Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Halfway Christians?

Any endeavor for God can start out with the best of motives and still go wrong eventually. I have a prime example from Puritan history.

Puritan ChurchIf you’ve been following my posts on the unfolding of American history, you may remember that when the Puritans migrated and set up Massachusetts, they had a rule that only church members could vote. It seemed reasonable at the time, especially since they wanted to maintain the Christian commitment that inspired their journey.

Three decades later they had to face up to a problem with that rule. How they resolved it was a giant step backward.

By the 1660s, the voters in the colony were becoming a significant minority. Why? Many of the children of the founding generation were not church members. It wasn’t that they weren’t attending church, but they had to be able to give a solid testimony that they believed they were one of the “elect.”

This is where their theology got in their way. As devoted Calvinists, they didn’t believe it was up to man to choose to follow Christ; it was God’s choice, and only He could give that assurance. Many were faithful to the outward manifestations of the faith and probably thought they were right before God, but without the inward assurance, they couldn’t join the church.

This raised another theological issue. The Puritans believed in infant baptism, and that the baptism was a way of bringing the children into the covenant community. If the parents weren’t church members, then their children couldn’t be baptized, therefore placing them outside of the protection of God’s covenant with His people.

What to do? Well, here’s what they decided.

They allowed these church attenders who hadn’t received God’s assurance of salvation to be partial members of the church. This was called the Halfway Covenant, passed in 1662.

Halfway CovenantWhat did it mean? As a partial member, one could have his children baptized and could vote. Other things, though, such as communion, were not allowed. This seemed to solve those two problems: now the children were under God’s protection and there would be more voters, thereby reducing any resentment that might arise from property owners who couldn’t take part in choosing their political leaders.

But was this really a solution?

Where, in the Bible, does one find reference to halfway Christians? I already am opposed to the theology that says man doesn’t choose to follow God, but this Halfway Covenant made things even worse. The message of salvation was now watered down to include, perhaps, those who never had any assurance of being one of the saved.

I believe this hastened the Puritan community’s slide into a loss of spiritual fervor and seriously undermined their original intent of setting up a model of a Christian community for Old England to follow.

In my view, the Halfway Covenant was a drastic departure from Biblical truth, and the consequences of that departure were ultimately disastrous for a generation’s understanding of salvation through Christ.

No one today has officially set up some type of Halfway Covenant, but don’t we do the same thing anytime we talk about “nominal” Christians? My reading of Scripture doesn’t permit me to think that a person can be half a Christian. We are either devoted to God through Christ—and our whole lives are built on that relationship—or we are outside the kingdom.

We are, to a greater extent than I would ever hope to see, another generation that has lost its way with a watered-down salvation message.

The Road Back to Spiritual Sanity

Islamic terrorism comes to Canada. On Monday, a jihadist used his car as a weapon and killed a Canadian soldier. Yesterday, a more concerted attack occurred at the Canadian Parliament. Another soldier is dead and others are injured. The Islamic convert, fortunately, lost his life before he could kill others.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper called it what it was: Islamic terrorism. Our president and his administration are still “getting the facts” and “studying” what happened. Wouldn’t want to rush to judgment, you know.

It’s the same mentality that called the Ft. Hood massacre “workplace violence” and the same ideological blindness that declared an Islamic state wasn’t really Islamic.

I’ve lost count of the many times in this blog I’ve put forward my view that Barack Obama lives in a different realm. He has created his own fantasy world where everything is just the way he perceives it to be, regardless of the consequences the rest of us have to live with due to his intransigence.

I won’t jump on the bandwagon that deems him a Muslim. There’s no way he’s a practicing Muslim. He just has sympathy for them because he sees them as trampled by the real evil in the world—Western civilization, and the United States, in particular.

If you ever wanted to know what it would be like to have a president who pretty much despises the heritage of the nation he leads, you now have a prime example.

Then there’s the other side of Obama, the side that is so narcissistic that his own enjoyment comes before the duties of the office he holds. Golf and fundraisers—the things he really enjoys doing—have priority over all else. Under this president, our color-coded threat grid looks something like this:

Warning System

I have little hope he will awaken from his dream world. Some of my fellow Christians will say there is always hope that someone will turn from error and embrace the Truth. I agree. Yet I don’t hold that out as a probability, only a remote possibility. God has given each of us free will. When that freedom has been used exclusively for one’s own personal pleasure and has been wedded to a false ideology for fifty-plus years, the road back to spiritual sanity is hard to find.

One must want to find that road, and that desire is what seems to be lacking.

Meanwhile, we continue to live with the consequences. We probably don’t deserve God’s mercy, but we can still pray for it, since mercy, properly defined, is unmerited favor in the first place.

C. S. Lewis: Pictures in His Head

Collected Letter of LewisOne of the principal joys of my academic sabbatical is the opportunity to examine the letters C. S. Lewis wrote. They are now available in three massive volumes. He took special care in each letter, even to those who probably didn’t deserve such special care.

He wrote to all ages, even small children. Many wrote to him after reading his Chronicles of Narnia series. A most interesting letter of that type, written in 1960, provides some wonderful insight into his thinking about writing itself, as well as how he gets ideas for books. Here’s an excerpt:

  1. Why did I become a writer? Chiefly, I think, because my clumsiness or fingers prevented me from making things in any other way.

  2. What “inspires” my books? Really I don’t know. Does anyone know where exactly and idea comes from? With me all fiction begins with pictures in my head. But where the pictures come from I couldn’t say.

  3. Which of my books do I think most “representational”? Do you mean (a.) Most representative, most typical, most characteristic? or (b.) Most full of “representations” i.e. images? But whichever you mean, surely this is a question not for me but for my readers to decide. Or do you mean simply which do I like best? Now, the answer wd. be Till We Have Faces and Perelandra.

  4. I have, as usual, dozens of “plans” for books, but I don’t know which, if any, of these will come off. Very often a book of mine gets written when I’m tidying a drawer and come across notes for a plan rejected by me years ago and now suddenly realize I can do it after all. This, you see, makes predictions rather difficult!

  5. I enjoy writing fiction more than writing anything else. Wouldn’t anyone?

Come to think of it, I would love to write fiction sometime. Who knows? Predictions can be rather difficult.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

Smoke on the MountainLast Sunday, I introduced you to the book Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments by Joy Davidman, who later became Joy Davidman Lewis, wife of the renowned Christian apologist.

I commented that one of the things I most appreciated about this book was her unique wording, the way she stated things to capture one’s attention. I have another few morsels from that book today that I would like to share.

In commenting on the fear that dominates our society (remember, this was written in 1953–how much more fear might we have today?), the author takes aim at the so-called leaders in society:

But the articulate, the leaders of opinion, the policy makers, all those who set the tone of our society, seem for the most part to be frightened men. And how do frightened men deal with life?

They don’t; they run away from it. The simplest among us flee openly, rushing from woman to woman, from drink to drink, from one empty amusement to another, wondering why they get so little contentment out of the eighty-miles-an-hour joy ride from unloved Here to unrewarding There.

We ignore Jesus’ admonition, Davidman insists, when He said not to worry about the future:

The words of Jesus are timeless. What worked for other frightened men will work for us. But our society refuses to listen; this injunction about tomorrow is precisely the one we will not accept.

JoyThere is a Biblical answer to fear, she reminds us. We find it in the Scripture that tells us perfect love casts out fear, and that perfect love can be found in Him:

We do not need a world in which there is nothing to be afraid of–in which obeying the law would be easy. Nor can we have such a world, for all our strivings; no matter how pleasant and safe we make the journey, the end of it is death. What we do need is to remember that we have been redeemed from death and the fear of death, and at rather a high price too.

The Ten Commandments may tell us what not to do, but the flip side is the guidance on what exactly we ought to do:

“Thou shalt not” is the beginning of wisdom. But the end of wisdom, the new law, is “Thou shalt.” To be Christian is to be old? Not a bit of it. To be Christian is to be reborn, and free, and unafraid, and immortally young.

Life in Christ is uplifting, not dreary. It is full of promise, not dread. It is the beginning of real living.

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.