Saturday, December 31, 2005

Such a Swarm of Prejudices

I re-read a portion of puritan Isaac Watts' Logic this week at the request of a friend. In this section Watts details the sources of error in our judgment which largely stem from the fondness we have for ourselves. In a most powerful way he reveals the devastation our prejudices have on a right understanding of Scripture. I'll add that American Christians, with our individualistic and anti-authoritarian tendencies, need to pay special heed to this rebuke. Some of Watts' excerpts,

We set up our own opinions as tests of orthodoxy. We ought to bring our minds free, unbiased, and teachable, to learn our religion from the word of God; but we have generally formed all the lesser as well as greater points of religion beforehand, and then we read the prophets and apostles, only to pervert them to conform our own opinions.

We become sharp-sighted as to find our own opinions in those places of Scripture where the holy writers never thought of them, nor the Holy Spirit intended them. At other times, our prejudices bring such a dimness upon the sight that we cannot read anything that opposes our views, though it be written with sunbeams, and in the plainest language [Watts cites Luther on the Epistle of James, Catholics on the Apocyphra].

If the common text be not favorable to our opinion...the common understanding most be supposed to be defective or redundant, and the sense of it shall be literal or metaphorical, according as it best supports our own scheme. We are ready to find something in every chapter of the Bible to countenance our own private sentiments; and we love those chapters best which speak our own opinion plainest.

I believe our prejudices largely explain the disunity of the Church. The solution? Watts again: "Since we find such a swarm of prejudices, the weakness of our reason, our insufficiency to guard ourselves from error, we must direct ourselves to Heaven, and implore the God of truth to lead us into all truth, and to ask wisdom of Him who giveth liberally to them that ask it."

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Chaplain Tim Bailey?

Back in 1993 when I was new to the Air Force, and new to the Christian faith, I spent a good deal of time with an Air Force Chaplain whose background was African Methodist Episcopal. He believed in prophesying and he believed in me. He told me that one day I would be an Air Force Chaplain, he knew it, and he was never wrong about these things. Thankfully, wrong he was.

A friend of mine from the Air Force, who's not a chaplain, sent me a copy of the new talking paper on the "Interim guidelines of religious expression in the Air Force." A couple of the new guidelines make sense, but most are horrid, especially if you're a chaplain.

Consider its recommendations on prayer. "Prayers may be offered at military holiday parties. If a prayer/meditation is to be offered, strongly recommend that unit Chaplains be utilized to provide the prayer/meditation. Key point: The prayer/meditation/reflection should not be specific to any faith group." Then the following sample prayer was provided,

Dear Lord, as the days of winter grow shorter, our hearts seem to yearn for the coming light, explaining our Holiday Season focus on decorative lights and candles. And as we focus on the coming light that this season represents, allow our light to shine in our world. Allow our good works to shine before men so that they may be encouraged. Amen

I detest these empty prayers and empathize for the Chaplains that are forced to pray to this therapeutic deity of our own making. Thank the Lord Jesus Christ I'm not one of them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Love Must Be Expressed Through Word and Deed

My church is surrounded by growing numbers of people in need. Situated fairly close to the "bad part of town", a deacon recently told me that more than once the after-worship refreshments have been stolen during the service by people off the street. And there have been some tense moments during the week when emotionally-unstable people have entered the building demanding a hand-out.

I suspect most churches in large cities are regularly solicited for financial assistance from people in need. I also suspect that many of these people will abuse whatever assistance is provided. Perhaps this explains why many evangelical churches are much stronger on Word ministries (e.g. teaching, evangelism) than they are mercy ministries.

So I was intrigued when a deacon at our church taught the adults from Tim Keller's book. Dr. Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan, and he confronts the evangelical church over its lack of mercy, pointing out that mercy is not optional or additional to be being a Christian.

This is a bold book. In many places Pastor Keller gives names of those in the church that get this wrong (e.g. Sider and Chilton are both criticized) and shames the Left with its redistribution of wealth theories and the Right for its assertions that economic growth alone will mend broken families. He shows that only the ministry of the church can properly attack the root of the problem because "the spread of the Kingdom of God is more than simply winning people to Christ. It is also working for the healing of persons, families, relationships, and nations; it is doing deeds of mercy and justice."

Most valuably, this book not only convinces you of the orthodoxy of mercy ministry, aptly answering all the objections to it and also shaming the church for its negligence, but also spends many chapters describing how to go about it.

As a result, our little church is stepping up its participation with several rescue missions in town, expressing our love for our neighbors through Word and deed.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

"The Way to Contentment is to Add Another Burden"

This will be the last book I read this year. It will also be the best.

Do you have a deep satisfaction with the will of God in all things? Do you maintain an inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit no matter the situation? Or do you murmur? Do you complain at every cross and affliction in your life, dwelling on what discontents you, but unable to meditate more than a moment on God's mercies to you?

Rare Jewel was written by the Puritan preacher Jeremiah Burroughs and first published in 1648. In that era puritan authors wrote with a style of all meat, no fluff. This is a book to savor one paragraph at a time for weeks. If you do so, by the end of the book you will know the cause of your discontentment, and its cure.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Is This a War Worth Fighting?

...the War Against Christmas, that is. I'm going against most of pop-evangelicalism and saying that the battle against "holiday trees" and the like is largely a distraction from the real issues of religious liberty.

The Christians I work with are on the warpath because our base newspaper calls it a holiday tree and the Commander says 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas'. Renaming a Christmas tree is certainly silly, just imagine if we started calling a Menorah a Holiday Candlestick! If we do live in a pluralistic society then there should be enough room in the public square to call a rose a rose. It is a Christmas tree.

But I don't think that the War against Christmas is a major battle for religious liberty. I'm more concerned about recent court decisions forcing some Christian schools to use state-sponsored atheistic curriculum and forbidding some Christian organizations to hire and fire based on Christian morals.

Sadly, there is much less awareness among my Christian co-workers about these issues. And most distressing, there is no angst whatsoever that some of their own churches have called off worship this Lord's Day. This seems like a clear case of keeping the traditions of men while ignoring the commands of God. And that is a battle worth fighting over.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Ordered, Adjudged, and Decreed

Here we are earlier this month with the judge in Alabama that finalized our adoption of Faith. It was a very simple proceeding; we're thankful for that. Since then the days whizzed by with little time to write. I've also been trying to finish three more books by year end; I now have one left. I enjoyed Ministries of Mercy by Tim Keller and hope to post some thoughts on it pretty soon. I also finally wrapped up Dicken's first novel, The Pickwick Papers. Nearly 800 pages long, it's an amusing tale and an amazing feat for the 24 year old author!

Friday, December 02, 2005

The last step

We're off tomorrow to Alabama to finalize the adoption at a court proceeding. At this point we don't expect any difficulties, and we're looking forward to spending over a week with family.