Monday, September 18, 2006

Liberals Have Their Head in the Sand

I have no particular appreciation or animas towards Sam Harris. He is an avowed American Liberal who has no use for any sort of confessional religion. In fact, in his book “The End of Faith”, Harris makes it quite clear that in his mind, much of the problems we face in this world can be directly linked to orthodox beliefs.

However, in a recent article posted in the Los Angeles Times, Harris made a startling analysis of the West’s lack of perspective on Islamo-fascism. The article can be found at,0,1897169.

I disagree with most of his politics and certainly separate myself from his worldview. But whenever any liberal comes to his senses and sees reality for what it is, he needs to applauded for at least holding to intellectual integrity.

I have reproduced the article below in its entirety. May all of our culture come to see Islamic fascism for the cancer that it is.

Head-in-the-Sand Liberals
Western civilization really is at risk from Muslim extremists.
By Sam Harris, SAM HARRIS is the author of "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason." His next book, "Letter to a Christian Nation," will be published this week by Knopf.
September 18, 2006

TWO YEARS AGO I published a book highly critical of religion, "The End of Faith." In it, I argued that the world's major religions are genuinely incompatible, inevitably cause conflict and now prevent the emergence of a viable, global civilization. In response, I have received many thousands of letters and e-mails from priests, journalists, scientists, politicians, soldiers, rabbis, actors, aid workers, students — from people young and old who occupy every point on the spectrum of belief and nonbelief.

This has offered me a special opportunity to see how people of all creeds and political persuasions react when religion is criticized. I am here to report that liberals and conservatives respond very differently to the notion that religion can be a direct cause of human conflict.

This difference does not bode well for the future of liberalism.

Perhaps I should establish my liberal bone fides at the outset. I'd like to see taxes raised on the wealthy, drugs decriminalized and homosexuals free to marry. I also think that the Bush administration deserves most of the criticism it has received in the last six years — especially with respect to its waging of the war in Iraq, its scuttling of science and its fiscal irresponsibility.

But my correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world — specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.

A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world — for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a "war on terror." We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.

This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims. But we are absolutely at war with those who believe that death in defense of the faith is the highest possible good, that cartoonists should be killed for caricaturing the prophet and that any Muslim who loses his faith should be butchered for apostasy.

Unfortunately, such religious extremism is not as fringe a phenomenon as we might hope. Numerous studies have found that the most radicalized Muslims tend to have better-than-average educations and economic opportunities.

Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb — and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism.

At its most extreme, liberal denial has found expression in a growing subculture of conspiracy theorists who believe that the atrocities of 9/11 were orchestrated by our own government. A nationwide poll conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found that more than a third of Americans suspect that the federal government "assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East;" 16% believe that the twin towers collapsed not because fully-fueled passenger jets smashed into them but because agents of the Bush administration had secretly rigged them to explode.

Such an astonishing eruption of masochistic unreason could well mark the decline of liberalism, if not the decline of Western civilization. There are books, films and conferences organized around this phantasmagoria, and they offer an unusually clear view of the debilitating dogma that lurks at the heart of liberalism: Western power is utterly malevolent, while the powerless people of the Earth can be counted on to embrace reason and tolerance, if only given sufficient economic opportunities.

I don't know how many more engineers and architects need to blow themselves up, fly planes into buildings or saw the heads off of journalists before this fantasy will dissipate. The truth is that there is every reason to believe that a terrifying number of the world's Muslims now view all political and moral questions in terms of their affiliation with Islam. This leads them to rally to the cause of other Muslims no matter how sociopathic their behavior. This benighted religious solidarity may be the greatest problem facing civilization and yet it is regularly misconstrued, ignored or obfuscated by liberals.

Given the mendacity and shocking incompetence of the Bush administration — especially its mishandling of the war in Iraq — liberals can find much to lament in the conservative approach to fighting the war on terror. Unfortunately, liberals hate the current administration with such fury that they regularly fail to acknowledge just how dangerous and depraved our enemies in the Muslim world are.

Recent condemnations of the Bush administration's use of the phrase "Islamic fascism" are a case in point. There is no question that the phrase is imprecise — Islamists are not technically fascists, and the term ignores a variety of schisms that exist even among Islamists — but it is by no means an example of wartime propaganda, as has been repeatedly alleged by liberals.

In their analyses of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, liberals can be relied on to overlook the most basic moral distinctions. For instance, they ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so. Muslims routinely use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral damage we and the Israelis cause; the political discourse throughout much of the Muslim world, especially with respect to Jews, is explicitly and unabashedly genocidal.

Given these distinctions, there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah. And yet liberals in the United States and Europe often speak as though the truth were otherwise.

We are entering an age of unchecked nuclear proliferation and, it seems likely, nuclear terrorism. There is, therefore, no future in which aspiring martyrs will make good neighbors for us. Unless liberals realize that there are tens of millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney, they will be unable to protect civilization from its genuine enemies.

Increasingly, Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West. Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right, whose infatuation with biblical prophecy is nearly as troubling as the ideology of our enemies. Religious dogmatism is now playing both sides of the board in a very dangerous game.

While liberals should be the ones pointing the way beyond this Iron Age madness, they are rendering themselves increasingly irrelevant. Being generally reasonable and tolerant of diversity, liberals should be especially sensitive to the dangers of religious literalism. But they aren't.

The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.

To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization.

Islam a Religion of Peace?

This past weekend we once again had the joy of seeing Islam, in all its righteous virtue, on display. We are regularaly bombarded with the propaganda that Islam is a religion of peace and tranquility. It is alleged to be a noble faith and that there are extreme elements in Islam that sadly denigrate their otherwise benign tenets.

Muslims throughout the world have reacted in their usual benign, loving, patient and compassionate manner to remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI. The Pontiff, in a recent speech, quoted from the 14th Century Emperor, Manuel Paleologos II. The Byzantine emperor was discussing the differences between Christianity and Islam with a Persian intellectual. In the course of discussion, the Emperor stated what he understood to be Mohammed's doctrine of jihad. The offending quote was "Show me just what Mohammed thought was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Ever since Islam made its first appearance on the stage of world history, it has been marked with a dogma and an ethos that espouses violence, terror and intimidation as a means of propogating itself. This is not a statement that is meant to be hurtful, spiteful, ill-tempered or bigoted against Muslims. It is a matter of historical fact. In recent days, we have seen this lived out, in of all places, FOX News. In August, two FOX reporters, Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, were captured in Gaza City. Held for two weeks by Muslim activists. They were released on August 27, 2006 after a video tape aired that documented their apparent conversion to Islam. They recanted their conversion statements after their safe return stating that they were forced to read prepared statements at gun point. The Pontiff's comments has sparked yet another round of violence, protest and indignation resulting in the execution of a Nun in Somalia. In London England other Muslim leaders called for the Pope's death. Still others referred to the Pontiff as "the dog of Rome" threatening "to shake your thrones and break your crosses in your home."

This is a religion of peace? This is lunacy and hyprocisy in its highest form. The Pope has openly apologized for words uttered by a 14th century European emperor. This emperor made the observation, as have many others, that Islam and its founder Mohammed, has an evil component that seeks to propogate its faith by violent means. The reaction of Muslims in recent days merely confirms this observation. If Islam is criticized then the obvious course of action is to silence the critics by slitting their throats.

I appreciate the Islamic reaction for its candor and honesty. How can a religion that is supposedly based upon peace and tolerance have so many advocates that will automatically react with violence and hatred every time it is openly criticized? Moreover, where are the Immams, Mullahs and religious leaders of Islam that decry this senseless violence? Their consistent silence in the face of Islamic outrage is deafening. What makes it all the more laughable, is that the screams from Muslims seem to get louder when one actually quotes from the Koran, quotes from history and points out that within Islam there is an insidious cancer that seeks global domination by way of violence and conquest.

We in the West are blindly gullible. We will swallow these intimidation tactics in the name of religious tolerance. We dare not engage in honest discussion about Islam for fear of violent backlash. What we see here is the bankruptcy of political correctness, the futility of multi-culturalism and the spectre of a world dominated by the sword. This is the future of our world if we in the West do not react strongly to this invader.

Make no mistake. Muslims need the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, we need to be honest that Islam seeks to destroy anything and everyone that will not submit to Allah. We need to be fearless in our proclamation, compassionate in our outreach and vigilant for our safety. Evil needs to be addressed by our governments, lawmakers and our military. You do not negotiate with someone who is trying to kill you. Let us not live like the ostrich and hope that this will all disappear.

Soli deo Gloria

Friday, July 14, 2006

There is Nothing Common About Grace!

The fact that you can sit upright and are reading this article is proof that you are a recipient of what is called “common grace”. The term “common”, with reference to grace, is somewhat of a misnomer in today’s vernacular.

Traditionally, the term “common” has meant, that which is universally applicable to all people regardless of position or circumstance. For example, if one resides in an apartment building, areas such as the hallway, staircase and elevator are referred to as common areas. Whether one lives in the basement or the penthouse, all have equal shared access to common areas. Today, the term “common” has taken on an additional nuance. It can also be understood to mean, ordinary, base, unremarkable having a lowly status. Theologians have understood “common”, in conjunction with grace, in order to carefully distinguish between “common grace” another term, “special” or “saving grace”.

Grace, by definition, is underserved or unmerited favor. God is not required to dispense grace. He does so as an expression of His mercy, love and patience towards fallen human beings. As early as Genesis 2-3, God demonstrated His grace to Adam and Eve by with holding immediate justice for our parent’s criminal behavior. Adam and Eve were both warned that should they partake of the forbidden fruit, they would certainly die. The Bible goes on to account, that death was not immediate. Adam and Eve did eventually die years later. In the meantime, they experienced love, loss of children, birth, toil and the assorted joys and sorrows that mark human experience ever since the Garden. That humans are allowed to enjoy love and marriage; the change of seasons; triumph and success regardless of religious affiliation is due to God’s common or universal grace.

God does dispense a special or electing grace to others in this fallen world. Again, later in Genesis, and picked up by Paul in Romans 9, is the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob, the second born, was God’s chosen instrument to perpetuate the Patriarchal lineage, bypassing the first-born Esau. Paul makes the controversial statement in Romans that the reason for this choice was in the sovereign will of God. Jacob I loved and Esau I hated. God has always chosen for Himself a unique people to be His beloved community. Whether it be Israel in the Old Testament or the Church in the New Covenant era, these elect people were to receive not only blessing in this lifetime but assurance of eternal life in the beneficent presence of God.

Grace, whether common or special, ultimately originates in the mind and will of God. There is nothing common or ordinary, or base or lowly in the fact that God withholds his anger the moment we commit our first sin. That He allows us to live at all is a testimony to His grace. That He consciously desires that we become His beloved bride is a mystery beyond comprehension. Praise God, for His infinite grace.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Freedom of Speech

A local newspaper ran an essay contest in which the premise of the discussion was does freedom of expression contribute to religious and cultural insensitivity? It is obvious, that the question is being asked in light of the riots in Europe, perpetrated by Muslims in response to disparaging cartoons of Islam’s founder, Mohammed. On the surface, the answer seems to be, if freedom of expression contributes to cultural desensitization, then the obvious solution is, criminalize any and all comments that portray any group in a negative way. This will avoid misunderstandings between cultures. No one’s feelings will be upset and we can all live happily ever after.

One of the cherished cornerstones of Western Democratic Society is the right to freely express ones thoughts and opinions. The free and open exchange of ideas is one of the healthiest safeguards to ensure individual and national liberty. Debate, whether it takes place in the arena of politics, in the lecture halls of our universities or in the daily pages of our print media grants all sides the dignity and the opportunity to educate and persuade. It also grants all sides the ability to evaluate and critique views with which they may disagree. The public can then accept, reject or modify any previously held convictions.

The 1930’s marked one of coldest decades of world history. Adolph Hitler rose to power by circumventing the governing principles of the Weimar Republic forming an illegal government. The first order of business for the fledgling Nazi regime was to dispense with political and media opposition. To voice dissent with Hitler was to court the death sentence. The second order of business was to formulate a national scapegoat that would unify Germans against an internal national threat. The Jews became this scapegoat. A masterful propaganda campaign was launched, utterly controlled by the Nazis that blamed Jewish people for every conceivable national ill. This campaign resulted in what has been infamously called “The Final Solution”. Six million innocent people were needlessly slaughtered at the command of a madman. Where was freedom of expression during the Nazi era? Why was this plan not presented to the German people on a national referendum? Why did newspapers not print cartooned editorials decrying the evils of Adolph Hitler? The answer is simply, freedom of expression is the enemy and the antidote to all tyrants.

One need only look at any totalitarian regime and examine their policy concerning freedom of expression. The former Soviet Union controlled all news through the nation’s sole newspaper, Pravda. Saddam Hussein did the same thing with Iraq’s sole television news provider, Al Jazeera. Communist China, North Korea, Cuba are further examples of governments that control and restrict access to information. Not only do they control access to information they actively prosecute any rational voice of dissent within their borders.

The contest also asked the question, if freedom of expression contributes to cultural desensitization, then what should be done about this? Absolutely nothing! There will always be a very minor segment of our population that will get some perverse pleasure in disparaging the beliefs of other cultures. I thank them for their honesty and have only to say that the freedom that allows them to offend others is the same freedom that allows me to openly challenge their idiotic and sophomoric behavior. I know now who these people are and can intentionally avoid ever having to do business with them if I so choose. This is a very small price to pay when one considers the alternatives.

There is also another aspect to this issue that needs to be addressed. The Muslims were outraged at these depictions. One can fully understand why they would be upset. Their reaction is interesting to note. Rather than engage in the market place of ideas to debate and decry this insult, many chose instead to destroy life and property all over Europe, demanding that the Danish government publicly apologize and force the offending newspaper to retract its editorial cartoons. In Islamic nations, the editors and staff of this newspaper would have been executed for blasphemy against Allah.

I am in no way endorsing these cartoons. They are in bad taste and seek to ridicule another religion. However, I would also say, that if there is insensitivity being demonstrated in this age of free expression, then the Muslims in many parts of the world are guilty of this very charge themselves. They have chosen to live in countries that cherish this ideal. Their demand that governments force reporters and media to control what is said about Islam is nothing short of an assault on the very principle of free speech. Dare I say it, but this demonstrates reverse cultural insensitivity.

In the words of a wise old sage, “ I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.”

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Islam a Religion of Tolerance: Get a Grip on Reality

The post 9-11 world saw the United States and Canada launch a war against terror. The first theater of operation of this war took place and continues to unfold in the nation of Afghanistan. The international coalition overthrew the ruling Taliban party replacing it with a supposedly democratic government. Part of the war on terror is to destroy terrorism by liberating oppressed people and allowing them to exercise their new found freedom with the installation of democracy. The theory is a good one. Unfortunately, in the example of Afghanistan, I fear that we have replaced one terror group with another.

In Afghanistan, there are two governing orders. First, the country is regulated by specific ordinances that are enshrined in formal statutes. The second, is Sharia law. Whatever is not covered by specific ordinance is covered under the religious tenets of Islam. This has been placed in stark relief this week in an article found in USA Today.

The text of the article is below:

Afghan may face death for alleged conversion

A man in Afghanistan is being prosecuted in a Kabul court and could be sentenced to death after being charged with converting from Islam to Christianity, a crime under the country's Islamic sharia laws, a judge said Sunday.

The trial highlights a struggle between religious conservatives and reformists over what shape Islam will take here four years after the ouster of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime.

The defendant, Abdul Rahman, 41, was arrested last month after his family accused him of becoming a Christian, according to Judge Ansarullah Mawlavezada. Rahman was charged with rejecting Islam. His trial started Thursday.

Below is another article posted by Michelle Malkin for the Jewish World Review that deals with the same topic.

Who will save Abdul Rahman?
Filed under: Front Page, Opinion, News, Islam

By Michelle Malkin, Jewish World Review

Abdul Rahman is a man of faith. “I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in Christ. And I am a Christian,” he declared this week.

See a video of Abdul Rahman on Michelle Malkin’s website

Unfortunately for Rahman, he was originally born a Muslim in Afghanistan — and he has been forced to defend his religious conversion in his home country’s court, where he now faces the death penalty for turning to Jesus. Despite the defeat of the totalitarian Taliban and the existence of a U.S.-backed “moderate” democratic government, it is a capital crime for Afghanis to openly embrace any religion other than Islam. Sharia law, embedded in the Afghan constitution, overrides its human rights provisions.

Rahman’s family has denounced him as mentally ill. Afghan officials are thirsting for his blood. “We will cut him into little pieces,” jail employee Hosnia Wafayosofi told the Chicago Tribune as she “made a cutting motion with her hands.

The Tribune reported that p rosecutor Abdul Wasi demanded Rahman’s repentance and called him a traitor: “He is known as a microbe in society, and he should be cut off and removed from the rest of Muslim society and should be killed.” The country’s attorney general says Rahman should be hung. The judge handling the case, who has been photographed wielding Rahman’s Bible as evidence against him, threatens: “If he doesn’t regret his conversion, the punishment will be enforced on him. And the punishment is death.”

This is a watershed moment in the post-Sept. 11 world. The Taliban are out of power. And yet today, an innocent man sits in the jail of a “moderate” Muslim nation praying for his life because he owned a Bible and refuses to renounce his Christian faith. Rahman, who converted many years ago while working for a Christian aid agency in Germany, “is standing by his words,” fellow jail inmate Saya Miakel told Canada’s Globe and Mail. Another cellmate, Khalylullah Safi, reported: “He keeps looking up to the sky, to G-d.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, left-wing Amnesty International had nothing to say about the case. But neither did President Bush, a man of faith and a Christian brother. During his extensive White House press conference on the War on Terror and the defense of freedom overseas, Bush spent plenty of time describing what life was like for Afghanis before Operation Enduring Freedom:

“There was no such thing as religious freedom. There was no such thing as being able to express yourself in the public square. There was no such thing as press conferences like this. They were totalitarian in their view. And that would be — I’m referring to the Taliban, of course. And that’s how they would like to run government. They rule by intimidation and fear, by death and destruction. And the United States of America must take this threat seriously and must not — must never forget the natural rights that formed our country.”

President Bush, who will defend Abdul Rahman’s natural rights from being usurped and terminated by Afghanistan’s Islamic executioners?

Tony Perkins at the Family Research Council raises the unpleasant question Bush evaded and no one in the White House press corps bothered to ask:

“How can we congratulate ourselves for liberating Afghanistan from the rule of jihadists only to be ruled by Islamists who kill Christians?…President Bush should immediately send Vice President Cheney or Secretary Rice to Kabul to read Hamid Kharzai’s government the riot act. Americans will not give their blood and treasure to prop up new Islamic fundamentalist regimes. Democracy is more than purple thumbs.”

Embarrassingly, the governments of Italy and Germany have already stepped forward to make direct appeals to Karzai to save Rahman’s life.

Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, has ducked the issue so far. Our feckless State Department is “monitoring” the situation.

If we sit on the sidelines and watch this man “cut into little pieces” for his love of Christ, we do not deserve the legacy of liberty our Founding Fathers left us. How about offering Rahman asylum in the United States? Perhaps Yale University, proud sponsor of former Taliban official Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, can offer Rahman a scholarship. Where’s the Catholic church, so quick to offer sanctuary to every last illegal alien streaming across the borders? And how about Hollywood, so quick to take up the cause of every last Death Row inmate?

Several things come to my mind. First,Why did we bother to lose American and Canadian soldiers in a war on terrorism that deposed a criminal organization only to empower a religious organization that would seek to enforce Islamic rule with the sword? Second, I am frustrated with the West's depiction of Islam as a benign and peaceful with the soul of toleration as its core value. Third, there are forces of evil in this world that will not yield to persuasion as many on the left would have us believe. Fourth, the warfare we fight is a spiritual one. Yes, I agree with Pat Robertson and others, that anything that would hide the truth of Jesus and deny the spread of the Gospel is empowered by the demonic.

We have here the tale of a man, whose only crime was to receive Jesus Christ as his personal saviour and for that he is to forfeit his life. Make no mistake, this is Islam unmasked at its core. It never has never and will never brook any competing ideaology. The trial and the likely execution of this man is not being carried out by fanatical homocide bombers bent upon destroying the West. His accusers are everyday run of the mill conservative, and dare I say fundamentalist, practitioners of Islam. This is their mainstream belief on full exhibit for the world to see and yet we walk with the delusion that it is only a few radicals that would do such things.

I am fully aware that Christians need to die for their faith rather than capitulate their trust in Jesus. I know that as a Christian, true life is to be found in the presence of God. We are not to become overly enthralled with the things of this life because there is more to life than this earthly plain. I am fully conscious that Jesus specifically warned His followers that opposition and even persecution could await anyone that claims to be a Christian.

I am also aware that the State has been given the sword as an instrument of preserving order and righteousness. I am also aware that as a Christian, I have an obligation to speak the truth in love. Sometimes hard and difficult things need to be said in the name of love, but the truth is the truth. I am also aware that we need to stand up and protect the weak, the powerless and the marginalized. This means being involved in correcting injustice and speaking out against any atrocity that would seek to mar God's image bearers.

We are kidding ourselves if we think that the cure to the worlds problems with terror is to replace a violent form of Islam with a benevolent form of Islam. It simply does not exist.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Thoughts on Rejoicing in the Lord

"Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice."

The New Testament commands Christians everywhere to rejoice in God. This is a troubling command for many because it is not always clear just what a joyful person is supposed to look like. Certainly, there is an aspect to joy that contains an emotional component. But does this mean, that Christians are to go through life with plastic smiles and cheery expressions even when confronted with the inevitable consequences of living in a fallen world? Not that there is anything wrong in facing life with a positive outlook. Of all people who live on this planet, Christians have every reason to look to the future with an unbridled optimism. It strikes me though, that there is a difference in living with the knowledge that when we die, we will be in the presence of Jesus for all eternity and going through life with an almost bubble headed attitude that the problems we face do not exist. Worse still, is the mindset that says, your life should be free from struggle and if you are facing turmoil, there is something inherently wrong with your spiritual walk. How then are we to reconcile the biblical tension between rejoicing always and facing jobloss, terminal illness, false accusation, death of a loved one in a way that is consistent with the historic Christian Faith?

The Psalms are quite clear that all of us will face times of life that seem at the time unbearable. We will question our faith; call out to God and receive silence; fall into depression and even believe the lie that death would be preferable than continued existence. The Psalms are also quite clear that our ultimate hope resides in God and He will redeem those that are His. When a glimpse of His holiness and majesty recaptivates our hearts and minds, then we can truthfully sing praises to His glory. He reorients our thinking in order that can live life in a manner that is consistent with the biblical witness. The Psalms are brutally honest. Anyone who has lived a number of years can readily identify with the heartcry of the writers. There are episodes in life that are horrific. It is our response during these times of horror that I think defines the nature of biblical joy.

We cannot allow outward circumstances to determine how we are to relate to God. Our relationship with God must come prior to anything that happens to us whether good or evil. Nasty circumstances will occur. The solutions to these nasty circumstances will determine whether or not we are actually rejoicing in the Lord. For example, in our quest for the elusive dream of happiness, an expression that is often heard is "just one more." If only I had one more................. then I would be really happy. The missing blank determines our mental state and all too often our spiritual relationship with God.

The error here, is that we are empowering something other than God to take the place of God. We may find ourselves in some sort of material hot water or feel very strongly that there is something missing in life that is depriving us of any sense of joy. We should not minimize these thoughts or feelings. They are real and do cause all sorts of problems. Neither should we allow these thoughts and feelings to determine the nature of our relationship with God, for when we do, we will seek relief from these thoughts and feelings in ways that usurp the preeminence of God in our lives. All too often, many of us fall into the trap of thinking, if only I had the right car, job, wife, income, clothes, lifestyle, education, family, friends etc. as a response to the turmoil that is plaguing us, then and only then could we be happy. There is nothing inherently evil in any of the items listed above. Most are very good. But they can become evil when we seek to find our ultimate joy on things temporal and not in the person of God.

Pain in life is a reality. Struggle will happen to all of us. We will all lose loved ones at some point. True joy comes in the freedom and knowledge that our eternal and sovereign God knows this, understands this and best of all has provided a sympathetic high priest, Jesus Christ, who in all points identifies with the human condition and yet never yielded Himself to temptation like the rest of us. Our joy comes in knowing that God is in control and that in spite of our outward circumstances, nothing will separate us from the love of God which is in found in Christ Jesus. Given this, why would we even attempt to find joy in things that will ultimately perish? Why would we empower something or someone other than God to determine how we are live?

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Limits of Conscience and the Authority of the Word of God

Ordinarily, I like to compose my own analysis of events impacting the Church of Jesus Christ. I came across an article by Dr. Albert Mohler that chronicles recent troubling developments with the Presbyterian Church, USA. I have reproduced the article in its entirety below.

I fear this trend is not exclusive to the PC alone. Given our Postmodern, anti-authoritarian, emergant church culture, the rallying cry of the next generation will be SOLA CONSCIENCE.

Martin Luther and the other Reformers were very clear that the conscience could only be held captive by the Word of God. Within the boundaries of Scripture, individual Christians can and do have the right exercise freedom of conscience. When one steps beyond the bounds the Scriptures refer to this sort of behaviour as rebellion. We are seeing the demonstrable outworking of Romans 1:18-36 where supposed ministers of the Gospel are exchanging truth for a lie and justifying their rebellion on the basis of the primacy of the conscience while rejecting the primacy of Scripture.

This is an insepid cancer that we need to guard against if we are to maintain any semblance of confessional fidelity.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Last week Rev. Jane Adams Spahr was found not-guilty of ministerial misconduct, even after the openly lesbian Presbyterian minister had defied the teachings of her church by performing "marriages" for two lesbian couples. Given the current state of mainline Protestantism, the actions by the trial court were not completely unexpected. Nevertheless, this act of rebellion against the church's law and the clear teachings of Scripture sets the stage for an even larger conflict when the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) holds its General Assembly in June.

Rev. Jane Adams Spahr is no stranger to controversy. In 1991, the Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York called her as co-pastor. That call was subsequently invalidated by the denomination's General Assembly and its Permanent Judicial Commission. Nevertheless, the church then called her to serve as a "lesbian evangelist" and she established her ministry as the organization called "That All May Freely Serve." That ministry was formed in partnership with Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon, California. As the denomination's news service, PCUSA News explained, "Since then, Spahr has traveled the country mustering support for the ordination of gay and lesbian Presbyterians and building a network of regional groups to help in the effort."

The current controversy emerged as Spahr was charged with breaking church law by marrying two homosexual men in Canada. Since her ordination was not recognized in that country, and therefore her name did not appear on the marriage certificate, a church court ruled that it could not prove that she had actually officiated at the wedding.

In short order, she eliminated that defense by openly officiating at the "weddings" of two lesbian couples. She officiated at ceremonies for Annie Senechal and Sherrill Figuera in 2005, and the previous year had officiated at a ceremony for Barbara Jean Douglass and Connie Valois.

Her current trial took place before the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Redwoods Presbytery in California. The trial took place at the Church of the Roses in Santa Rosa, located about 65 miles north of San Francisco.

As media reports indicated, the church was often packed with Spahr's supporters and those who were openly advocating for a rebellion against the church's rules.

Stephen L. Taber, the attorney prosecuting Spahr on behalf of the Redwoods Presbytery, had argued that the trial was not over gay rights, but the right of the denomination to establish its own rules and structure for church discipline. "The burden on this commission is not to decide whether same-sex marriage is or is not appropriate for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)," he argued. "The only question here is whether Rev. Spahr committed certain acts, and whether those acts are in violation of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church."

Taber was standing on firm constitutional ground as he made his case. After all, the denomination's Book of Order defines marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, excluding all alternatives. Furthermore, the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly ruled in 2000 that ministers may bless same sex "unions," but may not call such unions marriage.

In presenting her defense, Spahr claimed a right to individual conscience. As PCUSA News reported: "Spahr, as the first witness called before the seven-member commission, was far from repentant for presiding over the nuptials of the lesbian couples. She said she was following her conscience, a call from God and the wishes of the 'brides' when she officiated at their weddings."

In pressing her case, Spahr argued that the church's rules that disallow same-sex marriage are unfair and unjust. "I can't begin to tell you what it is to say to [same-sex couples] that they were married by the church, by the authority of someone representing the church of Jesus Christ," Spahr told the court. "What it means for lesbian and gay people who are told for so long that they're no good, that our relationships are no good. That has a profound effect on them." She also claimed that the denomination's rules limiting marriage to heterosexuals violates the church's commitment to "love and hospitality."

Spahr's attorney, Sara Taylor, argued that the church had no right to judge Spahr's actions. "The reformers were clear in their assertions that the authority of the church to discipline belongs not to the church but to Christ."

Of course, this is hardly fair to the reformers and their witness. Nevertheless, the trial ended with the court acquitting Spahr by a six-to-one ruling that determined that Spahr was acting within her ministerial "right of conscience" in performing the same-sex marriages.

Beyond this, the court's majority went on in a "concluding affirmation" to offer a direct challenge to the denomination's rules. "We affirm that the fundamental message of the Scriptures and Confessions is the proclamation of the Good News of God's love for all people. It is a message of inclusiveness, reconciliation, and the breaking down of barriers that separate humans from each other, and that this proclamation has primacy in the conduct of the Church." In other words, the court turned its back on the Bible's clear teachings that condemn homosexual activity as sin and on the church's explicit rules that prohibit ministers from officiating at same-sex marriages--all in the name of "the fundamental message of the Scriptures and Confessions."

The Spahr trial and the larger controversy point to the most basic issues that have created such an explosive crisis within liberal Protestantism and the denominations commonly known as "mainline" Protestantism. For years, the mainline Presbyterians have been debating issues of scriptural authority.

The foundation for theological revolution was set in 1967, when the denomination replaced the historic Westminster Confession with a book of confessions that replaced one common doctrinal standard with several--insuring a process of theological compromise and accomodationism.

In June, the 217th General Assembly of the denomination is to receive the final report of the "Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church." This task force was established in 2001 and was charged with developing "a process and instrument by which congregations and governing bodies throughout our church may reflect on and discern the matters that unite and divide us, praying that the Holy Spirit will promote the purity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)."

The group's report, entitled Peace Unity Purity [or PUP], is, in effect, nothing more than a call for continuing conversation and the embrace of even greater diversity within the denomination.

Of course, Scripture stands at the very center of this controversy. The PUP report cites The Second Helvetic Confession and asserts: "we believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and have sufficient authority of themselves, not of [human beings]." Responding to this confessional statement, the group asserted: "We acknowledge that there is heated debate over biblical interpretation among Presbyterians who honor the authority of Scripture. In the midst of these debates it is important to remember that the consciences of us all are bound by the witness of Scripture to Jesus Christ. Even as it is important to preserve freedom of conscience and the interpretation of Scripture, such freedom is subject to standards . . . and must be exercised within constitutional bounds . . . ."

As should be obvious by now, the acquittal of Rev. Jane Adams Spahr should demonstrate conclusively the failure of this proposal.

In the first place, one must question the group's decision to suggest that the heated debate over the interpretation of Scripture on issues of sexuality is found "among Presbyterians who honor the authority of Scripture." Such a statement effectively implies that persons may deny clear teachings of Scripture, while still claiming to honor its authority.

By any measure, the acquittal of Rev. Spahr should demonstrate that a call for all ministers to bind their consciences "by the witness of Scripture," does not avail. The presbytery of the Redwoods did nothing to require Rev. Spahr to subject her conscience to the constitutional bounds of the church or to the clear teachings of the Bible.

Rev. Spahr's attorney cited the reformers of the sixteenth century as suggesting that the church must leave matters of ministerial discipline to God. This flies in the face of the actual writings and actions of the reformers. John Calvin, whose legacy stands as the very fountain of the stream that eventually produced the Presbyterian denomination, insisted that "we must be ruled by the Word of God." Furthermore, "Seeing God will be served with obedience, let us beware and keep ourselves within those bounds which God hath set," Calvin insisted. Martin Luther, famously standing at his own church trial at the Diet of Worms, famously told his judges that his conscience was "bound by the Word of God."

The Presbyterian Lay Committee, a group of concerned Presbyterians who have been seeking to pull their church back to biblical and theological accountability, has referred to the PUP document as "a political solution to a theological problem."

"Some persons who call themselves Christians, including ordained leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), struggle with claims of the authority of Scripture," the group argued. "They affirm Scripture as a guide and source of wisdom, but regard it as culturally conditioned and of human origin. Thus they place it alongside, and even, at times, under the judgment of other human authorities. They prefer to say, 'Listen for the Word of God,' rather than 'Listen to the Word of God' when reading the Bible in the context of worship. Persons who hold such beliefs clearly are not talking about the Scriptures that Jesus upheld and fulfilled and that his church has affirmed for more than 2000 years."

As the Presbyterian Lay Committee's argument concludes, "Making the denomination's implicit pluralism explicit, by whatever inclusivist scheme, would admit but not solve our current disorder. Elijah's counsel to Israel is precisely the word that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) must hear. We must cease limping between two opinions. We must answer Christ's compelling question: 'Who do you say that I am?' We must make a choice."

The Presbyterian Lay Committee has it right--the denomination must make a clear choice. The acquittal of Rev. Jane Adams Spahr sets the stage for the denomination's General Assembly to face the question squarely when it meets in June. Nothing less than the denomination's witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake. If individual conscience is allowed to invalidate the clear teachings of Scripture, the denomination faces an unavoidable disaster.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Exodus 6:3-4 What's in a Name?

Exodus 6:3-4

I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name LORD (YHWH) I was not known to them. I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers. NKJV

Moses has just completed his first interview with Pharoah, King of Egypt, upon Moses' return from a self imposed 40 year exile. The interview did not go according to plan, at least as far as Moses was concerned. Fully expecting that Pharoah would capitulate under the decree to "let my people go", Moses and Aaron would not have been prepared for what followed next. Instead of recognizing the divine message, Pharoah instead increased the burden of Israel by no longer providing straw for the Jewish workmen to create bricks. The Jews were to divert manpower from brick production in order to acquire the needed raw material without diminishing the daily quota of bricks. The net effect was demoralizing both to Moses and to the nation he sought to deliver. Fortunately, Pharoah's brilliant polictical manuever, while initially disheartening for Israel, did not achieve its desired end which was to stifle any notion of national liberation.

God then encourages Moses and reminds him that deliverance is at hand. Not only will Israel be delivered, but it will be done with a spectaculare penache and display of miracles, signs and wonders. In the midst of this forecast, God recalls the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The promise made is about to become the promise fufilled. What is striking is the words God uses to comfort and strengthen Moses' resolve.

During the Patriarchal period God revealed Himself as God Almighty (El Shaddai). This term indicates God's sovereignty, power and complete dominion over creation. There are no competing powers or persons that can unseat God from His total rule. In Exodus 6, the same God of the Patriarchs, who is still the absolute monarch reveals another dimension to His person and character. Not only is God the Sovereign Ruler, He is a Sovereign Ruler who is not undetached from His subjects. God is an intensely personal being and He reveals this through a small expression in verse 3 but by name (YHWH) I was not known to them.

In the ancient Near East, affixing names to persons was not merely a mechanism to distinguish one human being from another. Naming someone or something always conveyed either theological or political importance. The one doing the naming, or in some cases renaming, was exercising his power, control, dominance or ownership over the individual who received the new label. This is demonstrated in a number of examples in both Testaments.

At creation, corgenency is conferred to the primal pair, Adam and Eve. They are commanded to name the assorted animals as they paraded before our first parents. In Genesis, Avram and Sarai are renamed Abraham and Sarah by God as God establishes His covenant. In the New Testament, Jesus renames Simon to Peter (Petros the rock) theologically symbolizing the (Petra) the bedrock confession that Jesus is the Son of God. There are numerous other examples that could be cited, but they demonstrate the truth that naming a person was more than just placing a catchy label on a person.

Earlier in Exodus, Moses first encounters God on Mt. Sinai. Moses is to convey to Israel that the El Shaddai of Genesis, is about to fufill His promise to their Patriarchal ancestors. The question is posed, if they should ask what is His name? What shall I say to them? The answer comes in the form of the 4 letter tetragrammaton YHWH. In Hebrew, this is literally the verb to be. God's personal name is the verb that indicates existence. Down through the centuries, theologians have rightly taught that this somewhat cryptic response indicates not only God's holy name, but within the holy name, an essential attribute of God is delineated. He is the God that is; the self existent one.

More importantly, this name sets YHWH apart from the pantheon in Egypt and the larger pagan world in which Israel lives. The names of pagan Gods indicated something of their character, nature, limitations and tribal affiliation. YHWH alone not only declares that He is God Almighty but also that He is self existent and defines existence without having beginning or end. None of the competing idealogies could make such a statement about their gods. Because YHWH is self existent He is beyond human control, dominion or cohersion. He will not be manipulated or manouevered to do anyone's bidding save His own. As an aside, part of how we are to understand that we are not to take the Lord's name in vain is that God's name is not to be used as a talisman or lucky charm to bring our own desires into fruition.

Most importantly, Moses records that it is by the name YHWH that He is to be known now. This indicates that there is more here than theological posturing taking place. To know, in the Old Testament is not simply the acquisition of knowledge. To know someone can also convey the idea of intimacy as in the intimacy shared by husband and wife in sexual union. It is intensely personal. There is a foreshadow taking place here of the husband and wife symbolism that so marked the writings of the New Testament. It also indicates that God is not merely an all powerful ogre that demands obligatory allegiance from His subjects. He is one who is intimately involved with His people. He is interested in worshippers, but more than worshippers, He desires personal fellowship from those who are devoted to Him. Isaiah, the great prophet whose ministry coincided with the fall of Jerusalem, predicted that Messiah (Jesus) would be known by that great name Emmanuel (God with Us). This has been fufilled in part with the coming of Pentecost. Everyone who is a born again believer, has the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within. The ultimate Emmanuel will take place at the close of Revelation when the earth is consumed, the church (bride) is united with Christ (bridegroom) and the heavenly Jerusalem is revealed from heaven.

Soli Deo Gloria