Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Lewis: The Unique Blend

One of the more interesting things to me about C. S. Lewis was his unique blend of the scholarly, academic side of life with what might be called the common touch. His scholarly publications were superb, and acknowledged as such by nearly everyone; yet his reach with his Christian message has gained a wide following in the general population.

Perhaps I’m drawn to this aspect of him because I find myself in the same situation. Not that I’ve written a scholarly study as in depth as Lewis, but that I am on the academic side of things in my career/ministry. Yet I never want to write anything that cannot be understood by a general audience. Communication of God’s truth is paramount. If most people can’t understand what you are saying, why say it?

I tend to avoid evangelical clichés as much as possible and try to think of different ways of explaining the truth. That puts me outside the traditional evangelical approach that relies on tried and true phrases and methods. I think that’s why I can empathize with a comment Lewis made in his essay “God in the Dock”:

C. S. Lewis with BookMy own work has suffered very much from the incurable intellectualism of my approach. The simple, emotional appeal (“Come to Jesus”) is still often successful. But those who, like myself, lack the gift for making it, had better not attempt it.

It’s not that I can’t tell people they need to come to Jesus; I’ve done it often. However, I can’t perceive of myself giving the classic “invitation” at the end of a worship service. I want people instead to listen to the truth, ponder it, and have the power of it dawn on them deep within their souls.

I want them to spend enough time probing the evilness of sin and the absolute need for repentance that when they make their decision it isn’t just an emotional, fly-by-night response. Those who see clearly their lost state and make a mature decision to abandon sin and embrace the love and forgiveness of God will stay the course and not be tossed here and there by every wind of doctrine or every bad circumstance that crops up in their lives.

I’m not sure Lewis grasped completely just how effectively he communicated with that general audience, but there are untold thousands who can testify that he succeeded. If I can emulate him in even the slightest degree, I will be satisfied.

Puritan Controversy #3: Quakers

The Puritans of Massachusetts Bay had their own reasons for setting up their colony. They sought as much uniformity of thought as possible, which is good in itself, but which also led to confrontations with those who disagreed with the leadership.

When Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson went astray from the original vision, and their beliefs threatened the existence of the colony, they were banished. As I mentioned in previous posts, that punishment wasn’t all that severe; they simply wanted them to go away.

George FoxIn the 1650s, though, a new group came into being in England under the leadership of George Fox. The official name of the group was the Society of Friends, but they were commonly known as Quakers, a name given to them by their detractors after seeing them quake under the power of the Spirit in worship.

Quaker doctrines didn’t mesh with those of the Puritans. Quakers rejected both water baptism and communion, they would take no oaths (similar to Roger Williams), their Sunday meetings were unorganized as they sought to follow the leading of the Spirit, women were allowed to exhort and preach at the meetings (never allowed in Puritan churches), and they were pacifists, which meant they would not take up arms in self-defense if attacked.

These early Quaker believers were imbued with an almost fanatical enthusiasm to convert everyone to their views. Some decided to emigrate to Massachusetts for that very purpose. They, in fact, intruded upon a society that had set up its own rules; often they were outright obnoxious.

One famous (infamous?) incident occurred one Sunday morning when a Quaker woman interrupted a church service by striding down the aisle yelling at the worshipers, telling them their form of worship was rejected by God—naked worship, she called it—and created her own visual sermon by appearing stark naked herself. Needless to say, that was quite a disruption of the service.

Massachusetts authorities told Quakers to leave, find someplace else to settle because their views weren’t welcome in a Puritan community. They refused. No matter how often they were banished, they returned.

Mary Dyer Led to ExecutionFinally, the frustration with Quaker obstinacy led the legislators to pass a law that included the death penalty for those who consistently returned after being banished. Four Quakers were found guilty and received the death sentence—three men and a woman. The sentence was carried out on the men, but the woman, Mary Dyer, was given a reprieve if she would leave and not come back.

She came back. The sentence was carried out.

It didn’t take long after this for the people of Massachusetts to recoil from what they had done. The death sentence for Quakers was repealed. They still weren’t welcome, though. If a Quaker refused to leave, he would be tied to an ox cart, whipped, and then taken to the next town for another whipping, etc., until set free at the border. The message was unmistakable—go away.

How to judge these actions?

First, the Puritans had every right to establish their own rules for living in their community.

Second, the Quakers arrived for one reason only—to cause disturbances.

Third, if Quakers really wanted to bring people into the Kingdom, why pick on Puritans who already were believers? Why not go to the natives in America instead?

Fourth, the death penalty was definitely a step too far. It never should have been made law. Fortunately, it was repealed and never repeated after the one judgment.

Fifth, we need to keep in mind that the Puritans shouldn’t be singled out for this. The established Anglican church back in England was treating Quakers the same way. This wasn’t a particular Puritan practice.

It took decades before different denominations were able to coexist comfortably in Massachusetts (and in other colonies as well). And the Quakers? Well, they found a colony where they were not only welcome, but where they ran the government. But that’s a story for another day.

The Life-Affirming Ten Commandments

How often, when we think about the Ten Commandments, do we see them in the negative light of prohibitions? What if we were to consider instead that their main purpose was to point to a life of fulfillment in God?

Joy Davidman (who later became the wife of C. S. Lewis) wrote a book back in 1953 that is little read today. That’s a shame. In it, she takes a fresh look at those Ten Commandments and shows how we should see them, not through the face of fear or as the Ten Killjoys of life, but rather as life-affirming because they, if followed, would lead to true joy and enjoyment of life as God intended.

Smoke on the MountainThe book is called Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments. Not only do I appreciate her perspective, I also am struck by her lively style of writing. In the introduction, for instance, she handles that old cliché about God being a life preserver quite deftly:

God, for many of us, is a life preserver flung to a drowning man.

And so he is, if you happen to be drowning. But you can’t drown all the time. Sooner or later you have to start merely living again; you reach shore, splutter the water out of your lungs—and then what? Throw away the life preserver?

If your interest in God is based upon fear rather than love, very likely. In such a case, you will be willing to pay very high for that life preserver as you go down for the third time; you will offer for it all your worldly treasures, your lusts and greeds and vanities and hates.

But once safely on shore, you may be minded to throw it away and snatch your treasures back.

Joy LewisDavidman then contrasts three perspectives on law:

Saint Augustine phrased the Christian law as: “Have charity and do what you like.” The modern materialist often makes it simply: “Do what you like,” and then rushes off to ask his psychoanalyst why he no longer seems to like anything. Whereas the Pharisee, alas, tends to invert Augustine into: “Neither do what you like nor have charity.”

All too often, she says, Christians make God’s law a deadening thing, not at all what He intended:

For we live in an age of fear, and we have infected our very faith with our paralysis, as certain previous ages infected it with their cruelty. No wonder the Decalogue makes us uncomfortable. We have turned it from a thrilling affirmation into a dull denial.

Yet there was the sound of trumpets in it once.

The Law, the apostle Paul said, is a tutor to lead us to Christ. But it’s not a harsh tutor—it shows us what life would be like if we were to obey it. Through Christ, we now can enter into the kind of life God has always wanted for us.

Lewis: Leavening Society

C. S. Lewis 4C. S. Lewis didn’t write extensively on government or economics; in fact, he had a hard time being interested in either. Yet he did have a grasp of the basics. In this excerpt from Mere Christianity, he offers what may seem to be a simplistic solution to our problems, but, if followed, really would take care of them:

Some Christians—those who happen to have the right talents—should be economists and statesmen, and . . . all economists and statesmen should be Christians, and . . . their whole efforts in politics and economics should be directed to putting “Do as you would be done by” into action.

If that happened, and if we others were really ready to take it, then we should find the Christian solution for our own social problems pretty quickly. . . . The job is really on us, on the laymen.

This is a call for Christians to realize that a spiritual “job” is not limited to that of a pastor or missionary. Full-time Christian service must include every career path that exists. We are to bring our Biblical worldview into whatever we do. So when the laymen take that challenge seriously, we make headway in the society.

It’s well past time to stop confining ourselves to our little Christian corner; we have a message that needs to leaven the entire society.

Poignant & Understandable

Message BibleI’ve mentioned before that I’m reading the Bible through in The Message version. This is certainly different than what I’m used to, and sometimes I question its choice of wording, but there are other times when it comes across in a much more poignant way than other versions.

Take, for instance, this passage from Luke, chapter 6, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount. See if these words don’t hit home:

But it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made. What you have is all you’ll ever get.

And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long.

And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games. There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it.

There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them.

Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors!

Your task is to be true, not popular.

To the point. Easily understandable. Whenever we share the Truth in a way that people can grasp, the Kingdom of God is the winner.

Proper Christian Criticism

Question: Is it right for a Christian to write a blog such as mine and include pointed criticisms of the government and its leaders? Shouldn’t I, instead, humbly accept whatever the government does, in the spirit of Christ? Fair question. Here’s my response.

OT ProphetRead the Bible. Start with the Old Testament and all the denunciations of the government delivered by faithful men of God. No king ever had a free pass. Read the prophets and realize that those prophetic books are filled with declarations of how the government has denied God’s truth and is poised to suffer His judgment.

Go over to the New Testament. Read about how John the Baptist criticized both the civil and religious leaders of his day. He spoke directly and forcibly. And what of Jesus? Did He sin when he took a whip and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple because they were profaning the worship of God? Did He spare the feelings of the Pharisees when he called them whitewashed tombs?

I’m afraid some Christians have a false image of what it means to be the representatives of Christ on earth. Yes, we offer the love of God. Yes, we show people how they can receive His forgiveness and become part of His family, now and into eternity. But in order to receive God’s love and forgiveness, people need to be confronted with their sins first. They need to grasp the need for repentance and lay down their pride.

We also have a commission to do what the apostle Paul described in his second letter to the Corinthians:

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

Every generation has its speculations and lofty ideas that contradict the truth of God’s Word. We are commissioned to combat those false notions with His truth. No one in a society, no matter the position, from the lowest to the highest, is exempt from criticism when that person is deviating from the truth.

Obama Arrogant Look 2That applies especially to those who wield immense influence over others. When a president endorses abortion on demand, exalts the sin of homosexuality and seeks to destroy the Biblical concept of marriage, oversteps all legal boundaries on his authority, attempts to silence those who disagree with him, uses his office to divide the nation into groups continually at odds with one another, and constantly displays an arrogance and sense of entitlement that directs all his actions, one would be derelict of one’s Christian duty to simply accept this and say nothing in opposition to the nature of this president’s reign.

Christians are to be salt, preserving the good in a society. Christians are to be light, revealing the path of righteousness. One cannot preserve the good or show the path of righteousness without simultaneously highlighting that which is evil and unrighteous. Both are essential. That is what I attempt to do. That is what I will continue to do.

Finney: Can Sin & Holiness Coexist?

One reason, I think, for the weakness of the Church today (and by Church I mean the universal Church, not any particular denomination) is the acceptance of the idea that a person can be a Christian in good standing with God while actively sinning. Sin is rebellion. How can one be in a state of rebellion and be loving God simultaneously? Yet when we teach this, we are making people comfortable in their sins, allowing them to continue in deception.

Charles Finney 6Charles Finney spoke out forcefully against this all-too-prevalent concept, and I agree with his following comments:

The theory of the mixed character of moral actions is an eminently dangerous theory, as it leads its advocates to suppose that in their acts of rebellion there is something holy, or, more strictly, there is some holiness in them while they are in the known commission of sin.

It is dangerous because it leads its advocates to place the standard of conversion, or regeneration, exceedingly low–to make regeneration, repentance, true love to God, faith, etc., consistent with the known or conscious commission of present sin.

This must be a highly dangerous philosophy. . . . There can scarcely be a more dangerous error than to say, that while we are conscious of present sin, we are or can be in a state of acceptance with God.

Some people reject that analysis because it seems to say that every time one sins, one may lose his salvation. But here is the plain truth of the Scripture: sin separates from God; Jesus came to save us from [Greek word meaning “out of or away from] our sins; our salvation is not just a legal justification through the Cross but a humbling of ourselves and a changed life that makes Jesus Christ Lord of all our motives, thoughts, and actions.

Salvation is not just some technicality because you have prayed a rote prayer. Salvation is an ongoing, continuous relationship with the God of the universe. If the relationship is broken, how can that be called salvation? What have you been saved from if you are continuing in sin?

As the apostle John warned,

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. . . .

The one who says, “I have come to know Him, and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. . . .

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. . . .

No one who is born of God practices sin. . . . By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God.

This is not a message of condemnation, but of hope. When we truly commit our lives to the Lord, we will grow in the knowledge of Him and in our ability to turn from those sins that bound us in our former life without Him. If we really know Him, sin becomes the rarity in our lives, not the norm.