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Archive for April, 2009

Racism and the church

There are things in life that I have trouble understanding. I don’t understand why Hollywood celebrities are called before Congress as expert witnesses concerning environmental issues. I don’t understand why folks who don’t like winter sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” I don’t understand why men can’t pick their clothes up off the floor (or should that be “little boys in men’s bodies”?).

Something I really have trouble understanding is how folks can say they love Christ while at the same time disdaining others simply because those “others” are of another ethnicity or skin color.

I was struck by this last year during South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary. It seems that the Clintons decided surreptitiously to make Barack Obama’s race an issue. Black South Carolinians took umbrage at the attacks and voted overwhelmingly for the candidate of their skin color. White South Carolinians basically voted likewise, dividing their votes between Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

Please understand that I did not have a dog in that fight. As far as I’m concerned, not one of the three is worthy of the presidency of the United States. All three are pro-abortion, and that one factor disqualifies them from my vote. By the way, Republican Rudy Giuliani was likewise disqualified because of his pro-abortion standing.

Unfortunately, the same racism which characterized the Democratic primary is too often seen in our churches, both white and black. How can a person really be a Christian and disdain another person because his skin is a different color? I can hear someone say something like, “Well, you’re not old enough to remember how it used to be.” I have two responses. First, how things “used to be” is rarely how things really were. We all observe the past through biased lenses. Second, how things “used to be” is at most how things used to be. Whatever it was does not make it right. Besides, this is now, not then.

The gospel of Jesus Christ stands in opposition to racism, whether it is white against black, black against white, black or white against Hispanic, or whatever. If it is really true that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), then most certainly there are to be no divisions based upon any ethnicity or color of skin.

God looks not at the color of our skin or the bent of our culture but at the condition of our heart. Outside of Christ, every heart is the same color, filled with depravity. In Christ, the believer is counted perfectly righteous.

Theologian Michael Horton maintains: “The prophets remind us repeatedly of the vision of the latter days, with the nations streaming to Zion, bearing their gifts for the great celebration. As a foretaste of that festival, each gathering of the Lord’s people should reflect as much as possible the diversity of gifts that serve the unity of the body.” (“Grace, Race, and Catholicity,” Modern Reformation, Jan./Feb. 2008, 21).

Horton is right. There will be no preferences in heaven—whether race or age or sex or social status or whatever. Only because of man’s depravity are there any on earth.

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The reaction by most politicians and activist-citizens in the United States concerning our nation’s economic woes and how to fix them reflects the sorry state of the present-day character of our people. “Somebody, bail me out! Please!”

Folks are all in a tizzy in the state of South Carolina because Gov. Mark Sanford refuses to buy into the line that we can borrow ourselves out of debt. Politicians such as U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn denigrate Gov. Sanford, charging the governor with playing politics while people suffer.

Unfortunately, people such as Rep. Clyburn never fail at character assassination when logic fails to sustain their position. The charge of “playing politics” could certainly be leveled at Rep. Clyburn himself, as well as all the proponents of the federal stimulus packages. Not a few Americans love the idea of receiving what seems like something for nothing.

A Baptist minister of music once told me that he always took whatever steps necessary to avoid pain or suffering. I found his words unsettling yet true for most of humanity. When people are in trouble, they had rather kick the problem down the road instead of facing it now.

If we were a people of moral character, we would argue that we have already borrowed too much against the future and we need to right our economic ship now. We would say “no” to what we cannot afford and learn how to do with less.

To do so, though, would require suffering and sacrifice, and those are things we’re quite unwilling to do. Unfortunately, it seems to me, suffering will come because of the speculation and greed of certain American corporations and the pandering of most politicians, as well as a citizenry in general which has forgotten the necessity of living within one’s means. The question is whether we will suffer now or push the day of reckoning upon our children and grandchildren.

We would do well to turn to the Bible for timeless truth.

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content (1 Timothy 6:6-8, ESV).

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content (Philippians 4:11, ESV).

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV)

The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives (Psalm 37:21, ESV).

The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender (Proverbs 22:7, ESV).

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How many times have you heard someone say, “Well, the Lord will provide”?

It is true that God provides many things. He brings the warmth of the sun and the refreshing of the rain upon the just and the unjust. He guides the steps of his followers so that they walk according to his will. He provides comfort and consolation to his children when they lose a loved one to death. God provides the material needs essential for his work to progress.

Yet many times the statement that “God will provide” is a blasphemy against God. Think about this scenario: a married man who professes to be a Christian wants to buy a second car. It’s an inconvenience to get by with one car, so having a second car would prove helpful.

Unfortunately, the man’s credit is a disgrace. He has unpaid bills that go back for years. His present income struggles to provide his family’s needs and pay a little each month on his accumulated debts. Now he wants to buy a car on credit.

How does he justify his anticipated purchase? “The Lord will provide.”

Such a person is guilty of the sin of presumption. He presumes that God will bail him out of the mess the man is making for himself. He is not exhibiting faith. He is exhibiting presumption.

In addition, he is justifying yet another irresponsible decision by invoking the name of God. He is not honoring the name of God. He is guilty of using God’s name in vain.

Such a position is really that of a fool. A fool gives little thought to the future (which brings to mind all the clamoring for “bailout money” by public officials who never tire of borrowing against an uncertain tomorrow to stave off the need for sacrifice and suffering today).

William Jenkyn (1612-85) lamented: “Fools are always futuring.” Unfortunately, too many who claim the name of Christ, ministers included, continue to be guilty of such folly.

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Believing to Understand

Occasionally a college student will ask me to respond to something a professor has taught concerning the Bible. For instance, a religion professor pointed to Numbers 12:3: “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” The professor asked, “If Moses wrote the book of Numbers, how could he have made such a statement about himself? No one who is truly humble will make notice of his humility.”

The point which the professor was trying to make was that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. Instead, the Pentateuch, as well as most of the Old Testament, is merely the compilation of stories and writings that were gathered and edited and added to and subtract from by various redactors until finally published as the product we have today. Essentially, in their view the Bible is the work of man, not the work of God.

Such a view is not without disastrous ramifications. If the concept of the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible is jettisoned, then the Bible basically becomes little more than a book of fables and a nice dose of self help. The reader can cling to what he agrees and reject what he wishes.

This relatively modern (it arose during the late eighteenth century), essentially God-rejecting view of the Scriptures, however, finds no support in the Scriptures themselves. The belief in the inspiration of the Bible finds its basis in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is breath out by God.” Scripture is, therefore, not the product of ingenious or even well-meaning men. It is, as Dr. J. I. Packer states, “a product of his [God’s] creative power, and so is an authentic disclosure of his mind and presentation of his message.” The Holy Spirit of God supernaturally and providentially guided chosen men to write the truth which he desired to be communicated to others.

The professor mentioned above, though, would doubtlessly claim that God played a role in the writing of the Scriptures. Many will affirm a doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible while not affirming that the words of Scripture themselves are inspired. They claim that only the thoughts of the authors are inspired. A belief in the inspiration of thoughts, however, does not go far enough. Particular words must be given to convey particular thoughts. It would not be possible to understand truly the thought intended if the right words were not used. It is necessary to insist that the words themselves are inspired in order to safeguard the meaning which God intended.

This issue of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch comes back to this. Throughout church history, readers of the Pentateuch assumed Moses as its author based upon statements in the New Testament. For instance, in Mark 7:10, Jesus said, “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’” In Deuteronomy 31:9 we read, “Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel.” Deuteronomy 31:24-26 notes, “Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, ‘Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.’” See also Matthew 19:8; Mark 12:26; John 5:46-47; 7:19; Acts 3:22. Suffice it to say that books have been written by believing scholars supporting the traditional understanding of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

So how might we answer the charge that Moses could not have written Numbers 12:3 because a truly humble man would not have written that about him? A man writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would have written the truth about himself. Moses wrote about his sins and weaknesses and also recorded his meekness. He was not boasting about himself; he simply recorded what is the true.

How one handles what others contend are scriptural difficulties really depends upon a person’s perspective. If a person is a believer, that person will try to understand a solution to the proposed difficulty while remaining true to the inerrancy and divine authorship of the Bible. If a person is a skeptic, he will use the difficulty as a reason to affirm his belief that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible work of God. Puritan Samuel Rutherford asserted, “It is common for men to make doubts when they have the mind to desert the truth.”

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