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Why jtr is Not a Christian

And Maybe I'm Not Either

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 6:53 PM

My friend John-Thomas wants to enter the ministry. He also claims he is not a Christian. What's that all about? This post of his should be read by every American believer (my international friends may find it an interesting read too). He does a good job of swiping at some problems in the American church, particularly our failure as Evangelicals to avoid intertwining ourselves with the Republican party to the point, as he puts it, that we lately have been resolving to be “knowing nothing but George W. Bush and him re-elected.”

This isn't a question of whether President Bush is a good president or not. It is a question of the purpose of the church. Should the church worry about politicized issues such as abortion, euthanasia, poverty, and so on? By all means! But, we ought not let our social concerns, and especially our partisan concerns, override our calling to preach the Gospel. I am loyal to Christ first, my family second, my country third and my party last; it is only a means to an end and we should not let it be anything more than that. If we aren't careful, the American church will simply have the mainlines supporting liberal politics faced off against the Evangelicals and Fundamentalists supporting conservative or neo-conservative politics and no one actually changing lives and declaring the Good News effectively.

I'm not going to spoil his whole post, so go read it to find out about the stuff about not being a Christian.

Job Should Have Talked to Lewis

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 2:58 AM
“The real problem is not why some pious, humble, believing people suffer, but why some do not.”
—C.S. Lewis

That's the concise way to look at the problem of pain and evil. Things like this are all in the way we look at them. Usually, when addressing the problem of evil, we start from “why should bad things happen to good people,” which is somewhat problematic. We ought to ask why we should not begin with the inverse: “why should good things happen to bad people?” Now, I know a many people I consider really good, nice people, but at the same time, I know that none of us is good when placed in comparison to the ultimate touchstone: God.

Christians should neither spend all their time listening to readings of Jonathan Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, nor should we become convinced that we deserve good. Jesus says His way will be hard. He also tells us that His yoke is easy. Both are true. Life does not get any easier when one believes in Jesus in many ways, but at the same time, to know that there is a future hope makes all the difference. We are given a center to our life; our compass no longer simply spins around in no particular direction.

“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.”

It is all very much a paradox. Lewis reminds us not to start telling everyone how much consultation faith always is. It is not. Things still hurt. Loved ones still die and leave us feeling their absence. The existence of an all powerful God only makes it more painful, since we know that God could intervene. We have that hope that His plans will work out in the future, but we are still stuck with both feet in the present. On the other hand, sometimes we don't need to be made to feel better so much as just to know that God has been there on the same journey we are on — and He has.

“[Jesus] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
—Philippians 2.7-8 (NIV)

As I noted in my Good Friday meditation, this is only scratching the surface. Jesus not only walked the same Earth, felt the same feelings and then died a horrid death, but He also took upon our sins and was forsaken from the Father. When we feel pain, we only feel a tidbit of the pain of Jesus. This may not make everything easier, but it puts things into perspective.

So long as I am on this earth, not everything will make sense. That's where faith comes in. I have faith that God is a perfect God, and therefore know that I deserve nothing. More importantly, I have faith that God loves me anyway, even if I cannot always understand why everything happens the way it does. As Karl Barth said when asked to summarize his theology: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Pray Believing!

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:09 AM

This thread at SCF was exactly what I needed to read tonight, especially Kevin's post. He said his new motto is “Pray Believing!” and that reminded me how often I fail to do just that.

When praying, I often find myself saying “Lord, if this is possible…” But wait a second, if I have faith, why am I saying if this is possible? So I correct myself, it is possible, after all, all things are possible for God.

Yet the problem is not over just yet. Then I resort to what Kevin called a “timid 'well, I guess if you want to do it, God, it would be okay, but I understand if you don't' prayer.” I have tried in the past to remind myself of Matthew 17:20, but all too often I find that I don't keep this verse's lesson in mind.
“For most assuredly I tell you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Kevin quoted the similar verse Mark 11:22-23 and that too is worth marking in my brain. There are things I have been praying about that I am convinced are things God has led me to pursue. If I am convinced of this, why do I always prefix my requests with if's? If I am not even confident in asking, I certainly do not have the mustard seed faith to move a mountain; Jesus' example is one of confidently asking for that which one believes to be God's will. While I could certainly be wrong about where God is leading me, I should trust that God will show me that, if need be, and instead focus on praying with the confidence that He has led me to seek this path.

It is simple enough to say that. Now I must try to live it. I need to “Pray Believing!”


By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 6:39 AM

Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went early, while it was still dark, to the tomb, and saw the stone taken away from the tomb. Therefore she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him!”

Therefore Peter and the other disciple went out, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran together. The other disciple outran Peter, and came to the tomb first. Stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths lying, yet he didn’t enter in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and entered into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying, and the cloth that had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but rolled up in a place by itself. So then the other disciple who came first to the tomb also entered in, and he saw and believed. For as yet they didn’t know the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. So the disciples went away again to their own homes.

But Mary was standing outside at the tomb weeping. So, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. They told her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid him.”

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, and didn’t know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”

She, supposing him to be the gardener, said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned and said to him, “Rhabbouni!” which is to say, “Teacher!” Jesus said to her, “Don’t touch me, for I haven’t yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brothers, and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
—John 20:1-17
He is risen indeed!

Were You There?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:39 AM

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

(Traditional African-American Spiritual)

A Good Friday Meditation

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 6:47 AM

A gave a meditation on “word four” of the seven last words of Christ tonight at church; they asked different lay people from around church to give 3-4 minute meditations on each of the words (really phrases) of Christ while on the cross. This was interesting, it was my first experience at the pulpit (I've given prayers a few times and I did a testimony long ago, from the lectern, but never “pulpit material”). I was somewhat nervous before, went into autopilot during the actual four minutes up there and felt completely drained afterwards — I can't recall four minutes being more draining. I'm use to public speaking, but this was different. I have to say I rather liked it, it felt good to give a little meditation on the wondrous love of God.

At any rate, for anyone interested, you can find the meditation on SCF; it's essentially based on the quotes I posted here this morning.

Good Friday

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 6:32 PM
In Him God makes Himself liable, at the point at which we are accursed and guilty and lost. He it is in His Son, who in the person of this crucified man bears on Golgotha all that ought to be laid on us. And in this way He makes an end of the curse. […] And God does this, not in spite of His righteousness, but it is God's very righteousness that He, the holy One, steps in for us the unholy, that He wills to save and does save us. […]
'His Son is not too dear to Him,
He gives Him up; for He
From fire eternal by His blood
Would rescue me.'
That is the mystery of Good Friday.
—Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, 118.

Good Friday is truly the most amazing day of the year, it seems to me. Christmas is the stunning entry into this world of the very Son of God. Easter is His triumph over death. But Good Friday is the day that God gave up His son to the cursed death that belongs on me.

It was the third hour, and they crucified him. The superscription of his accusation was written over him, “THE KING OF THE JEWS.” With him they crucified two robbers; one on his right hand, and one on his left. The Scripture was fulfilled, which says, “He was numbered with transgressors.” […]

When the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. At the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is, being interpreted, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
—Mark 15:25-28, 33, 34.

What wondrous love is this?

Church Polity

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 6:02 AM

Kevin blogs on the problem of congregational church polity. As someone who has always been in a congregationalist polity-based church, I have somewhat of a tendency to disagree that that it is really a bad idea. But, I don't think it is a good idea either, mind you.

On the positive side, a congregational model is ideal for insuring against the larger bureaucracy of a domination destroying the life of an individual church. Consider what is presently going on here in St. Louis with St. Stanislaus Kostka Polish Catholic Church; they are one of the few (only?) parishes that owns its own land and therefore has something like a congregational system; the board members have received interdicts from the Archbishop and the priests have been revoked. Supposedly this is so that the church will agree to act like an normal Catholic church, but the fact that the archdiocese has been selling a lot of propertie,s and St. Stans has $9 million in property, makes me wonder of Archbishop Burke has an ulterior motive for reversing a 120-year old church polity arrangement. This type of problem can occur in any non-democratic form of church polity, unless the church is independent. When considering non-denominational, non-democratic churches, on the other hand, we face a problem wherein those types of churches often move towards “personality cults” focused on the charisma of the founding pastor/benevolent dictator.

Another good example of the benefits of the congregational method is that of my own church. I've talked about this before. Our denomination was headed far away from Biblical principles, so we were able to jump ship. This is a uniquely congregational benefit; with congregational churches, the churches are in something more like a federation than a unified organization, and therefore Biblically based churches are far less likely to be sunk by heretical denominational trends. Had we been in a denomination with a different type of polity, this could not have happened.

On the other hand, I see problems with the congregational system as well. First off, I'm not aware of any one who actually uses a pure form of it. Typically, congregational churches don't have the congregation vote on everything, but have representatives on a church council or similar. This lowers accountability, since there aren't any strong oversight bodies above the church level and the congregation typically does not have a true vote on even the representatives chosen. Moreover, true congregationalism can't last, since the individuals must either create a higher level organization to keep the denomination together or the member churches will diverge too far from each other.

If you can guess, however, I'm not a big fan of episcopal polity, especially. Its not that I have anything against churches that use it, but personally, I think leads to the most corruption. Now, then, what is the ideal form of polity, in my opinion? I don't think I know of an ideal form, but I've come to the conclusion that presbyterian polity is the best mix. Despite John Milton's accusation that the “episcopal arts bud again” when presbyterianism was implemented in England during Cromwell's rule, I think it makes the most sense. Incidentally, it also mirrors our government's system of representation too.

I think the idea of having a body that is a mix of clergy and church representatives on various levels, from the session to the presbytery to the general assembly, is a wise arrangement. As with our own secular government, it makes sense to recognize that pure democracy doesn't work, but a republic works as a balance against the greater corruption of totalitarian systems.

Seeking God's Direction

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 2:36 AM

Okay, so I'm dense. One problem I have in seeking God's direction is that God often seems to open up a door, but I don't know where to go once I'm in that door. Today was one of those days. Two different things I have prayed about what to do on started to be resolved today (within a few hours of each other, in fact!). But, I emphasize they started to be resolved. Going back to how I mentioned I'm somewhat dense at times, I haven't figured out if this means I should try to jump in with both feet and move forward or if I'm suppose to take a more passive role and watch what happens. I'd lean toward the former, but first I think I need to consider what's happening a bit more.

For now, I won't worry about that, though. I know I have been seeing God at work and I'm just thankful to see what He has done today. Presuming it is His will for things to move forward, I hope to be able to post about both events in detail soon. If not, I'm still sure I will in do time, because while I may question this later, while the experiences are fresh, I know these were not just coincidences.

To Stay or To Leave

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 11:37 PM

Mark asks an interesting question in one of his recent posts. If the U.S. government made Christianity illegal, would you leave the country? Where would you go?

At first, it seems like a no-brainer, but would any place else be freer if that dreadful time should come? As I wrote in a comment on Mark's site:
I'd leave if I had to, but I'm not sure where I'd go. My guess would be that if the U.S. outlawed Christianity, countries such as Canada, the U.K. and Australia would already have done so as well.

Presuming South America didn't follow suit, I guess I would go there as well [as Mark says he would]. Perhaps Eastern Europe [I'm thinking Romania or Poland, perhaps] might be a good choice as well… If I found a country with a good Calvinist-Reformed Church tradition, so much the better, but I'd live with whatever I had to, so long as there was some kind of Christian church there that would either agree with my views or be willing to allow me to dissent on non-essentials.

It is interesting (and disturbing) to think about this. Where would I go? I could just stay here and practice faith in private and that might be almost a better option. If the U.S. ever outlawed Christianity or religion in general, I just can't imagine it being before many other countries (particularly the ones I might fit into the best). If I was a Catholic, it'd probably be a bit easier too — there's a whole lot more Catholics internationally than Protestants…

Update (2005.03.23): Mark pointed out to me that he said Portugal. For some reason I read Paraguay. Don't ask me why, I'm not sure, but clearly I had a Freudian slip. :-)

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