Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, April 30, 2010

Entertainment will replace religion!

Today I heard an interesting comment which I will repeat as a truism before I give the full context of the quote. “…[E]ntertainment will replace religion." Probably the most profound words Pete Townsend of “The Who” ever spoke.

As I was thinking about the last couple of posts on this blog, the controversy over women’s ordination, my position that the separation of clergy from laity is wrongheaded and the last post on Simple churches the statement that entertainment will replace religion really resonates with me.

When I think about what would be the main problems with a simple church versus the contemporary style of Christian churches my objections to the simple church seem to be mainly about our entertainment at church.

Here are some of the things a simple church meeting will not have:

-Good modern worship live singing and musicians (or even hymn singing as it can be very uncomfortable in small groups unless the folks really enjoy singing).

-Polished sermons

-Skits or plays to illustrate the sermon

-Entertaining young peoples programs.

That is not really a long list but it is likely, the sermon and the music the two biggest draws of the modern church. In the Adventist church it is so powerful that you generally have only half the number of people at Sabbath School that you have at the church service.

No doubt there are very legitimate elements of the larger contemporary churches, most importantly for the family is that there would be other young people that are the age of our children. For me that is probably the biggest problem with the simple church movement. Unfortunately I don’t see a way around that very large problem and that bothers me because I think many of our other problems could be helped by following the simple church format.

The other problem from the Christian outreach position is that entertainment has already replaced religion for a large portion of the Western World. That realization, even though most of us never articulated it like Pete Townsend did, has inspired such things as Mega Churches. A church to go and be entertained while still maintaining a religion connection. The problem comes when the people leave the church, they often don’t have a good connection with their fellow church members because after all they only sit together and they rarely talk of anything meaningful in their lives. But you certainly don’t need to be part of a Mega Church for that to happen it is just as common in the 100 member churches. When we don’t have the connection to the other believers in our church it is difficult to have that connection with our neighbors who don’t have our religion in common with us.

Here is Pete Townsend quote in context from the VH1 StoryTellers series description:

"Pete Townshend": One of rock's most revered songwriters, Pete Townshend performs and talks about how many of his compositions for The Who -- including such standards as "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Behind Blue Eyes" -- were originally written for "Lifehouse," a failed film concept. "The story ... is simply a time when technology delivers on its promise," he explains. "The promise of technology has always been that entertainment will replace religion."
You can see the clip here

I don’t think that in reality the promise of technology was ever for entertainment to replace religion but it may well be the end of result. Hopefully technology will also be used to aid religion but we will likely have to deal more and more with the vast array of entertainment that makes religion seems so boring. After all entertainment has trumped political knowledge for quite some time; most Americans knowing more about entertainers their about their political representatives and certainly knowing more about entertainment then the political issues they should be aware of. With many unfortunately getting their political advice from entertainers with little thought to what the facts really are. So we are at the point where entertainment is taking over the world and we have to decide what we as Christians intend to do about it as we deal with our fellow believers and the non believers.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Simple Church, Home Church, Cell Church, Maybe its time

With the problems in the Adventist church such as the ordination issue and the over-reaching Bureaucracy it may be time to consider changing the way we do church. I am going to do a little research in the next week or so on the subject. But you can start at the same point as I am by going to the Simple Church website and considering the information they have. I will give a few excerpts here.

Approximately 80% of all churches in North America have reached a plateau or are declining.1 The vast majority of the church’s growth comes from “switchers” - people who move from one church to another. There is precious little conversion growth.2 Researchers suggest somewhere between 1-3%.

“The yearly decline in the percentage of people attending a Christian church was faster from 2000—2005 than it was from 1990—2000.”4 Power Point

The average church in the United States will spend as much as 64 percent of its budget on staff salaries. Additionally, it will spend as much as 30 percent of its offerings on maintaining its buildings.5 Researchers say that churches spend between 82 - 96 percent of their financial resources on maintaining themselves.6 In 2001 “the total cost of Christian outreach worldwide averages $330,000 for each newly baptized person. The cost per baptism in the United States tops $1.5 million.”20

“Fuller Theological Seminary did a research study that found that if a church is 10 or more years old, it takes 85 people to lead 1 person to Christ. If a church is less than 3 years old, it takes only 3 people to lead 1 person to Christ.” 7 & 8

Every year, approximately 4000 new churches open their doors. Every year approximately 4000 churches close their doors for the last time.10

60% of Americans under the age of 40 have NOT walked into a church building.11

The median age of North America is 36 years old. The median age of Adventists in North America is 51 years old.12

"The greatest English speaking mission field in the world is North America." Leonard Sweet.14

Between 2000—2005, 20 million people, of all denominations, left the typical North American local church.15

Where are they going? Agreeing with other researchers, George Barna, in his book Revolution, has confirmed that many are going to house churches, in a spiritual quest of a more relevant relationship with God.

Why are they leaving?

“The new Revolution differs in that its primary impetus is not salvation among the unrepentant but the personal renewal and recommitment of believers. The dominant catalyst is people’s desperation for a genuine relationship with God. The renewal of that relationship spurs believers to participate in spreading the gospel. Rather than relying on a relative handful of inspired preachers to promote a national revival, the emerging Revolution is truly a grassroots explosion of commitment to God that will refine the Church and result in a natural and widespread immersion in outreach.15

We also believe that house churches are the best way to reach this growing number of unchurched people.

The description from Wikipedia makes cell churches look like a different kind of thing and not terribly useful:

Cell churches are usually associated with larger churches: they also meet in homes and share some characteristics of house churches. They are not normally considered to be a house church, as they are not self-governing.

Some within the house church movement (associated with Wolfgang Simson, Frank Viola and others) consider the term "house church" to be a misnomer, asserting that the main issue for Christians who practice their faith in this manner is not the house but the type of meeting that takes place. Other titles which may be used to describe this movement are "simple church" "relational church," "primitive church," "body life," "organic church," or "biblical church." However all of the practices implied by these terms are shared with many other churches outside the movement.

Home Church Help writes:

The Cell Church Movement

There is a definite shift in large congregations to have what are now called cell churches. For terminology sake, cell churches are not the same as home churches - although cell churches are typically in homes. Home churches are autonomous in nature. In other words, in a home church, each group is independent. Home churches are completely free to have any focus, vision, or emphasis the Lord is leading them in at any time. A cell church on the other hand, typically is an expression of a larger, traditional meeting with a definite hierarchy in place. The pastor provides the vision for the group and the cell group leaders carry out that vision in the cell church meetings. Cell churches can be a wonderful place of fellowship, intimacy, and connecting - and I don’t speak against them in that regard. Although cell churches are the new thing, the hierarchy in the traditional church system that governs cell churches is nothing new.

Autonomy for a gathering is critical. Every home gathering is different. We all are in different places. The dynamics of those you are meeting with and are being knit with is going to change and grow all of the time. There will be different seasons with different focuses and emphasis. If the Lord wants to provide a particular focus on a particular night or accomplish certain things in the group for a season, it can easily be short circuited by the cell church agenda. Handing down the topics and subjects to be covered in the home meetings can kill the flow of life.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rethinking Ordination and Pastors

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. VIII: Morality - Petersen

Ordination and Tradition have gone hand in hand for hundreds of years, so much so that ordination is assumed to be part of the Biblical New Testament method of doing things in the Christian church. As the Seventh-day Adventist church is confronted with the controversial idea of ordination/commissioning of Adventists Pastors this would be a good time to reconsider the whole process. As much as women pastors may break Adventist tradition I would suggest that our whole system is based upon early church authoritarian standards which don’t work that well in the modern Western world. I won’t go over the evidence for that conclusion other than to say that in general Christianity is in decline in the Western World and Christianity is more often the joke of society because it has held to traditions which are counter productive.

From New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge vol 8 page 266 says:

“The distinction between clergy and laity arose gradually in the second century. It shows an influence of the Jewish differentiation between priesthood and people. Traces of it are seen in the first epistle of Clement and in the apostolic church order. Clement of Alexandria uses the three terms, presbyters, deacons, and laymen {Strom, III., xii.),..”

It is with this early church history in mind that most look back at the New Testament verses and read them with the idea of clergy and laymen in mind. To understand the method I will be referring to a well written article entitled “WHY DOES THE CHURCH ORDAIN FOR MINISTRY?. Most knowledgeable people know that the New Testament gives no instruction for ordination, it has been a tradition which is felt to be implied by various New Testament texts. The article linked to above present these texts and offers the traditional Christian interpretation but I would suggest that the traditional interpretation is not necessarily the interpretation that was intended by the authors. In simple terms the idea of clergy and laity is not consistent with the New Testament context of church.

We first begin with the Pastor, this word comes from the Greek for a shepherd. The idea being someone who guides and helps support and comfort other people. With tradition separating clergy and laity and even later the idea of one Bishop per city and then one Bishop per congregation the idea became that there should be one Pastor per church. This seems to even remain today in huge churches which have multiple Pastors with one generally classed as the head Pastor. But what if we got rid of the clergy laity definition, what would a pastor be then? Pastors then would be like teachers in that the church could have many pastors even small churches as the pastors would be people who possess the ability to guide people, to comfort and support their fellow church members. Pastors then like teachers could be capable of directing their efforts to those they feel most comfortable with. Just as we don’t assume that a kindergarten teachers is going to be a good youth teacher or a good grade school teacher will be a good adult teacher we would accept that a pastor is not adequate to comfort and guide everyone but that they have a talent for certain people groups.

Can you imagine the difference in a church if we took the pastoral role and allowed the laity to perform those duties which in fact are the main duties that the New Testament ascribes to Elders/Bishops. For far too long we have assumed that the Pastor in the clergy laity division is the one who is responsible to preach and baptize and visit and head the day to day activities of the business of a church. The fact is that without the clergy laity division there are numerous people who could preach though I will admit that preaching is probably the least useful method of teaching, reaching or inspiring people. With multiple pastors multiple methods of instruction inside the church could be preformed at the same time. (I will use pastors for the multiple pastor concept and Pastor for the traditional Christian Pastor concept.) We don’t all have to sit around like lumps listening to someone pontificate from the pulpit. The making of disciples could be far more active and engaging, more social and more fun than our tradition has made it. Further there is no Biblical indication that baptism is only appropriately performed by a clergy member.

Once you move beyond the clergy laity division many of the traditions which the church holds become little more then hindrances upon the church, denomination traditions being no less hindrances. This is what we are finding now when the Adventist church declares that they cannot support women’s ordination as a whole denomination. Some conferences do support and others don’t and both assert they have Biblical authority on their side. Yet without a clear Biblical definition of ordination neither side really has Biblical authority they just have different methods of interpretation and acceptance of tradition and culture.

Now let us look at the arguments that a denomination would use to back up their position for ordination but let us remember that it could be possible that the clergy laity division is not the proper method of interpretation. How can we look at the classic Christian traditional interpretations when we keep in mind the idea of one body made up by the many members acting with Christ as the head?

The first reason from the article “WHY DOES THE CHURCH ORDAIN FOR MINISTRY?:

Ordination is not intended to bestow honor; it is intended to bestow authority for service. When one thinks of this authority, the need for certification is obvious. A minister is authorized to teach the Scriptures and the doctrines of the church. This requires more than Sunday School knowledge; it calls for serious prior supervised study and eventual certification. In their line of duty, ministers may enter the homes of the community to visit a young family, or to pray with a housebound elderly person. Ministers may call on hospital patients on the eve of their surgery. Or they may be called on to counsel parties to a crumbling marriage, or to hear the painful confessions of a deeply troubled conscience. Ministers may also be called upon to represent their church at a community function.

As with the clergy versus laity division the assumption is clergy has authority, we all know of course that clergy can be just as wrong as any member of the laity and that members of the laity can have a better understanding of God then the clergy. So what authority do they mean here? Answer; denominational authority. This is the hierarchy goal of a denomination. Where they can ensure that their denominational beliefs are maintained, this serves to stifle innovation and relational development, it seeks to cling to denominational concepts above all else, right or wrong. When you cling to something because it is your tradition the possibility of recognizing areas where you are wrong is very limited. But that is what the authority of one Pastor sets in place. When you read the rest of the quoted paragraph you see that all of those duties could be handled by multiple people with their multiple areas of expertise. Personally I think it would be unwise to get marital counseling from a Pastor just because the denomination has certified him/her; specialized training would be advisable and since there could be multiple pastors at any one church it would be possible to have people who can do the various tasks. The difference here is again authority because the Pastor gets paid by the denomination to do these things. But the local church actually pays the cost and if they were not attempting to support the denominational authority they could support their active pastors. Certainly small churches are exceptions in such cases it may not be possible for the small church to obtain specialized training for the laity pastors but still with the multiple pastors concept it may be possible for people to find supportive pastors who can help since often just listening is useful and they can certainly direct to local counselors in the community.

The article states:

The detail about the preparation of persons for ordained ministry is buried deep in the history of the New Testament church. There we are not told everything we would like to know. Even so, although the explicit word for ordination does not appear in the Greek Scriptures, there are a number of indications to show that care was taken to set apart certain believers for the special task of ministry or oversight. For example, from his wider throng of disciples, and after a whole night of prayer, our Lord set apart twelve of his followers as “apostles” (Lk. 6;12-16). The word means, “one sent with a commission.” Jesus gave them authority to carry out a special ministry on his behalf.

There is nothing here I am disagreeing with but I think it is useful to point out that all believers are given a special task of ministry and oversight. It is incumbent in the New Testament command of making disciples of all men. Being a follower of Christ includes concepts of treating your neighbor as yourself and not judging by a standard that you are not willing to be judged by. As ambassadors of Christ we preach reconciliation to God, all Christians are set aside for a sacred purpose.

The second point of the article on why ordination is:

The fullest insight into the developing practices of the early church is given in the pastoral epistles. In writing to Timothy, the Apostle Paul exhorted, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you (1 Tim. 4:14). Three things stand out in this concise word. (1) What he was to exercise was given to him as a gift (charisma); in other words a spiritual endowment he would need for the work of ministering. (2) The gift was apparently bestowed in his case through a prophetic message. (3) The gift was conferred by means of the laying on of hands.

It is unfortunate that when seeking to make scripture conform to tradition people jump to conclusions like this. We in fact don’t know what the gift was other then Timothy should not neglect it, we don’t know what the prophetic message was and what have no reason to think that the laying on of hands initiated the gift. But somehow this instance become the “fullest insight”. We could debate what the laying on of hands means or symbolized, I would submit it represents a connection of the community to the one who they are laying their hands on. I would not tend to believe it represents the commutation of authority upon someone rather the blessing of the community on someone. Support and acceptance and encouragement as well as connection, similarities to the laying on of a hand to an animal to be sacrificed, where the idea is this is my sacrifice I am connected to it, the laying on of hands represent the connection the relationship between those involved.

The third point in the article:

One thing that stands out in the pastoral references to the setting apart of leaders in the New Testament church was the emphasis on integrity of character. Much is said about this. The overseer must “fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience” (1 Tim. 1:19). He must be “above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self controlled, respectable ...” (1 Tim. 3:2ff). In the same passage, he must be “apt to teach” and therefore is expected to be well taught in the Scriptures and the formulation of Christian doctrine. Given such high requirements, it is not surprising that Paul’s instructions included that an ordinand “must not be a recent convert ...” (1 Tim. 3:6) and this is matched by the Apostle’s later instructions “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands,” (1 Tim. 5:22). This is an obvious reference to what the church through the centuries has called ordination.

The exhortation to live as a Christian is essential to all Christians. We all have to fight the good fight and hold on to faith. The context of “not be hasty laying on hands” is most likely dealing with accepting someone into the community of believers befor they are sure that they are really believers. This is particularly important when the Gnostics were about with their distortion of Christ and God while using much of the same language as the proto Christians. It is interesting to read 1 Timothy in the light of its church organization topics as it does give a good indication that the book is much later that Paul’s writings. It reflects the usage that the 3rd century leaders had assigned to themselves as authorities yet it is written so completely differently from Paul’s other books. But that is another subject. The advice in the book is still sound as those who help to shepherd or teach should not be new converts and should be sound thinkers and familiar with Christianity.

Ultimately ordination is not the problem it is the problem of denominational authoritarianism and employment. Laying on hands or acknowledging that a member of a congregation is set apart for a task in God’s community is completely reasonable. A symbol that the entire church can see and get behind and acknowledge; but that can become a problem when we deny that symbol to someone based upon their gender. It become an ethical problem when we deny someone equal employment compensation as well. But as it is we have become a denomination that is far to top heavy and we are in need of serious overhaul.

A funny thing about the Adventist women’s ordination controversy is that in the same portion of the Bible that talks about pastors it talks of teachers. Yet our educational system has no problem employing male and female teachers at equivalent pay. It is so interesting to see how cultural traditions work to interpret the Biblical text and how difficult it is too move people away from their traditions.

(Eph 4:11-12 NIV) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

Even the most popular text used of Elders may not be meant at all in connection with Pastors as it was a specific instruction for Titus in attempting to start new churches in new towns and combat those opposing Christians.

(Titus 1:5-9 NIV) 5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Of course given the cultural climate one would certainly not have sent out a woman to be a founding Elder but as we can see there is something more than Biblical hermeneutics going on here with both ordination and Pastoral roles, that is there is an attempt to make tradition both Christian and denomination our authority. That is something that we have to get away from, so go ahead and call me post modern I will accept the title gladly I just won't accept the status quo.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Social Justice, Politics and Useful Idiots

It has been a while since I broached the topic of Social Justice in my article Adventism and Social Justice. In that article I pointed out that the term social justice is most frequently used as a code word for political socialist ideas. I pointed out that it is, when used mostly undefined, which of course makes it perfect for political manipulation. After all words that sound good have often been used by totalitarian regimes attempting to persuade people that their methods were simply ways the government can do good. The most obvious example being: “From each, according to his ability; to each, according to his need” by Karl Marx. The Wikipedia gives us the whole paragraph of Marx’s famous slogan:

The complete paragraph containing Marx's statement of the creed in the 'Critique of the Gotha Program' is as follows:

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

The slogan which sounds so magnanimous and compassionate produced communist tyrannies that killed multiple millions of people and enslaved their populations. A slogan no matter how good sounding often carries with it implications that a good hearted person would never think of.

Recently certain Progressive Adventists have taken to attacking those who have pointed out the ulterior motives behind the term social justice. Not by using a reasoned argument to show that social justice has no connection to socialism, communism, or Nazi sympathizers, after all those are all actual historical connections, no they attack the person who brings the historical connections to the public light.

Recently Spectrum magazine online has posted two articles related to social justice and Glenn Beck. Two interesting things about those articles are that they are both factually wrong about Glenn Beck and neither article defines social justice. The first article Kill the. . .Huh?: Health Care Reform, Jesus, and the Sabbath by Alexander Carpenter where he writes:

This is the point: Jesus, by saying He acted through God's power to heal the man, undermined the power of the religious leaders. It was their domain. Saying who could receive grace and healing was where they got their power (and money) in society. When anyone works for social justice, structural change to our society to make it more egalitarian, they continue to the work of Jesus. And it's dangerous. Note: Glenn Beck's new crusade against Jim Wallis and churches that advocate social justice.

Of course Glenn Beck had no crusade against Jim Wallis, Jim Wallis attacked Glenn Beck. As the New York Times reported:

Last week, the conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck called on Christians to leave their churches if they hear preaching about social or economic justice, saying they were code words for Communism and Nazism.

This week the remarks prompted outrage from several Christian bloggers. The Rev. Jim Wallis, who leads the liberal Christian antipoverty group Sojourners, in Washington, called on Christians to leave Glenn Beck.

“What he has said attacks the very heart of our Christian faith, and Christians should no longer watch his show,” Mr. Wallis wrote on his blog, God’s Politics. “His show should now be in the same category as Howard Stern.”

Interestingly Jim Wallis is a Marxist by his own admission. He is as summarizes:

  • Activist preacher and editor of the leftwing Christian magazine Sojourners
  • Democratic Party operative
  • Apologist for communist atrocities in Cambodia and Vietnam
  • Dedicated foe of capitalism
  • Contends that Biblical scripture calls for large central government to aid the poor

He is also an advisor to President Obama and advisor to the Democratic National Committee. One thing for certain is once he attacked Glenn Beck he and his blog got a lot more publicity. As Jim Wallis said in his open letter to Glenn Beck, Wallis believes the heart of the gospel is social justice:

“Instead, let's have a conversation about whether social justice "is a perversion of the Gospel," as you say, or at the heart of the Gospel, as I say.”

Most of the readers of this blog are Christians yet how many of you would ever define the gospel as social justice. Few if any I would guess, the heart of the gospel is Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God who came into the world to reconcile the world to God. The gospel is not the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do to you”, because there is no salvation there, no reconciliation to God there. The heart of the gospel is the love, forgiveness and acceptance of God that is seen through the life of Jesus Christ and the assurance through His resurrection that God has the power to give us eternal life. Social justice no matter how it is defined is not the gospel. And when social justice is defined by communists it is far a field from anything the Bible encourages.

Remember social justice was the slogan of the Jew hating pro Nazi Reverend Charles E. Coughlin (1891-1979), here is a portion of his biography from the Social Security website:

Father Coughlin first took to the airwaves in 1926, broadcasting weekly sermons over the radio. By the early 1930s the content of his broadcasts had shifted from theology to economics and politics. Just as the rest of the nation was obsessed by matters economic and political in the aftermath of the Depression, so too was Father Coughlin. Coughlin had a well-developed theory of what he termed "social justice," predicated on monetary "reforms." He began as an early Roosevelt supporter, coining a famous expression, that the nation's choice was between "Roosevelt or ruin." Later in the 1930s he turned against FDR and became one of the president's harshest critics. His program of "social justice" was a very radical challenge to capitalism and to many of the political institutions of his day…

Father Coughlin's influence on Depression-era America was enormous. Millions of Americans listened to his weekly radio broadcast. At the height of his popularity, one-third of the nation was tuned into his weekly broadcasts. In the early 1930s, Coughlin was, arguably, one of the most influential men in America. Although his core message was one of economic populism, his sermons also included attacks on prominent Jewish figures--attacks that many people considered evidence of anti-Semitism. His broadcasts became increasingly controversial for this reason, and in 1940 his superiors in the Catholic Church forced him to stop his broadcasts and return to his work as a parish priest.

His published magazine by the name Social Justice. Here are a few excepts from

In November of 1934, Coughlin set up his own organization, the National Union for Social Justice. Two years later he began publishing a nationally circulating paper called "Social Justice" and, as his public identification with Roosevelt's New Deal politics waned, he began to seek closer grounds with some of the most right-wing and reactionary groups in the country.

…By 1938, the pages of "Social Justice" were frequently filled with accusations about Jewish control of America's financial institutions. In the summer of that year, Coughlin published a version of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." A virulently anti-Semitic piece of propaganda that had originated in Russia at the turn of the century, the "Protocols" accused Jews of planning to seize control of the world. Jewish leaders were shocked by Coughlin's actions.

The owner of WMCA, the New York station that carried Coughlin's show, refused to broadcast Coughlin's next radio message. The Nazi press reacted to the news with fury: "America is Not Allowed to Hear the Truth" declared one headline. "Jewish organizations camouflaged as American...have conducted such a campaign...that the radio station company has proceeded to muzzle the well-loved Father Coughlin." A "New York Times" correspondent in Germany noted that Coughlin had become for the moment "the hero of Nazi Germany."

Coughlin legacy lives on in the American Nazi Party whose website states:

Although National Socialism encompasses many various issues of concern to Aryan Americans, including a healthy environment, children's welfare, and freedom of belief without fear of System persecution...the two main tenants of National Socialism embodies the Struggle for Aryan Racial survival, and Social Justice for White Working Class people throughout our land.

Granted they modify social justice for white people but then when you don’t have a definition that is easy to do.

In Germany the The Social Democratic Party of Germany is the socialist party in Germany though the blend of capitalism and socialism is apparent, their party platform also includes social justice, as Wikipedia states:

The current party platform of the SPD espouses the goal of social democracy, which is seen as a vision of a societal arrangement in which freedom and social justice are paramount.

The Communist Party USA espouses social justice:

In the new millennium, the CPUSA maintains its commitment to the same political ideas that drove the Russian Revolution, but it embraces a more peaceful approach to creating change and social justice. Among the ideas it actively supports are socialized medicine, improved SOCIAL SECURITY benefits, stronger legislation to protect the environment, and full funding for education. The party also seeks greater cooperation with other political groups, believing that the best way to effect change is through the strength of broad-based coalitions.

Why we see that the Venezuelan Ambassador in his address points to the social justice of Hugo Chavez:

Inspired by the values of social justice, democracy and peace, in the name of the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez Frias, I wish to reaffirm to you our support of the UN, from a position that is critical but unambiguous and totally consistent with its highest goals.

I hope you get the idea because I could go on and on with these examples. Do any of the readers of this article really think that all these and other instances by nations and political organizations are referring to Christian beliefs, to the heart of the gospel? Are these racists and dictators really in harmony with the teachings of Christ just because they use the term social justice?

Of course they are not in harmony with Christ in whatever their definition of social justice is and that leads me to the second article where Ryan Bell sets out to make public service video’s with people saying they are social justice Christians. Again, without giving any definition of social justice. Just as with the with Alexander Carpenter article Bell has an article on the Huffington Post which again misinterprets Glenn Beck.

Glenn Beck, of course, is opposed to any interpretation of Christianity that would imply that people have a responsibility to take care of each other in any corporate sense. Let me be specific.

You might think that when he gets specific he would quote Glenn Beck but he does not, he does go on to say more fictional things however:

Finally, when the church makes acts of charity the only way to be involved in the world, it leaves systemic injustice -- and I would say, evil -- unchallenged. I have come to the conclusion that focusing exclusively on charity actually allows injustice to flourish. Providers of charity become those who service the wreckage of an economic system that leaves millions of people destitute. By holding to this theology of charity alone, Christians actually facilitate injustice rather than challenging it.

First he assumes that Beck has said that churches are only to be involved in charity as if the members of the churches would do nothing else, they won’t vote they won’t pursue any changes etc. Then Bell moves onto the same type of social justice we saw from Father Coughlin, and all those nations and political parties mentioned above. So we honestly have to wonder what he really means by social justice and why if it is so clearly Biblical and gospel centered it can’t be defined when it is used. The only answer I can see is that the term is meant as a political code word for socialized government just as it is used throughout the world: pretending the term to be a Christian virtue. After all how often have we seen the political liberals and Progressives come out in support of Christians in the past 20 years? That certainly seems strange. It is however totally in character for the political left to attack the political right like Glenn Beck, though even though he is a Latter Day Saint his references to God and the Bible are far more often and heart felt than any other talk show host it seems very strange that he is being so attacked by other Christians like Pastor Bell. That to me is very indicative of political ideology supplanting Christianity and frankly complete dishonesty about what Glenn Beck has been saying.

Here are a couple of important links for further reading:

Glenn Beck: What Is 'Social Justice'?

The second link I was going to use seems to be having trouble so I will just post the article here for now, from First Things Magazine December 2000 by Michael Novak

Last year marked the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Friedrich Hayek, among whose many contributions to the twentieth century was a sustained and animated put–down of most of the usages of the term “social justice.” I have never encountered a writer, religious or philosophical, who directly answers Hayek’s criticisms. In trying to understand social justice in our own time, there is no better place to start than with the man who, in his own intellectual life, exemplified the virtue whose common misuse he so deplored.

The trouble with “social justice” begins with the very meaning of the term. Hayek points out that whole books and treatises have been written about social justice without ever offering a definition of it. It is allowed to float in the air as if everyone will recognize an instance of it when it appears. This vagueness seems indispensable. The minute one begins to define social justice, one runs into embarrassing intellectual difficulties. It becomes, most often, a term of art whose operational meaning is, “We need a law against that.” In other words, it becomes an instrument of ideological intimidation, for the purpose of gaining the power of legal coercion.

Hayek points out another defect of twentieth–century theories of social justice. Most authors assert that they use it to designate a virtue (a moral virtue, by their account). But most of the descriptions they attach to it appertain to impersonal states of affairs—“high unemployment” or “inequality of incomes” or “lack of a living wage” are cited as instances of “social injustice.” Hayek goes to the heart of the matter: social justice is either a virtue or it is not. If it is, it can properly be ascribed only to the reflective and deliberate acts of individual persons. Most who use the term, however, ascribe it not to individuals but to social systems. They use “social justice” to denote a regulative principle of order; again, their focus is not virtue but power.

The term “social justice” was first used in 1840 by a Sicilian priest, Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio, and given prominence by Antonio Rosmini–Serbati in La Costitutione Civile Secondo la Giustizia Sociale in 1848. John Stuart Mill gave this anthropomorphic approach to social questions almost canonical status for modern thinkers thirteen years later in Utilitarianism:

Society should treat all equally well who have deserved equally well of it, that is, who have deserved equally well absolutely. This is the highest abstract standard of social and distributive justice; towards which all institutions, and the efforts of all virtuous citizens, should be made in the utmost degree to converge. [Emphasis added.]

Mill imagines that societies can be virtuous in the same way that individuals can be. Perhaps in highly personalized societies of the ancient type, such a usage might make sense—under kings, tyrants, or tribal chiefs, for example, where one person made all the crucial social decisions. Curiously, however, the demand for the term “social justice” did not arise until modern times, in which more complex societies operate by impersonal rules applied with equal force to all under “the rule of law.”

The birth of the concept of social justice coincided with two other shifts in human consciousness: the “death of God” and the rise of the ideal of the command economy. When God “died,” people began to trust a conceit of reason and its inflated ambition to do what even God had not deigned to do: construct a just social order. The divinization of reason found its extension in the command economy; reason (that is, science) would command and humankind would collectively follow. The death of God, the rise of science, and the command economy yielded “scientific socialism.” Where reason would rule, the intellectuals would rule. (Or so some thought. Actually, the lovers of power would rule.)

From this line of reasoning it follows that “social justice” would have its natural end in a command economy in which individuals are told what to do, so that it would always be possible to identify those in charge and to hold them responsible. This notion presupposes that people are guided by specific external directions rather than internalized, personal rules of just conduct. It further implies that no individual should be held responsible for his relative position. To assert that he is responsible would be “blaming the victim.” It is the function of “social justice” to blame somebody else, to blame the system, to blame those who (mythically) “control” it. As Leszek Kolakowski wrote in his magisterial history of communism, the fundamental paradigm of Communist ideology is guaranteed to have wide appeal: you suffer; your suffering is caused by powerful others; these oppressors must be destroyed. We need to hold someone accountable, Hayek notes, even when we recognize that such a protest is absurd.

We are not wrong, Hayek concedes, in perceiving that the effects of the individual choices and open processes of a free society are not distributed according to a recognizable principle of justice. The meritorious are sometimes tragically unlucky; the evil prosper; good ideas don’t pan out, and sometimes those who backed them, however noble their vision, lose their shirts. But a system that values both trial–and–error and free choice is in no position to guarantee outcomes in advance. Furthermore, no one individual (and certainly no politburo or congressional committee or political party) can design rules that would treat each person according to his merit or even his need. No one has sufficient knowledge of all relevant personal details, and as Kant writes, no general rule has a grip fine enough to grasp them.

Hayek made a sharp distinction, however, between those failures of justice that involve breaking agreed–upon rules of fairness and those that consist in results that no one designed, foresaw, or commanded. The first sort of failure earned his severe moral condemnation. No one should break the rules; freedom imposes high moral responsibilities. The second, insofar as it springs from no willful or deliberate act, seemed to him not a moral matter but an inescapable feature of all societies and of nature itself. When labeling unfortunate results as “social injustices” leads to an attack upon the free society, with the aim of moving it toward a command society, Hayek strenuously opposes the term. The historical records of the command economies of Nazism and communism justify his revulsion at that way of thinking.

Hayek recognized that at the end of the nineteenth century, when the term “social justice” came to prominence, it was first used as an appeal to the ruling classes to attend to the needs of the new masses of uprooted peasants who had become urban workers. To this he had no objection. What he did object to was careless thinking. Careless thinkers forget that justice is by definition social. Such carelessness becomes positively destructive when the term “social” no longer describes the product of the virtuous actions of many individuals, but rather the utopian goal toward which all institutions and all individuals are “made in the utmost degree to converge” by coercion. In that case, the “social” in “social justice” refers to something that emerges not organically and spontaneously from the rule–abiding behavior of free individuals, but rather from an abstract ideal imposed from above.

Given the strength of Hayek’s argument against the term, it may seem odd to assert that he himself was a practitioner of social justice—even if one adds, as one must, “social justice rightly understood.” Still, Hayek plainly saw in his vocation as a thinker a life of service to his fellow men. Helping others to understand the intellectual keys to a free and creative society is to render them a great benefit. Hayek’s intellectual work was not merely a matter of his own self–interest, narrowly understood, but was aimed at the good of the human city as a whole. It was a work of justice in a social dimension—in other words, a work of virtue. To explain what Hayek did, then, we need a conception of social justice that Hayek never considered.

Social justice rightly understood is a specific habit of justice that is “social” in two senses. First, the skills it requires are those of inspiring, working with, and organizing others to accomplish together a work of justice. These are the elementary skills of civil society, through which free citizens exercise self–government by doing for themselves (that is, without turning to government) what needs to be done. Citizens who take part commonly explain their efforts as attempts to “give back” for all that they have received from the free society, or to meet the obligations of free citizens to think and act for themselves. The fact that this activity is carried out with others is one reason for designating it as a specific type of justice; it requires a broader range of social skills than do acts of individual justice.

The second characteristic of “social justice rightly understood” is that it aims at the good of the city, not at the good of one agent only. Citizens may band together, as in pioneer days, to put up a school or build a bridge. They may get together in the modern city to hold a bake sale for some charitable cause, to repair a playground, to clean up the environment, or for a million other purposes that their social imaginations might lead them to. Hence the second sense in which this habit of justice is “social”: its object, as well as its form, primarily involves the good of others.

One happy characteristic of this definition of the virtue of social justice is that it is ideologically neutral. It is as open to people on the left as on the right or in the center. Its field of activity may be literary, scientific, religious, political, economic, cultural, athletic, and so on, across the whole spectrum of human social activities. The virtue of social justice allows for people of good will to reach different—even opposing—practical judgments about the material content of the common good (ends) and how to get there (means). Such differences are the stuff of politics.

We must rule out any use of “social justice” that does not attach to the habits (that is, virtues) of individuals. Social justice is a virtue, an attribute of individuals, or it is a fraud. And if Tocqueville is right that “the principle of association is the first law of democracy,” then social justice is the first virtue of democracy, for it is the habit of putting the principle of association into daily practice. Neglect of it, Hayek wrote, has moral consequences:

It is one of the greatest weaknesses of our time that we lack the patience and faith to build up voluntary organizations for purposes which we value highly, and immediately ask the government to bring about by coercion (or with means raised by coercion) anything that appears as desirable to large numbers. Yet nothing can have a more deadening effect on real participation by the citizens than if government, instead of merely providing the essential framework of spontaneous growth, becomes monolithic and takes charge of the provision for all needs, which can be provided for only by the common effort of many.

Michael Novak holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is adapted from a lecture delivered at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

GC President decides via opinions rather then research

Adventist News Network reports the following:

The issue of women's ordination will not be added to the agenda for the 59th General Conference Session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the church's President Jan Paulsen said April 6.

Speaking to leadership at Spring Meeting in Silver Spring, Maryland, Paulsen said that a canvass of the church's 13 world church divisions revealed only three willing to accept a change in the current policy of not ordaining women to pastoral ministry, and eight divisions reporting the move would negatively impact membership. Two other divisions apparently did not respond.

After all the arguments both pro and con on the subject of the ordination of women we see the true colors of the method of decision making in the Adventist Church. The President of the GC will ask the divisions leaders for their opinions, because of course they are all Bible scholars who would never allow their cultural traditions and personal biases to intervene with their opinions. Therefore the church cannot deal with the issue in the General Conference session because the majority of the World Division leaders don't want to accept the idea of the ordination of women and they think it would negatively impact their divisions. Because of course they have researched it well and they are all scholars and cutting edge researchers.

The problem here is that the World Division leaders are not in the main scholars they have not done any research into what will happen to the church should women be ordained. All they have is their opinions taken to the extreme as if their opinion is the will of all the divisions or even any divisions. Would it really upset the members of Division A if Division B ordained women? It is silly to expect the opinion of a Division leader to have any real value in that question. But it is given supreme value and the President Jan Paulsen takes it upon himself to veto any discussion at the GC session.

How can it be that our church has fallen into this state of arrogant leadership. It is of course symptomatic of the whole delegate process which is heavily weighted to employees of the church, who of course owe their employment to those same leaders of the SDA church.

All hail the bureaucracy!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Break Out of Chains

I have been staying away from sermons for the past several weeks. After all when you try to talk to your pastor through the written word and he ignores you after his initial response there appears little reason to expect worthwhile material to come from him through the efforts of a sermon. To use the biblical metaphor of being faithful in little things, how can someone who can’t defend or expound his ideas in direct communication hope to do so in the larger sermon context.

So it being Easter Weekend we were treated to the efforts of the Pastor to explain the meaning of the Resurrection. Which he did an adequate job on. Of course he had to include the idea that Jesus paid our penalty and that He was our Substitute, including the special music of the song “The Day He Wore My Crown”. Because of course we being human with the virus of sin, are sick and we deserve to be killed on a cross while wearing a crown of thorns. After all as the lesson study of our church for April 2010 said “the fact of the matter is we all deserve death." Isn’t it strange how when Christians talk religion they use such ideas as we all deserve death but when someone’s child or loved one dies we don’t tell them well he or she deserved to die after all. No it is a phrase we use when we want to talk God’s atonement. Like this worksheet from a Christian church says:

“I am guilty before God and I deserve death and hell, and the death penalty must be paid. God the righteous Judge cannot overlook sin. The Lord Jesus came to earth and paid the death penalty for me. He died as my Substitute.”

I always wonder when I read these types of statements “cannot overlook sin” if these people have any conception of what the word forgive means. After all it is in the rather famous Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11:4). Now that statement is far more philosophical than actual because we are pretty poor at forgiving other people even at our best and we would certainly hope that God forgives us better than we forgive others. So the statement is more likely indicative of the concept that God completely forgives us and we need to strive to follow His example and be willing to forgive others. But how would that work if one believed that there was no forgiveness unless first a penalty had to be paid?

But it sounds so religious to say we all deserve death. It’s what all the preachers are saying so we keep saying it. It has become tradition. Now there is certainly some truth in the concept, we are mortal, we will die, it is a fact of nature and the statistical rate of death to life is pretty much 1:1 for the last several thousand years. If God did not do something about it then that death would be certain and final. So if God chooses to give eternal life to someone it is all God’s doing and not because anyone was deserving of God giving them a special gift. As if they had something over God and God just had to give them a gift to return the favor that person had shown to God.

So what is easy and correct and inarguable “we are mortal and we die” turns into “man deserves to die”, and we don’t even believe it but because we keep hearing it from our religious teachers we parrot it back because if you parrot back what your church says they will give you leadership roles in the church, they will count you as wise in the ways of the spirit.

To get back to my experience with the sermon today. The pastor at one point reflected upon the statement of Christ:

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NIV)

As part of the resurrection sermon he used this statement to indicate that the only way to salvation is through Jesus. So what does that mean to all of the millions or billions of people that have never heard of Jesus Christ? Well according to fundamentalism it means they have no shot at salvation. The Website Religious Tolerance notes several statements from Fundamentalist Christians including the following:

A Christian missionary, William Carey, and generations of missionaries who followed in his wake...who "believed...that...Personal faith in Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation for all peoples everywhere, and those who die without this saving knowledge face eternal separation from God."

Of course that makes little sense because if you had to believe in Jesus Christ how could any of the Old Testament folks be saved. The apologetics website CARM says the following to answer this predicament:

As you can see, the Bible tells us that Abraham was justified by faith (see Rom. 5:1 and Eph. 2:8-9). That is, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, v. 4 above. They were saved by faith in the Messiah in whom they were trusting. Only, for them it was a trust in the future Messiah. They knew He was coming as had been prophesied.

In other words when the Bible talks about these people having faith in God it meant that they had faith in the Messiah who was to come even if they really had no knowledge of said Messiah and even though the Old Testament writings give very little foreshadowing of the Messiah. If you look up the texts which CARM uses you will see that they say noting about the Old Testament folks having faith in a coming Messiah but since they have made an exclusivist claim they have to insert new meanings into the Bible to back up their incorrect ideas.

But just like the religiosity of saying we all deserve death there is a traditionalism that sounds so good in saying that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ because Jesus Christ paid the penalty and became our substitute. After all we all have to have a substitute or God will have to kill us because we deserve to die because God cannot overlook sin, someone has to pay the penalty or there is no forgiveness from God. I know it does not sound very logical and it is not logical it is traditional, it is what we have allowed our preachers and their sermons to tell us without questioning what they are saying. After all how many times have you heard your pastor answer questions after he gives a sermon? Never for most of us, yet for some reason we think we are being trained in our Christian spirituality in those passive presentations by pastors who hardly ever see, read or hear contrary ideas to their traditions. They don’t go out and look for them, they usually don’t go to Sabbath School classes where real discussions occur preferring rather to lead their own Sabbath School classes or avoiding them altogether as they prepare to give their sermons.

If the pastors got out and listened or read more widely they could certainly come up with better material and they could explain logically verses that say there is no other way to salvation than through Christ. Because after all it is easy to do. Jesus Christ is God there is no salvation except by God granting salvation and He knows the heart of everyman whether they will accept His gift or not accept His gift, whether they would be happy to have a relationship with God or not. We don’t get to God, God gets to us, He is the prime mover He is the one who made the first move and ultimately the most revealing move through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We did not go up to heaven to see a revelation of God, God incarnate came here. But that certainly does not mean that God is restricted to salvation of those who have heard the story of Jesus. That is not even a controversial idea in Adventist history as Ellen White who Adventist tradition has labeled a prophet expressed the idea that there will be many in heaven who never heard the name of Jesus Christ. But because there is this dogma so prevalent thanks to fundamentalism my pastor made the statement just like any fundamentalist would make. I am pretty sure he does not believe it the way he said it, but it is a sermon and sermons are meant to sound pleasing and spiritual and the best way to do that it seems, is to preach in trite statements, words that please the traditions of the consumer.

Christianity has to change; we have to move away from sermons the training ground for passive Christians to an engaged and thinking Christianity. I suppose that there will have to be another Reformation of Christianity to break us away from our traditional chains, but as I was reading the latest issue of Charisma Magazine online I see that the young leaders they highlighted are nothing close to the Reformational leadership the Christian church needs. There needs to be a movement from the ground up, an uprising against our own leadership. Think how much better God would be served if our leadership actually helped instead of hindered.

Please break your chains.

Friday, April 02, 2010 evidence that truth is not sought there

The Adventist Review recently offered their take on the controversy over science and traditional Adventism at La Sierra University. To which La Sierra University published a letter of their own noting the numerous deficiencies and what appears to be biased reporting of the Review. Now, that the Adventist Review is biased toward traditional Adventism and Fundamentalism is hardly a surprise to anyone. Most of us know that the Adventist Review makes no effort to be objective either in reporting or in their selection of articles or writers. That is why you hardly ever read both sides of a story or multiple ideas about a particular belief or doctrine even though the multiple ideas are present in the Adventist community. After all that is the major problem with traditionalism and fundamentalism. It is either their way or heresy.

The La Sierra University letter presented a very good example of this limited perspective found in the traditional/fundamentalist side of things when the letter reported the incidents that occurred between one of their Professors and the website Here is what the letter said under point 8:

The most recent example of the attack website’s questionable practices is a posting on the site made by Dr. Larry Blackmer, the North American Division vice president for education. Dr. Blackmer stated in his post that a number of his remarks made at a Lake Union education summit “had been taken seriously out of context” by the website. Dr. Blackmer’s words reveal the seriousness of his feelings regarding the web editor’s actions. “I feel betrayed by this website,” Dr. Blackmer wrote. “I have explained the context of my remarks, yet you have taken my remarks and used them in a way that demonstrates exactly what I was speaking against.”

Dr. Blackmer, in his post to the website, went on to share his thoughts on the creation/evolution debate going on in Adventist higher education and to offer his support for La Sierra at the current time. The attack website removed Dr. Blackmer’s post within hours. It went on to privately offer to him a heavily edited version of his statement that the website would find acceptable. The edited version contained roughly half of Dr. Blackmer’s original thoughts and removed his direct challenges to the website for posting his comments inappropriately. Dr. Blackmer did not authorize the posting of their revision.

It is a sad fact that those who think themselves with the most truth often fear the most truth. Those who seek to control information seek to control the population. It is true in churches and denominations just as it is true in society and politics. When you know so much that you can’t listen to the other side you really don’t know much at all.