Bearing My Great-Great-Grandfather’s Guilt

dark-bibleYesterday I tried to make the case that, as white Americans, we need to be sensitive to the discrimination and injustices that black Americans have suffered. Denying slavery, Jim Crow laws or racial profiling doesn’t ease tensions; it simply serves to confirm perceptions that we neither understand nor care to understand what black Americans have collectively endured.

The bulk of discrimination, sadly, was and is all too real. Contrary to popular opinion,  however, a percentage of the injustice seems to be their perception (possibly augmented by past experiences) rather than actual injury.

The two examples I cited yesterday underscore this point. The young man that I called “boy” projected racist motives onto my remark even though I had no way of knowing the connotation of what I’d said. He perceived the racial slur that most people mean, and therefore assumed that I was also making a racial slur.

Similarly, my then fiance’s comment that every black person in the south can point to a tree where one of their ancestors was lynched may have been hyperbole. Someone I respect sent me a Direct Message on Twitter after reading yesterday’s blog post, mathematically challenging the claim my ex made. Possibly, my ex had heard so many accounts of KKK lynchings that it certainly seemed like every black person in the south could point to a lynching tree.

Perception can often affect beliefs, and therefore magnify anger. From what I’ve read, this magnified anger came out at the MLK50 Conference last week in the form of demands that white American evangelicals adopt an attitude of continual repentance for the sins our ancestors committed against blacks.

My great-great-grandfather immigrated to the United States during the Irish Potato Famine, settling in Georgia. He was 16. Soon after, he fought in the Civil War with the Confederacy. For years, I struggled with guilt and embarrassment that he essentially fought to preserve the sin of slavery. I also felt guilty and embarrassed that my grandmother occasionally expressed racist sentiments.

Scripture, however, teaches that each person is accountable for his or her own sin, not for the sins of his or her predecessors.

14 “Now suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise: 15 he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife, 16 does not oppress anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 17 withholds his hand from iniquity, takes no interest or profit, obeys my rules, and walks in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live. ~~Ezekiel 18:14-17 (ESV)

If God doesn’t hold me responsible for the sins of my grandmother or my great-great-grandfather, why should anyone demand that I live in perpetual repentance for what these two did? If Christ’s blood completely atoned for my sin, why should anyone hold me responsible for sins that my ancestors committed — sins that have absolutely nothing to do with me?

The assertion that I must continually repent for sins that I didn’t commit goes directly against the Gospel. Jesus dealt with my sin at the cross. Only He knows whether or not my grandmother and great-great-grandfather had saving faith, so He will judge them accordingly. Yes, actions like theirs devastated American blacks, and the repercussions extend to our present time. But the guilt isn’t for me to own.

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When A White Woman Fears To Be Outspoken

Biblical UnityThis bout with writer’s block has nothing to do with a lack of ideas, but rather with a reluctance to write about the ideas I have. For instance,  last week’s MLK50 Conference, added to Beth Moore’s vague “repentance”  from racism a week earlier, have ignited my thoughts concerning the Social Gospel that some evangelicals embrace lately. Although I believe I should address these matters, I question whether or not I possess enough understanding of them to write a responsible essay.

Well, that’s only a partial truth. Yes, I’d like to do more research on the MLK50 Conference, since I don’t have first-hand knowledge of what the various speakers said. Reading reports on Twitter, even from reputable people that I trust isn’t responsible journalism, nor does it reflect Christian integrity. Just this morning, as a matter of fact, I read about the importance of guarding our words.

29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. ~~Ephesians 4:29-32 (ESV)

But my reticence goes deeper, to be perfectly honest. Now that the Social Gospel adherents have officially attached themselves to the hot potato issue of racism, there’s really no way a white woman can critique it without being accused of racism.

I could, I suppose, defend myself by telling you that my first fiance was black. During our engagement, we encountered more opposition from black people (including his pastor, who refused to acknowledge me) than from white people. Black women advised him to dump me and find a nice black girl. If that’s not racism, please tell me what is!

But my anecdotal evidence most likely wouldn’t convince anyone (and especially anyone on this current bandwagon) that I have valid reasons for challenging the Social Gospel. As far as evangelical social justice warriors are concerned, anything I write that raises questions about their efforts to end racism in the name of Jesus automatically brands me as a racist.

So I’m paralyzed. I do want to examine the Social Gospel from a Biblical perspective, primarily because I see a misplaced emphasis in their efforts. And I think, if this movement hadn’t lurched into the politically charged area of racism, I might have been able to write about it with confidence. But the MLK50  Confidence (and, to a lesser extent, Beth Moore’s “repentance” Tweets) have put me in a difficult position.

Perhaps I suffer from cowardice. Perhaps I should risk being misunderstood and maligned on this issue, just as I’ve risked it over other issues discussed in this blog. I won’t change the minds of evangelical social justice warriors anyway, but I might encourage others to put the focus back on Christ and His kingdom. After all, in His kingdom people of every race and ethnicity will join together in worshiping Him.

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Forgetful Evangelicals And The Entitlement Mentality

Glory Of The CrossI believe evangelicals of the 21st Century have by and large lost the sense that God has saved us for His honor and glory. As we’ve incorporated Charismatic teaching and psychological principles into our weakened version of Christianity, we’ve accepted the mistaken idea that God exists to heal our bodies, expand our bank accounts, make our marriages satisfying and remove all temptation from us. We conveniently forget why He calls us to Him in the first place.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ~~1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)

Anyone can distort the Bible into false promises of health, prosperity and your best life now, insisting that God wants us to be happy. But, even though the Lord is a good Father Who gives good gifts to His children, He doesn’t give those gifts to encourage self-indulgence. Just as He often blesses us, He also often disciplines us for the express purpose of leading us into holiness.

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. ~~Hebrews 12:7-11 (ESV)

We don’t generally gravitate to passages like this. From the Baby Boomers on, we increasingly view life as something designed to accommodate our desires and surround us with pleasure.

We’ve all seen angry rants on Facebook by people who deem their circumstances unfair and think their lives should be easier. Sadly, some of these rants come from professing Christians. Perhaps they’ve even come from you! And we allow ourselves to think that God tolerates our rants because our adverse circumstances offend Him as much as they offend us.

We forget, influenced by the entitlement mentality that saturates our culture, that God may actually decree our trials in order to address sin issues in us that hinder our growth towards holiness. Quite simply, we forget that God created us to glorify Him rather than to consume His blessings as if He owes us anything.

Listen, I write this post to myself as much as to anyone else. None of us particularly enjoys the Lord’s discipline, nor do we often hunger to be holy. We need constant reminding that God saved us, not for our personal fulfillment, but so that He could have a people who reflect His holiness.

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How To Combat Spiritual Erosion In 21st Century Churches

ancient-church-01Between November 1, 2016 and October 31, 2017, I devoted almost every Tuesday to blogging about the Protestant Reformation. Since October 31, I’ve said little about the matter, largely because the 500th anniversary had passed and everyone has moved on to other topics.

Admittedly, in a culture that finds history boring, trying to write a weekly column about 16th Century church history left me frustrated and exhausted. The release from the year-long project emancipated me to write whatever I felt like writing on Tuesdays, and I thoroughly enjoyed my sudden freedom from researching the various aspects of the period and its implications. Also, it was nice attracting more readers on Tuesdays.

But I wonder, now that October 31, 2017 has passed and we’ve found new bandwagons to jump on, if anyone really gained an appreciation for the Reformation. Have we learned to value the Scriptures that plunged so many Reformers into martyrdom? Have we understood why we must reject the teachings of Roman Catholicism in favor of returning to the Word of God? In short, have all the celebrations in 2017 meant much to evangelicals?

This morning I picked up the September/October 2017 issue of Modern Reformation magazine, which prompted my thinking about the Protestant Reformation. While I have no desire to revert to weekly blog posts about the Reformation, I realized that I shouldn’t abandon the topic either. Many of the problems in 21st evangelicalism, I believe, stem from ignorance of and indifference to the Reformation.

Specifically, present-day evangelicals tend to downplay the importance of doctrine, claiming that doctrine destroys unity. Well, it does — Martin Luther would be the first to tell you that! However, do Christians cherish unity over and above God’s Word? Luther didn’t. He entered the Diet of Worms fully expecting to face execution because he couldn’t bend Scripture to accommodate Rome’s extrabiblical teachings. He, along with other Reformers throughout Europe and England, demonstrated that doctrine mustn’t ever be jettisoned simply to keep the peace.

I’m under no illusions that any of the Reformers were perfect. Luther, in later years, developed ghastly anti-semeticism that, 400 years afterwards, Adolph Hitler further distorted and exploited. Obviously,  we can’t place even the most heroic Reformers on pedestals. Only Christ deserves such adulation!

But I strongly believe that we need to both understand and emulate their devotion to Biblical doctrine, even if our devotion divides us from professing Christians who mix God’s Word with human religion. We look back to the Protestant Reformation, not as history geeks, but as its progeny. Its great lessons promise protection against the false teaching that could once again remove the Gospel from the visible church.

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The Tragedy Of The Entertaining Church

Powerful Word“Show people that Christians are just like  everyone else.”

“If we have non-threatening activities like movie nights, people will get comfortable enough with us that they’ll want to come to church.”

“Unless we have games and refreshments, kids won’t come to youth group.”

I heard all these comments, and more, from a church I used to attend, usually in connection with evangelism and church growth strategies.  We want to attract people to the Lord, not scare them away from Him, the leadership of the church reasoned. For a while, they even made sense. Why not make visitors comfortable before hitting them with the Bible?

Sometimes the promoters of such ideas supported them with 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Never mind that this passage, in context, refers to restricting one’s Christian liberties to avoid offending people with anything but the Gospel. But in his next epistle to that same church, Paul made it clear that presenting the Gospel would, in fact, offend those who would not receive salvation.

15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. ~~2 Corinthians 2:15-17 (ESV)

Churches, including youth groups, act deceptively when they advertise themselves as being cool, hip and in touch with the world, only to slip Jesus in there when they can do it inconspicuously. They know that a blatant bait-and-switch will expose them, so they have to continue making Scripture palatable. Sermons include stand-up comedy, movie clips and props rather than verse-by-verse exposition of the text, knowing that the folks they attract through entertainment require continuing entertainment in order to keep them coming.

Contrast that mindset with Paul’s command to Timothy.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. ~~2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV)

God’s church can, and should, be overflowing with joy. Fellowship halls should ring with laughter, and youth groups should include extra activities outside of Bible Study hours. As someone known for practical jokes, I’m hardly adverse to having fun at appropriate moments.

But when we use fun as an evangelism tool, and especially when we blur the lines between Christians and the world, we tend to obscure the Gospel. After all, the call to repentance can’t be slipped in between funny stories or during a game of Pictionary if we expect non-Christians to take their sin seriously.

Churches must preach the Word, even if so doing makes people uncomfortable. In fact, we want people to feel uncomfortable about their sin in hopes that they will then desire the Savior. Preaching a compromised gospel that elevates human comfort over the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ may fill churches, but it won’t save souls.

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False Converts Who Embrace Worldliness: Part 2

Narrow Gate

Yesterday I asked you to read Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount) in preparation for today’s blog post. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, you can do so here. In this sermon, Christ lays out the high moral demands of a holy God, thereby demonstrating our abject need for a Savior.  None of us, apart from His grace, has the capacity to live in such holiness.

Notice, then, His command in Chapter 7:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. ~~Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)

As we learn in John 10:7-9, Jesus Himself is the door (or gate). That reality carries several implications that frankly go against fleshly inclinations. Obviously, the primary stumbling block is the implication that only Christians will inherit God’s Kingdom. Such exclusivity flies in the face of our 21st Century value of inclusion. How dare the Lord limit salvation to those who would believe in Him!

Even more repulsive to postmodern sensibilities is the implication that Jesus would impose His morality on anyone. False converts may be okay with the idea of Jesus dying for their sins, but they then want to conclude that His grace gives them permission to continue in sin. Or they use incredible semantics to to explain why the apostles listed certain behaviors as sinful that we now understand to be perfectly acceptable.

In short, false converts reject Matthew 7:13-14 in favor of having a Jesus Who accepts them on their terms rather than His. If He must be the only Savior, at least He should save everyone (regardless of whether or not they believe in Him) and He shouldn’t tell anyone how to conduct their lives.

False converts miss the fact that, because He is Lord, Jesus has every right to determine both the criteria for salvation and the way His redeemed people ought to live. Thankfully, true believers accept His exclusivity and depend on His Spirit for the power to live in obedience to Him.

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Saturday Sampler: January 21 — January 27

Wings on Hearts

Using godly wisdom, Tim Challies offers Seven Thoughts on the Billy Graham / Mike Pence Rule that make better sense than anything else I’ve read on the topic. He applies both Scripture and common sense application of Scripture artfully, reminding all of us that we are accountable, first and foremost, to the Lord.

Consider reading What Does Your Love for Self Cause You to Do (or Not Do)? in Leslie A’s Growing 4 Life blog. Okay, she says a lot of really uncomfortable things — all of which indicate that she uses Biblical wisdom with precision.

I love Julie Ganschow’s compassion and wisdom in Dear Post Abortive Sister, On the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Appearing in Biblical Counseling for Women, this article empathizes with women who have terminated pregnancies and gently leads them to the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ.

The arguing over whether or not women should be pastors annoys me. So I appreciate Denny Burk for writing A mere complementarian reading of the most contested verse in the evangelical gender debate — 1 Timothy 2:12 to explain the clear meaning of the verse. People, this isn’t rocket science!

In Is It Possible for Christians to Idolize the Bible?, Tom Olson takes on the current attitude that we should focus less on Scripture and more on Jesus. His article, which appears in Unlocking The Bible, addresses this attitude fairly and wisely. Please make time to read it.

Secular media is abundantly reporting the story of Larry Nassar, the doctor for the U.S. Gymnastics Team convicted of molesting over 150 little girls. The media, however, is downplaying the victim impact statement of Rachel Denhollander, the woman who made the first accusation. Why? Most likely because of her stunning presentation of the Gospel. Thankfully, Todd Pruitt of Mortification of  Spin provides both the transcript and the video in his post, Law and Gospel in Judge Aquilina’s Court.

Writing for For The Church, Lara d’Entremont teaches us How to Be Both a Grace-Filled and Discerning Church Member. We sure need to implement her advice in this climate of bickering among self-proclaimed discernment ministries.

Cell phones bug me. So I really love Allen Cagle’s piece, Deep Growth in a Shallow World, which Parking Space 23 features. His counsel isn’t especially ground breaking, but it gets terribly neglected in this digital age.

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