Archive for July, 2010

…An Unworthy Manner July 20, 2010

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason, many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged“ (1 Cor. 12:26-31).

In this passage, Paul is writing in the context of a conflict among the Corinthian believers as to the physical abuse of the Lord’s table during communion. Certain believers were gorging themselves on the bread and wine to the point of drunkenness (12:21), leaving others out of the celebration altogether. Obviously, this would qualify as an “œunworthy manner,” tantamount to taking God’s name in vain. The part that confuses us is the pronouncement of sickness and death as a consequence of these actions (12:30). To our sanitized sense of church, this seems very “œOld Testament”, and out of character with the grace represented by communion.

Passages like this bring us face to face with an imagined conflict between holiness and grace. Christ came to fulfill the law, but the law is not a stand-alone. The law served to show us our sin in relation to God’s uncompromising holiness. When Christ’s sacrifice fulfilled the law, He allowed his blood to cover our sins and permit us to fellowship with Him in His righteousness. The holiness of God is unchanging, before, during, and after the law.

When those who claimed to be brothers and sisters in Christ trampled one another and indulged in the Lord’s supper with a self-focused, gluttonous attitude, they were spitting on Christ’s sacrifice. They were casting aside the significance of the observance for their own gain, forgetting who God is. They were taking Him in vain, demonstrating that, at best, they had not allowed the Spirit to reign in their hearts since professing Christ, or, at worst, that they did not know Him at all.

Does the same principle and punishment apply to us today? Our modernistic worldview has so sequestered disease and death in a scientific construct that, if it is occurring, we aren’t noticing. The principle, however, holds true in any instance of worship (read: life as a believer). Whenever we seek to  magnify ourselves (whether openly or only in the attitude of our hearts), we are not honoring Christ. When we do it under the guise of celebrating Him, we are inviting judgment. When we become involved in the church to improve our social standing or to feel good about ourselves, when we do good deeds for the recognition of men, when we give of time and money for the wrong reasons, we make light of God – we take Him in vain. We invite judgment on ourselves in this way because we are tarnishing the name of Christ. Rather, we should, as Paul commanded the Corinthians, “œ. . . proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

Posted by Justin Lonas

Friday Thoughts: Great is Thy Faithfulness July 9, 2010

“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my father;
There is no shadow of turning with thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;
As thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

“Summer and winter and seedtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to lead and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine and ten thousand beside!

“Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning, new mercies I see.
All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided,
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

© Thomas O. Chisholm, 1923

Chisholm’s hymn is dear to many of us, but perhaps so near that we forget the power of its meaning. This is not just a hymn praising God for His abundant blessing or His steadfast support. In point of fact, the text for this songbook standard comes not from Psalms but from Lamentations – from the lowest point of the lowly life of Jeremiah. And the affirmation of God’s faithfulness comes not after a blessing, or even after deliverance, but after God’s chastisement of Israel. So confident was Jeremiah of God’s purposes in His punishment, that he echoes Job’s cry, “œThough He slay me, yet will I hope in Him“ (Job 13:15a).

“œMy soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, “˜My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the Lord.’ Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my sould remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness“ (Lamentations 3:17-23).

That is the true test of our faith – do we trust God enough to know that even the troubles we encounter are part of His plan? Do we believe, as Jeremiah did, that “œWho is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the most high that both good and ill go forth?” (Lamentations 3:37-38).

Posted by Justin Lonas

Representation without Taxation? July 1, 2010

Last night,  I sat down briefly after dinner to watch a favorite cooking show of mine, and, while waiting for it to air,  ran across TBN  (whatever its goals were at its inception and whatever good it may have ever accomplished notwithstanding, in our house it’s known as The Blasphemy Network). The show of a certain religious television personality who trades heavily in end-times fearmongering and is known to be deeply involved in American politics was on, and the gigantic display of the U.S. and Israeli flags behind his pulpit caught my eye.

Curious, I watched as he began a talk on economic policy, the value of the U.S. dollar, and the ways our present government (and those of European nations) have colluded to destroy the world’s economy. This informational (and  politically charged)  lecture might easily have been  held in a classroom or  election rally and  seemed more prescient.  Whatever one’s personal feelings on the subject matter, I couldn’t help but wonder what place such discourse has as (presumably) the main sermon at a church service. I watched for ten minutes before any reference to Scripture or anything of a spiritual nature entered the lesson, and when it did, it was a passing remark about 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (”If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either“).

This spectacle got me thinking again  about an idea I’ve kicked around before–should churches be tax-exempt, especially when they engage in rhetoric and activities so focused on directing public policy? The TBN program is just one (extreme) example of this abuse of tax-free status. Many mainline U.S. denominations actively promote liberal causes and candidates from the pulpit; many otherwise theologically sound evangelical churches do much the same from the conservative side of the spectrum, though they tend to be more careful not to mention specific parties or candidates because of greater media scrutiny. It seems to me that any organization (with or without a spiritual/religious) pretext that seeks actively to influence elections, laws, and policy should be willing to pay their fair share for a “seat at the table” just like the rest of the individuals and businesses in the country.

Tax-exempt status is, and has historically been, a great blessing to Christians. It enables them to afford the costs of ministry; it provides further  incentive for faithful giving (through income tax deductions); it has helped boost the expansion of the Gospel message around the world by funnelling resources to tax-exempt missions agencies and parachurch ministries. As such, it should not be tossed aside lightly, but at the very least, there should probably be more severe penalties for those that violate the intent of tax-exemption by openly advocating (or denouncing) political positions and candidates. Churches should treat this status as the privilege that it is, and use its benefits to dedicate themselves wholly to the work of the Gospel, not to push the envelope of political involvement.

Biblically, you could make a decent case against any special treatment for Christianity from government. Jesus in Matthew 17:24-27, instructs Peter to pay the temple tax (and miraculously provides the means to do so), specifically seeking to avoid unecessary prejudice against His message by bucking a disliked law. In Matthew 22:15-22, Jesus thwarts the machinations of the Pharisees by  distinguishing between spiritual realities (the work of God in his people, who bear His likeness) and political/financial realities (the Roman tax, paid with money which bore Caesar’s likeness). We are told in Scripture to submit to government (Rom. 13, 1 Pet. 2), to pray for those in authority (Rom 13, 1 Tim 2), and to live within the law (1 Pet. 2), but never to desire power, to publically promote the government, or seek to overthrow it (I’ve witten more extensively about this subject here and here). This doesn’t mean that we should not oppose injustice and evil (whether or not it is sanctioned by government), that we should be uncritical of social  and cultural trends that lead people away from the Lord,  or that Christians who are so gifted should not live out their faith in public service. It does mean that the gathered Body of Christ should focus its attention on the Lord and His work and trust His hand in the movement of governments.

What do you think? Should the Church be tax-exempt? Why or why not? Would you trade the right to tax-exemption in order to speak openly about politics from the pulpit?

Posted by Justin Lonas

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