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No Greater Love

By Tim Butler | Posted at 8:40 PM

In sacrificing their lives for the Gospel, these missionaries opened up the door for the eventual entry of the Gospel into the Auca society through Elizabeth Elliot. The Gospel transformed the Aucas dramatically lowering the homicide rate and causing the tribe to get an entirely new focus… on God.

Yet, to do this, these missionaries with their entire life ahead of them, gave their lives. In perhaps a reflection of the dangers he and his team were about to subject themselves to, Jim Elliot stated “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” What a powerful testimony of faith.

I sit here and I wonder, if God called me to travel to some remote part of the world, would I have the immediate willingness of these men? Would I view my own survival as unimportant if it meant the spread of the Word of God? I'd like to say I would, but I wonder — it is easy to say that typing from the comfort of my computer chair, what if I were in that small yellow biplane heading for the territory of a tribe I thought would probably kill me? Could I really do it?

I'm not sure what kind of conclusion is appropriate. These are just the thoughts that strike me tonight. I know I want to be like those five. It makes me somewhat uncomfortable to wonder whether I would be.

The Slow Demise of the UCC

By Tim Butler | Posted at 8:26 PM

First a bit of history. In 1840, the German Evangelical Church was formed in Missouri from Lutheran and Reformed church roots. This hits especially close to my own heritage, with my church forming in 1843 as German United Lutheran-Reformed St. Paul's Church in Central Township. Quite a name! The Lutheran-Reformed merger was somewhat uncomfortable unfortunately, and in our case a splinter church formed — its just a stones throw away even today and is a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (it ended up in a better denomination than we did). But, I'm getting distracted.

The German Evangelical Church eventually became the Evangelical Synod of North America. From there, the Evangelical Synod merged with the Reformed Church in America in 1934. The resulting church was the Evangelical & Reformed Church (E&R). The E&R was a denomination with Reformed leanings and a congregational organizational structure. Things were pretty good.

Unfortunately, things didn't stay that way. In the early fifties, parties met between the E&R and the Congregational Christian Churches about a possible union at Eden Seminary in St. Louis, a seminary of the E&R. By 1957, a deal was agreed to, and the E&R and the more liberal Congregational Christian Churches merged to form the United Church of Christ. Just to be clear, this name does not imply any association with the Churches of Christ. Perhaps they didn't expect it, or even see it, at the time, but the liberalism forming within the Congregational Churches soon spread across the former borders and started to wrest control of the UCC.

By the mid-1970's, the United Church of Christ's Evangelical contingent was shoved out of power to be replaced by what was becoming a liberal majority within the denomination. During the UCC's General Synod in 1977, the Evangelicals voted strongly against the first of many resolutions that would accept, even glorify and encourage, sexual promiscuity in the UCC. The group of delegates voting against the measure was large enough to allow the Evangelicals to unite into an official interest group, but not large enough to stop the approval of the measure.

A Pastor's wife, Barbara Weller, called for return to Biblical principles during the Synod, and a few hundred participants joined her call. In late 1978, the interest group was made permanent and named United Church People for Biblical Witness (UCPBW). The group celebrates its 25 year this year.

Over the next few years the UCPBW would publish numerous documents noting the unbiblical take the UCC had taken on issues of sexuality, but the work culminated in 1983 in Dubuque, Iowa where the official statement of the group was published, the Dubuque Declaration. The Declaration confirmed commitment to the Biblical values held at the formation of the UCC and noted the “erosion” of such values within the church.

In 1984, the group transformed itself in the the Biblical Witness Fellowship, a group that would focus on supporting local churches in addition to attempting to renew the national UCC. Two years later, the BWF launched a Missions Network, which many Bible believing churches within the UCC would divert funds to as the UCC's own missions program abandoned missions work and moved into social and “family planning” services.

It is getting late, so I'll wrap it up for tonight as this seems like a good place to leave off. While the UCC's Human Sexuality: A Preliminary Study, the 1977 report that started the widespread controversy was not only the opening, but also a major, salvo, the real attack was just beginning to emerge. I'll consider that in my next post on the subject.

Sources: I freshened up on my E&R history — especially dates — at this site. Other dates are drawn from the Biblical Witness Fellowship and United Church of Christ web sites.

What about Forgiveness?

By Tim Butler | Posted at 8:48 PM

Consider the case of President Clinton. There is no getting around it: Clinton made lots of mistakes. He made some of what we tend to think of as “big” sins. He was not really helpful to Christian causes.

But, let's especially focus on that “big” sins thing. My Bible doesn't have a “big” sins category; Jesus blew that concept away. Consider what he said during the Sermon on the Mount. President Clinton committed adultery, yes, but according to Jesus, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) President Clinton lied, but I think I can safely say anyone who said they never lie would have to be lying to say that.

Even if we could avoid falling into the types of sin Mr. Clinton often gets condemned for, we ought to still consider the cost of sin. “[T]he wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), the Apostle Paul reminds us. No, it isn't the wages of the really big, get on national TV sins is death. It is simply the wages of any and all sin. We are all in the same boat.

Indeed, “[a]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) In other words, “[t]here is none Righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10) Yes, we are all sinful and dispicably marred by sin in the eyes of God.

We need forgiveness to fix that problem, and speaking of forgiveness, we are also reminded that “if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14) and “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

It should strike us as ironic that we, believers in something that revolves around the concept of forgiveness of sin, can't seem to forgive sin. It is fine for us to say “hey, this is wrong — that's sin,” but it is very very wrong for us to go around condemning people and not forgiving them. It may be politically handy to do so, but not Biblically right. Yet, I think President Clinton could come out tomorrow in sack cloth and beg for forgiveness from the nation and it wouldn't do any good at all. (I say all this keeping in mind that I have been as guilty of condemning him and others as anyone else.)

President Clinton has been condemned by Christians for years. Five years after his attempted impeachment we are still busy condemning him and certainly not forgiving him. Why is that? Does God keep condemning us for past sins? Does he take years to forgive us? No! Yet we judge others, such as Clinton, with a holier-than-thou attitude. What kind of example does that present to the world? What kind of testimony does it give when we talk about forgiveness but show nothing of it? Where is that Change?

This is coming out far more jumbled than I had hoped, but I guess what I am trying to say is that it is time to forget what is politically beneficial and worry about what gets the important goal accomplished (bringing more people into a relationship with Christ Jesus). I fear that in our maneuvering to get more votes we may do so at the price of losing souls.

So, it seems to me — to bring this back to where I started — that when President Clinton says something nice, we shouldn't be so quick to start the condemning process again. That just makes us look (and in reality, quite possibly be) hypocritical. We certainly wouldn't want that type of behavior directed toward us. In the recent case, as Kevin pointed out, he didn't have to say anything nice, but he did. We should have said something nice in return… did we?

Need a Bible geek button?

By Tim Butler | Posted at 5:21 PM

I'm a Bible geek.

By Tim Butler | Posted at 3:44 PM

Standing Still Part II: The Meaning

By Tim Butler | Posted at 8:33 PM

Afterall, once you turn the music off, it's gone, right? Well, maybe for some, I won't speak for everyone, but personally have never found that. When I listen to music, it stays with me (my last post demonstrates that). If hearing a song inadvertently can stick with you, and often I think you'll catch someone humming along with the radio and continuing once it is off, perhaps even subconsciously, then just think how much it sticks with you if you purposely listen to it.

Now, before I go any further, if I happen to have any Jewel fans that read my blog, don't fear, I'm not comparing Jewel with Eminem. As far as I know, Jewel Kilcher has never released an album that requires a “Parental Advisory” sticker. That's not my point.

Simply, we are what we listen to (at least to an extent). I personally find that Jewel's music puts me in somewhat of a melancholy mood and that's exactly the mood that having Standing Still stuck in my head gave me. If I listen to Michael W. Smith's Worship for awhile, I might instead find my mood is more upbeat and prone to be thankful to God for things. Before I realized this and began to take music seriously, I would occasionally listen to less tasteful music, such as Alanis Morissette and it would put me in a more aggressive and angry frame of mind without a doubt.

Perhaps all of this is because music is something that requires both the left (analytical) and right (creative) sides of our brain to process it fully. It has the opportunity to reach deeper than just plain text. We also generally listen to it over and over again.

If this is the case with a song, it should be no surprise that it has an impact on us. And once you accept that it does, do you really want that impact to come from music that goes against the very nature of Christianity… like Eminem for instance?

I know I don't.

The Mark of the Beast?

By Tim Butler | Posted at 11:19 AM

The problem is that the Appeals Court has ruled that probable cause was not necessary to attach the device onto the murderer's car. That means, theoretically, that a law enforcement agency could stick a GPS unit on most people's car without any particular reason for doing so. Imagine the new found intelligence abilities the state would have — this combined with the USA PATRIOT Act and the up-and-coming Domestic Security Enhancement Act (DSEA) would allow for dramatically improved anti-terror and, more generally, anti-crime measures.

However, in doing so, they continue to soften a number of the rights in the constitution. This is all necessary for the next step, to which the article gives short consideration:
Following the Spokane court's reasoning, [Lisa Daugaard] said, “There is no constitutional barrier to the police secretly inserting a tracking device into a suspect's clothes or even his body, because for the most part, people move around from place to place in 'plain view.' “ (emphasis mine)
Does this ring of familiarity to anyone yet? I think it does. Before I go on however, consider another recent bit of technology that has been developing:
“Reuters is carrying this story about Applied Digital's VeriChip — a subcutaneous microchip (like the ones they use to tag pets, livestock and wildlife) used as ID for humans. […]They will be also used as tracking beacons and personal ID according to a company exec”

Now do you see where I am going? Yes, yes, the Mark of the Beast. Technologies like the above implant and the softening of laws that prevent things like GPS units being implanted (once the technology is small enough to do so), means that we are potentially seeing the technology coming together for a real, live New World Order to form within years not centuries. Maybe not, I realize people for millennia have tried to speculate how their time was the end time, but I still can't help but consider it.

He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, {17} and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. —Revelation 13:16-17

The Mark of Easter

By Tim Butler | Posted at 7:34 PM

Considering the details of the followers of Jesus' reaction throughout the Gospels shows something really interesting, I think. In Matthew, “the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples” (28:8 [NIV]). In Luke, “they [the women] remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others” (24:8-9 [NIV]). In John “Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her” (20:18 [NIV]).

All of these Gospels, in other words, emphasize when the women, and namely Mary Magdalene, realized what was going on and spread the word. They were excited and joyful. Not only that, but they met Jesus. That doesn't happen in Mark. Here is how Mark most likely ends, according to the most reliable manuscripts (Mark 16:1-8 [NIV]):

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don't be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' ”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

They said nothing because they were afraid. Assumedly, the various endings that have been added to Mark over the years are correct (based on what we know from the other Gospels) and the women did break their silence fairly quickly, but Mark sees fit to end with them saying nothing. They were afraid. What is this? Isn't Easter suppose to be joyous?

Someone suggested something to me that was interesting. Mark, while we assume had no problem with the accounts of the resurrection, was emphasizing that the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection weren't the thing that was important. What was, and is, important is that He is coming again soon and that we will see Him. It won't just be a few select people thousands of years ago, we will see Jesus.

With that in mind, it seems to me, perhaps Mark has the most joyous account of all. Mark's account of the resurrection reminds us about the blessed hope we have in the future, the hope provided through Jesus' death and resurrection.

Happy Easter, everyone!

The Sabbath in Light of the New Covenant

By Tim Butler | Posted at 7:32 PM

Generally speaking, Christians try to follow the law, though not required, because we want to do God's will. That point is often used against the argument of sabbatarians, much like Paul's declaration not to judge any observance of Sabbaths, new moon festivals, etc. (Colossians 2:16). Still, assuming we want to do God's will (see argument 1), it would seem to me that we should set down our guard and consider the sabbatarian argument — not as a requirement or a judgment, but an earnest attempt to understand whether or not it has merit. Unless we have no interest in following God's laws willfully, then our freedom from the law is not an excuse to let this issue slide (I'm not saying one must get a particular conclusion, but that we should really consider this issue rather than just ignoring it like it so often is).

For the last few years, I've made an effort (that I have often failed) to make Sunday a day of rest. I have always followed the reasoning that Sunday is the new sabbath — the Lord's Day. However during this particular argument I started to wonder if all of this was really a fallicy. My Seventh-Day Adventist friend, who seems to enjoy a good debate as much as I do, made a really good point: there is nothing, that I know of, in the Bible that says the early Christians actually moved Sabbath observance to Sunday. They met on Sunday, yes, but there is no indication that they ended the observance of the Sabbath in doing so.

Another friend, who attends a non-sabbatarian church, solves the problem in a way that seems to closely mimic what we can infer from Acts. He observes the Sabbath, but worships on Sunday morning. The Sabbath is a day of rest, and it is the seventh day, but that isn't a prohibition on Sunday worship. The command we are considering isn't “Honor the Sabbath and worship only on this day.” In other words, this need not be an all or nothing position where if you accept the Sabbath, you must give up your existing Church and move to one that has Saturday services. All this question is, is a question concerning whether the day of rest must be on the seventh day.

One person chimed in suggesting that the ideal solution might be to observe both the Lord's Day and the Sabbath as days of rest. At first this sounded like a good idea, but wasn't this exactly what the Phari did? When unsure, they added more rules “just to be safe.” To me, this seems like a road destined for legalism, whether that is intended or not.

With that in mind, I am pondering the idea of switching to Sabbath observance. Not legalistic, mind you, but the same way I have treated Sunday for a while. I'm confused as to whether this is right or wrong, but it seems to me that only post-Biblical dogma provides rationale for having a “first day Sabbath.” If that's the case, and I want to take the fourth commandment as seriously as the rest, I guess I must confront this.

The status quo is unacceptable. It is comfortable, but if it isn't God's will, that is irrelevant. Now I must just pray that I can better understand this.

Of course, as always, I welcome the thoughts of my friends here in the blogosphere…

Sin and the Church

By Tim Butler | Posted at 6:59 PM

I think he is right that we shouldn't hate certain people or turn them away from the church. But I also think that does not mean that the church should simply accept people unrepentantly sinning. In that mind, I posted the following comment (read his post first so that it makes sense). You'll also find some closing thoughts after my comment.

I agree too, insofar as I would agree concerning any sin. I also agree with Steward and Le Renard. I think if someone is embezzling money, the church should confront him in the manor Jesus lays out (first by one person, then by the elders, then by the whole congregation [Matthew 18:15-17]). Would you agree? Likewise, I think a homosexual should be confronted.

It's not so much “homosexualness” that should be confronted, but whether they act on that desire. If they do, that's just as wrong as a hetrosexual acting on that desire out side of wedlock (and vise versa). For example, as a single person it would be just as wrong if I had a physical relationship with some girl as it is for a homosexual person to have such a relationship with their “partner.”

It isn't that they should be eternally condemned for their feelings — for better or worse, they have them, just like the hetrosexual does. BUT, they also need to try to control those feelings. It is easy to fall into lustful activities, but prayer and the Spirit help to avoid them. As Paul writes, we will not ever be tempted more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Certainly I sin. I sin lots. I sin everyday. But I also try to repent and realize these are things I don't want to do again. I don't say that to say I am good. Certainly, I'm terrible about this. I don't like stopping sinning and I'm bad about repentence too. But, I still think it is important even if I don't always want to.

The point is, as Paul says we should not sin so that “grace may increase” (Romans 6:1). Many of Paul's arguments were about people taking advantage of grace to sin.

Obviously, we are all in sin, but that doesn't mean that we should condone habitual sinning of a particular type. If someone is in a gay relationship and they are Christian, that means they are willingly admitting that they don't mind disobeying God's Holy Spirit by defiling the Temple of God (that is our body — 1 Corinthians 6:19).

I think many churches take the wrong tact at dealing with this, but as I said, Jesus did note that we should address those in sin. He was often around the tax collectors and prostitutes. He loved them, but He didn't say “just keep up the status quo.” He told them to “go and sin no more.” I can't think of the verse at the moment, but Paul also addresses this. We are suppose to love our neighbors, you are right, but we are also suppose to encourage people to follow God's will. In that respect, we should help people escape their lifestyle, so to speak, not just look the other way. Love doesn't mean appeasement, it means considering what is best for the person. It would not be love to blindly act as if there is nothing wrong with unrepentant sinning any more than it would be love not to scold a child for playing on the edge of a cliff. Maybe they won't appreciate being told “no, don't do that,” but it would be much more loving than simply watching as they go over the edge.

Likewise, considering the comment about that pastor who was asked to leave because of his gay lifestyle, I would have to agree with the decision, although perhaps the method wasn't good. If a pastor is robbing banks, we would ask him to step down. If a pastor was known to make vicious lies to the congregation, we would ask him to step down. If the pastor padded his his pockets as he took the offering plates from the ushers, we would ask him to step down. If the pastor often had his girlfriends stay over night, wouldn't we ask him to step down? A pastor should help lead the congregation away from sin. That's not to say they aren't human, but certainly a pastor who is unrepentant about sin that he is called on should be questioned whether his heart is really seeking God.

Now, if the pastor says “I have this problem, will people help me stop”… that is a different story. IIRC, in one of your previous posts you noted how in such a case, the congregation reacted in a most unforgiving way. But if the pastor says “everyone sins, so do I and this is my sin, live with it…” that doesn't seem like a Christian attitude. Galations 5:16-25 seems key here.

Anyway, I could say lots more, but I think you get the point. The church should never seek to hurt or hate anyone. But I do think that “love the sinner, hate the sin” can be justified.

It is my opinion that this is an area critical to the church today. For the most part there are two visible groups. We either have those that wish to adopt a laissez faire attitude toward morality, perhaps even going further and encouraging rebellion against Biblical morality and we have people that consider them above sinners and thus wish to push themselves away from those “sinners.”

I think however, many (most?) Christians take a middle ground, rejecting the sin, but not staying away from bringing the love of Jesus to these people. Really, without the Holy Spirit, why should we even expect to behave in the way that the Bible says? I think these are also the people that will make an effort to help the person on a wayward course to change their heading once they have received the Spirit. It would be a disservice to them and God to bring them the Gospel and then leave them in their sin without any help. This is the tough part, but it is part of showing Christian love.

Anyway, enough with my soap box. Does anyone else have thoughts?

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