Saturday, January 29, 2011

Friday Night Potpourri - Late Edition

Okay, extremely West Coast version here, a day late:

  • Blogging has been a bit less frequent recently.  I'm working an intern position hoping to turn it into a full time job.  Rotating 12-hour shifts between days and graveyard on compromised sleep.  Friday Night Potpourri didn't stand a chance last night.
  • Traffic patterns are strange at 5:30am.  On weekends, there is none whatsoever.  It's dark.  Then Monday morning comes - and I forget what day it is because everything after midnight is dated the day before - and there's tons of traffic.  What?  Oh, It's Monday morning.
  • I think it's time to mow the lawn.  It's rained quite a bit this season, so mowing the wet grass is difficult.  Maybe next weekend?
  • Our five year old turned six this week.  Happy birthday!  One of his favorite presents was a box of baseball cards that had the players from the end of last year who changed teams, the "update series."  He knew what that was all about.  Kids these days.
  • There's some kind of cereal, I guess you could call it, in the cupboard and it has nuts, grains and is held together with honey.  Supposed to be natural and good for you.  I don't care.  It tastes good.
  • I've never seen our house so dark.  I came home after dark and all the lights were out.  Mrs. Scott was out with the kids.  It looked like our street had a blacked out space on our lot.  I found it, though, because I know where I live.
  • Wow, a Strat sounds like this?...I want one!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Theological Ideas Have Consequences, Too

Ideas have consequences.  So do - or maybe even especially do - theological ideas.  Many ideas are experimental.  Like how to fix things that break around the house.  There might be a rubber band and chewing gum solution, or a $100 part solution.  If the chewing gum doesn't hold, you can always change your plan and go to the hardware store.  If an experiment fails, you can change your idea with minimal damage.

When one advances an experimental idea, one is saying, "I don't know whether this will work, but if it doesn't, I'll try a different method."  Once, I bought a cheap tool costing five bucks, instead of the quality Sears Craftsman tool that cost $20, thinking I might save $15.  The tool broke, nearly cutting up my hand.  I nearly paid five bucks for the cheap tool, plus several hundred for a doctor visit, plus the $20 I would have spent in the first place on the right tool to replace the cheap one.  I learned to always buy the good tool.

Some ideas have terrible consequences.  Like the idea that one race is better than the others.  The consequence might be a world war with tens of millions of people being murdered.  But most bad consequences are usually unintended.  And this is where theology comes in.  The problem is that many (most?) will view their own theological ideas as the "right" idea, and it's the right idea because it "comes from Scripture," even if it is a misunderstanding of the bible.  And since it's the right idea that comes from a right understanding of the bible, it can't fail.  If it fails, it isn't the fault of the idea or those who came up with the idea.  It's the fault of the one who didn't (or couldn't!)  follow the idea exactly.  And the tragedy is that not understanding that an idea may be wrong may lead the one who holds the idea to always believe that they are right at the expense of numerous people over a large period of time.  That large numbers of people are hurt or greatly burdened is to them an indication that large numbers of people are wrong, thus reinforcing the idea that they alone are right.  The Pharisees had this problem.

One good thing to do with theological ideas is to look at the practical consequences of those ideas.  Like church membership for example.  Does a particular view of church membership lead to Christians being rejected from a church?  Does it foster elitism?  Does it divide people?  Does it end up giving power to certain people that the bible doesn't give power to?  What is the result of using such power?  Are certain people prohibited from exercising their gifts within that body?  Will somebody be labeled as divisive, disobedient, spiritually deficient, or maybe a heretic because they don't believe the idea to begin with?  Does a certain theological idea have negative consequences on, let's say, single mothers?  Divorced people?  People raised in different theological circles?  My hope is for more people to critically look at the consequences of theological ideas and to change those ideas accordingly.

Secondary Issues

"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."  - along with other similar statements, often attributed to St. Augustine and having great influence upon John Wesley

I've been thinking a lot lately about secondary issues within the Christian faith, or non-essentials if you will, and how that affects our dividing from one another over such issues.  It seems that many of the problems arise because everybody has differing ideas of what the essentials are.  Many elevate secondary - or even lesser or microscopic - issues to that of essential issues.  Many believe we shouldn't divide over secondary issues, but do anyway.  Some are willing to overlook any categorizing of an essential whatsoever and are willing to accept anybody as a Christian.

Some see a solution to all of this in agreeing upon a basic formulation of the faith, such as the apostle's creed.  I tend to agree with this last statement.  Although holding a different position on a secondary issue or more shouldn't cause one to place that one outside of Christianity, secondary issues are nonetheless important.  Does anybody have some ideas on where a line should be drawn between essential and secondary issues?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Night Potpourri

A half of a fortnight, methinks:

  • I went with my nine year old to the local open space area, and it was so muddy we were several inches taller.  Our soil here where we live is predominantly black clay, and it doesn't make for good mud.  I'm glad we used our old shoes.
  • I went out the other night to go to the store.  As I was walking out my driveway, I saw a dark shadow out of the corner of my right eye as I crossed the sidewalk, and it was up at the neighbor's driveway, moving parallel to me.  I park at the curb just after my driveway, so I continued straight out into the street behind my car.  Then at my car's left rear, I made a 90 to the right to go to the driver's door.  The dark shadow made a 90 left at the front of the neighbor's car which was in front of mine and started back toward me.  The dark shadow quickly turned into a dark silhouette of my neighbor Bob.  He was proceeding back to his car door.  I said hi, and he continued back to my car.  We shook hands and he said, "Hi, Steve..." and knowing I take night classes, he continued with, "...are you going to class right now?"  "No, I'm on milk buying duty and I'm going to the store."  "Hey, that's where I'm going, too!"  It was like that movie about 50's suburban living where all the dads backed out of their driveways at the same time every day.
  • My favorite weekend of football is coming up this weekend.  The championship games are almost always better than the SuperBowl.  They're often played in cold weather in front of a one-sided crowd.  The feeling is just more intense.  Man, Packers/Bears?  Wow, this is gonna be great!
  • It's a bit late, don't you think?  I saw a number of Christmas trees on the curbs on trash day this week.
  • As classic 80's as it gets

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

From the Bleachers - My Baseball Blog Has Moved

If you're a baseball fan, check out my baseball blog - called "From the Bleachers" - at its new address. I write about baseball from a number of different angles, but always from a fan's point of view. There are quite a few stories from both the bleachers and box seats. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Is Christianity A Religion?

"It's not a religion, it's a relationship."  - Anon

"Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God our Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." - James 1:27

I received a comment by a new reader named Angie who asks a great question about the content of an email she received.  "I just want to know why Christianity is NOT a religion."  Please read the comment.  Well, I've certainly heard and seen the top quote above numerous times.  It's on bumper stickers, it's in church advertising.  Is Christianity, true Christianity, not a religion?  This sentiment has troubled me for quite some time, and I always wonder what the motive and reasoning are behind such beliefs.  In the second quote above, the bible itself gives a definition of what pure religion actually is.

I think the sentiment that true Christianity is not a religion but a relationship probably comes from an over reaction to very ritualized versions of religion.  Some Protestants may use this sentiment to portray Roman Catholicism as simply meaningless rote and ritual without regard for the essence of Christ.  This can be applied to other world religions, or to ritualized forms of Protestantism as well.  I think I've also detected that for some people, any structure whatsoever in a religion should be shunned, and a "pure" relationship w/ Jesus - as if he were our boyfriend or something - is what God desires for us.  It may also be that this idea is a poorly worded explanation for the concept that dead works mean nothing while a living faith being in Christ is the ideal.

Well, I consulted a bible search website, BibleGateway, and Webster's dictionary for the following lists of the bible's use of the words "religion" and "religious," as well as a dictionary definition of the word "religion."  The uses in the bible of the word "religion" can be found here (New American Standard version), while the uses of the word "religious" can be found here.  And Webster's definition of religion clearly shows in definition 1B that the service and worship of God is a legitimate one, as is a commitment to faith and observance.  In the bible's own uses of the word "religion" there are a few references to the Jewish religion of Saul, a reference to man-made religion, a comment about religion in general that implies that if somebody can bridle their tongue then their religion can be true, and finally James gives an example of true religion in the way God himself sees it.

I believe that Christianity is a religion for the reasons shown in the bible's use and dictionary definition.  I have no problem with that at all.  I think we should shy away from the idea that it isn't a religion, but rather call attention to the differences between forms of true religion and false. Including bumper sticker religion.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Friday Night Potpourri

The morning after:

  • Yesterday was so filled with a combination of interruptions and writer's block that Friday Night Potpourri didn't happen last night.  Another blog post is sitting there in the editor, too, for the same reason.
  • My new cell phone died, so I went to get a replacement.  It works like it should, I guess, but I lost my screen picture of me on the mound at AT&T Park wearing a suit.  I'll have to find a copy on my hard drive somewhere.
  • I'm starting my intern job this week, and had my orientation this last week.  I'll be working in an oil refinery shadowing other people that operate the place.  Should be really fun.
  • Grandma took the kids the other day, so I had to take the car seats out.  Man what a find underneath.
  • Hey, the days are growing longer now.  It doesn't get dark here until about 5:15pm.  Can't wait for autumn.
  • The clicker (our word for remote control) drops, the batteries fall out, and the kids put the batteries in backward, the clicker doesn't work, dad checks the batteries, dad fixes the clicker, dad gets to watch his show.  It's almost a routine.
  • It's really foggy out right now.  I can't see the neighbor's trees on the next block.  Which means it's great weather to go for a drive.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pastors: Leaders or Managers?

My friend John Armstrong raises a very good question about the role and duty of pastor in his recent blog post Are Our Pastors Leaders or Managers?  He cites a Barna survey where only 8% of pastors see themselves as having the gift of leadership.  He sees a need for a radical change in how we view leadership in terms of leaders and laity.  I tend to agree with him.

He cites Ephesians 4, where leaders are given to the church not to manage it nor to do the ministry themselves, but to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.  Ephesians 4:11-13:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
I'm convinced that this is a two-way problem.  How people in the pews view leadership is just as important as how the leaders do.  Of course, when people expect pastors to be managers and pastors see themselves as managers, then they will likely act like managers.  I hope this can be worked on from both ends.

Electronic Lemonry

My new cell phone died.  Not even two weeks old.  I got a new one because I had to get a new one.  My old one was being phased out by the current cell phone technology, and my carrier told me it would start freaking out and doing strange things unless I got a new phone.  So I did.  It started shutting off when I was fiddling with the menu, and it was not answering via the Bluetooth even after pressing the right buttons.  Tonight I got a replacement.  It's recharging right now, and I hope it will work.  The old new one was doing some pretty goofy things until it would no longer even turn on.  The first new one was a lemon.

Our old printer went out within the last couple of weeks and we bought a new one.  It coughed up an epic fail and did some pretty bizarre things in the process.  The black ink cartridge petered out after about five sheets of printing, and the fax kept cutting off the sending of some important documents.  I had to shell out six bucks at the local shipping store to get that done, and Mrs. Scott had to make three return trips to the place of purchase to get a replacement.  The new one is making quite a bit less whirring, clicking and was telling us that all those other noises were warning signs.  The first new one was a lemon.

Our most recent computer buy, a laptop, wouldn't let us access the internet.  Everything else worked, but we got a "page cannot be displayed" message.  A computer geek friend of mine was over until 2am and found that a certain setting was not allowing access to the web, but couldn't pinpoint it.  The manufacturer blamed the ISP (we had one of those packages with phone, TV and internet in one) in a broken Indian accent.  From India no doubt.  The ISP techie tried fixing it.  But one problem with that.  They can re-boot the modem from their remote location in Bangladesh to try to make it work.  But since the phone is also connected to the same modem, re-booting disconnects the call.  I think they should get a team of engineers on that right away.  I had to get a replacement from the store.  The first new one was a lemon.

When I was a kid back in the late 60's, my next door neighbor bought a Ford pickup that was a lemon.  He had to take it in for repairs so often that he painted additional letters on the tailgate below the large "F O R D" letters that made it read "Fix Or Repair Daily."  The dealer wasn't too fond of this behavior.  He had a lemon, too.  And so, I guess this blog post is the lemonade.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

The Least Of These

"The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'..."Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' - Matthew 25:40, 45.

Here in Matthew 25, Jesus gives an account of the judgment, and what he says to each the separated sheep and goats.  This is a frightening passage of no small matter, as it seems that eternal life or eternal punishment depends upon how we treat Christ.  But, Jesus makes the point that what we do to his brothers, even the least of them, is equivalent to doing that to him.  And to make his point even more clear, Jesus says to Saul of Tarsus after being struck down, "Why do you persecute me?"  Christ was pointing out to Saul/Paul that what he was doing to the followers of Jesus was actually being done to Jesus himself.

And just who are the least of these?  I'm guessing that they are followers of Christ who are lowly and insignificant in the eyes of the world, or possibly even in the eyes of the church.  They are the common people who do not have a name for themselves.  They are ones in need of even the basic things in life.  And apparently, they are the ones who suffer at the hands of the goats.  Or more precisely, they suffer at the absence of the hands of the goats.

Can we do good deeds for the least of his?  This is a hard saying of Jesus, and one that I know I need to ponder more, and act upon more even if I don't know I'm doing it.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Friday Night Potpourri

A new year and a full week to start it off:

  • Taste of the good old days:  With the economy and all, I had mostly cut out Starbucks visits.  But, with a $20 gift card from my mother-in-law for Christmas, things are temporarily back to normal.
  • It's January and our three year old wants to run around the house in bare feet.  Doesn't he know it's cold?
  • We've had enough rain in the last month or so that I haven't had to water anything.  I guess many places outside of California are that way all year round.
  • Wow, this is difficult picking a half dozen things to write about for the week.  I know I was busy, and we did many things we normally don't do.  I guess that doesn't automatically translate into something to say.
  • The first fog of the season has set in.  We usually don't get winter fog until January.  Out in the central valley it gets really thick.  I remember times from the past where I had to hold my car door open and watch the yellow line pass by on the ground so I knew I was in the middle of the road.
  • My old razor phone that I've had for two consecutive contracts now has been made obsolete by new technology.  My carrier made me stop in and pick out a new free phone.  Okay, now to figure out how the thing operates.
  • From the best selling album in US history, this song is such a classic, and upbeat music to boot.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Baptism: Another View (Part 6)

Read Part 5.

One problem I have with both Baptist and paedo-baptist theology regarding baptism is the lack of clear scriptural descriptions of their views. It seems to me that if baptism is supposed to be administered to only adult believers after conversion, then I think the bible would say so in no uncertain terms. If it is to be administered to infants, then the same should be true. It's that way with circumcision. It's that way with church discipline. It's that way with how to pray, how many times to forgive, who to visit in their distress that describes true religion. It's that way with all duties of man before God. Man's duties are spelled out relatively clearly so that most of us can either "get it" or have somebody easily explain it to us.

Take circumcision for example. In Genesis 17:11-12, a great deal of information is packed into less than two verses:

And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.  And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants.
What, where, how, to whom and when are all answered. No guesswork. No thousand page systematic theology volume. No ecclesiastical traditions. It is named "circumcision", it is to be "in the flesh of your foreskin", it is called "the sign of the covenant", it is to be administered to "every male", "who is eight days old." Not seven days, not nine, not in the flesh of your knee, and it's not called "surfing." Church discipline is "if your brother sins" and is "in private", then with "one or two more", then "tell it to the church", then excommunication.

Okay, it's true that many points of theology are quite arduous in their developments and have been hammered out over millennia, and the wisdom necessary to live everyday life is constructed line upon line, precept upon precept and isn't even complete by the time we die. But the basics of our religion are simple, to the point and spelled out by God. Baptism, I think, is no different. The great commission commands that disciples are to be made of all the nations, and they are to be baptized. But...

All the information we need about baptism is spelled out. It is to be done with water, believers should be baptized, it should be done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Liberty as to mode (sprinkling, pouring, immersion) and subject (infant/adult/professor, family/household member/church attendee) I think is allowed for the simple reason than none of these things are clearly spelled out. What is clearly spelled out with respect to children is instruction in the Lord - educating them in the Word, obedience to parents, not provoking them to wrath, etc.

It is interesting that claims of these baptismal things being spelled out are really nothing more than sectarian theological conclusions of non-baptismally specific passages applied to baptism. Theological presuppositions about other doctrines are brought to baptism. When Jesus said, "suffer the little children", he was not speaking about baptism specifically. Only a theological leap in logic does this. Also, nowhere in the New Testament is baptism spoken of as either the sign or seal of the New Covenant, even though circumcision is spoken of as a sign to Abraham (Rom 4). Colossians 2:11-12 doesn't equate circumcision and baptism either. Only the same theological leap does this.

A final word for this post. I'm not against baptism at all. We should be baptized with water. What I'm saying is that Baptists and paedo-baptists should learn not to condemn each other for their non-biblical (I'm careful to not say "un-biblical") traditions of baptism.

Read entire series in a single post.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Sunday Church Meeting

One of the things I've tried to analyze over the years is what churches do on Sunday and compare this with what the scriptures show about what the early church did, and also with what commands given to us are supposed to be done on Sunday when we meet.  Some things, too, are commanded us, and they appear to be best put to use when the church meets on Sunday.  Some things should always be done, whether with the church or not.  What should a Sunday gathering of people look like?  What should it do?  What should it not do?  What needs to be included?

The type of church meeting I am most familiar and experienced with is what many people would call the "traditional" or "institutional" model of church.  Occasionally it might be called a "New Testament" model of church.  People show up to a large building, sit down, and passively listen to a sermon preached by a preacher.  One or a few individuals do the talking or leading, and others watch, listen, or sing.  No, or very little, interaction takes place between those who gather and at the end people are dismissed.  Most peole leave.  This gathering is often called a "worship service."

Another type of church meeting that I have very little familiarity or experience with - but the little experience I do have has left a great impact on me - is one that I've read quite a bit about over the last several years.  Some would call this type of meeting a "house" or maybe "organic" or "simple" church meeting.  Occasionally it might be called a "New Testament" model of church (where have I heard that before?)  In this model, the people gather and all of them are invited to participate with encouraging, teaching, admonishing and other similar things given us to do in the bible.  Much interaction takes place between those who gather, and at the end, people stay for a large meal - almost a feast - and the Lord's Supper takes place in the context of this meal.  I'm not sure there is a dominant name used to describe this type of gathering.

I've written numerous things about these ideas of church before, and I hope to continue with many new things and the bringing back of older things.  I anticipate that this topic will be a prominent one here at From the Pew.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Moving Forward in 2011

Happy New Year!  Well, now that that's over...  There are some things I want to do here at From the Pew to help this blog move forward.

I want to use updated blog technology to bring my blog into the 2010's.  I started this blog in early 2005 - which is ancient in blog terms - when templates/formats were relatively primitive.  I have been handcuffed by that technology in terms of putting what I want where I want on the page, linking to other blogs or my previous blogs, taking full advantage of labels, and using the margins for useful information.  Newer Blogger layouts have added power and flexibility that would allow me to get the most out of this blog.  One problem I've run into is that I updated to a current template for one of my other minor blogs, and have had issues I can't afford for this blog.

Also, I want to look through some of the core material and previous blog series that was taken off last year, and put it back up in a better format.  I still want to get to writing about John Armstrong's book Your Church Is Too Small and the late Michael Spencer's book Mere Churchianity.  All this sounds like a little, but is a bit more than a little.  Here's to a better year of blogging.