Monday, March 31, 2014

The Real Problem At World Vision

Last week, in one of the most bizarre (and that is saying a lot) incidents in the evangelical world in recent months, the venerable relief organization in the span of a few days, affirmed and then repudiated the practice of same-sex marriage as acceptable for its employees.

World Vision (USA) President, Richard Stearns, in a baffling interview published in Christianity today, made the argument that essentially in the name of “Unity” World Vision would not take a position on same sex marriage, and that they would express their lack of a position by changing the long standing employee conduct policy.  [Of course it is simply ridiculous on its face to claim you are not taking a position and then to express your “neutrality” by changing a written policy, sending out press releases and sitting for interviews to explain your non-position position, but I digress.]

And while Stearns expressed hope that this newly expressed “neutrality” would not cause donors to abandon the organization, he made clear that he understood the risks involved and was willing to take them in order to focus on unity and what they perceive as their primary mission.

"I don't want to predict the reaction we will get," he said. "I think we've got a very persuasive series of reasons for why we're doing this, and it's my hope that all of our donors and partners will understand it, and will agree with our exhortation to unite around what unites us. But we do know this is an emotional issue in the American church. I'm hoping not to lose supporters over the change. We're hoping that they understand that what we've done is focused on church unity and our mission."
But in the ensuing 48 hours it became very clear that many of World Vision’s donors did not see the organizations new policy as neutral but rather as provocative and a clear rejection of the authority of Scripture.  And donors began to vote with their dollars, as The Religion News Service reported, to the tune of $840,000 in just two days.

And coincidentally World Vision reversed their position stating:

“In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners. As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.” [Full text of their statement available here]

While many expressed thankfulness and relief at this reversal, to my eye it only underscores the true problem with World Vision, pragmatism.  World vision has been clear over the years that their mission is not to spread the Gospel, but to feed starving people.  And that is a noble endeavor, and for that they should be commended.  However that alone does not make them a Christian ministry. 

A Christian ministry must be built on Christian convictions and convictions simply do not change in two days.  No matter what anyone’s position is on this issue it is an unavoidable conclusion that World Vision’s policy change (neither of them) was not based on principle, let alone Christian convictions.  It sounds a lot more like they are being tossed to and fro like spiritual children (Ephesians 4:14) and that they have been taken captive by vain philosophies of men instead of submitting themselves to the will of God (Colossians 2:8).  As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount “you cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24) yet it seems that when the donations began to dry up they made the decision to change their policy, which tells me their original decision was not based on any deeply held (if very wrong) convictions, let alone convictions about church unity.

World vision has a long history of compromising on core Christian beliefs.  No belief is more foundational to the Christian life than the unshakable belief that Jesus is the Way, The Truth and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6) and that all believers are tasked with spreading this message wherever they go (Matthew 28:18-20).  But in the name of providing services in Muslim and other closed countries World Vision has jettisoned the great commission.  Time and again Stearns and other representatives of the organization have given interviews in which they emphasize that Word Vision has a strict no proselytizing policy. It has morphed from the Christian relief society founded by Belen Pierce into an effective, but essentially secular charity, in the name of increasing its reach. 

A Christian ministry is a ministry that proclaims the name of Christ.  It shares the Gospel and cares more for the eternal souls of the lost than the contents of their belly.  That doesn’t mean that feeding the hungry and starving is unimportant, it is very important, but for an organization that calls itself a Christian ministry meeting physical needs should be secondary to meeting spiritual needs of the lost.  Jesus speaking of the cost of discipleship said He would be ashamed  before the Father of anyone ashamed of Him now, essentially saying that someone who is ashamed of the name of Christ and of the Gospel has no relationship with Him (Mark 8:38).  Based on their lack of conviction, history of pragmatism, and jettisoning of the great commission I am forced to conclude that World Vision is no longer a Christian organization but that it is a secular charity that pragmatically appeals to Christians as a source of income.

Does that mean that Christians should withdraw their support of World Vision?  Not necessarily, it is a matter of Christian liberty.  There is nothing sinful or untoward about supporting secular charities.  I support some secular charities, and I do so with a clean conscience, but I do it with my eyes wide open.  I don’t confuse my support of the Biblical Archaeology Society or Trout Unlimited with supporting a Christian ministry, and no one should confuse supporting World Vision with supporting a Christian Ministry either.   

When it comes support for World Vision, prayerful consideration should be given to any decision to support them or to withdraw support from them, such a decision will impact real human lives that are in true distress.  The children they feed are very real and really hungry.  

But while they are doing good work, they are not reflecting the love of Christ on the people they serve.  You have to claim the name of Christ in order to proclaim and reflect His love.  You can’t serve the poor in the name of Christ if you are unwilling to speak it.  If the events of last week made anything about World Vision clear, it is that their Christianity is merely a pragmatic label they use for fundraising.  And that is the real problem with the organization.

[If you desire to support a Christian organization that is not ashamed of the Gospel, the local church, or the name of Christ, please consider Children’s Hunger Fund.]

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Camels, Foxes and Lies Oh My: Is Fox News Pro-Christian?

One week ago today published an odd article.   Fox has recently taken to publishing the odd article about archeology (which always catch my eye) and this one was no exception.  The basic gist of the article was that some scholars from the university of Tel Aviv have dated the oldest camel bones ever found and they dated them to the 10th century BC, well after the era of the patriarchs and thus casting doubt on the reliability of the bible because camels figure in the narratives of Genesis.  This is the lead of the story as published on the Fox news website:

Archaeologists from Israel’s top university have used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the arrival of domestic camels in the Middle East -- and they say the science directly contradicts the Bible’s version of events.
Now I don’t know if that is what the scholarly paper actually said, it wasn’t linked to and I couldn’t find it on the web, but what I do know is that there is overwhelming evidence that domesticated camels were present in the Middle East thousands of years before the 10th century BC. There are dozens of carvings, inscriptions and artifacts showing or referring to domesticated camels kept both as pack animals and meat and milk producing livestock some of which date as early as the pre-dynastic period of Egypt (before approximately 3100 B.C.). The evidence is so overwhelming that Dr. Chris Scarre wrote this on page 176 of his 1993 work, Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient World:

 both the dromedary (the one-humped camel of Arabia) and the Bactrian camel (the two-humped camel of Central Asia) had been domesticated since before 2000 BC.”
 Let that wash over you, a world famous secular scholar, in a definitive secular work, written 20 years ago on the basis of dozens of archaeological discoveries has stated emphatically that camels, in all of their varieties were domesticated in the 3rd millennium B.C. yet Fox news on the front page of their website claimed that archaeologists have pinpointed the date of the domestication of the camel and that their date (~900 B.C.) contradicts the biblical account of Genesis.

And this is not the first time that Fox has touted an archeological discovery that contains shocking information about or directly contradicts the bible.  Last year they were one of the first national outlets to publicize the so called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”papyrus (while even the Huffington post, certainly no friend to Christians, cautioned that the papyrus was immediately met with scholarly skepticism).

Now it really doesn’t bother me that Fox news attacks the Christian faith, or that they would actively engage in trying to shake the faith of believers, that is what we should expect from the world.  What does bother me however is that many Christians naively believe that Fox News is friendly to Christians.  I even heard a Christian radio personality, one of the relatively theologically sound ones, refer to Fox as “our network.”  But is it?

Perhaps you missed this tidbit from the O’Reily factor, where discussing Duck Dynasty (and I am making no theological endorsement of the beliefs of Duck Dynasty or the Church of Christ in anyway) where all of the panelist generally mocked the bible and the people who believe it, and regular Fox contributor Bernard Goldberg pointedly said “there is ignorance in  the bible” and that the Apostle Paul was an “ignoramus” (if you don’t want to watch the whole video click here for Todd Friel’s take on the discussion published in the Christian Post).

The Fox News website today did feature on its front page an opinion piece by Candace Cameron Bure on biblical marital roles, but it also featured articles titled “Mara Strips for Cards Talk”, “Olympics Get Sexy in Sochi”, “Christina Shows Off Skinny Bod” and “Hot New Spring Break Beach.”  Not to mention that it regularly features slide shows of “wardrobe malfunctions”, “best and worst (okay mostly best) celebrity beach bodies”, “The beautiful and talented __________“ (insert name of practically undressed young woman), as well as a weekly feature ported from a borderline pornographic “lad mag”.  I ask is this pro-Christian content?  Is this content of a safe or family friendly website? Is Fox a friend of Christians?

Now I am not saying that Fox is any worse than any other news outlet.  Nor am I saying that it should be legalistically avoided.  What I am saying is that believers should view it as what it truly is, worldly.  And while it is a matter of conscience if you watch, listen or read Fox News (full disclosure I occasionally read the website but never watch the TV channel or listen to the Radio network) we must never regard it as “our network”  it is worldly and friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4).  In fact we must view it is wholly opposed to the kingdom of God and use discernment when consuming any of its products.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

An Open Letter to My Southern Baptist Friends

While I am generally speaking not a huge fan of open letters, as they are usually meant as a public critique of a prominent figure, I feel that this one has become necessary.  Not because I want people to pile on, but because I want this to be read by as many of my Southern Baptist friends as possible.

And by my Southern Baptist friends, I don’t mean likeminded SBC pastors I have never met, but my actual friends who are pastors in or otherwise affiliated with the SBC.  I mean the men who have invited me to preach in their pulpit while I was a seminary student, the men who stood beside me as we were ordained, and my fellow Grace Advance church planters who have planted churches that are part of the Southern Baptist Convention.  

I am not a member of the SBC, nor is my church so I pay little attention to internal SBC politics and controversies.  But there is one SBC controversy that is now spilling over into the broader evangelical world and the name of Christ is being defamed around the globe as a result.  As someone who ministers in Virginia, I have even heard it mentioned on the radio and my fear is that in the not too distant future it will find its way onto the TV news and into the papers.  It is not a complex problem and is easily solved.  It is the controversy surrounding Ergun Caner the former dean and president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, former provost of Arlington Baptist College and newly installed president of Brewton-Parker College, a small SBC college in Georgia.

Dr. Caner has in the past actively sought out the lime light and has spoken at the 2010 value voters summit, briefed marines on Islam and Jihad, and toured the country speaking in countless pulpits, SBC ad non-SBC alike.  He, by his own choice, has become a public figure and a recognizable face of the evangelical church.

And that is the problem, there is considerable evidence (video and audio recordings) that he may have lied habitually between the years 2001 and 2010 in front of many congregations and audiences about his life story, specifically that he was born in Turkey, raised in predominantly Muslim nations, didn’t speak fluent English at the time of his conversion and trained for jihad around the globe including in Beirut. Just google Ergun Caner (and I suggest you do if you are unfamiliar) and you will see the scope of the controversy.

My point in writing is not to render a judgment for or against Dr. Caner.  My point in writing is to plead with my Southern Baptist friends to demand an open public investigation into these allegations and that the results be made available to the rank and file of the SBC and acted on at the next National Convention.  A private investigation with embargoed findings is not acceptable when the alleged offenses have been so public.
If Dr. Caner is found to have lied habitually he should be stripped of his ordination and removed from his position as president of an SBC affiliated college.  Also the local church where he is a member should pursue church discipline with the intent to bring him to repentance.  Furthermore a resolution should be passed urging him to drop all law suits against fellow Christians (and especially SBC Pastors) pertaining to this matter.  If Dr. Caner has not lied but merely misspoken those in the SBC who have been outspoken public critics of him should be censured, and where appropriate church discipline should be pursued.  Additionally there has been pugnacious behavior on the part of several of Dr. Caner’s defenders and critics.  If it is found that they knowingly engaged in pugnacious behavior and baselessly defamed other pastors, the SBC should urge that they be removed from their pastorate and any other SBC affiliated posts.  This whole affair is a black eye on the SBC and the evangelical Church as a whole.

I would humbly ask my SBC friends to look into this matter and to urge your leaders to look into it, and to take decisive action.  This is a matter of character and integrity and not of theology, and it must be addressed as such, there is simply no room to agree to disagree.  Please bring this controversy to a swift and decisive conclusion for the good of the SBC, the witness of the Church and most importantly for the reputation of Christ.

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Different Way to Appproach Bible Reading

           As the year is coming to a close, and people begin to ponder the year that has past that rumination invariably results in pledges to “do better” in the coming year in the form of New Year’s resolutions.  And for Christians, often, among the things we make pledges to ourselves to “do better” in is the discipline of bible reading.  

            If you are like me, you have made this resolution many times, and if you are like me you even tried to discipline yourself through employing various read through the bible in 90 days or one year plans.  And if you are like me you have had varying success sticking to these reading plans.  For many people these plans are great, but for me, even though I love reading my bible, and even though Leviticus, which is where most read the bible in a year plans go to die, is one of my favorite books if the bible, reading plans have not been too effective.  

Then one day it dawned on me that I don’t need a reading plan, I needed a reading philosophy, and since I hit on this approach It is a pretty rare year when I don’t read every book in the bible at least once, and many more than that.  My bible reading philosophy is simple, I don’t want to read through the bible every year, I want to know my bible and what it reveals about my God better each year.  And if that sounds better to you than a reading plan I want to share some practical ways to do that.

1.    Bible reading needs to be intentional and regular.  I am aware that everyone’s life looks much different, and so the time and place when you read your bible might not be the same as mine (which can be in first thing in the morning, but I more often read devotionally in the late morning or the early afternoon because I am too easily distracted by the wanting to take care of the days urgent business) but it should be regular, occurring on a regular if not every day basis, and intentional, viewed as a priority and not relegated to being a simple task completed in the left over time of the day.

2.    A hefty portion of my devotional reading is in the book that is being preached in church, and I read through that book once a week (or if it is a long book the section of the book correctly being preached, and by section I don’t mean chapter I mean the macro literary unit, say Jesus’ Galilean ministry if your pastor is in that section in one of the Gospels). I believe you would greatly benefit from this practice.   I know that may seem simple because these days I am the one doing the preaching, but this has been my practice for several years.  It helps you not to lose the big picture and to be able to apply the greater understanding you are getting through the exposition of the Word in your life.  Remember the New Testament Epistles were written to be read in one sitting, Deuteronomy records just three discourse of Moses, the Gospels tell one meta-narrative etc. This leverages all of the hard work your pastor is doing (or should be doing) in his study to help you better understand your bible.

3.    At least one day a week, read in one of the Gospels.  As a sinner saved by grace, you need to constantly look to your savior, and the best way to know Him is through reading and studying the Gospels.

4.    Spend time reading books you don’t know well.  If your goal is to truly know your bible and your God better you need to spend some time reading books you either don’t think about very often, or that you purposely avoid.  All of Scripture is God breathed and profitable for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).  That includes Ezra, 2 Chronicles, Leviticus, Ezekiel, Nahum, Revelation and all of the other books that are commonly skipped over because they are too hard or seem not to be applicable in the believer’s life.  To ignore them is to ignore part of God’s revelation to man that He inspired for your own good.

5.    Have a commentary or a study bible handy.  While I personally don’t do my devotional reading in a study bible because I tend to read every note, which can be distracting to me, I do think it is invaluable to have one or a simple one volume commentary nearby at all times.  After all what good is it if you read a verse or a chapter and have no idea what it was talking about.  I heartily recommend the MacArthur Study Bible and his one volume bible commentary as aids to devotional reading, as well as Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.  

6.    At least once everyone should read through the Old Testament in the order of the Hebrew Bible.  Although not inspired, the Hebrew order presents the OT as a coherent unit.  For example in the Hebrew bible Ruth is counted among the writings, rather than as an historical book and is preceded by Proverbs and followed by the Song of Songs.  So when you (from a male point of view) read Proverbs 31 and you are left wondering if such a woman ever existed and just what does a “Proverbs 31 woman look like anyway” that question is answered by the Book of Ruth.  And if after reading Ruth you are wondering what to do if you do spot such a woman you turn the page to the Song of Songs and you learn that you need to marry, love and cherish her.  Trust me, if you read through the OT in this order you will gain new scriptural insights and see connections you may have missed before.

7.    Read what you need.  If you are suffering spend time in the Petrine Epistles or Job, if you are struggling with loving your spouse as you know you should spend time in the Song of Songs, if you need to cultivate a more worshipful attitude read the Psalms, if you are experiencing the consequences of bad decisions read proverbs and James.  Don’t be afraid to deviate from your “plan” to concentrate on areas of the bible that will help you be more Christ-like in areas you are currently struggling with.

8.    Finally and most importantly approach scripture reading as an act of worship.  Reading your bible is not a box to check, it is an act of love and devotion to God.  Read His Word because you Love Him and want to know Him better.  Read prayerfully and with a sense of awe that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in such an intimate and understandable way.