Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Are Christians Responsible for the World's Wars?

One of the greatest blows to Christianity has been the assessment that we are responsible for all the wars in the world. “If your God is so loving, then why have more people died in Christian wars than in all other wars put together?” The Crusades and Inquisition have also been a black mark on our history.

But let’s take a closer look at those claims.

Adolf Hitler is perhaps history’s best-known villain. During his Holocaust Hitler murdered 6 million Jews and another 5-10 million others. That number does not include all the lives lost worldwide during World War II, which he should certainly be blamed for. Was Hitler a Christian? Hardly. He was a pagan that believed in the ancient gods.

Joseph Stalin is not as well known as Hitler, but he murdered far more people. An estimated 40 million people lost their lives at the hands of Stalin, who was anything but a Christian. Stalin closed 90% of the churches in the Soviet Union.

Mao Tse-tung is not nearly as famous as the others, but the 70 million people he murdered were certainly aware of him. “Chairman Mao’s” Cultural Revolution was the bloodiest “revolution” in history. A Marxist-Leninist, Mao was far from Christianity.

Osama bin-Laden is only the latest face of evil in the world. To say that he has only murdered thousands may sound cruel, but compared to those who murdered millions or tens of millions, bin-Laden doesn’t look as evil. But his was a different kind of war, hiding behind suicide bombers and in caves, he never had the support of a country like the three men listed above. We also have to contribute the thousands who have died in war in response to bin-Laden’s 9/11 attacks.

Osama represents, not Christianity, but Islam. He is just the latest chapter in their violent history (and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is next) that has spanned fourteen centuries. As I heard one person put it just this morning, “Is this the 10th year of the War on Terror, or the 1400th year of Islam’s war on infidels?”

Some of the other non-Christians responsible for wars are Napoleon Bonaparte, Kim Jong Ill, Fidel Castro, and Saddam Hussein. Who exactly are the Christians that have started all these wars?

Why don’t we hear people saying, “Communism has killed more people than all other wars combined?” Or why aren’t we hearing that atheists or Muslims are responsible for the bloodshed? More often than not the only involvement Christians have in these wars are victims or responders to evil.

But what about the Crusades?
One of the popular things for Christians to do these days is apologize for things they didn’t do, like apologizing to homosexuals for the people who protest their parades. They also apologize for the Crusades. I’m still trying to figure out what we have to be sorry for.

#1, We weren’t there, and #2, the Christians didn’t start them. The First Crusade was waged by the Muslims in A.D. 637 by Caliph Omar. In this Crusade the Muslims captured the Holy Land, Bethlehem, Galilee, Calvary, and even the tomb where Jesus was buried. These were all sacred places for the Christians, and the Muslims, at knifepoint, gave the Jews and Christians two options: convert or die. Their churches were destroyed or converted into mosques.

Then the Christians responded with the Second Crusade, which was an organization to recapture their land. I’m not defending all that happened during this Crusade, but it is only fair to keep it in its context.

But what about the Inquisition?

The Inquisition, which took place in A.D. 1233, was known as the “inquiry on heretical perversity,” and was an attempt to remove any heresy from the church. People accused of heresy were tortured and ordered to repent or face death. Were Christians involved? Of course—they were the ones being beaten and murdered. The only church committing persecution in the Inquisition was the Roman Catholic church, not the Christian church.

There are two things we need to understand when it comes to these issues. First, not all churches are Christian churches. The Roman Catholics, Muslims, atheists, or any other group you want to include, is different from Christianity. Christianity is exclusive in that we believe that Jesus Christ, as He is presented in the Bible (not the Watch Tower, Book of Mormon, or any other extra biblical book) is the only way to the Father. Crimes committed by “the church” don’t necessarily denote the Christian church.

The second thing to remember is that not everyone in the Christian church is a Christian. Billy Graham estimated that 80% of the church is lost, and since across the board only about 20% tithe, that number has to seem right. Many people that sit on a pew every Sunday are nominal Christians (or Christians in name only), and they do not represent Christianity either (this could also include abortion clinic bombers and gay pride protesters).

I like how Randy Alcorn put it in his book The Ishbane Conspiracy, “There are lots of counterfeit bills, too, but that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as real money…Christianity isn’t about…things some Christians say and do. It’s about Jesus. (p.252).”

Am I saying that the Christian church has been perfect throughout the years? Absolutely not; we are made up of humans and are sure to make mistakes, and we must repent of each and every one of them.

Are Christians responsible for the world’s wars? No, we have usually been the victims, just as we are the victims of these false accusations. 

(Read a similar post, "Should Christians Vote for War or Capital Punishment?" here)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Age of Accountability and Two of David's Sons

There is a biblical teaching known as the age of accountability that refers to people who are not yet able to comprehend God’s gift of salvation. Whether we are talking about young children or adults with mental deficiency, the age of accountability idea says that if these people die, they will go to heaven even though they may not have ever asked the Lord to save them, based on the fact that they were not yet accountable for their actions.

The biggest problem with this notion, though, is that the phrasing does not appear in the Bible. The most often used verse to promote its biblical authority is in the loss of David’s week old son. In this blog I want to visit David at his time of grief over this baby, but then contrast that with the loss of his adult son.

1  The loss of David’s baby son

In 2 Samuel 11 King David commits the act of adultery with a married lady named Bathsheba. After he finds out that she has conceived his child, David arranges for the murder of her husband Uriah, then marries Bathsheba himself. Six months after the “shotgun wedding” Bathsheba delivered their baby boy, and David’s sin was exposed.

In chapter 12 David is confronted by the prophet Nathan. The king is told that he will not lose his life or his crown, but that he would lose his infant son. Notice his reaction:

“David, therefore, besought God for the child, and David fasted…and lay all night upon the ground…And it came to pass on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, ‘Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not harken unto our voice; how will he then vex himself if we tell him the child is dead?’”

And after David found out the child had in fact died:

“Then David arose from the ground, and washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped.”

He worshipped? The servants were confused. They asked him:

“What thing is this that thou hast done? Thou didst fast and weep for the child while he was alive, but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread?”

David answered by giving this incredible verse that has been used to support the age of accountability. He replied:

“While the child was alive I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now the child is dead—why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him but he shall not return to me.’”

David, a believer, knew that he would one day dwell in the house of the Lord forever following his death. His declaration that he would see his son again could only mean that he would see him in the Lord’s house.

Some have argued that these are just the words of a grieving father who was distraught and had not eaten in a week. But I would argue that this is the inspired Word of God, and the Lord allowed this to be in His Word for our benefit.

2    The loss of David’s adult son

Unfortunately for the king, that child was just the first of his to die. Rebellion among his own sons led to the rape of his daughter Tamar by his son Amnon, the murder of Amnon by his son Absalom, and then the rebellion of Absalom. Absalom, now the crown prince, led a revolt to kill his father and take the throne.

In 2 Samuel 18 Absalom is killed by one of David’s generals, Joab. When David gets the word that the war is ended, his first question is, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” He is told that Absalom was dead, and David began to shake violently and yell, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! I wish to God that I had died for thee, O Absalom my son, my son!”

Then in chapter 19 David has to be scolded by his general. He left his army and continued to mourn for his son until the troops were humiliated. Joab told David, “I perceive that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it would have pleased you.”

Look at the different ways David reacted to the loss of these two sons. David never mentioned that he would go see Absalom again, as he did of his other son. David did not worship in the death of Absalom, and Absalom was trying to kill him!

There is no evidence that Absalom lived for God. Even though his murder was no different than David’s, we see David’s heart, including his repentance in Psalm 51. Absalom, on the other hand, died in rebellion, and we never see evidence that he had ever repented or lived for the Lord. The only time Absalom references his walk with the Lord is when he lied to David about making a sacrifice, and that was the lie that launched his coup.

So it is clear that David mourned for Absalom because he knew his son was in hell. He worshipped at the loss of his infant son because he knew he was in paradise (and later heaven).

This helps us keep life in perspective; it is short, but eternity lasts forever.

It also shows us the age of accountability is very much a biblical concept (I spend an entire chapter on this topic in Asleep in Heaven’s Nursery, available here).

If you have lost a child like David, and you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then know that you will see your child again. 

(Read Asleep in Heaven's NurseryRachel Dowd Book Sponsorship Program, and Waiting on God

Monday, February 13, 2012

Thoughts on Valentine's Day

    (adapted from my first book All the Law, available here:)
     Valentine’s Day. The moment of truth for every man in America. A day of anticipation for every lady in America. A profitable day for every flower vendor in America. The people at Hershey’s and Hallmark rub their mitts with satisfaction at their fortune; men shake their heads with sorrow at their finances; women have mixed reactions. Flowers are good, jewelry is great, but anything used to clean the house puts the man in the doghouse.
     Valentine’s Day. Some dating couples will split up as a result of it. Some couples will draw closer because of it. Some get engaged on it. Guys wish it weren’t on the calendar; gals wish it were on the calendar 365 1⁄4 times a year. No matter how you may view the day, it is the one day a year that people are expected to show love.
     The only problem with Valentine’s Day is that people tend to only focus on showing love to one person. Every day should be Valentine’s Day for you and your spouse, and love should be shown to everyone all year long. I miss the days of my elementary school where we all made Valentine’s Day mailboxes so we could give and receive cards and candy with every student in the class. Everyone from the bully who picked on kids to the kids who got picked on by the bully took part; there was no person left unloved on Valentine’s Day.
     In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian believers he tells them to go back to their childhood Valentine’s Day parties. Break out the mailboxes; get your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cards out; unwrap the chocolate kisses. It’s time to love! In chapter twelve of 1 Corinthians Paul makes it clear that the Corinthian church was lacking in love, and as he goes into the thirteenth chapter he shows them what real love looks like.
     If you read from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible you will find the word charity instead of love. The KJV translators used the word charity because that word meant love at the time of their translation. Since that time newer translations have updated the word charity to say love. The use of the word charity in the KJV should serve as a reminder that any act of charity or a charitable donation should be done for no reason other than pure love. Charity work should not be done as a PR stunt or simply for a tax write off; that is not pure love.
     Paul starts off the thirteenth chapter by showing the importance of love. No matter how eloquent a speaker might be, or no matter how many thousands of people may flock to hear him preach, he is worthless if he is not speaking from love. Eloquent words not spoken out of love are as majestic as a gong or as clanging symbols. Why would thousands of people pack out a mega church to hear someone beat a gong? That would not make any sense but I fear along with Paul that it happens too often.
     The first admonition of chapter thirteen is to the leadership of the church to have love. It starts at the top, and more often than not churches that are not known for showing love do not have a pastor that shows love. Of course, the opposite is also true of loving churches. Pastors and leaders, make sure you first have love in your life before you try to lead others.
     In the second verse Paul speaks to the faithful. Jesus had earlier told His disciples that if they had faith they could tell a mountain to move and it would (Matthew 17:20), and Paul used that bit of instruction as a building block. He said that even if he had enough faith so that he could move any mountain, he was still nothing if he did not have love.
     Similarly if he (or we) gave everything that he had to feed the poor but did not love he would not do any good. This goes back to what I said earlier about doing charity work for a tax write off. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with writing off some charitable donations, but that should not be your driving factor for giving those donations. Charity work is great: march for the cure, buy Girl Scout cookies, volunteer; we need those things. But Paul is saying, “I got news for you; if you only buy Girl Scout cookies because it is hard to say no to a cute little girl on your doorstep, you are not doing any good.”
     Charity as a result of guilt is not charity. Charity must be a result of love.
(Read about my other books Asleep in Heaven's Nursery and Who is God?)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Christianity's Do's and Don'ts

I often hear people say that Christianity is not about a bunch of do’s and don’ts, meaning that there is nothing expected of us. I understand one part of that concept.

We are not saved based on what we do. Salvation is a free gift from God that we did nothing to earn, and we do not have to perform to a high standard in order to keep our salvation.

But we cannot ignore the do’s and don’ts. To say that the Bible does not give a list of things to do and things to not do is absurd. Listen to how Randy Alcorn puts it in his book The Purity Principle,

“The Christian life is more than sin management. It’s divine transformation and enablement to live righteously. Yet Scripture commands us to do and not do certain things…(p.56)”

I went through just one book of the Bible, 1 Peter, and made a list of the commands. In addition to the commands that Peter gives, remember that Paul does the same thing in each of his letters, and Jesus Himself gave frequent commands, especially in the sermon on the mount.

So please read these commands that are listed just the way Peter wrote them, and please keep reading until the end, lest someone stop reading early and misunderstand me. The commands will be bolded.

Chapter 1
v.13, “Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end…”
v.15 “As He which called you is holy, so be ye holy…
v.22 “Love the brethren…

Chapter 2
v.1-2 “Lay aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and evil speakings. As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word…”
v.5 “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”
v.9 “Ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.”
v.11-18 “Abstain from fleshly lusts…having your conversation honestsubmit yourselves to every ordinance of man…honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. Servants, be subject to your masters…”
v.21 “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps.”
v.24 “That we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness…”

Chapter 3
v.1 “Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands…”
v.7-12 “Husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife…be of one mind, having compassion…love as brethren, be pitiful (kindhearted), be courteous. Not rendering evil for evil…but blessing…let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips, that they speak no guile. Let him eschew evil and do good, let him seek peace and ensue it.”
v.15 “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you…”

Chapter 4
v. 1-2 “Arm yourselves with the same mind [as Christ], for he that suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin, that he should no longer live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.”
v.7-10 “Be sober, and watch unto prayer. ..have fervent charity…use hospitality…minister the same [gift] one to another…”
v.13 “Rejoice…”
v.15-16 “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil doer, or as a busybody…let him glorify God…”

Chapter 5
v.6-9 “Humble yourselves…casting all your care upon Him…be sober, be vigilant…resist [the devil]…”
v.14 “Greet one another with a kiss of charity…”

A simple reading of 1st Peter reveals that the apostle felt strongly about the do’s and don’ts of Christianity.

But please do not misunderstand me.  I know the context of these epistles. Peter was writing to the church, and his message was NOT that they needed to do those things in order to be saved.

He was writing to people who already had been saved. In other words, he was writing to Christians.

And he gave the Christians a ton of do’s and don’ts.

Becoming a Christian is not about do’s and don’ts, but living like a Christian is.

I don’t write the way that I do so that unsaved people will conform to biblical morality; I write the way that I do to remind the church that we have been called to a higher standard of life.

Or to use Peter’s words: “Ye (the church) are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light (I Peter 2:9).”

We can’t do that if we ignore the do’s and don’ts.