by Pope Francis.
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

4. Government in which individuals draw their rights from and serve the collective state rather than the state drawing its power from and serving the individual citizens as outlined in the US Constitution.
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

5. The utilization of fear of climate change, fear of big corporations, fear of not having healthcare, and fear of religion as the ultimate cause of all wars as a tool to rewrite the Constitution and impose a socialist state.
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

6.  Abolition of religion from all participation in the public square as proposed by the Freedom from Religion Coalition.
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

7. Increased regulation and government power to monitor suspect groups in opposition to the government and creation of a standing domestic army to be used to control the citizenry in the event of riots, civil disobedience or sedition as proposed by former President Obama.
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

8. Abolition of the Second Amendment and complete disarming of the citizenry.
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

9. The lobbying for and institution of Sunday closing laws as proposed by Pope Paul II and already enacted in European nations like Germany with full support of trade unions and progressive groups.
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

10. The deliberate collapsing of the US economy by overloading the welfare system in order to nationalize industry and gain control of economic organizations as outlined by Obama advisor Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward in their 1966 paper "The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty".
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

11. The use of techniques like unrestricted abortion and euthanasia of the elderly, disabled and sick to clean up the population of nonproductive members.
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

12. Control of the content of the curricula of local school districts by the federal government.
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

13. Free government day care for working mothers. Free government education at all levels.
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

14.  The end of personal ownership of land and property by individuals.
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

15. Guaranteed jobs, housing, food and utilities, funded by the government.
                 -  Conservative or Progressive

16. A cashless society in which the government controls whether you buy or sell (as one pundit put it, "It would virtually end crime because there would be no money to steal."

                 -  Conservative or Progressive


Scoring:

Ask yourself, if any of this creeps you out. If it doesn't, you must have slept through those evangelistic meetings, sermons, Bible classes and Sabbath schools. I know it looks like I rigged the quiz and I kinda did. Every single one of those proposed political goals I drew from a card-carrying progressive liberal. That doesn't mean Republicans won't participate in these kinds of shenanigans. Both parties are capable of serious corruption. It's just that, before you assume uncritically that liberalism is what Jesus would do, you might want to re-examine that notion a little more closely.

Just saying,

© 2017 by Tom King

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Response to "Appetizers and Affairs" in Spectrum



Courtney Ray, a female SDA pastor joined liberal feminists everywhere in piling up a mountain upon the molehill that was Mike Pence's declaration that he didn't do lunch or dinner meetings alone with female colleagues. In an article entitled "Appatizers and Affairs" in Spectrum Magazine, Pastor Ray complains that "This type of thinking impedes women’s ability for upward mobility."  She further warns of dire consequences. asking, "What if by some blessing from God unforeseen event, Donald Trump doesn't complete his entire term?"

Note the crossed out bit. She wants us to know that she believes that the death of the President of the United States would be the act of a beneficent God. It was at that point that Ms. Ray lost me and lost my respect. There is a definite growing segment of our church that holds "progressive" beliefs and sides completely with Democrats. These are the folk who believe that conservative Baptists will one day rise up and pass Sunday laws and send SDAs to jails. They completely ignore prophecies that state quite clearly that there will be a world church and world government with the power to compel people to obey its precepts. Neither of those things are supported by conservative Baptists.

I'm one of those evil conservatives and I beg to differ. The type of government I support would be small, with limited authority over anyone's individual freedom and religious liberty would be held sacrosanct. I don't support the idea, recently proposed by some religious leaders that we should have a United Religions, a sort of shadow United Nations with the pope as its natural leader. Progressives and Democrats do. I know. I've heard them. I know Catholics that are frightened by that idea given that a recent papal bull stated that we need a world government with teeth, organized by industrialists, international political parties, trade unions and church leaders.


Now that scares me.  Mike Pence making sure he's not alone with a woman in a restaurant so some news photographer can whip up a scandal, doesn't generate any fear in me at all. I think it's very wise for a man and a political figure to be careful about such things. One merely has to add a third person to the meeting and everything's hunky dory. Pence is being respectful to his wife by not exposing himself to potential attacks by the very people that are attacking him for his innocuous declaration of faithfulness to his wife.

While I as a private citizen might meet in a restaurant with a female colleague, were I, say a pastor or politician, I probably wouldn't without including, not a chaperone to make sure I control my hormones, but a witness in case someone chooses to turn an innocent meeting into a public scandal for their own purposes. I know of a conference president who lost his job because he accompanied a married woman on a flight to an East Coast clinic where her husband was undergoing cancer treatment. He was headed that way anyway and she was thoroughly traumatized. He did the Christian thing and opponents in the conference used the incident to imply he did something illicit. Just the hint of scandal wrecked his career.

My wife trusts me implicitly and I would never violate that trust. But I do avoid compromising situations as far as possible, even though it's highly unlikely that anyone in the media would ever bother to impugn my character over who I was seen with in public. This is not true for the vice-president.

Pastor Ray's very position as a pastor is ironically threatened by recent moves toward increased authoritarianism on the part of the General Conference administration, which now holds the power to decide whether or not she can work as a paid SDA pastor thanks to the women's ordination vote at the San Antonio GC. That decision is to the SDA church what Obamacare was to the United States - a transfer of power away from the local and state governments and from individuals (conference, unions and local congregations) to the federal authorities in Washington DC (the General Conference at Silver Springs).  It's ironic that I, a small government conservative, support Pastor Ray's ability to be a pastor and yet feel so strongly am at odds with her over her attitude toward Mike Pence. Pence is doing nothing more than being respectful of the reputation of women colleagues and of his own reputation in a world where nasty individuals would attack him with the slightest provocation should they think they could use some innocent lunch meeting to bring Mr. Pence down. Unfortunately, Pence's belief in smaller less powerful government is opposed to the progressive idea/myth of a big kindly government that makes everyone safe and well fed. This puts him in a camp Ms. Ray obviously finds in opposition to her own political views.

Mrs. Ray should logically support the principles Pence stands for in decreasing the authority of Washington over local affairs when the vote at GC rejected that very principle and took power from Unions, conferences and congregations to ordain whoever they feel God has called to ministry in their churches. Big government and big church have consistently led to disastrous results throughout history. There's evidence that God practically had to burn down Battle Creek in order to dislodge an increasingly powerful GC administration which Sister White herself criticized for exercising "kingly authority" as she called it. Ray doesn't seem to make that principled connection, however, steadfastly defending the media and liberal slant.

Ray further opines:

  • If he (Mike Pence) runs in 2020, he's already excluded the possibility of any female running mates. The POTUS and VP spend lots of unsupervised time together. So obviously, a female Vice President for a hypothetical President Pence would be categorically out of the question regardless of qualifications. Men who think like this inadvertently (and sometimes intentionally) block women's upward mobility because of their insecurities.
Ray is wrong, of course. The president and VP are never alone. There are secret service everywhere to protect them.  If Pence were to need a private meeting with a female colleague or world leader, he'd have no problem at all because he'd have secret service with him who could vouch for his behavior. Unlike progressive icon, Bill Clinton, he wouldn't have to invoke secrecy to shut up his Secret Service detail. They could talk all they wanted to and could bear witness under oath that nothing hinky happened.

Pence obviously spoke as a husband and father. None of the straw man arguments offered by Pastor Ray hold up under scrutiny. I am certain Sister White would have approved of the Vice-President's policy. She often counseled ministers and SDA men to avoid the appearance of evil. We live in an evil world let's face it. We're coming down to the end of it now. We as Christians do not advocate creating a human utopia here on this Earth that would allow us to throw off caution in favor of some feminist ideal of how things ought to be. In a sinful world. We must instead tread carefully. In the new Earth we can run around with whoever we want, have lunch with anyone anywhere and not have to worry about appearance of evil. It just won't come up. I applaud Vice President Pence. Given Trump's history of corruption, it's nice to see a little principle in the administrations. We might like to be able to have an innocent meeting with a friend of the opposite sex without consequences and we could were we in the New Earth and sin were a distant memory.

Here on the old Earth, not so much.
Sadly we shall always have to worry about appearances till we go home. The devil our adversary walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Therefore, women can't run around dressed provocatively. Men can't have long meetings alone with women (or vice versa). Scripture says we are not even allowed to provoke our children to wrath. Paul says we shouldn't exercise our freedom to eat what we want if it might cause a weaker brother to stumble. 


While I sympathize with Ms. Ray's desire to remove stumbling blocks to women's "upward mobility", we shouldn't just cut loose from all proprieties, no matter how antiquated they might seem if we then pay the cost in damage to our reputations and our influence for good.  That applies equally to pastors and politicians.

© 2017 by Tom King

Friday, March 31, 2017

Two More Articles on Unity in AW This Month



Got my copy of Adventist World today. It contained two more articles on church "unity" and "authority" of the leadership today. It saddens me that leadership feels it needs to remind us that they are in charge. 

The decision on women's ordination, unpopular in many parts of Adventism, that was made at last GC was made. End of story till next time. I know of no great wave of people storming out of the churches over it. I know of no mass renunciation of memberships. It seems we got through it and got on with it, save for a few vocal critics, whom AW editor Bill Knott has suggested in one editorial that we marginalize.

I fail to see the good in beating the proverbial dead horse. Flogging the issue does more harm than good, I think. If they want us to get on with the true mission of the church, should not the leadership be the first ones to do so. I mean they are supposed to be leading after all. Hanging back at HQ telling us we have to follow their seems to send the wrong message, not to mention that it's counterproductive.

If you read the New Testament carefully, you will see that even some of the original church "leaders" had disagreements among themselves. Paul thought James and the other Jewish Christian leaders emphasized works too much. James seemed to think Paul was a little loosey-goosey on the subject of works. Peter, meanwhile, thought Paul was a little too deep in his writing for general consumption. John, on the other hand, simply loved his Lord and it was he who turned the focus back to Christ and His promise to return. So, by example of the original leaders of the Christian church, we may not all agree on the finer points of theology, but we can disagree and still be one in Jesus.

I love my church but I think Satan is stirring up trouble amongst us. I'm sure he would prefer we were divided over some side issue rather than united in the work of saving souls.  And just observing from the sidelines, I think Old Scratch seems to be working with some success in keeping people on both sides of the aisle stirred up and at loggerheads over this whole thing.

And why would he not be stirring up the ideological purity debate?
It's working so well in Washington DC. I sometimes wonder whether the folks at Silver Springs have absorbed some of the same contentious spirit leaking out of nearby DC.

Christ is our king.
It seems to me that it should be a very short chain of command linking believers to their Lord. I figure if we serve him first and foremost, the rest of it will take care of itself. If we are focused on Christ and His soon coming, instead of who has authority over what, that we could finish up our business here on Earth and go on home.

© 2017 by Tom King

Saturday, March 4, 2017

"Revisiting Revelation" What are You Really Trying to Say?



A friend I like and respect recently posted a video from an outfit called "Revelation Revisited".
This group presents itself as a small group of Seventh-day Adventist laymen that have been studying the prophecies of the Book of Revelation for many years. Apparently in doing so they found the need to create a website from which to share their findings. There were only two names I could find on the website - one a Gary Parker who introduces one of their videos and a David C. whose email we may contact.

The point of this article is not to debunk the findings of this group of apparently loyal SDA laymen, but to simply state my reaction to the video's claims and its preconceived notions about SDA belief about prophecy.  The video quite frankly seems to seek to discredit the historicist's view of prophecy, whose beasts, horsemen, trumpets and churches have long been a fixture of SDA evangelists' prophetic repertoires. If you grew up among Adventists, you know about the Huns and Vandals and Visigoths, Berthea's capture of the pope in 1798 and the 2300 day prophecy and when it ended.

My trouble with RR's presentation is that it appears to throw out the baby with the bath. These lay students appear to believe that if the 7 seals, 7 trumpets and other things coming in groups of 7 in Revelation are post Time of Trouble (TofT), then the historical view of prophecy is incorrect.  They make an effective case that Ellen White even placed some of these symbolic events occurring during the events of the last days. I agree. I think she believed they were literal events that take place immediately prior to Christ's coming. However, the assumption by the narrator (I never heard him say who he was) seems to be that these prophecies must therefore be "eschatological" (a word which means related to the end times) and that the historical traditional SDA view of prophecy is wrong and should be discarded.  He gives several good reasons for this.

  1. He believes that the eschatological view, if accepted, will reduce fear of the time of trouble. He takes a Calvinist-flavored view that God has everything laid out and that what will be will be and we ought not worry about it. It's all covered. This he deems to be necessary since so many of us were frightened of the TofT by SDA evangelists when we were little. He does have a point about that, because before the late 60s/early 70s righteousness by faith revival in the church, far too many SDA preachers, lacking the handy ever-burning hell whip for frightening the saints into their seats enjoyed by their Baptist brothers in the pulpit, used scary stories of the Time of Trouble to frighten the saints into the baptistry. It was a mistake to do that and drove more kids out of the church than it kept in. That said, it does not follow that the historical view of prophecy is wrong.
  2. He believes that the eschatological view, if accepted, will reduce feelings of guilt for not having done enough to usher in Christ's coming. After all, God has set things so they will happen when He says so and there's nothing we can do about it. Given he is quoting Ellen White and charting how many times she mentions each verse in Revelation, I'm surprised he missed where she said if we'd done the work as we should have, Jesus would already have come. So some of this presentation offers an assumption not in evidence; namely that we cannot have a role in prophetic events or affect the course of history by our own choices and efforts.
  3. RR seems to believe adopting an eschatological view of prophecy will bring us more into line with other Christian thinkers and with some maverick SDA theologians leading us to "New Light". A few of these Adventist intellectuals have stepped off the ranch a little and some are offering their findings as "New Light", something RR thinks Sister White would have approved of. He claims that there is much problematic evidence showing that the historical events don't line up with the prophecies like SDAs say they do. That may well be. I can't say as I haven't heard detailed arguments that they don't. When I studied the historical interpretation of prophecy, I thought things lined up pretty well. If it doesn't seem to, well, history has never been entirely accurate, anyway, most of it having been written by those who won the wars and wore the crowns. So, this doesn't trouble me much.
Three things do trouble me about this presentation and bring up three questions I want to ask, just as a way to slow down this big rush to New Lightville.
  1. Question:  Why do we have to toss out the historical prophetic model in order to accept the eschatological (events all happen in the future and are literal)?  I was always taught that the prophecies pointed at past events and at future events around the Second Coming. I was taught the prophecies were parallel applying to both. I learned by reading the book of Daniel that prophetic scripture DOES use symbolic images like the image with the head of gold, the Lion, the Leopard, the Dragon and the toes. Remember, the prophecies were about the future when they were written down. It would seem to me that God might have had two parallel purposes for the same prophetic symbolism. 
  2. Question:  Doesn't declaring Revelation "eschatological" move all of this sort of prophecy safely to the end of times and avoid all that messy guilt over behaviors the church engaged in over the centuries from then to now?  Does it not fall in with the counter-reformation teaching that the anti-christ was someone at the end of time (and not the pope) and the Jesuit fiction that parts of prophecy were cut off and safely shifted to the end times like our good friends over at the "Left Behind" ministries believe?
  3. Question:  Could it be possible that God intended Revelation to be read and understood as it was by the historical interpreters of the Protestant Reformation and the Great Awakening and also by us at the end of time?  What if they did read it right as a message for their time and not something to be put aside? It certainly accomplished that purpose. I mean would there have been a worldwide revival had not people had the assurance that events were proceeding throughout history as God said they would? Perhaps God intended for the groups-of-7 prophecies to light a fire under Christendom at that time in preparation for the post-1844 run up to Jesus' Coming and the founding of the Adventist church with its special message to the world. Is there any reason the Great Lisbon Earthquake and the massive New England meteor shower, for instance, could not have been correct for that time AND be predictive of some future massive quake and meteor shower occurring around the time of the Second Coming itself. 
I suspect God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent enough to pull that off. To assume God could not have accomplished two purposes with a single symbolic prophecy is, I think, a dangerous under-estimation of His power.

Just one man's opinion.

© 2017 by Tom King

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Knowing the Answers Before Asking the Questions



  • In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.     -- Genesis 1: 1-2
Notice something here. It is at this point, after the creation of the heavens and the Earth that God begins the creation of life on the Earth. Day and night is a phenomenon of planetary rotation. You need a planet first before there can be day or night. Earth, it seems from the text, was already here when God lit up the solar system At this time the Earth was formless and empty, but it was here. 
We know that other texts of Scripture suggest that heaven, angels and the universe existed before the first day of creation. It makes sense that the creation story begins with the sun being fired up and the planets rotated. Planetary rotation and a sizable moon were essential for the maintenance of future life upon this particular planet.

The Creation story tells us that God created the atmosphere on the second day and divided the waters below from the waters above
. Not sure what the waters above were, but perhaps there was some sort of protective cloud cover over the Earth in preparation for the creation of the sea and plant life on the third day. On the fourth day the sun, moon and stars appear in the heavens. Whatever waters were above the earth were apparently pulled back or significantly reduced on the fourth day. Whether the stars and planets were revealed when the "waters above" were pulled back or actually created all at once is a little ambiguous to me. God might already have done the planets on the first day or even prior to the first day without conflicting with the meaning of this text given how it reads. The creation of the sun and moon on the fourth day kind of conflicts anyway with the logical progression of events from the first day where both light and the day/night cycle were created to the fourth day. Without a sun, there's no day and night cycle and more importantly, no heat. A water-veiled sky solves that problem by blocking vision of the sky from the Earth and holding in heat during the third day while God covers Earth with plant life. If the skies were revealed as the waters above were pulled back on the fourth day, then it fits the rest of the narrative without entirely violating the text. It's a possibility at any rate. 


At the beginning of day five, all else that was needed was for God to create life from the materials he had placed upon the Earth. He'd already raised continents, filled the seas, and planted the earth. On day five and six he scattered animal life across the planet. What God has revealed to us through Scripture is a relatively scant chronology of the process. What we have learned through science informs us of a tiny fraction more about our world that suggest the sequence is plausible.  The apostle Paul says, "Now we see through a glass darkly. That applies not only to our religion, but also to our science. As limited as our science is, we don't always get things right. Scientists' guesses are often mistaken because their initial assumptions are so often flawed. Phlogiston, the ether and spontaneous generation were all cutting edge theories once.


The point is that the Creation story is plausible and can be seen as such based on what we know and are learning from science. Unless we try to press more onto the text as it is in Genesis 1 than it tells us, science can reeal much about our Creator. He is seen in His creation. We need to be careful, though, when we try to extrapolate a lot of hard and fast details from the Scriptures than are actually there in the text. Those who demand that their ideas must be so or else God is not real, set themselves and others up to be in opposition to even their fellow Christians. God will not be changed to suit your idea of Him. It's supposed to be the other way around anyway. Getting to know God is supposed to change you - for the better. If that's not happening, you should probably work on that whole relationship thing with God.

God left out a lot of details about the big issues in the universe, painting us only a broad picture. We know that He is the one responsible for creating all there is in the universe. He does not tell us whether angels used swords or bazookas during the war in heaven, only that there was such a conflict. He gives us exciting little hints about what heaven is like, but Scripture includes no day-in-eternal-life detailed narrative.  We have enough to understand who our Father is and what waits ahead for us, but as one church founder put it, "God always leaves us hooks upon which to hang our doubts." Why? Because Earth is a laboratory where Children of God are made and shaped for eternity. God wants us to do right BECAUSE it is right, and not in order to win some reward. Those are the only kinds of folk who will want to live forever anyway. The rest will not know God nor will He know them.


Sometimes, science gives us tantalizing hints that reveal the work of the Almighty in his creation. We have recently learned, for instance that, rather than the expansion of the universe slowing down as expected in the original Big Bang Theory, the expansion in fact, speeding up. And the really exciting thing they discovered is that the speed of expansion is not so slow that it will allow the planets and starts to fall back in upon themselves and not so fast that it tears the delicately balanced star systems apart. Instead it is expanding at a speed which, like Baby Bear's porridge, is "just right".  Kind of like somebody is carefully pushing the stars and planets and galaxies apart at a rate that takes into account the design specifications of the Universe. That universe is so custome tailored for life as we know it here on Earth that noted physicist, Freeman Dyson once remarked that it "looks like the universe knew we were coming." Christians need not wonder who is responsible for that.

Einstein, offers another glimpse into something that Scripture calls the "beginning" and "end" of time. According to the theory of relativity, the march of time is very much tied to the speed at which an object is moving in space relative to other objects. For different objects in the cosmos, time moves at a different rate. Time, says Albert, moves differently for any two objects moving at different speeds relative to each other. Thus, those of us who are taken off the Earth at the Second Coming, say, would see Earth time ending for us and we will experience time differently from there on. Were we gone 10 years traveling at hyperlight speeds to reach Heaven proper, we could very well return a thousand years later (Earth time) to rebuild and repopulate a New Earth after a only a relatively short sojourn in Heaven.  Time with relation to Earth effectively would end for us as soon as we left, because we would be disconnected from the planet's time stream. 



Science is providing all sorts of hints about our very interesting planet and the universe through which it travels. Some of the theories that scientists and religionists put out there are more the product of wishful thinking than of cool-headed logic, but that's to be expected, especially if a scientist approaches his research with the preconceived notion that God cannot possibly exist. Preconceptions can also be tricky among Christians, especially when we approach our study of Scripture with preconceptions that may not be correct. Some very respected theologians get much about God's character wrong because they go into their study convinced that an ever-burning Hell is real, the soul is immortal and that Sunday worship is authorized by Christ. It's to be expected if a theologian presupposes that God is an angry deity who gets off on torturing naughty human beings that he or she might stumble over many parts of Scripture.

I think our only safe assumptions as Christians are (1) that God is love and (2) that He loves us like a parent loves a child and wants the best for us. From there we are speculating about who God is, based on the evidence that comes to hand. We are not a terribly objective bunch of creatures, but then without some talent for subjectivity, we could never learn to ride a bike or throw a ball. We walk a delicate balance between logic and emotion, both of which faculties can be trained, but neither of which can be relied upon in isolation from one another.

The great danger and the one that I think Satan is using to divide and conquer the church, is the tendency we have to engage in attacking others who do not share your exact interpretation of the Bible. And when I say "church" I mean both the Adventist denomination and the Church universal which includes all Christians who sincerely seek to know Christ and to follow him to the best of their ability. As Adventists we have always been students of Scripture. As such we all do not agree on everything all the time. We've had multiple Bible conferences where SDA theologians have investigated the issue of women's ordination, but as evidenced by the recent row over women's ordination, we still do not all agree and the disagreement threatens to fracture the church in some parts of the world and among some groups of Adventists.  What I speculated about Creation above is an example. This is what makes sense to me, but some people would have me excommunicated, exorcised and cast into outer darkness for even suggesting such things. Because they hold fast to a more mystical view of Creation that takes no "false" science into account, anything less than God waving his magic wand and things popping into existence is heresy. I'm not even talking time frame here, just simply how Creation might have worked out given what we know about planetary science, biology and even grammar and word meaning within the text.

All I'm saying here is that we stand upon the shores of a mighty universe with mysteries abounding that we will not solve in a hundred million years. It's impossibly arrogant to think that our best guesses are exactly accurate. I think one day we will know how things happen in the universe, or at least we'll be able to find out when we want to. And I'm looking forward to finding out. Won't it be fun to have that kind of time to investigate the mysteries of creation? 

One additional blessing we'll have in eternity is that we won't have to worry about people who think they already know the answers before they ask the questions demanding that you defer to their opinion.

© 2017 by Tom King


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Christians and Power – the Ancient Sin


David spares Saul though he himself had been
anointed King by Samuel.
Follow the money.

 There is an old principal that police detectives have learned when investigating crimes, especially white collar crimes, drug crimes or political crimes. If there is corruption going on, usually it's easiest to track it through money behind the corruption. Another old saw states that money is power and money truly does seem to be the most tangible form of power that there is.

There is a reason that tracing the flow of power leads you to the source of trouble. Like electricity is needed to power your radio or lights, power of the temporal sort is needed to support evil. Like electricity, temporal power can be useful, but it can also be dangerous when misused. It's also tempting.

The lust for power dates all the way back to Eden. In the Garden, the serpent first tempted Eve by offering her the power to “be like gods”.  Eve’s real sin was not that she was hungry and ate some fruit. Hers was not the sin of appetite. It was the lust for power and control over her own life and future. Rather than trusting God to care for her needs, Eve wanted the power that belonged to God. It doesn’t say why she wanted that power. That’s the great mystery, but the lust for power pretty much underpins every other sin. It is, in effect, the first sin of all.

And it’s still a problem today. Politicians will lie, manipulate and steal to achieve political power. Business people will lie, cheat, manipulate and steal to protect their fortunes. Sadly, even Christians fall victim to the lust for power. Most obviously, we see television preachers building massive monuments ostensibly to God, but no one is fooled as to whose power such edifices celebrate. Preachers live in massive homes, build theme parks and drive expensive cars. Bishops live in massive homes, fly all over the world, and collect some of the most expensive artwork in the world in jewel-encrusted cathedrals. But lest we think that our simpler, more modest churches and congregations are safe from the sin of lust for power, it takes a pass through a mere handful of stars to find congregations torn apart because one group or one person or faction decides they should be in control and should tell all the other members how they ought to worship, what they ought to wear or how they ought to behave.

The wonderful thing about being an Adventist church member is that we have no church tradition of authoritarianism. Adventists tend to believe that they are responsible, not to bishops, cardinals and priests, but to Christ alone. So what do we do when an elder or a wealthy member of your congregation begins throwing his weight around?  Is a zeal for the purity of the church even a sin? After all, those who “run the church” believe they are doing so for our own good and who are we to challenge leaders that are chosen by God?  Aren’t they given such authority by God?

Fortunately, we have plenty of examples in scripture and history to guide us. These stories demonstrate the proper way to respond to those who assume religious authority that rightly belongs only to Christ. In fact, some of the greatest leaders in scripture were individuals who did NOT want power in the first place. Moses protested that he wasn’t the man for the job, when God sent him to the Egyptians. Joseph didn’t seek power in Egypt; he just did the best he could, even when he wound up in prison. David refused to take power even though he’d been anointed King so long as the old King Saul was still alive. Time and time again, God chose reluctant leaders like Gideon to step up and take charge. These great leaders all had one thing in common – they weren’t interested in holding power. Elijah had no interest in a position of power in Ahab's kingdom. God told him to go deliver a message. Elijah knew what might happen if he did.

And yet among our congregations there are those who take upon themselves the authority of Christ, which does not belong to them. I once moved to a church in which one of these authoritarian cliques had pretty much seized political control of the church. The church became very stiff and stodgy. No pastor could make the masters of the church happy. The first time the pastor wasn’t compliant with the bosses, the Conference office got a visit and he was soon looking for another job. The church had developed a reputation as a career killer for pastors because of the political masters of the church. We were losing our children who were leaving the church as fast as they turned teenagers.

With the help of a wise Conference President and the parents of the upcoming generation of youth and the grandparents of those children, the congregation stood up to the good old boy leadership. Our pastor, who was under attack, hung on and when the problem folks got mad and boycotted the services, we replaced them on the boards and committees and by the time we got a new pastor and they returned, they no longer had power. The church they returned to was at peace, the youth were being made an active part of the services and new members were joining and old members were coming back. We even paid off the school building in just six weeks.

That church is now a plum congregation for pastors, we have a strong school and a very active younger generation who take one of the Sabbath services every week. The strife and unhappiness that once darkened the life of the church is gone. Some of the folk responsible couldn’t stand it and moved their membership elsewhere.

Those who lust for power cannot stand the pure atmosphere of selfless love, kindness and joy that comes from heaven. They are either changed by it of flee from it. An SDA congregation serves Christ, not the pastor or the head elder or the Conference President or the GC president. If we see our church congregations being bullied by individuals or groups who feel they have the right to give orders to others and to force others to comply with their edicts about how to run the church, we CAN stand up to them. Sometimes, as David demonstrated, all it takes is one person having the courage to stand for what is right, to do what is necessary, and then to step aside, lay down his sword and let God rule. Ellen White spoke about this and she had her own difficulty with people in authority. That was one of the reasons I suspect that the GC was so interested in shipping her off to Australia. She had a way of speaking truth to power, in exactly the same way the Old Testament prophets used to upset the kings and got themselves murdered for their trouble. To counter the lust for power within the church, Ellen White said this.
  • "The greatest want of the world is the want of men - men who will not be bought or sold; men who in their inmost souls are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall. 

Here at the end of the world, is it not time for Adventist men to stand strong for Christ and to resist any who would seize authority that belongs to Christ alone, especially in our local churches?  The local congregation is where the rubber meets the road for our faith and it is there that we introduce Christ to the world.

© 2017 by Tom King

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Born to Be Saved

 
 
We are each born knowing everything we need to know how to do in order to obey God. His children are born in his image. As babies, we are born already knowing how to love in the most immediate and instinctive way. We are born loving ourselves. If we need something, we demand that the little person we love above all gets what he or she wants. Love for ourselves is instinctive. So when Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to treat others as we want to be treated, we already know how to do that.
 
Love is not something beyond our understanding because first we loved ourselves. We need only attempt to love that which is outside ourselves the way God intended for us to do and God gives us the spiritual strength to go with it to make selfless love possible. Despite all our other flaws that may be overlaid upon our character, love is still there. The Golden Rule activates the love we already know how to give and turns it outward. It even feels right to tear down the flimsy walls built by sin and love someone besides ourselves. We do this because we are designed to love, not just ourselves, but everyone and everything else.
 
God's plan was a brilliant plan and as it turns out, a person has to work very hard to escape the inevitable attraction of being good. It feels so right to be good. The Ebenezer Scrooge story resonates with us because we all have been something of an angry sinner at one time or another and we have or may soon discover how wonderful and how right it feels to surrender our anger and hate and to drag out the love that God buried deep inside us at the very beginning and to give it some exercise.
 
How cool is that?

© 2017 by Tom King