Seminary Assignment

The Problem with “Individual” Religion

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The Christian faith has been deeply wounded by the individualism paraded by capitalistic society. Everything around us urges Christians to seek self-help and improve their personal lives. This has formed a church culture based on will-power and self-realization apart from Christ.

Pragmatism has trumped biblical truth.

The belief that Christianity is ONLY an individual decision made at the beckoning of a preacher or “spiritual experience” has been prominent in Western Christianity for centuries.

Nathan O. Hatch describes the religious attitude of the early 19th century, “Christians should shun all institutions, soon to topple around them, and allow the Spirit to work within. It was the disappearance of the church and the unmediated operation of the Spirit upon the individual soul that would mark the advent of the millennium.”

The dangerous thing about false teaching is that it is almost true. This attitude has been practiced by evangelicals for hundreds of years… to our own ruin. Let’s break this statement down and discern what is actually true:

CLAIM: Christian should shun all institutions.
TRUTH: Some institutions are evil. The institution of slavery, the practice of chauvinism, and a variety of other institutional abuse should be shunned. This does NOT mean ALL institutions should be rejected… even the institution of government has been established by God (Romans 13:1). An institution is simply an organization that is established for a specific purpose. Many religious leaders encourage Christians to “shun” the church in pursuit of purely seeking Jesus. This sounds spiritual… really it’s demonic (we’ll get to that in a second).

CLAIM: Christians should allow the Spirit to work within.
TRUTH: Yes, Christians SHOULD allow the Spirit to work within. Nevertheless, Christians should also allow the Spirit to work outside of them as well. The Holy Spirit often speaks through human mediums – pastors, authority figures, parents, friends, small groups – just to name a few. The Holy Spirit does not wait for a Christian to seek a mystical experience before speaking… the Spirit of God is constantly communicating with us; the real question is whether or not we are listening.

CLAIM: The Church is going to disappear.
TRUTH: This is what makes the belief so dangerous. Jesus is clear that not even Hell can overcome HIS Church (Matthew 16:18). The United States will cease to exist. Your job which you sacrifice countless hours and anxiety to will cease to exist. Yet the Church will outlast EVERYTHING!

Jesus Christ established the church and it will exist into eternity. This does not mean the church is perfect! Rather, we should believe in the Reformation principle of “Semper Reformanda” or ALWAYS REFORMING! You cannot reform the church by rejecting it; you can only reform the church by faithfully discerning whether the present practices align with Scripture.

Friends, there really is an enemy and he wants to destroy your soul. He cloaks demonic teaching in the veil of religion in order to distort the true faith delivered to the saints. Christianity is not an individual faith. It is vital to have a group of people around you – the local church – to support you in this tremendous pilgrimage.

There is no such thing as a lone-wolf Christian.

If you try to live the Christian life on your own, you will be torn apart by Satan. He prowls around like a lion looking for arrogant evangelicals to devour. Lions pounce on those separated from the pack; there is no living faith apart from being involved in a church.

Do YOU agree or disagree? Let me know by leaving a comment!

The Gospel Tears Walls Down

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We are in the midst of a politically charged season. As U.S. citizens prepare to elect the most powerful person in the world, a variety of issues have surfaced. One of the vital issues of the presidential election is how the next president will handle immigrants.

As a Christian, will you respond from a place of biblical conviction or unwarranted fear?

In the early years of the United States there was an “US vs THEM” mentality between white and black people. Many white people celebrated the evil institution of slavery – to the point of exploiting religion in order to abuse their slaves.

In the midst of this tremendously dark situation, Methodist and Baptist churches began to swell with African-Americans (both slave and free). Nathan O. Hatch, in his excellent book on Christianity in the early U.S. explains, “Early Baptists and Methodists earned the right to be heard. They welcome African-Americans as full participants in their communities and condemned the institution of slavery.

In the 1800s the church experienced rapid growth because they took Peter’s revelation seriously:
I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” – Acts 10:34-35

This is an incredibly powerful verse that should influence how we respond to peoples of other cultures:

1. God does not view us through a national lens.
Contrary to popular belief, God does not have a favorite nation. God no longer views people through the lens of a national culture as He once did with Israel. This does not mean that patriotism is wrong; it does mean that patriotism which demonizes another country or culture IS wrong.

God does not elevate the United States or Israel (or any other country) on a pedestal above everyone else. There is no such thing as a truly “Christian” nation. A theocracy today would be a gross misinterpretation of Biblical truth.

2. God accepts us based on faith.
As a Christian, you should feel more solidarity with a refugee who follows Jesus than an American who doesn’t. We hold a dual citizenship in this world – we are citizens of God before we are citizens of the State.

As we enter into the New Jerusalem we will not be waving a flag with stripes and stars. We will be adorned in robes made clean by the blood of Christ. Our unity with others will be secured by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – not our culture, politics, language, or national identity.

3. God loves immigrants.
Being an immigrant seeking refuge is a picture of the Christian life. We exist on this planet as exiles and aliens; living in a world of which we never truly belong. Out of all people, Christians should be the most compassionate towards foreigners.

But what about foreigners who hold to the Muslim faith?

God loves them as well. He sees each of them as individuals made in His image and desires to have a personal relationship with them. Rather than bemoaning those who follow the Muslim faith, what if we showered them with unrelenting love and mercy? What if we lived out the Gospel truth that Jesus tears down the dividing walls of hostility that separate people (Eph. 2:14)?

Many immigrants are fleeing war-torn countries. They have two options: stay in their country and allow themselves to be brutally murdered or… flee! If we reject refugees out of a sense of fear, we will face the judgment of God. I find it convenient that many Christians ignore what the Scriptures teach on immigration (here are a few):

“There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.” – Exodus 12:49

When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:33-34

“Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien.” – Deuteronomy 1:1

Isn’t it ironic that many Christians claim the United States is a Christian nation and yet reject refugees and immigrants out of fear?

Christians, let’s ask different questions:
How can we make our churches more inviting to immigrants and refugees?
How can we show with our actions that God loves them and desires a relationship with them?
How do we live the crucified life, dying to ourselves, in order to display the love of Christ? 

There’s a Document Greater Than the Constitution.

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We have a tendency to take cultural norms and make them a standard for religious orthodoxy. One of the most disgusting, shameful, and terrible examples of this is racism. Flannery O’Connor lived from 1925 – 1964 and wrote prolifically about the cultural issues of her day. Growing up in the south, she saw the true evil of racism practiced and ingrained in the minds of Christians.

O’Connor sought to judge the cultural norms through the lens of Scripture.

One of the characters in her short story “Why Do the Heathen Rage” is appalled by the justice of God. This character believed that racism was good – that African Americans were treated best when they were treated as less than human.

You’re probably thinking this doesn’t apply to you.

Matter of fact, you may be someone of a different ethnicity and find racism horrible.

Hold on before you close this page out.

We as Christians tend to allow 21st century social issues to become the means of determining whether or not someone is a Christian (especially during a political season). Often we look to the constitution as our standard rather than Scripture. When someone questions a certain political issue held almost universally by Christians, that person is often labeled as a heretic and dismissed.

Unknowingly we have twisted the Gospel. We have added certain qualifications to the Christian life in order to determine whether or not a person is truly spiritual. We need to remember…

Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

Jesus + Something = Nothing.

Below are some qualifications I have experienced Christians (including myself!) lay on other believers:

You are only a true Christian if you believe there should NOT be more gun control.
Some Christians treat the 2nd amendment as if it was written into Scripture. Just for making this statement, there are people reading this who are assuming I am a crazy liberal supporting the “anti-God” agenda of taking away firearms (for the record, I enjoy shooting guns). We forget that many sincere Christians throughout the centuries have been pacifists; that doesn’t make them “anti-God” liberals.

You are only a true Christian if you vote republican.
No matter what you do, do not tell another Christian you support a democratic candidate. Regardless of the character of a certain Republican leader, be sure to vote for them over all else. We all know that God has selected a special political party and nominated the United States to be HIS county where HIS glory dwells (that’s sarcasm… or I’m a godless liberal. I’ll let you decide).

You are only a true Christian if you believe in greater immigration laws.
Forget all the commandments in Scripture for supporting immigrants. We need to focus on US before focusing on THEM (P.S. anytime you have an US vs THEM mentality, it is out of line with the Gospel.) For the record, I’m with the pope on this one. The gospel tears down walls, it doesn’t build them.

You are only a true Christian if you support the nation of Israel.
I almost don’t want to comment on this one… but I will. I won’t go into the theological debate regarding the nation of Israel but I will say this… We should identify more closely with a Christian in Palestine (or Israel, or Iraq) than we do with a secular citizen of any country – Including the United States or Israel.

Let me take this one step further. As a Christian, you should be more willing to support other Christians of different countries than you are willing to support a secular but very patriotic American. The blood of Christ trumps the blood of country.

You are only a true Christian if you attend a contemporary church.
We all know that liturgical churches are made up of lukewarm Christians who care nothing about Jesus (sarcasm again). Anytime our music/style preference negates our love for believers in a different context, we are contradicting the Gospel.

You get the point.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe any of these issues are morally evil or along the same lines as racism. Nevertheless, there is a document greater than the constitution.

Rather than blindly supporting a political agenda and demonizing those who disagree with you, find unity in the Gospel. Below is my contemporary translation of Galatians 3:28:

“There is neither Republican nor Democrat, conservative nor liberal, immigrant nor citizen, Jew nor Gentile, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.” 

Are you mad at me? Leave a comment and let me know… I’m all for the 1st amendment! 

Clergy Aren’t Respected Anymore… Is That Good?

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Those who hold the title of clergy have been experiencing a fall from popular culture. The image of a pastor has transformed from a caring individual, dedicated to bringing hope and restoration into a community to a televangelist bent on stealing money from the poor through the prosperity gospel.

This seems like a new phenomenon.

It’s really not.

This utter lack of respect for clergy began in the early 19th century. Nathan O. Hatch mentions this time of transformation by quoting from the 3rd Epistle of Peter… at least that’s what it was called. Alexander Campbell mocked professional clergy with this fake letter. In it, “Peter” instructs ministers to “live well, wear the best clothes, adorn themselves with high-sounding titles, drink costly wine, and fleece the people.”

This destructive seed which was planted in the 19th century is now coming to full bloom in the 21st century. As a member of the so-called clergy, we can respond to this in two ways.

One way is to get angry. I mean REALLY angry. This is how many of the pastors in the 19th century responded.

This doesn’t work.

Pastor, you do realize that we serve a crucified Savior right?

Have you forgot Matthew 10:25?
“It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul (or Satan), how much more will they malign those of his household.”

The Gospel will be administered under the shadow of the cross. Ministry is not a call to respectability but to death. The Apostles themselves were treated as the scum of the earth, why should YOU be treated any better? This leaves us with the second option…

Pastor, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us…” What if instead of getting mad at those who accuse us of fleecing the sheep, we laid down our lives (and time) sacrificially for those who malign us? What if, instead of bemoaning the lack of respectability for clergy, we loved the very people that hate us?

The ministry is one of crucifixion.

You will receive a crown… but not from the culture.

You will experience resurrection… but not from those who don’t know God.

The rewards you will get for faithfully fulfilling the ministry God has given you far outweigh every negative word, unfair rumor, and false accusation you will ever experience.

Pastor, keep your eyes on Jesus… He is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. He is the Prince of Peace. He is the Chief Shepherd – minister from HIS strength and power – not your own.

My Problem with Fundamentalism

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I’m a recovering fundamentalist.

Fundamentalism can be applauded for a variety of things. First, if you are a fundamentalist, you take the Bible seriously. You view the Bible as a set of demands upon your life that must be lived out. This encourages you to pursue holiness and righteousness.

This is good… except when it’s not.

Fundamentalism breeds legalism. Fundamentalism turns Christianity into a set of fundamentals – or rules – that we need to obey. Here are some of the rules:

1. You CANNOT listen to “secular” music.

2. You CANNOT mow your lawn on Sunday.

3. You CANNOT wear a dress that doesn’t go down to your ankles.

4. You CANNOT hang out with non-Christian friends.

5. You CANNOT play video games.

6. You CANNOT drink any amount of alcohol.

…You get the point.

Fundamentalists tend to downplay the physical world. In an effort to attain a certain level of holiness, these Christians tend to reject any type of “earthly” pleasure. This causes them to become lemon-sucking, self-righteous Christians.

Vigen Guorian describes this perfectly in his article on Christian imagination, “Modern fundamentalism doesn’t take the Incarnation seriously enough. It limits the the limitless God to the written word and denies his presence in the physical creation.”

What exactly DOES the incarnation teach us about God?

The incarnation shows us that the physical world really IS good.

When God created the heavens and the earth, He declared them as really good! Nevertheless, the enticement of sin brought ruin and destruction to the universe. This leaves us to question whether or not the physical world should be rejected altogether since it has been marred by sin.

The incarnation is a resounding NO!

God really did become a man. Jesus is fully man and fully God. He did not APPEAR human… He really is human. If God embraced the physical world by becoming part of it, we can find joy in creation as long as we remember the Creator in the process.

My encouragement to you today is to view creation through a God-centered lens. We sprint through our busy lives without taking the time to truly SEE. We need to slow down and search out the hidden parables throughout creation. I challenge you to go for a walk today and consider some of these questions:

1. What do the birds teach us about who God is?

2. How do trees reflect God’s beauty?

3. How does God’s care for seemingly insignificant insects such as ants teach us about his care for us?

Slow down. Open your eyes. Worship God. 

Religion Sucks.

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Can you imagine being imprisoned by your family for 25 years?

This is what happened to the daughter of a wealthy Paris family in 1876. The daughter’s name was Blanche Monnier. Due to a romantic relationship the family disapproved of, they forced Monnier to become a prisoner in her bedroom while feeding her scraps of food and giving her no opportunity for sunlight or contact with other people. She deteriorated and only weighed 55 pounds pounds when police found her… on the verge of death. After being rescued, she was driven mad by her imprisonment and spent her life in a mental institution.

This is an incredible parallel for the toxic effects of religion.

Before you get mad, let’s define terms.

Religion is man trying to appease God through special ceremonies, good deeds, and behavior modification.

Flannery O’Connor wrote an excellent and illuminating short story called “Parker’s Back”. One of the fascinating characters in this story is Sarah Ruth. Sarah is a very strict, religious woman. She is described as being bland and a fun-killer. Sarah Ruth stands for religion.

Religion sucks.

1. Religion sucks life out of you.
Religion masquerades as life-giving but grants death to its adherents. Rules, ceremonies, and legalism appeal to people with a conscious tormented by the effects of sin. Rather than granting absolution, religion fuels the fire of shame by forcing condemnation alongside of confession. Grace and mercy are spoken of but rarely practiced, guilt and reproach are the cruel masters which imprison their subjects until they are malnourished and on the verge of death.

2. Religion sucks freedom from you.
As you become enclosed in the windowless room and smell the burning stench of your sin, you realize you have nowhere to run. In an effort to find relief, you become zealous about behavior modification. This is equivalent to scratching the cold brick of your prison cell with fingernails, trying to form a window to the outside world. You seek purification and wholeness but you receive hands which are marred and dripping with blood.

3. Religion sucks God from you.
The cruel irony is your self-imposed bondage comes from a sincere desire to appease God. As you begin to perfect your outward appearance, your body and soul are crippled by guilt. The more you try to change in your own power, the more you realize how worthless you are. This is magnified by the cold and heartless preaching of the man in a robe you hear from every week; a man who has bloodied his hands from scratching at the impenetrable walls of his prison cell longer than you have. God becomes distant, a cruel taskmaster bent on causing you pain. Rather than becoming insane from your imprisonment, you reject God altogether. The very thing that promised a relationship with God left you rejecting him. Religion sucks.

Jesus Saves.

Jesus came to crush the head of this deadly taskmaster.

Jesus came to offer freedom to the captives and shatter the chains of legalism.
Jesus seeks to transform the very core of who you are, offering life in abundance.
Jesus seeks brokenness in order to make it whole.
Jesus seeks sinners so He can provide true healing.
Jesus came so that all who are weary and weighed down with the heavy burden of religion may find rest.
Jesus came so that where sin abounds, grace increases even more.
Jesus came to dispel the myth that God is cruel.

Jesus is the exact image of God revealed to us.

Jesus lived the life you and I couldn’t live… a perfect life.
Jesus died the death you and I deserve to die… a brutal death prefaced by torture.
Jesus resurrected from the dead… showing that he paid the price for all of our sin (past, present, future).

Religion is man seeking God, Christianity is God seeking man. 

You’re a Heretic.

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It would be very strange to see a person without skin.

Skin plays a vital role in our lives! It protects the rest of our body from outside factors which could destroy it. I have never heard anyone say that their skin holds them back from truly experiencing life… “I just wish I could be free from my skin so that I could live as a skeleton!” If someone said that they would probably end up in a mental institution!

Yet this is the attitude many of us have towards our bodies…

Have you ever heard the statement, “You are not a body with a spirit, you are a spirit with a body”? Well, it’s wrong. Really wrong. In an excellent article called Rallying the Really Human Things by Vigen Guroian, Guoroian makes an incredible observation – “Body and spirit are not two independent realities, as so many modern people – including many Christians – believe, but rather constitute the one person.

You do realize that in Heaven you won’t be a disjointed spirit hovering through space plucking a harp, right? The Bible speaks about a RESURRECTED BODY… it’s still a body!

Now you’re probably thinking I enjoy metaphysical language and this actually has no bearing on your life today… wrong again!

Since both the BODY and the SPIRIT are good, PHYSICAL is GOOD!
Christians tend to take life too seriously. We view religion as a means of punishing our bodies in order to sanctify our spirits. We neglect to laugh, eat good food, and watch funny movies because we are too… spiritual. Guess what – God created our bodies and he called them good! Yes, they have been marred by the effects of sin, but so has everything else! The Gospel redeems us so that we may truly enjoy life… even the physical part of life!

It is okay to read a book just for fun.

It is okay to enjoy a good meal.

It is okay to actually laugh.

It is okay to get lost in the beauty of nature.

It is okay to find pleasure in your spouse.

Quit taking yourself so seriously!

One of the best ways to redeem the physical is by reading a good FICTION book. Fiction books often paint the physical world with vivid imagery and expertise. These authors have discovered the rare ability of truly being present in the world. We Christians have a tendency to disconnect from our imaginations in honor of non-fiction books. If we are going to spend time reading, we want to read something that is TRUE and encourages us to live a more HOLY life. This is all good but FICTION allows you to understand the depth of human nature and the beauty of God’s creation. It is through reading fiction that you increase in your love for neighbor as you experience the emotions and thoughts of someone other than yourself!

Allow yourself to be caught up in the story. Although it seems like a waste of time, it is incredibly practical and beneficial! While you’re at it, enjoy a glass of wine!

(Any religious people mad yet?)

You’re a HERETIC.
When you believe that the spirit is good and the physical is bad, you’re actually a heretic. This false belief comes out of a dangerous teaching known as Gnosticism. This teaching ravaged the early church and misled many from the true faith. Adherents of Gnosticism believed that we are imprisoned by the physical world. In order to escape, we need to discover a special knowledge and become truly spiritual (gnosis is Greek for “to know”).

Somehow this has infiltrated the church in the 21st century. The result is a bunch of lemon-sucking Christians trying to become free of the very thing that makes them human. The irony is that God became a man in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He did not simply “appear” to be human… he really is 100% human and 100% God.

We would do the world a favor if we laugh, enjoy food, read fiction, exercise our imaginations, and embrace the humanness of our bodies… for the glory of God!


What are some other ways we can can redeem the physical world? Let me know by leaving a comment, I would love to hear from you!