Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Exclusivity Doctrine and Circumcision

At first, the Christian Church was made up entirely of Jews. This makes sense, of course, for Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. The apostles only went out to Jews originally because they did not realize Jesus was relevant to everyone (and the Mosaic Laws, which they still kept, did not allow them to easily evangelize Gentiles).

But then God's visions to Paul and Peter opened the door to the Gentiles. They were evangelized, but they were required to convert to Jewish customs, including circumcision because...of course...the Jews still thought the blessings of Jesus only were for the Jews.

This caused a great deal of problems for Paul in particular. There were many Gentiles who wanted to join Christianity, but they did not want to go through circumcision...which is very painful in adults. The circumcision requirement was keeping Gentiles "at the gates," stopping salvation to reach everyone who wanted to follow Jesus.

And so the Jerusalem Council was held [Acts 15]. After Peter and Paul spoke, James offered as a compromise to foster peace in the church between Jewish Christians (who demanded all Christians be circumcised and follow the Law) and Gentile Christians (who Paul had told did not need to be circumcised.) James' compromise was to require the Gentiles to keep some of the Law, avoiding the actions many Jews found particularly repugnant.

The thing that intrigues me about this piece of church history is that circumcision was stopping people from joining the church and following Christ, keeping thousands of people out of the church, and the decision was made not to require it (for good reason).

Today a similar situation occurs in conservative Christianity. How many people love Christ's teachings but just cannot get over the idea that only Christians avoid hell? The requirement to hold this doctrine seems like a modern circumcision requirement, keeping millions of people from pursuing biblical Christianity...instead they find churches that do not care about the Bible or they just reject Christianity altogether.

The Jews were certain scripture required everyone to be circumcised....just like modern conservative Christians are certain the Bible says all non-believers go to hell.

But those early Jewish Christians were wrong about their understanding of Scripture, and Paul showed them. And evangelicals are wrong about their interpretation of scripture... and I hope to show them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Should Christians Support Public Prayer?

With today's inauguration and its attendant events, the question of whether public prayer should be illegal has come up up again. An atheist group has filed suit to prohibit prayers or the inclusion of the "...so help me God" portion to the presidential oath.

This effort is part of a continuing movement to abolish religion from the public sector. The basic principle offered is that people have a right not to be considered excluded at public events, and that occurs when prayer or other actions are part of the official ceremony.

The first basic problem with this view is that the same logic could prohibit all sorts of things. Any ideological point of disagreement becomes verboten. Pacifists could attack any official presentation that assumes war is sometimes required. Those who believe global warming is a hoax [including now hundreds of scientists] could object to any publicly-sponsored discussion of man-created greenhouse affect. Those who believe in supply-side economic could protest anything publicly endorsing demand-side thinking. The list goes on and on. It's just that somehow people think religion should be treated differently from other ideological points.

Which leads to the second problem...

The second basic error is the assumption that the country was set up as a purely secular enterprise. People have created a notion of separation of church and state that really has come from nowhere. You certainly cannot suggest the founding fathers had in mind a religion-free government when one of the two mottos on the great seal of the United States is "He (God) has favored our undertakings" (taken directly from a prayer by Ascanius in Virgil's Aeneid) and the entire basis for our independence was due to "inalienable rights" endowed by our "Creator."

Benjamin Franklin's choice for the great seal: "Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity."

Benjamin Franklin's choice for motto: Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God"

Thomas Jefferson suggested for the front of the seal the children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and apillar of fire by night.

However, there is a greater question behind this. Rather than answering the question "Should people be allowed to pray?" There is the question "Should the church support it?"

I was recently contacted by a member sympathetic to the blocking of the inaugural prayer, and she made a pretty good case for Christians not being in a position to support public prayer of the type shown at the inauguration.

Jesus' discussion of the matter in Matthew 6:1-8 cannot be easily dismissed. While it is true that the hypocrisy discussed in the first portion [Matthew 6:1-4] only relates to the obvious evil of praying for show (which, sadly, if we are honest with ourselves, the right-wing cannot really claim general innocence regarding), the second half, Matthew 6:5-8, is an entirely different matter.

Christ points out that praying to God should really be all about our faith that God knows our needs. Praying should not be for the purpose of giving God information about our needs but rather showing our belief in God's providence. Since a single person's prayer can never testify to a nation's faith in God, it's unclear what relevance an inaugural prayer has.

I would think what would make the most sense is for Obama to give a prayer. After all, if prayer says more to God about the individual praying than the needs being prayed for (and certainly more than those being prayed in front of!) wouldn't it make the most sense for the new commander and chief to pray his own prayer?

The most perfect solution would be some situation where it could be nationally recognized that our leaders genuinely depend on God's providence without it becoming an opportunity for show.

Perhaps a prayer-time where Obama prayed silently and everyone else was asked to do the same...surely the genuine prayer of millions each separately praying on behalf of the country, one of whom is the now-leader of that country, does more good than a single person praying on behalf of everyone else.

A case could be made that Jesus is speaking regarding praying for our own needs, and different rules apply when praying for another. In theory, that is what Rick Warren is doing. Fair enough, there is biblical support for praying for another, and leveraging those who are righteous to do so (e.g. James 5:16). The question then becomes "If this is really the idea, why not invite a hundred of the most righteous people and them all pray (silently) with Obama and the millions there?" Surely 100 righteous people plus a million others in attendance plus Obama all praying silently has more pull then a single vocal prayer that has tinges of politics and display to it.

Furthermore, this would make the prayer a bit less than a show. Surely praying at inauguration cannot be supported if our best defense is "we still want to show those no-good atheists who's running this country!"

Other solutions, comments?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Prodigal Son, Lazarus, and other parables

I've added an article to www.biblicalheresy.com with commentary on various parables in Luke.

You can now find several such tracts on the articles page.

One of those articles, Biblical Problems with the Modern Gospel, is not meant merely to cast suspicion on the modern gospel but to serve as jumping off points toward a more scripturally sound one. It is not meant to challenge people's faith but rather to have them reconsider what their faith in Christ entails.