Women were the first Evangelists

Joy of Magdalene nat-cathedral-mosaic

Rowan and Irene LeCompte, Mary Magdalene in the garden with Jesus

 

The word Evangelist is a Greek word meaning bearer of good news. Who were the first bearers of the good news of the resurrection? Women!

In fact the gospels are specifically written to turn the power structures of the time on their heads:

  • Jesus is born to a virgin teenage woman.
  • Jesus is born into a blue collar family, Joseph is a carpenter, not royalty.
  • The angels announce the birth to the lowest rung of society: shepherds. Shepherds were not allowed to give testimony in court because everyone knew they lied. But God chooses these liars to be the first ones to witness the birth of the Messiah.
  • Jesus chooses twelve disciples, three of whom are lowly fishermen (Peter, James and John). Matthew is a tax-gatherer for the oppressor government. One (Simon the Zealot) belongs to the political party that assassinates members of the oppressor government.
  • Jesus treats women as equals: Women gave money to his cause. He sat and talked to women as equals. Jesus emphasized that women were not objects to be lusted after, or discarded by their husbands.
  • Most of the apostles seemed to have run away when Jesus was crucified, but the women stayed near the cross. The women came to wash and prepare the body for burial and they are the first chosen by God to witness the empty tomb, Mary the first witness to his resurrected body.

The gospel of Jesus turns the hierarchy of his day on its ear.

What does that say to us today? What power structures should be turning on their ears? What people at the bottom of the social ladder should we be elevating?

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Why do Fundamentalist Families resemble Alcoholic Families?

I remember inviting a family from church over to our house for Sunday lunch several years ago. They had many children. They had recently left a Pentecostal Church to join the church we were attending because the Pentecostal Church had had a wild revival that involved too much chaos at the church services. They objected to the suggestion of the pastor that God was “frolicking” with his children during the chaotic worship services.

churchpeopleSome of this family’s children were the same ages as my own. As their children grew up some of them became drug addicted, some serving time in prison for drug dealing. Why? They had grown up in a teetotalling family that attended Bible believing church twice a week. Their parents stayed together. The family ate meals together, prayed before their meals, honored God and home schooled, strictly limiting TV, video games and movies. What happened?

Nothing extraordinary, that’s about normal for fundamentalist and evangelical families. Almost all of the boys in the youth group at our evangelical church were struggling, several were regular marijuana users, one was occasionally suicidal, several boys got arrested once or twice, one boy used kiddie porn, almost all of the boys used regular porn. Several used alcohol regularly. Most of them were having sex whenever they could. That’s what evangelical teens look like in most churches. Those who have had teens understand this and are not surprised, those who have children under 13 years old do not understand this, and are committed to making sure their young teens go to youth group every week so they won’t act like that.

One of the reasons that fundamentalist teens (and to a lesser degree, evangelical teens) have such a struggle in the teen years is that they have not had a foundation for making decisions in their lives. Developmentally, God turns a switch on in teens’ brains that says: “Start practicing making your own decisions before you have to move out of the house and fall flat on your face.” So the teens make their own decisions, often with disastrous results. Teens know intuitively that at age 18 or 19 they are moving out, and will be making most of their own decisions, especially decisions about how to conduct their day to day lives. They know they have to start practicing making their own decisions.

Non-fundamentalist families that are preparing their children for decision making start very young. “What do you want to eat today? Eggs or oatmeal?”

“Would you like to wear this shirt or that shirt?”

“What story do you want me to read to you?”

For more important decisions:

“Do you want to wear your coat or carry your coat?”

“Do you want to do your homework now or in half an hour?”

“Do you want to clean your room with me in the room or by yourself?”

As children get older they have more latitude:

“You can skip baseball practice if you want to, but I’m worried you won’t get to play first base. Have you thought about that? What will happen if you skip practice?”

Rudeness:

“If you are rude to me then I don’t want to take you to your friend’s house this afternoon. If you want me to have energy to do you favors, then you have to be nice to me.”

School:

“You can decide not to do your homework, but I’m worried that you are limiting your career choices. What do you think you would like to do for a job when you get older?”

Health:

“You can decide to smoke cigarettes, but not in this house. You already know what I think of cigarettes and tobacco companies. What do you think of cigarettes?”

Sex:

“You can watch the videos and movies you decide to, but you know what I think about things that will drag you down, or movies that degrade people. What do you think of the last movie you saw?”

“I feel very uncomfortable with you using porn or watching those music videos, but it’s your decision. What do you think of porn?”

“You know what we believe about sex, but the final decision is up to you. What are you going to do, and are you prepared for the consequences? If you disagree with me, we could make an appointment for you at the doctor for birth control.”

Parties:

“You can decide to smoke marijuana, but I just want to know that you have thought through all the consequences. What are the pros and cons of smoking marijuana?”

“It is your decision to go to the party. It’s up to you. Do you want to talk about it? Do you have any concerns?”

Work:

“You can decide to skip work today if you want, but I’m worried about the consequences. Are you okay with the consequences of skipping work today?”

The Law:

“You’re paying for your own car insurance so you can decide to disobey the traffic laws, it’s up to you. Have you thought through the consequences? I don’t like getting tickets, so I try to stay within the law. I hate getting stopped by the police.”

Some people advise saying something a little different:

“We have high expectations of you. We expect you to obey the laws when driving. But of course we’re not there, so it is ultimately up to you.”

I am not saying pre-teens should be making all their own decisions about TV, the internet, smoking cigarettes, and drinking alcohol. What I am saying is that decision-making should be a regular part of a child’s life. And if the parent is open to helping the child sort through their own emotions and thinking, without being too judgmental and pushy, then the child learns gradually to have confidence in their own good judgment. “I can see you made an adult decision about your bicycle. You decided to save up and buy the one you want.”

These are conversations that one can have with a teen one has raised to make their own decisions, but these discussions are not available to fundamentalist parents, or any rigid or authoritarian parent. Discussions that involve disagreeing with one’s parents are not possible in these rigid homes. The parents tend to fall apart when their teens disagree with them or disobey them. Fundamentalist, rigid and authoritarian parents are fragile, easily breakable, and fall apart when their hierarchical system doesn’t work. They rage or cry or threaten or abandon, anything except having a real honest discussion with their teen. In this way they resemble alcoholic homes–homes in which alcohol helps the fragile parent limp along.

The consequence is that the teen has to make all of these decisions by herself, in secret, while lying to her parents, without a calm parent who has confidence in her. One teen in a strict family ran away from home twice. The first time the family thought he had been kidnapped, but his friends said he had two lives: one in front of his parents, and the other in front of his friends. He didn’t like having a split dishonest life, so he ran away to be the whole teen who was making his own decisions. The second time he ran away he joined a gang of wandering teens for a year–just so he could do normal teen development and learn how to make his own decisions. Teens use their friends as a stepping stone away from their parents. It is scary to begin making one’s own life decisions, so they follow their friends. The stricter their parents were at home, the stricter they follow their friends, simply because the stricter their parents were, the less  confidence they have in their own ability to make decisions.

How do I know all this? I was a strict home schooling parent. My daughter used to have friends over for sleepovers. Years later she told us she would take the VW Rabbit out for a spin after we were asleep. Her friends would pile into the Rabbit, push it out into the street, and drive downtown to the main shopping district, all without a driver’s license. It’s impossible to follow your teen around all day at school, or stay up all night and make sure your teen doesn’t climb out the window and visit his friends. The truth is that all of the above decisions are already the teen’s regardless of what kind of home he is growing up in. They are making their own decisions in fundamentalist homes as well as in homes that encourage the teen to make their own decisions. But which home is preparing and encouraging the teen to be self-controlled, and mature?

Friends of mine, also conservative and strict Christians, raised teens who stuck to the rules, never coming home drunk, never trying marijuana, getting excellent grades in school, achieving a bachelor’s degree with honors at a conservative Christian college. At 30 years old his overweight son was still living at home, without a girlfriend, working at a big box store for low wages, unable to make his own decisions.

Family Roles

The Main Addict in the fundamentalist family is the parent who is the most religious, the most rigid, the most dysfunctional. Fundamentalist teens develop caricatures to help them cope: One teen becomes the Family Hero: getting amazing grades, helping take care of the younger children and working a full time job while still in high school. A second child becomes a raging punk Scapegoat, ready to punch the world in the face. A third becomes a sickly Enabler, covering up for, and defending, the main Addict, always buying a new supplement and monitoring blood pressure, temperature, tongue color, snot and poop to make sure they have not been poisoned by the multitude of the toxins they are vulnerable to. A fourth becomes a Lost Child, always absent when there is conflict; watching TV or playing video games, cuddling the cat and reading. A fifth becomes the Clown: cute, adorable, funny, always ready to fall off their chair when tensions are on the upswing. A sixth child becomes a Pastor in a Bible believing church, secretly watching porn each night. Each caricature is a cardboard thin role that the child puts on as an actor to help her or him cope. There isn’t a whole person living inside, just a scared kid. The role is needed as armor against relationships that require emotional maturity. [Most of these roles come from literature about alcoholic families.]

Alcoholic Family

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Why Evangelicals Don’t Help the Poor

Reasons Evangelicals give for not helping the poor:

1. Poor people are lazy

The apostle Paul said, “If they won’t work, neither let them eat.”

However, there aren’t enough jobs in the United States for all the workers. The unemployment rates are much higher than the published rates, some rates estimate that our unemployment rate is as high as 17%. The published rates are just the recently unemployed who have registered with the Department of Labor for unemployment benefits. After a year of not finding work, that unemployed worker is no longer counted among the unemployment statistics.

I’ve been unemployed before, after I quit preaching. Because I resigned from a job considered self-employment by the IRS (minister of a congregation) I was not able to receive any unemployment benefits, nor was I counted as unemployed. At the time I was unemployed in the southern suburbs of Detroit, there was 17% unemployment during a brutal recession in the 1980s. I couldn’t find a gas station job, a fast food job, a grocery store job, nothing. I found a temp job for a month, just enough to lift our wages high enough to make us ineligible for food stamps. The elder of the new church I attended wanted me to apply for a factory job spray painting. When I told him that I am allergic to petro-chemical fumes he decided I was lazy and not worthy of help from the congregation.

I sank into a deep depression, filled with anxiety. I had a 6 month old baby and a 2 year old son. I tried to finish the old house we had bought and were renovating. We put it up for sale.

Even in good economic times the ideal unemployment rate for businesses is 4%. That way businesses only have to employ the best 96%, and the bottom 4% sit at home. It also keeps the 96% from demanding too much money. One percent are homeless. 4.8% of house mortgages are in default. The fear keeps people working hard at jobs they don’t enjoy, for lower wages, and paying their mortgages. Workers near the bottom of the economic ladder put up with illegal pressure from their bosses because they don’t want to be unemployed. They apply for other jobs, but stay in their old ones until they can find something better. This is how a “healthy economy” operates.

u6-unemployment-rate-2017-04-02-macrotrendsOur education system is based on competition. Those at the bottom of the competition are subtly and not so subtly told that they will not make it in our economy. They learn early on that they are not wanted by our society, and become discouraged, prime candidates for all of the pitfalls evangelicals use to not support the poor.

Poor people are disproportionately made up of non-whites. Bigoted people, who don’t want to admit to themselves they are bigoted, can say: “Poor people are lazy,” and express all their bigotry, with the cover of a Bible verse to protect them. 

2. Poor people are addicts

The best research indicates that 100% of addicts have had severe trauma in early childhood. Evangelicals don’t like to help people with early childhood trauma, because it takes years of support and counseling. People with early childhood trauma have trust issues, tend to bring out the worst in those trying to work with them, and don’t recover quickly. These people challenge our faith in the redemption power of Christianity. We would rather these resource intensive people stopped coming to our church, and we only had to see people who are successfully recovering in our church, so we can feel good.

In India there is a theory that you choose your parents based on your past life or your need to learn lessons in life. This is the basis of the caste system. The Brahmins are at the top. They are not permitted to marry anyone from a lower caste. At the bottom of the caste system are the Untouchables and the Unseeables.

These people are horribly mistreated, and it is justified by the fact that they were born into their caste, they chose their caste themselves before birth. Therefore I can be as mean as I want to them, and not help them, because they are learning the lessons they need to learn, that they chose to learn. My religion justifies my bigotry.

It is an evil concept.

3. Healthcare is not a constitutional right

This was drilled into our heads from WW2 on: The communists are evil! The communists are atheists. The communists provide free housing, education and healthcare. Everybody is assigned a job. You have no freedom, all services are hopelessly inefficient, and everyone is dirt poor. Socialism is just communism in disguise.

Europe, Australia and Canada went another direction: mild socialism mixed with capitalism. In fact England, the powerhouse of the world economy, has socialized medicine. As does Hong Kong, and every major nation in the world, except the United States. Cuba’s lifespan is longer than that of the United States.

The richest people in the USA now live 15 years longer than the poorest people. 

Nothing can stand in the way of big pharmaceutical companies and big hospitals in the United States. Yes, the United States generates most of the advancements in medicine, but only the rich can afford to take advantage of these advancements. About one third of people in the United States have employers who supply medical insurance.

Someone called the police on my son when he was 15 years old because he was acting strangely after a concert. The police called an ambulance. We didn’t have medical insurance, so it cost us $1200, without our permission. Today it would be closer to $3,000 for an ambulance ride and 4 hours in the Emergency Room. We earned too much to qualify for Medicaid, and not enough to pay for our own health insurance. Medical insurance now costs $1040 per month for a family of 4 in the New England states, for 72% coverage. That cost is equal to $6.15 per hour for one full time worker.

4. Helping the poor should be done individually

Churches love to help one family, then brag about it endlessly., then ignore all the other poor people.

An unemployed relative in a congregation during the last recession was told to get a pizza delivery job, or a gas station job. He applied for those jobs and was told in a roundabout way that he was too old, and maybe too overweight. He lost his house and his retirement savings. He will never believe the church again. Nothing they say is real to him. Normally employed people who go through losing their house generally drop out of church after not receiving much help. So evangelicals can go to church with a clear conscience: nobody at church is in need. (Just like in the previous generation, anyone who went through a divorce, dropped out of church, and everyone could say, “Nobody at my church is divorced!”)

Man Looking At Job AdsMost unemployed people can stay positive for about 6 weeks. After that they give up. Giving up takes several forms, all of which become excuses the evangelical church uses to not help them.

Yes, helping the poor is frustrating. That is why most of the world has delegated this responsibility to the government, however inefficient the government is.

Evangelicals go every Sunday to church and hear how Christians are not to be selfish, then go home and vote as selfishly as they possibly can vote: no help for the poor, no help for the sick. Politics is all about one’s faith, or lack thereof.

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Scriptures Jesus Did Not Quote From

Jesus, as a Messiah for the Jews of Judea and Galilee, followed in the footsteps of several Messiahs. Some extremely brave leaders are recorded in the Apocrypha (the books of the Catholic Bible that were written during the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew). Jesus could have followed in their footsteps and led armed rebellions.

The Roman Empire had conquered Jerusalem 60 years before Christ was born. Because the Jews had such a strong cohesive identity, they were less cooperative with the Roman occupation, so the Roman Empire became increasingly harsh, until the Jews seethed under the Roman oppression.

There were several responses to the Roman occupation:

calling-of-matthew-by-hendrik-terbrugghen

The Calling of Matthew the Tax Collector by Hendrik Terbrugghen

1. Cooperate with the Romans. The Roman governor deposed the high priest and appointed their own choice of high priest. Most of the wealthy Jews cooperated with Rome. Matthew is an example of someone who obtained a job as a tax collector, collecting taxes for Rome.

 

2. Rebel against the occupation. Judas was called the Zealot, because he belonged to a political group that believed in guerrilla warfare and assassinations to throw off the Roman yoke.

3. Toleration. Most Jews hated the Romans, but cooperated because they had little choice, and did not want to stick their necks out and suffer a cruel death. Rome’s favorite method of punishment was crucifixion, of which about 3,000 had been performed in Judea on the Jews.

4. Messiahs kept popping up. Most of them raising guerrilla armies. These movements were quickly quashed by killing the leader. 30 years after Jesus died the first major war against the Romans erupted, resulting in the utter destruction of the temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

What is interesting is that Jesus appears in the middle of these Messiahs, yet he has a decidedly different approach to rebellion against Rome. (See Walter Wink‘s writings, and Reza Aslan)

Jesus preached paying taxes to Rome, and even over-cooperating with foot soldiers who compelled a traveler to carry his 70 lb backpack a mile (when by law soldiers were only allowed to compel half a mile from a passerby).

However, Jesus did not preach about throwing off the yoke, vanquishing one’s enemy, nor did he try to raise an army or advocate assassinations.

Why not? Jesus had plenty of scriptures to go to that would have justified him in raising an army, and appealing to Yahweh to win over their oppressors. Gideon comes to mind, who was commanded by God to send the frightened soldiers home, and then to take only the ones who lapped the water in readiness for war. Finally with only 300 soldiers he conquers the Midianites in the dark of night with torches and trumpets, the Midianites slaughtering themselves in their confusion.

No, Jesus did not appeal to Gideon, nor to King David’s victories, or even to Joshua conquering the land of Canaan. No, Jesus went so far as to discourage his disciples from picking up weapons to throw off the Roman oppression. “If you live by the sword, you shall die by the sword.” Which in today’s language could be translated: “If you live by the bomb, you shall die by the bomb.”

Walter Wink

Walter Wink

Jesus has a very different message. Walter Wink says He ignores Rome. They are not important to him at all. He hardly mentions them at all.

Instead Jesus talks about a kingdom that reigns in the hearts of human beings, a kingdom built on loving one’s enemies.

My point is that if you asked Jesus if the entire [Old Testament] scriptures were inspired by God, each and every word equally accurate and valuable, Jesus would have said, No. We can see this in the verses and stories he chose to refer to, and especially in the stories he chose not to use in his lessons. Jesus had a different message from the [Old Testament] scriptures, and he chose very carefully which pieces to glean from the Scriptures, and which pieces to leave behind.

We should follow Jesus’ example and do the same today. We should take the core values that Jesus taught us, and leave behind the passages of the Old and New Testaments that seem to reinforce cultural harshness and inequality. We need to move forward as Jesus did, bravely teaching a new kingdom.

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Appointing Elders, A Puritan Tradition

embarkation_of_the_pilgrims

Pilgrim Fathers disembarking from Europe, by Robert Weir

The Churches of Christ in which I grew up, appointed elders in three different ways.

  1. One group cited the commands to Timothy and Titus to appoint elders with specific qualifications, and had preachers appoint elders in congregations. They either had the preacher nominate and appoint the elders,
  2. or they had the congregation nominate, and the preacher appointed the elders.
  3. Another group appointed elders by congregational vote.
  4. Yet another group had elders choose their associate elders.

When it comes to church organization, the Churches of Christ use the principle of Command, Example and Necessary Inference. This way of interpreting the Bible originated in the 1500s during the Protestant revolt against the Roman Catholic dominance of Europe, which had roots in Switzerland with John Calvin and John Knox. It was called the Regulative Principle: If one can find

  1. a clear Command,
  2. or a specific Example of how to accomplish a biblical command,
  3. or if one can Infer from an example that there must have been a specific command,

then that limited how the current church could accomplish certain tasks commanded in the New Testament, or how the current church could be organized.

The Churches of Christ use the Regulative Principle when arguing against the use of a piano, organ or guitar in worship.

Preacher: Paul said to sing and make melody in the heart. Where?

Congregation: In the heart.

Preacher: On the piano?

Congregation: No.

Preacher: Where?

Congregation: In the heart.

They believe this scripture, according to the Regulative Principle, limits their churches to singing and making melody in the heart. They do not use the term Regulative Principle, a term used only by the Presbyterians, Christian Reformed Churches, Anabaptists and Baptists. Instead the Churches of Christ use the term Command, Example and Necessary Inference, or CENI for short.

According to Church of Christ theology, one only needs CENI for the Work, Worship, and Organization of the Church. For anything else, one is relatively freer to obey God’s commands. (Why this is, remains a mystery.) Alexander Campbell and the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ formed their first Missionary Society in 1849 and sent out their first missionaries to Liberia and Jamaica in the 1850s. The Missionary Society voted to support the northern Union in 1863 in the Civil War. The Churches of Christ, besides being mostly in the slave owning south, opposed the missionary society based on the Regulative Principle: there was no CENI for a missionary society in the New Testament Church. Whenever the apostle Paul wanted to do a missionary trip he asked specific congregations to donate directly to his mission trip, period. Thus CENI would limit all missionary money to be raised in this way. No missionary society was permitted to raise money and appoint and send out missionaries. This created the first major split in the Restoration Movement. At the same time the Churches of Christ split with the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ over worshiping with organs, and slavery.

The Churches of Christ, however, do not appeal to CENI or the Regulative Principle when appointing elders. The clear command  from the Apostle Paul to the evangelists Timothy and Titus was: Timothy and Titus were to appoint elders (and deacons) in each city based on specific criteria which the Apostle Paul outlined. (The criteria seem designed to eliminate alcoholics, narcissists and borderline personalities from serving as elders.)

Where did the tradition of congregations choosing their own elders come from? Well, again, it came from the Presbyterian Church via Switzerland, and John Calvin and John Knox.

john-knox

John Knox

The Roman Catholic Church dominated Europe from 400 years after Christ was born until 1400 years after Christ was born, 1,000 years. Priests (and nuns) were nominated by each congregation, to be sent away to seminaries, and then appointed by the bishop. Bishops were appointed by the archbishop, and archbishops were appointed by the Pope, the Pope was elected by the archbishops. Nobody was allowed to baptize or perform weddings or funerals except priests appointed by the bishop.

Within 100 years after the printing press was invented in Holland, city stat
es in nearby Switzerland began to throw out their Roman Catholic bishops
and appoint their own bishops, priests, elders and deacons, appointed by the town councils which were democratically elected by the men of the city. This was not only so that Bern, Geneva, Basel, and Zurich could obey the Bible exclusively, but to keep the Roman Catholic Church out of their cities, and to keep control over their own lives. It was also a huge money saver, saving 10% taxes that used to go to the Pope in Rome.

ulrich-zwingli

Ulrich Zwingli

The Congregationalists in England copied the organizational format they saw in Geneva, Switzerland, where John Calvin taught (and Scotland where another Swiss man, Ulrich Zwingli, taught). They brought it back to England and refused to let the local bishop of the Church of England appoint their preachers. They eventually emigrated to the United States as the Puritan Pilgrim Fathers, and so we inherited their staunch Protestant tradition. New England towns still have annual meetings where city officials are elected and major local issues are debated. 

The hard line Churches of Christ seem to think they can ignore the way elders were appointed in the early New Testament Church, yet point their finger at denominations who change the way the early church did things. Churches of Christ do not seem to care about Command, Example and Necessary Inference unless it supports their traditions. As soon as it doesn’t support their traditions then they can find all kinds of excuses, excuses that they will not allow any other group to use. 

The main pillar of hard line Church of Christ doctrine is tradition. We do what we have always done. We do what our parents did. That is what gets us to heaven. Not what Jesus or the apostles asked us to do. No! We do what our parents asked us to do to be pleasing to God. We remain faithful to our group.

In pursuing the Regulative Principle the hard line churches of Christ have traded the gospel for a mess of pottage. They have taken the beautiful good news that God has forgiven us of hating our neighbors, and coveting our neighbor’s good fortune, and have traded it for a formula for getting to heaven, and a formula for designing the perfect replica of the early congregation.

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The Primitive Baptists and the Churches of Christ

shape note hymn.jpgI was reading up on the Primitive Baptists this week and was astounded at how parallel their history is to the Churches of Christ:

1. The Primitive Baptists sing acapella, because that is the way the Scriptures teach them. They use shape note hymn books, similar to the Churches of Christ hymn books up into the 1970s. (African American Primitive Baptists have embraced instrumental music, but the mostly white congregations are still acapella.)

primitivebaptist

The Sunday service at Camp Creek Primitive Baptist Church in Lilburn, Georgia September 30, 2012. The church, which was formed in 1823 is the oldest active church in Gwinnett County, Georgia and currently has around 70 members. Pastor John Melvin, who is also the Assistant District Attorney in Deklab County, has been pastor of the church for fourteen years.

2. The Primitive Baptists separated themselves from other Baptists around 1827 over missionary societies and Sunday schools. The Churches of Christ separated themselves from the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ, around 1840 over missionary societies, and instrumental music. There is a small group of Churches of Christ who do not believe in Sunday Schools, because that divides the congregation.

3. Priesthood of all believers (no ordained clergy).

4. Belief they are the One True Church established in 33A.D.

Other similarities are that a minority of members practice women’s headcovering during worship. Men are the only ones allowed to preach. Unleavened bread is used for communion.

footwashingThe main difference between the Primitive Baptists and the Churches of Christ is the practice of footwashing during communion, and the teaching of Calvinism: Primitive Baptists affirm all 5 of the primary Calvinist doctrines: Total hereditary depravity (we are too sinful to be able to choose God), Unconditional election (there is nothing we have to do to be chosen by God), Limited atonement (God only forgives those he chooses to forgive), Irresistible grace (Once God has chosen us, we cannot resist becoming a believer), Perseverance of the saints (We can never fall from grace, once we have been chosen by God).

The Churches of Christ deny all 5 doctrines of Calvinism and believe:

1. We are born innocent, and are part of God’s kingdom up until we choose to sin (referred to as reaching the “age of accountability”).

2. We have to choose God after hearing the gospel.

3. All those who choose and obey God are forgiven. Those who do not are not forgiven.

4. God never overpowers our choice to be in relationship with him, or not to be in relationship with him.

5. We can fall from grace if we do not continue in the faith, or we can “make shipwreck of the faith”.

Some people refer to the Churches of Christ doctrines as Pelagianism, after an early church father who emphasized human choice and works in obedience to God as essential to salvation.

The reason I mention how similar the development of the Primitive Baptist group is to the Churches of Christ, is to show that what the Churches of Christ believe is a unique return to the New Testament roots of Christianity, is not unique, but common to other groups developing at the same time, from the same milieu. Influences were:

1. The Middle Ages and the Holy Roman Empire.

2. The Enlightenment: emphasizing the intellect and scientific empirical, reproducible research.

3. The invention of the printing press.

4. The Protestant Reformation.

5. The development of democracy.

6. The development of congregationalism over hierarchy.

7. The American Declaration of Independence.

8. The isolation of the American frontier.

9. American bootstrap ideology.

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Who Does God Choose?

Recently my mother of 86 years died and I went home for the funeral. In addition to the normal sadness of such an event, coming from a missionary family of a sect, and having been withdrawn from (disfellowshipped, shunned) years ago, there were the usual sparks and conflicts.

View from Mom's grave

View from Mom’s grave

I learned my brother had resigned from being an elder because two of his children had left  the hard core churches of Christ, both children leaning in a Calvinist direction.

This is sad for me because I don’t get Calvinism. Calvinism is one of the least attractive sectors of Christianity for me.

John Calvin had a harsh father who insisted Calvin study law and become a lawyer, even though Calvin had no desire to do so. Calvin got his law degree, but instead of practicing law, he became a protestant preacher, the Reformation having taken hold in Switzerland a generation before him.

If Calvin lived today he would probably be described by a psychotherapist as having Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder or simply as an Obsessive. Obsessives are concerned with rules, guilt and harshness, over gentleness and functionality. The punishment is more important to them than the maturing of the person being punished. The older son in the Prodigal Son story was an obsessive. Obsessives are described as bitter and perfectionistic, often sickly, with families that don’t like them. Their marriages burn out quickly.

john calvinCalvin was fascinated by the writings of an early church father named Augustine, who lived 400 years after Christ, and 1100 years before Calvin.   Early church fathers were irritated by Augustine’s teachings on humanity’s depravity and predestination. Augustine and Calvin taught that God is all powerful (“sovereign”), and that humans are completely weak (and evil, depraved), so weak that we cannot choose to follow God. God must infuse us with his Spirit. And we cannot refuse His Spirit once he has chosen us, because we are completely weak compared to God. Once God has chosen us we cannot fall from His grace. And God chooses us before we are born, to be eternally saved, or eternally lost.

Augustine by Antonio Rodriquez

Augustine by Antonio Rodriquez

We, as humans, are not permitted to complain about this arrangement, because humans originally sinned through Adam, and therefore we are all guilty of sin, and all deserve damnation, because all sin. Calvin asked why should those who deserve damnation be permitted to complain that some get chosen to be forgiven? All deserve damnation. Therefore nobody should be allowed to complain about it.

The whole of Calvinism rests on the doctrine that all humans sinned through Adam and therefore are so evil they are unable to choose God. We are not permitted to complain about the justice and fairness of everyone being condemned to hell. Nor are we permitted to complain that some select individuals are chosen by God to be forgiven and regenerated, to show the world that God loves us.

Wow! That seems evil to me! And that is not the kind of God I want to get close to, have a relationship with, and worship. If that is the plan of salvation, then I believe God has a PR problem, and a morale problem.

Why would Augustine and Calvin come up with such a God, and more to my current point, why would my nephews be attracted to that doctrine? I think because they all share one factor: they all had harsh fathers. They had very little control over their lives as children, fear being the prime motivation, and having a God that matched this arbitrariness and harshness makes total emotional sense to them.

I was also harsh on my children, which they like to remind me of. They tell me that having been raised in a fundamentalist sect is not an excuse for me to have raised them harshly. They have a point.

Our pictures of God are formed before our logic develops. Our pictures of God are formed from our early experiences with our primary caretakers.

There are two or three forms of Calvinism and not-Calvinism: 

  1. Strict Calvinism (several of the divisions of Baptists are strict Calvinists, as are the Presbyterians)
  2. Arminianism (a little more free will involved in choosing God). John and Charles Wesley, Methodist, Episcopals, and the Pentecostal movement embraced Arminianism.
  3. If you’re not a Calvinist you probably believe in one of the forms of Pelagianism.
  4. The Eastern Orthodox Church never respected Augustine, therefore never taught predestination.
  5. Universalism came out of Calvinism, teaching that since everyone sinned through Adam, everyone will be saved through Christ, to combat the ugly version of Calvinism where God wants to show wretched humanity how loving he is by choosing some of us, but not others.

When I have confronted Calvinists with the illogicality of their theology, they respond without logic. They reply: “It’s a mystery. Only God understands it completely. We are limited human beings, limited by space and time, we cannot see the big picture.”

In other words they admit that it makes no sense. But they want a pass card, a get out of jail free card, which I am not willing to give them. Are you telling me that God and his prophets wrote an entire Bible to reason with us, and made us logical beings, but wants us to suspend that logic and accept that we cannot voluntarily read the Bible and accept the gospel ourselves? That the Bible is actually only a tool for those who have been chosen? That’s not what the Bible claims to be. That is not what the gospels claim. No. Jesus tried to convince people, and that is what I try to do. If God is in the habit of not trying to convince people, but just zapping them with the Holy Spirit, then why is the example he has given us, a book of arguments to convince us?

Yeah, it’s not logical, and no, you do not get a free pass card.

Servetus-Stake

Servetus burned at the stake under Calvin’s rule

Predestination makes God out to be somewhat evil. And that is unacceptable to me. Predestination has turned more Christians into atheists than any other doctrine. If you are teetering, then just read a history of the life of John Calvin. He could have taught Hitler a few things. The only other doctrine that has turned a comparable number of Christians into atheists is the warped doctrines against sexual desire, also originating with Augustine of Hippo.

After my mother’s funeral we cleaned out the house for my father, throwing things out and saving some mementos, especially the photographs. The next day my father emailed myself and my daughter that we were not invited to his birthday dinner. He said he had suspended the withdrawal (shunning) rules for the funeral, but that was over and he couldn’t suspend the rules for a birthday dinner. Almost enough to convince one that God is a Calvinist!

Posted in Evangelical Church, Faith and Works, Hell, Holy Spirit, Salvation | Tagged , , | 11 Comments