Evangelicals Archives

Happy New Year! And Happy 240th!

Today is January 1st, 2013. Happy New Year! It also happens to be the 240th anniversary of the sermon with which John Newton introduced his newly written poem, Amazing Grace. From Near to the Heart of God: Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns,

On Friday morning, January 1, 1773, John Newton, former slave trader and infidel, preached a New Year’s message from 1 Chronicles 17:16–17 in his church at Olney, England. Newton opened his sermon, saying, “The Lord bestows many blessings upon His people, but unless He likewise gives them a thankful heart, they lose much of the comfort they might have.” He told his church to look back at God’s goodness, look around at God’s promises, and look forward to future usefulness. In concluding, Newton introduced a poem he’d written for the occasion, the hymn “Amazing Grace.”

– Morgan, Robert J., Near to the Heart of God: Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns

The scriptural text that Newton referred to in his sermon, the setting just after the announcement of the Davidic Covenant,

Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, “Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations, O LORD God!

(1 Chronicles 17:16-17 ESV)

And Newton’s original six verses:

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d!

Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

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    Links for Monday, 31 December 2012

    Exporting the “old and sick” to another place

    But don’t worry – I’m sure it’s for “the common good.”

    From The Guardian,

    Growing numbers of elderly and sick Germans are being sent overseas for long-term care in retirement and rehabilitation centres because of rising costs and falling standards in Germany.

    …with increasing numbers of Germans unable to afford the growing costs of retirement homes, and an ageing and shrinking population, the number expected to be sent abroad in the next few years is only likely to rise. Experts describe it as a “time bomb”.

    Germany has one of the fastest-ageing populations in the world, and the movement here has implications for other western countries, including Britain, particularly amid fears that austerity measures and rising care costs are potentially undermining standards of residential care.

    Something to think about as we travers the road towards nationalized healthcare.

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    The Last Radicals
    From the National Review,

    There is exactly one authentically radical social movement of any real significance in the United States, and it is not Occupy, the Tea Party, or the Ron Paul faction. It is homeschoolers, who, by the simple act of instructing their children at home, pose an intellectual, moral, and political challenge to the government-monopoly schools, which are one of our most fundamental institutions and one of our most dysfunctional.

    The author contends that opponents to homeschoolers have three core reasons.

    The first is that progressives by their nature do not trust people as individuals and feel that, whether we are applying for a credit card or popping into 7-Eleven for a soft drink, Americans require state-appointed overseers.

    The second reason for this hostility is that while there is a growing number of secular, progressive, organic-quinoa-consuming homeschool families, there remains a significant conservative and Christian component.

    A third reason is that the majority of homeschool teachers are mothers. A traditional two-parent family with one full-time breadwinner and one stay-at-home parent is practically built into the model.

    Long live independence!

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    Safe, legal and… rare?
    From Touchstone Magazine,

    The Federal Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) released a report on the eve of Thanksgiving showing that there was an historic drop of five percent in the abortion rate, the most in a decade. The data is from 2009, the latest year available, and shows that there were only 789,000 abortions. [emphasis in original]

    The author states that data from California was not included, so the number of abortions most likely was over 1,000,000.

    As for the demographics, this unsettling note,

    Approximately 85 percent of women who aborted their babies were unmarried. The majority of abortions are performed by the eighth week of pregnancy. White women had the lowest abortion rate, at about 8.5 per 1,000 women of child-bearing age; the rate for African-American women was about four times that; and the abortion rate for Hispanic women was about 19 per 1,000.

    The liberal mantra of being there for the disadvantaged seems to get turned on its head.

    And to put some perspective on the killing of 1,000,000 unborn children every year, it’s like having 137 Sandy Hook mass killings EVERY DAY.

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    A belated Christmas Light Painting link for you all
    Here’s a great example!

    Merry Christmas Everyone!

    © Michael Ross

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    Doctrine vs. Methodology?
    From The Gospel Coalition,

    Pastors constantly face temptation to devote more time and energy to methods rather than to doctrine. If that includes you, then give heed to Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 4:16: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

    Following the imperative to keep watch on himself, Paul further instructs Timothy to keep watch on his doctrine. My observation, however, is that most ministers aren’t doing this. They don’t talk about doctrine. They don’t read it. If they’re paying close attention to anything, it is their methods and psychology. What’s the result? Less biblical fidelity. Less interest in truth. Less seriousness. Less depth.

    Neglecting doctrine results in less capacity to offer a compelling alternative to the thinking of our generation. I often hear the excuse that pastors aren’t studying theology because they’re too busy trying to reach more people. Ironically, this pursuit of identification often comes with a corresponding loss of communication. We put forth all this effort to make people feel comfortable and at home so they don’t feel the difference between life in Christ and life without Christ. Problem is, it is supposed to be different when you come to Christ. That is the point.

    [emphasis added]

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    From Radicals to Oddballs
    Oh, those homeschoolers,

    There are two facets to educating a child well. The first is to recognize that education is not merely the accumulation of facts, but that it has an unavoidably moral aspect. A suitable education must do more, therefore, than simply teach facts, even moral facts. Education must seek to cultivate the moral imagination of the child, for reducing moral education to a list of rules is bound to fail.

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      This particular line, from a Grateful Dead song, has always struck me as poignant,

      Sign the Mona Lisa with a spray can,
      Call it Art

      – Foolish Heart

      As the singer insinuates, the quick and dirty tagger’s label can hardly sanctify a classic work of art.

      What is it about the Western Evangelical Church that drives us to acquiesce with the culture we live in and, at the same time, justify said acquiescence as a noble cause?

      Take, for example, the manner with which many churches are approaching the upcoming celebration of Halloween. This year Halloween falls on a Wednesday and, as most of you may be aware, many churches hold their “mid-week” services on Wednesday nights.

      It seems to me that in times past the church would hardly have blinked an eye at this current conundrum.

      “What? Halloween is on Wednesday? Oh well, try to get some ‘trick-or-treating’ in before you show up for Bible Study.”

      Yet nowadays the church bends over backwards to accommodate a culture which worships Halloween (in terms of merchandising expenditures) less only than that of Christmas. Do a search on the various churches in your vicinity and my bet is that you’ll find them having, in lieu of their regular Wednesday night ministries, some event geared to provide the community with candy and fun and games and entertainment. Whether or not said event is described as a Harvest or Hallelujah Party one thing is clear, there’s very little chance of having a mid-week Bible Study at the event.

      What I find most disconcerting with this whole fiasco is that, with cans of spray paint in hand, apologists for these events boldly stencil on the words COMMUNITY OUTREACH, and then walk away thinking that an event which has replaced the study of God’s Word is somehow promoting the Gospel. In our misguided attempt at reaching a community of non-believers we’ve succumbed to the market mentality notion of keeping the customer satisfied. While we’ve been given a divine opportunity to be truly counter-cultural and shine like a light on a hill in a world of darkness, we’ve taken to dimming said light as we go out of our way to join in the celebration with our culture.

      POSTSCRIPT: $370,000,000. That’s how much money we Americans, who happen to be in the midst of the Great Recession, spend on Halloween costumes for our… pets.

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        Jesus is not your boyfriend

        Jesus is not your boyfriend
        Or your homeboy.

        Has our evangelical culture, in its eagerness to emotionalize our personal relationship with God Jesus, trended towards an essentially erotic view of said relationship? From the post at Her.meneutics,

        It was not uncommon at my conservative Christian college to overhear girls say that Jesus was their “boyfriend” until God brought the right man along. I once had a girl tell me she could not hang out on a Friday night because she had a “date” with God. In our churches, many of our praise and worship songs border on the “love song” language, leading many girls to equate those warm and fuzzy feelings that come with attraction with Jesus. This is a dangerous place to be. Not only is it an incomplete picture of who our Christ is, it also sends the message that the girls (and women) who are truly devoted to Jesus equate contentment in him with a romantic relationship with him.

        Reading the comments left at the post is also interesting. A sampling,

        We used to sing this at a young adult study I used to go to:

        “I wanna sit at your feet Drink from the cup in your hand. Lay back against you and breath, feel your heart beat This love is so deep, it’s more than I can stand. I melt in your peace, it’s overwhelming”

        I could never sing the song and it took me completely out of worship. I’m a dude and this in NO WAY represents my walk with Christ. It’s borderline creepy to me and almost sexual. It did, however, REALLY make me curious as to how women see a relationship with christ differently than a man does due to gender differences.

        Posted By: b | June 25, 2012 1:26 PM

        and,

        just can’t handle the “So in love with you” songs about Jesus any more. It just seems too close to the eroticism of love songs.

        One of our younger male pastors (when he was working with youth) would often talk about “being so in love with Jesus” and used other language that had a boyfriend feel to it. I told him this way of talking could have a rather creepy feel about it, especially to the adolescent boys just coming to terms with their sexuality – he looked at me like I was crazy. It may also have a certain appeal to young females so wanting to have a boyfriend experience.

        Posted By: Annie | June 25, 2012 3:11 PM

        Yet what of the Biblical references to Israel’s rebellion being akin to having an adulterous affair, or the overt sexuality found in Song of Solomon, or that the New Covenant church is referenced as the bride of Christ?

        It’s my understanding that such analogies always refer to the corporate body (i.e., the nation of Israel or the church as a whole) and are not indicative of the personal relationship each individual follower of Christ has with God. Note that in the upper room discourse Jesus calls his disciples friends, or how Paul refers to Christ followers as sons of God, or how virtually all of Jesus’ disciples and followers addressed him as Lord, Rabbi, Teacher, etc., and not as Lover.

        I think that because our culture emphasizes the emotional aspect of relationships (and, that is not necessarily a bad thing) we sometimes mistake the relationship, or direction, of various Biblical analogies. We need to remember that the various earthly analogies we have are but reflections of the heavenly aspect being presented. Thus, when Paul writes that all Christ followers, both men and women, are sons of God, he is not ignoring or deprecating the status of women, nor is he equating us to the Son of God. Rather, he is indicating that, as in the culture of his time, just as all sons received the family inheritance, so all sons of God (Christ followers) will receive God’s inheritance.

        As the author of the post states,

        Just as self-marriage misses the mark for what God designed marriage to point to, “marriage” to Jesus misses what his work accomplished. Marriage to Jesus while waiting for a husband can often trivialize our Savior in a way that makes him more like a sweet boyfriend who takes us out on dates, rather than the God-man who paid for our sin on the cross. Jesus did not accomplish redemption to marry us individually. He died for the church corporate, of which we are apart [sic]. His death accomplished something much greater than simply meeting our deep-seated desires for a significant other. That is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 5:22–33 when speaks of the mystery of marriage.

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          Links for Wednesday, 28 March 2012

          California wants your 5 year-olds
          From HSLDA,

          AB 2203 would lower the compulsory attendance age for entry into school from 6 to 5 years of age. This requirement would apply to all children, whether their parents plan to send them to public school or private school (including private homeschools).

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          So… will Spike Lee now do the right thing?
          From FoxNews,

          A school-cafeteria lunch lady and her husband have received hate mail, unwanted visits from reporters and fearful inquiries from neighbors — all because their Sanford-area address is being disseminated on Twitter as belonging to Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman, her son said late Tuesday.

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          More info on the possibility that a 1st century manuscript of the Gospel of Mark has been found

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          5 Reasons not to agree to a police search
          Like Linus told Lucy, “Those are good reasons!”

          1. It’s your constitutional right.

          2. Refusing a search protects you if you end up in court.

          3. Saying “no” can prevent a search altogether.

          4. Searches can waste your time and damage your property.

          5. You never know what they’ll find.

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          Google has acted… Have you?

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          Hey, I know! How about we do an object lesson on what it means to be a persecuted Christian?
          Yikes.

          A 14-year old Dauphin County girl said she thought she was going to die Wednesday night when two men with apparent guns raided a church meeting. She later found out that it was a learning exercise carried out by the church youth group.

          The mother of the young girl did not want to reveal their names. The teenager does not belong to the Glad Tidings Assembly of God church in Lower Swatara Township, but she decided to go to a youth meeting Wednesday night with a friend who told her the meetings were fun.

          Well, I guess it depends on how you define “fun”.

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            Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy, wet kiss?

            The phrase Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy, wet kiss is found in a song titled “How He Loves” (see full set of lyrics here) which is currently used as a worship song in corporate worship settings. The particular line in question has, understandably, caused quite the controversy in Christian circles with advocates for both its inclusion and exclusion. An alternate version is sometimes used with the offensive portion of the lyric replaced by the words unforeseen kiss. For the purposes of this analysis, HME will refer to Heaven meets Earth, and SWK to sloppy, wet kiss.

            As I see it, there are at least three issues with, or related to, this specific lyric:

            I – Whether by design or by accident, the intended meaning of the lyric is vague and internally inconsistent. This, despite attempts by John Mark McMillan, the author, to define and explain the meaning of the words he used.

            II – Much of the current corporate worship singing methodology, found in the contemporary evangelical church in America, is inconsistent with foundational corporate worship practice. The modern practice, in the West, of interjecting the personal into the corporate, reflects secular influences.

            III – Those who hear, read, or sing the song, whom I will refer to as recipients of the  song, readily misinterpret the author’s intended meaning in both the HME and SWK lyrics.

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              On Christians singing worship via secular liturgies

              How close does the corporate worship singing in your church mimic a secular concert? Does it matter?

              From An Open Letter to Praise Bands,

              …I sometimes worry that we’ve unwittingly encouraged you [praise bands] to import certain forms of performance that are, in effect, “secular liturgies” and not just neutral “methods.” Without us realizing it, the dominant practices of performance train us to relate to music (and musicians) in a certain way: as something for our pleasure, as entertainment, as a largely passive experience. The function and goal of music in these “secular liturgies” is quite different from the function and goal of music in Christian worship.

              And then, these axioms,

              1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship. Christian worship is not a concert…

              2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship…

              3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship…

              …This isn’t just some plea for “traditional” worship and a critique of “contemporary” worship. Don’t mistake this as a defense of pipe organs and a critique of guitars and drums (or banjos and mandolins). My concern isn’t with style, but with form: What are we trying to do when we “lead worship?” If we are intentional about worship as a communal, congregational practice that brings us into a dialogical encounter with the living God–that worship is not merely expressive but also formative–then we can do that with cellos or steel guitars, pipe organs or African drums.

              Read it all.

              At what point does our worship singing methodology fall in line with the purpose of worship? For that matter, what is the purpose of worship? To energize the singers, individually, so they leave the service feeling better or happier than when they entered? How does a passion for Christ manifest itself in our singing – our corporate singing?

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                Obama’s War Against the Church

                It’s starting with the Catholic church but it won’t be long before all churches will be targeted. But the Catholic church isn’t going to take this lying down.

                The controversy began when the Obama Administration informed Catholic institutions that the new healthcare law requires them to pay for contraceptives. It’s not just birth control pills, either. They are also requiring them to provide the so-called “morning after” pill to anyone who wants them. The Catholic church has responded that the rule violates their teaching and they will not abide by it. In fact, they are calling for parishoners to stand up in civil disobedience. Archbishop Jose Gomez is among those calling for action.

                While the first impulse would be to say this is merely a political dispute, it is anything but. This is a salvo in an ongoing war against Christians. Catholics and Evangelicals have an opportunity to band together for the greater good. When you have people of different faiths and political backgrounds come together for a common cause (as can be seen in this video) then you know you have a huge issue on your hands.

                On one hand, there is a constitutional crisis that is being brought about by the administration’s actions. Their edict is a clear violation of the First Amendment. For years, liberals have misinterpreted the phrase “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” to mean that the church cannot influence government. But the amendment was worded this way to prevent exactly the sort of action that the administration is taking. Government should not interfere in the affairs of the church. That’s exactly what’s happening here.

                But there is another issue at stake. As Elizabeth Scalia put it in her recent article, “With the administration’s decision, the covert culture of death has finally made a truly overt move against the culture of life.” The adminstration has stripped away any pretenses that they were in any way supportive of those of us who strongly believe in life.

                This is not simply a controversy involving the Catholic Church. It is part of a larger war against people of faith. It’s also a wake up call to Americans to realize that their country and the rights that we hold so dear are being taken away from them right before their eyes.

                Martin Niemoller, founder of the Confessing Church in Germany during World War II, famously summed it up:

                First they came for the communists,
                and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

                Then they came for the trade unionists,
                and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

                Then they came for the Jews,
                and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

                Then they came for the Catholics,
                and I didn’t speak out because I was Protestant.

                Then they came for me
                and there was no one left to speak out for me.

                It’s time to stand up against tyranny. It’s time to stand up in civil disobedience to this government. It’s time for change. It’s not about supporting one candidate over another. It’s about standing up for what is right. It’s about standing up for truth. There’s a war on. Are you ready for battle?

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                  Part 5: Becoming Truly Relevant And Truly Counter-Cultural

                  We Must Never Stop Evangelizing

                  If you’ve read the first 4 parts of this series, and have made it to this final post, I thank you. Hopefully, whether or not you fully agree with my argument, you have at least taken a hard look at the issues I’ve been discussing. However, if past experiences I’ve had in attempting to discuss this topic are any indication, then I fear that those fully entrenched in the pragmatic approach of evangelical capitalism – those truly in need of hearing my arguments – will have already left the conversation. If that has occurred, then it is unfortunate, because I believe that this issue is critical to how we, as evangelicals, conduct our lives in the 21st century.

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                    Part 4: When “Personally Feeling Good And Being Happy” Is Our Goal

                    A Cultural Laziness Which Has Evolved From An Attitude That Life’s Main Goal Is To Have Fun

                    20100911-_MG_0833 It seems that our culture has come to expect to be catered to – to have their needs (felt needs) met. It also seems that we have moved from living as pragmatic narcissists to that of entitlement-expecting narcissists with a hedonistic bent. In the secular realm, catering to those felt needs is simply a business transaction; but in matters related to the spiritual, such catering can have eternal consequences.

                    In discussing the general attitudes of the younger generation with a friend from work, she told me of an e-mail she received from one of the coaches from her son’s baseball team. It had to do with what this coach has seen with the kids he’s coached and how it is also reflected in the college grads he’s hired. He titled his e-mail The Coddled Generation. Here are some excerpts,

                    Last night I was watching a 60 Minutes program about motivation in the work place and the uniqueness of the generation entering careers in 2011.

                    The show was really interesting, both from the perspective of an employer as well as a baseball coach. On this particular show, the coaching professionals interviewed were motivators and trainers used by businesses – experts on the emerging generation of workers and how best to speak to and communicate with them. The show highlighted fun and wacky office cultures like Google and Zappos where strange outfits are commonplace, happy hours are frequent and workers can take turns in the “nap room.” This was designed to show how corporate structure has evolved to help make workers comfortable, keep them happy and engaged, and ultimately increase productivity.

                    At one point, one of the consultants interviewed described this generation as “The Coddled Generation,” and then went on to describe how their upbringing has led to a completely different worker. This expert referenced school environments where Mom calls to complain about a grade, where simply showing up is reason for celebration, and where trophies are awarded to each and every athlete.

                    I honestly believe that the culture has changed, and there are two main differences:

                    A lack of desire to be outstanding…

                    A need for coddling and hand-holding

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                      Part 3: When Christianity Is About The Experience, Feelings Become Paramount

                      An Emotion-Based View Of Christianity, Giving Too Much Importance To The Feelings Of An Individual And To That Of Making Converts

                      At the heart of the twenty-first century Western model of Christian evangelism is the scripture found in Matthew 28 – what is commonly referred to as The Great Commission.

                      Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

                      - Matthew 28:19 ESV

                      With this verse Christians have, in sincere and fervent zeal, taken the Gospel message of Christ to all the nations of the earth. Unfortunately, and in spite of their zeal, some may have missed the true intent of the verse. Note that the reference I show above ends not with a period, but with a comma. The folks at Stand to Reason promote the principle of Never Read a Bible Verse[23], which is a pithy way of saying that one should never read a snippet of scripture (or any text, for that matter) without understanding the context of the passage the snippet is contained in. Using this principle, a better reference for The Great Commission would be Matthew 28:16-20, the paragraph which contains Matthew 28:19.

                      Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

                      - Matthew 28:16-19 ESV Read the rest of this entry

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                        Part 2: When A Church Is Run As A Business, It Can’t Help But Be About The Bottom-line

                        A Pragmatic Mindset Derived More From Capitalism Than From Scripture

                        It is my opinion that the United States became a rich and powerful nation due, in part, to the aspects of capitalism which cater to the ability of humans to self direct their will towards goals, achieving them through determination, discipline and hard work. It is not difficult to find story after story of entrepreneurs who took little to nothing and built empires through their perseverance. Yet, hard work alone was not the recipe for success these people used. There were, and are, plans – business plans, marketing methodologies, sales approaches, growth models, etc.

                        20101119-_MG_1095 (2) Just about every salesman is schooled on how to entice a potential customer with the product he is selling, convincing the customer that he needs the product – regardless of whether or not the customer does, in fact, need the product. You may have heard the idiom, “He could sell ice to Eskimos!”[7], describing the abilities of a top salesman to sell a product to an unlikely buyer. Or consider the various marketing strategies employed by establishments wishing to get customers inside their stores – all for the purpose of pitching products to them. The “loss leader”[8] strategy stresses the point of selling one product at or below production costs for the sole purpose of being able to put other “for profit” products in front of the customer. It’s a gamble – a bet – that the customer will not leave the store with only the “for loss” product. And who among us has not had product B pitched to us via means of first having product A presented? For example, at a Bass Pro shop I recently had a timeshare presentation pitched to me after being enticed to win a new truck by just “entering a drawing.” Then there is the “bait and switch”[9] approach in which the customer is led to believe they are getting product A when, in fact, they are sold a cheaper product B. It should be noted that one common feature of any sales approach is that the product is dressed up – enticed – to appear as indispensible to the buyer. Is it any wonder, then, that the phrase “Caveat Emptor”[10] – “Let the buyer beware” – came about?

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                          Part 1: An Introduction to the Problem Facing the 21st Century Western Church

                          The “Takeover and Colonization of Christianity”

                          20100410-_MG_8446 Twenty-first century Western Christianity is in dire straits. Europe exists in a post-Christian state, and many believe that the United States is effectively on a path towards that same end. While some may argue that there has been a resurgence of evangelical growth, what with such phenomena as the megachurch or emergent church movements, it seems that more and more people in the U.S. are choosing to affiliate themselves with no religion[1]. Whereas up through the mid-twentieth century one could expect an average United States citizen to understand the tenets of a Judeo-Christian heritage, a worldview of pluralism is now permeating the environment, essentially deadening secular society’s sensory receptors pertaining to moral truths. Strangely enough, we find that this state of affairs has occurred despite the West having experienced over 60 years of peace, prosperity, and religious freedom. Or, perhaps, I should state that this condition has occurred because of said peace, prosperity, and religious freedom.

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                            A five part series.

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                              I recently got into a friendly discussion / debate with my pastor over the recent introduction of white grape juice, in place of red, when we celebrate communion. My concern regarding the change in practice had to do with the intentional exclusion of the dark colored “wine”, which I perceive as significant to the symbolism of Christ’s blood. I must say that my first inclination, as to the reason for the change in element, was that white grape juice was being sold for less than red, and that in time we’d return to the regular practice. Pragmatic frugality aside, the actual reason for the change was more disconcerting. It seems that after a recent refurbishing of the church sanctuary, which included a lighter colored upholstery on the pews, there was the concern that spilled red grape juice would stain the pews (and, I suppose, parishioner’s clothing). Complicating that subjective concern was the additional matter of the cost of removing the stain(s).

                              In discussing the topic of this ancient practice I was quickly reminded how fast rabbit trails emerge within the thickets of theology. One acquaintance stated, when presented with this issue, that if we were to follow the original practice, then we would be using wine and not grape juice. Others have brought up that the bread is not the same, the manner with which we partake of the meal itself is different, and that we don’t use a communal cup. I recently shared the following as a status on Facebook:

                              Using white grape juice instead of red, for communion, so as not to possibly stain anything, is like using peppermint leaves instead of bitter herbs, for Passover, so as not to possibly have pungent breath afterward.

                              In the comments that followed, I ran into the issue of using white wine and red grape juice, ostensibly to allow those who wish to partake of wine the opportunity, while allowing those who prefer grape juice that route, with the distinction being made easy to identify by… sight.* While all of these issues may be true, their veracity does not negate or vindicate my concern regarding the color of the wine used.

                              I’m not concerned with whether or not we practice communion exactly as was done in the upper room, by the early Christians, or by the Jews celebrating Passover. That the wine may be substituted with grape juice, coca-cola, or whatever, depending on the context of the situation, is irrelevant (to the context of my concern). Issues regarding whether or not we eat an entire meal, engage in the practice in unison or systematically in a queue, use wafers or loaves, etc., are all ancillary to the context of my question. That some of these ancillary issues may indeed be relevant to how we practice communion does not necessarily hinder or help the argument pertaining to my original question.

                              I try to approach issues in the simplest manner possible, while still addressing the intricacies involved – not always a task that is easy to accomplish. In looking at the color of the wine question I am attempting to ascertain the intent of not only the practice, but the means with which the practice is followed. I am of the opinion that God has, within his theology, intertwined abstract concepts with physical attributes – attributes which we perceive with our five senses. Consider that the Bible states that sacrifices brought a pleasing aroma to God. No doubt such events brought with them sights, sounds, and smells which would leave a lasting impression on those participating. It certainly should be of no surprise that the metaphorical meaning of the unleavened bread and bitter herbs of Passover was heightened through our sensory perception of their physical attributes. And the sense of taste and smell, particularly of the wine, would lend a certain memory imprint on any individual participating in communion. Is this not significant?

                              Therefore, I’m wondering if the same application could (or should) be made with something like the color of the communion wine. If it represents the blood of Christ is it happenstance that wine was chosen as the metaphorical symbol for the Passover meal? I don’t believe that God is surprised by anything or that he needs to have a “Plan B”, so it seems to me that his original intent was for the Passover meal to flow into the practice of communion. The wine, from the beginning, was to represent the blood of Christ. What are the physical attributes of blood? Crimson by sight, a distinctive rich taste (remember the taste in your mouth when you lost a tooth?), an equally distinctive aroma… Doesn’t wine mimic these attributes? It’s dark, red quality, a slightly burning and warm taste, and a rich aromatic quality.

                              I find it interesting that our 21st century Western culture, despite its technological prowess, seems to have lost touch with the history of the importance of meaning provided by our five senses. Visual and auditory stimulation, through means of movies, the internet, TV, video games, iPods, et. al,, while exciting, operates mainly as an ultimately unsatisfying, yet addictive, stimulant. The senses of taste and smell are catered to, by and large, through the gourmet world of microwavable-junk-food. Even though I am wary of much of what is happening in the emerging church, it is refreshing to see a desire to return to liturgies, accompanied with stained glass and incense, seeming to be a desire for sensory meaning amidst the muck of our techno-innovations.

                              So, if it could be argued that the attributes of the wine, while not necessary simply on their own for the practice are, nonetheless, important aspects of the metaphorical imagery being used, why would one avoid them? I understand the everyday concern about staining pews, carpet, clothing, etc., with spilled wine (interestingly enough, blood also stains). I simply don’t see that as a major concern. Is it really necessary to have stains from communion wine removed? Cleaned up, yes, but removed? It seems to me that such stains would be, in some sense, a badge of honor – that a church bears the evidence of the practice of communion being exercised so frequently. I recall a pastor deciding against replacing prayer benches because, once he realized that the “old” ones were stained from the tears of parishioners, he realized the testament he was about to remove.

                              Imagine a balance scale. On one side we have the choice of using red wine (or… dark grape juice) for communion. The minimum “weight” in favor of this choice is original intent, which brings with it all the metaphorical imagery surrounding the color of the blood of Christ. On the other side of the balance, we have the choice of using a clear liquid. The minimum “weight” on this side is, essentially, a desire not to stain the pews, carpet, or clothing – or perhaps another minimal reason.

                              It seems to me that the balance tips easily to one side…

                              * This practice seems, at first take, to be an attempt to address the stronger brother / weaker brother situation. I wonder if Paul ever ran into a church that had an after service time of fellowship with idol sacrificed pork grilling in one section and beef not sacrificed to an idol grilling in another section?

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