The Bible and Slavery

Perhaps you’ve been troubled, as I have, by wondering why the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery outright. Over the years I’ve come across several thoughts and quotes that have helped me in my own understanding of it.

I found that the Bible actually does condemn kidnapping and selling people: “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death,” Exodus 21:16. “Enslavers” (in the ESV, “menstealers” in the KJV), defined by BibleGateway.com as “those who take someone captive in order to sell him into slavery,” were listed alongside liars and immoral people as sinners in 1 Timothy 1:8-11.

The main type of slavery mentioned in the Old Testament came about because of a debt that could not be paid in any other way, something like an indentured servant (which makes more sense than a debtor’s prison, where there is no hope of paying off the debt). In the MacArthur Study Bible notes for 1 Kings 9:21-22, John MacArthur says “The law did not allow Israelites to make fellow-Israelites slaves against their will (Ex. 21:2-11; Lev. 25:44-46; Deut. 15:12-18.)” But people could offer themselves as slaves to pay a debt. Slaves were to be released after 7 years (Deuteronomy 15:12): they weren’t ruined for life. They were not to be sent away empty-handed when they were released: they were to be supplied “liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him” (verses 13-14). Masters were told, ‘You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today” (verse 15).

There were also cases of slavery by one nation conquering another, and there were differences in dealing with slaves from other cultures. One source I read said that when one nation conquered another in those times, the conquered citizens were either killed or enslaved. Thankfully that is no longer the case for the most part, although there are areas of the world where it still is.

Slavery in the NT is usually this latter type. In Be Complete (Colossians): Become the Whole Person God Intends You to Be, Wiersbe says:

Slavery was an established institution in Paul’s day. There were sixty million people in the Roman Empire, and many of them were well-educated people who carried great responsibilities in the homes of the wealthy. In many homes, the slaves helped to educate and discipline the children.

Why didn’t the church of that day openly oppose slavery and seek to destroy it? For one thing, the church was a minority group that had no political power to change an institution that was built into the social order. Paul was careful to instruct Christian slaves to secure their freedom if they could (1 Cor. 7: 21), but he did not advocate rebellion or the overthrow of the existing order.

Something should be noted: The purpose of the early church was to spread the gospel and win souls, not to get involved in social action. Had the first Christians been branded as an anti-government sect, they would have been greatly hindered in their soul winning and their church expansion. While it is good and right for Christians to get involved in the promotion of honesty and morality in government and society, this concern must never replace the mandate to go into all the world and preach the gospel (Mark 16: 15).

He shares how Christian masters and slaves were being instructed to treat each other in the epistles was a radical departure from the way things were in the Roman world at that time. He goes on to say:

The gospel did not immediately destroy slavery, but it did gradually change the relationship between slave and master. Social standards and pressures disagreed with Christian ideals, but the Christian master was to practice those ideals just the same. He was to treat his slave like a person and like a brother in Christ (Gal. 3: 28). He was not to mistreat him; he was to deal with his slave justly and fairly. After all, the Christian slave was a free man in the Lord, and the master was a slave to Christ (1 Cor. 7: 22). In the same way, our social and physical relationships must always be governed by our spiritual relationships.

Similarly, in the introductory notes for Philemon in the MacArthur Study Bible, John MacArthur says:

The NT nowhere directly attacks slavery; had it done so, the resulting slave insurrection would have been brutally suppressed and the message of the gospel hopelessly confused with that of social reform. Instead, Christianity undermined the evils of slavery by changing the hearts of slaves and masters. By stressing the spiritual equality of master and slave (v. 16; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1; 1 Tim. 6:1-2), the Bible did away with slavery’s abuses.

At least, it did away with them in instruction: it condemned mistreatment of other people in general with specific instruction on how slaves and masters were to treat each other, which rose above the standard of the times. But it took many years for the system to change. Some thoughts in regard to that:

1. God does not generally deal with everyone’s sins all at once, individually or as a people. I remember a few years after I became a Christian feeling convicted over something that I would not have thought twice about in my earlier life and being glad that God didn’t show me everything that was wrong right off the bat. That would have been so overwhelming. But as I read more of the Bible and sat under good teaching, I grew in Him, and then became more aware of things that didn’t please Him that I needed to confess and forsake. In the Bible there are things pointed out as sin in Exodus that aren’t mentioned in Genesis. Polygamy was tolerated for a time, though it was not how God designed marriage, and specific instruction was given later. In the gospels, Jesus goes beyond the mere letter of the law (thou shalt nor commit adultery) to the inner workings of the heart (if you look lustfully, you’re guilty. Matthew 5:27-28). As people have had more history and received more light, they’re more responsible.

2. God redeems people, not institutions. A former pastor said this about a different modern-day situation, but it applies here as well. As Warren Wiersbe put it in Be Faithful  (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon): It’s Always Too Soon to Quit!:

Was Paul hinting in Philemon 21 that Philemon should do even more and free Onesimus? For that matter, why did he not come right out and condemn slavery? This letter certainly would have been the ideal place to do it. Paul did not “condemn” slavery in this letter or in any of his letters, though he often had a word of admonition for slaves and their masters (Eph. 6:5–9; Col. 3:22—4:1; 1 Tim. 6:1–2; Titus 2:9–10). In fact, he encouraged Christian slaves to obtain their freedom if they could (1 Cor. 7:21–24).

During the American Civil War, both sides used the same Bible to “prove” their cases for or against slavery. One of the popular arguments was, “If slavery is so wrong, why did Jesus and the apostles say nothing against it? Paul gave instructions to regulate slavery, but he did not condemn it.” One of the best explanations was given by Alexander Maclaren in his commentary on Colossians in The Expositor’s Bible (Eerdmans, 1940; vol. VI, 301):

First, the message of Christianity is primarily to individuals, and only secondarily to society. It leaves the units whom it has influenced to influence the mass. Second, it acts on spiritual and moral sentiment, and only afterwards and consequently on deeds or institutions. Third, it hates violence, and trusts wholly to enlightened conscience. So it meddles directly with no political or social arrangements, but lays down principles which will profoundly affect these, and leaves them to soak into the general mind.

Had the early Christians begun an open crusade against slavery, they would have been crushed by the opposition, and the message of the gospel would have become confused with a social and political program. Think of how difficult it was for people to overcome slavery in England and America, and those two nations had general education and the Christian religion to help prepare the way. Think also of the struggles in the modern Civil Rights movement even within the church. If the battle for freedom was difficult to win in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, what would the struggle have been like back in the first century?

3. God often works from the inside out. Some of the quotes above touch on this concept, but in addition, in Be Faithful, Wiersbe says, “Christians in the Roman Empire could not work through local democratic political structures as we can today, so they really had no political power to bring about change. The change had to come from within, even though it took centuries for slavery to end.”

It does seem that, long before the Civil War, people in general and Christians in particular should have realized the problems with slavery and certainly should have realized that just because slavery was in the Bible doesn’t mean it was an example we should follow. There are examples not to follow in the Bible as well as examples to follow. Someone once said that the “Golden Rule” alone, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31), should have been enough to stop people from having slaves.

In the Civil War era, and likely before, some people used passages in the Bible about slaves being beaten as justification for their mistreatment of slaves (Solomon Northup tells of a situation like this in Twelve Years a Slave). But I think by and large those passages are just expressing what would happen in those days to disobedient slaves rather than justifying slavery and beatings. To pick out isolated verses to justify slavery as it was before the Civil War is to misuse the Bible: reading the whole Bible and reading in context within the big picture would avoid that problem.

Northup also said of one kind, Christian master, whom some might wonder at having had slaves, “The influences and associations that had always surrounded him, blinded him to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of slavery. He never doubted the moral right of one man holding another in subjection. Looking through the same medium with his fathers before him, he saw things in the same light. Brought up under other circumstances and other influences, his notions would undoubtedly have been different.” Booker T. Washington said something similar in Up From Slavery, not excusing slavery, but understanding that the economic system and years of history had masters firmly enmeshed in the system.

Thankfully God raised up people like William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln and others who worked against slavery until it was finally broken, at least in England and America. Unfortunately it still goes on in other areas, and even in our country people enslave others in other forms, like the horrible sex trafficking trade. I have no idea how to help, but Scripture encourages us to:

Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82:3-4

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Isaiah 58:6-7

Before I leave this subject, there is one more aspect I must consider. Throughout the Bible, our relationship with God is described in various aspects: father/child; shepherd/sheep; groom/bride; king/subjects, and others. I wrote more on this here. One of those aspects is a master and slave or bondservant. Some have said that because we’re God’s children, we’re no longer slaves, and there is a sense in which that is true. But all through the New Testament, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude, who very much preached our sonship in Christ, also called themselves servants. Jesus Himself was called a servant and took on a servant’s duty when he washed the disciples’ feet, even though He was the Son of God (Philippians 2:5-8).

In the Old Testament, there was provision for a situation in which a servant who was due for his freedom but wanted to stay with his master because he loved him could be bound to his master forever. I think this is one picture of our relationship with Christ. He doesn’t forcefully snatch us up or forcibly make us obey Him. He wants us willingly to yield ourselves to Him out of love for Him and acknowledgement of Who He is. It is an atrocity for any man to think he has a right to own anyone else, but God does “own” us, because He created us and because He paid the price for our sin. But He wants us to yield ourselves in complete trust and obedience to Him. And He wants us to serve others in love (Galatians 5:13). We were “servants of sin” before believing in Christ; now He wants us to become “servants of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).

Studying out what the Bible says about our servanthood would probably take another blog post, but it involves realizing that He is Lord, that He takes care of all our needs, that we owe all to Him, that we really have no rights apart from Him, that He deserves our all.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35

If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.John 12:26

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 2:24-25.

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 1 Peter 2:15-16.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 5:13.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:10-11.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

Some other good sources on this issue:

Does the Bible Allow For Slavery?
Why Was Slavery Allowed in the Old Testament?
Why Was Slavery Allowed in the New Testament?
A Bondservant of Jesus from My Utmost For His Highest

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Tell His Story), Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

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Thoughts on the election

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I don’t think I have said much, if anything, about this year’s presidential election. There have been too many voices carrying on ad nauseam about it, and I figure if I have been sick of it for weeks already, probably most of my readers have as well. Plus I don’t like stirring up controversy, and this election has been the most controversial in my memory.

But there are some things on my heart, and this is my outlet, so I am going to try to lay them out here. Who knows, I may get to the end and then delete it. But I want to take the swirl of different thoughts and try to set them out and examine them one by one.

Most of the blog and social media posts I have seen on election eve have been reminders that no matter who wins the election, God is in control. And that’s true.

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will. Proverbs 21:1

For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another. Psalm 75:6-7

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  Romans 13:1

Some take these truths to mean, “God’s in control so it doesn’t matter what I do or whether I do anything.” While there is a sense in which that’s true, God most often uses means (like prayer to accomplish His purpose or witnessing to bring the gospel to the lost). We can each only do in good conscience what we feel God wants us to do, but we should at least do that: pray about it and then act accordingly. I don’t think God ever intended for us to take no notice of what’s going on in the world and never participate in it because He is in control. Throughout the Bible He calls people to action even while asserting His sovereignty. Sometimes He works in spite of people or without people, but most often He seems to work through people.

I’ve even seen a few saying that since Christians are citizens of heaven and this world is not our home, we don’t even really need to participate in the election process. That, to me, falls in the category of being so “heavenly minded one is of no earthly good” and seems a slap in the face of myriads who fought and died for us to have this privilege. We have this incredible gift to have a legal say in our government, and I can’t understand not using it. I think the above truths apply here as well.

But most of the chatter I have seen has not been along the lines of opting out or disregarding the privilege to vote. It’s been more along the lines of the best way for Christians to use that vote, often fraught with deep disagreement.

My biggest problem with some of the political bantering on social media is the idea that if person A has a different view on things than person B, then B thinks there must be something defective with A’s understanding, reasoning, intelligence, motives, sanity, character, patriotism, Christianity, etc. It’s possible for good people to have very different views on what should be done and how and who should do them.

Almost every election, I’ve heard the phrase going around about choosing the lesser of two evils, meaning neither candidate is ideal. This is the first year I have heard Christians objecting to that. But no candidate is ever going to line up 100% politically and spiritually with how we think. No one like that would make it that far because that’s not how the majority of the country thinks any more. And we differ so much on some of the finer points, we wouldn’t all agree on a candidate like that anyway (that, in fact, is how I believe we ended up with the Republican candidate we have: most Christians I know were splintered between 3 or 4 of the other candidates in the primaries, dividing their votes and resulting in none of them winning). We can’t hold out for the ideal candidate: we have to choose between what we have, rather than wishing for what we don’t have.

There is such a deep divide over the issues and candidates, I fear that whoever wins, the other side will be discontent and continue to complain for months to come, if not until the next election. But once we’ve studied not only the candidates, but the platforms, and prayed, and before God in good conscience made the best choice we know how to make, we have to accept the results.

We need to remember, too, that no president operates in a vacuum. We do still have a voice: we need to be alert and use that voice to let our representatives know our views on issues.

And once it is all over, our response is to be:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 (NKJV)

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. 1 Peter 2:13-17

Those verses have all the more poignancy when we remember the kinds of rulers those writers were under.

In some ways, Christians tend to be more watchful and prayerful when their preferred candidate is not the elected one. Otherwise we tend to sit back and relax and trust everything will go well and forget about it all until the next election. But I do pray for God’s mercy in this, and, as a guest speaker prayed in church yesterday, ask that we’ll get the candidate God knows we need, not what we deserve.

And though I do believe the political process is important, and some are called to participate more than others, ultimately that’s not what helps people’s hearts or brings lasting change. Only the gospel can change hearts; only God and the Bible can change people’s thinking. Doing our part to be informed and vote is vital and necessary: doing our part to share the gospel and make disciples is even more so.

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Christians with political differences

Arguing

Photo Courtesy of Ambro at freedigitalphotos.net

Normally I stay far away from politics online, especially here. It’s just too volatile a subject, with good people on the opposite sides of some fences.

While differences and their tensions are present every election, I’ve been dismayed this year by comments such as, “I don’t see how any Christian can vote for that candidate.” We don’t need to call each other’s spirituality into question over politics.

I came across a couple of good posts this morning on the subject. Especially now that it looks like the final nominees are not the ones some of us wanted, we have been pondering what to do. In Can You Vote For Trump With a Clear Conscience? Andy Naselli discusses the options, none of which is ideal, but makes the point that believers can vote in totally opposite ways or think in different ways about this and still have a clear conscience. He’s obviously against Trump, but I’m sharing this for his delineation of the different ways a Christian’s conscience might lead him to vote, not necessarily for his views on Trump, even though I agree with many of them. For or against, “fellow Christians who are members of the same church should be able to disagree on these issues and still have close fellowship with each other” – and fellow Christians who don’t go to the same church should be able to do this with disputable matters as well.

Joel Arnold brings out many good points as well in Trump vs. Clinton: The Story of the Great Evangelical Predicament. He notes, “It’s entirely possible that there is not a single ‘right Christian response'” and “red vs. blue isn’t light vs. darkness.” “Don’t call your friend a liberal/heretic/moron because he didn’t agree with you.”

In this arena as well as all others, we need to remember:

  1. To “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:8).
  2. To be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
  3. To spend more time praying than arguing over these options.
  4. Though we do have a responsibility to be aware of issues and vote our conscience, our ultimate hope and the greatest need of any citizen is not in a political candidate.

See also:

Thoughts on Inauguration Day.
Thoughts About the Election.
Post-election Blues.

Book Review: Being Mortal

Being MortalI could wrap up my comments on Being Mortal by Atul Gawande succinctly by saying that if you plan on getting old or dying or helping a parent as they age, you need to read this book. But I’ll try to give you a bit more to go on.

I don’t know that I would have noticed this book at all except that Lisa and Joyful Reader both mentioned it. I knew they had dealt with deaths of parents and grandparents, Lisa’s mom had been in assisted living and Joyful’s grandmother lives with her, so with their experience, their praise for this book meant a lot.

I ended up marking many more pages than I can possibly share, but it’s safe to say that much in this book resonated with me.

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The subtitle of the book is Medicine and What Matters in the End, and it’s a frank treatment of end-of-life issues. Medicine, Dr. Gawande asserts, is geared to fix things. But in some cases the treatment is worse than the disease itself. And this tendency is part of what had led to institutionalizing people as they age and making it a medical matter rather than trying to give people in such situations the best days they can have in the time they have left.

Gawande notes that until fairly recently, most deaths occurred at home. Now most occur in hospitals and nursing homes “where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all the things that matter to us in life” (p. 9). In addition, it used to be that, unless you had a long, wasting illness like consumption, most deaths came suddenly like a thunderstorm. Modern medicine has been a marvel and a gift from God: many things that used to be fatal can now be treated. But like any gift, there are good ways and not so good ways to use it.

“The simple view is that medicine exists to fight death and disease, and that is, of course, its most basic task. Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And, in a war that you cannot win, you don’t want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don’t want Custer. You want Robert E. Lee, someone who knew how to fight for territory when he could and how to surrender when he couldn’t, someone who understood that the damage is greatest if all you do is fight to the bitter end.”

I appreciated his explanation of how the style of doctoring has changed over the years, from the authoritative “Dr. Knows-Best” who made all the decisions for you, to “Dr. Informative,” who merely laid out all the options and let you decide. The problem with the latter is that we don’t always know how to process the options. When the author’s own father faced a tumor in his spine, he, his father, and his mother were all doctors yet felt overwhelmed by the information and options they were receiving. A third kind of doctor is called “interpretive” and gives information as well as guidance after asking what’s most important to you and what your concerns are (pp. 100-102).

Gawande proposes a series of questions to consider when the diagnosis is terminal, questions concerning what’s most important, what one’s goals and fears are in facing the time they have left. One man said he wanted to continue to eat ice cream and watch football on TV, and he wasn’t interested in any treatment that interfered with those activities: life wasn’t worth living without them. Some are willing to live with different degrees of disability and pain: some don’t want to suffer at all. It’s good for a family to have these discussions so they have some idea what would be the most important to their loved one. Sometimes it requires more than one hard discussion: “Arriving at acceptance of one’s mortality and a clear understanding of the limits and the possibilities of medicine is a process, not an epiphany” (p. 182), and your preferences might change over time as well. But these discussions are necessary to find the best means of “living for the best possible day today instead of sacrificing time now for time later” (p. 229).

Gawande also details the journey from being independent to needing assistance to needing full time care that elderly and their families face. We’ve faced much of this with my mother-in-law over the last few years. I especially appreciated the history of nursing homes and assisted living facilities and the goals and purposes that Keren Brown Wilson, who “invented” assisted living, had when she started, and how those were originally implemented and maintained and then encroached upon to the point that she had to resign from her own board. Nursing homes themselves “were never created to help people facing dependency in old age. They were created to clear out hospital beds” (p. 71).

Many of the problems he lists in assisted living and nursing homes were the same as what we had found: loss of autonomy and privacy, loss of purpose, “tasks [coming] to matter more than the people” (p. 105), “safe but empty of anything they care about” (p. 109). “Making life meaningful in old age…requires more imagination and invention than making them merely safe does” (p. 137).

In older history and in other countries, the old are revered as having great knowledge and wisdom: “Now we consult Google, and if we have any trouble with the computer we ask a teenager” (p. 18). At least one sibling used to stay with the elderly parent(s) and help care for them, and then got a larger portion of the inheritance or perhaps the family home in place of what they gave up. Now both parents and adult children value their independence. But “our reverence for independence takes no account of the reality of what happens in life: sooner or later, independence will become impossible” (p. 22). Yet the author researched and visited several creative ways for an older adult to retain as much independence and autonomy as long as possible.

One problem is that even though geriatric specialists have been shown to enhance the lives of the elderly, geriatric units are shrinking or being closed rather than growing. “97 percent of medical students take no course in geriatrics” (p. 52). One reason is that it doesn’t pay well; another is that insurance doesn’t see the need for it. It remains for those of us who deal with the elderly or who look ahead to our own old age to be aware of issues.

When I was first looking at information about the book, I was wary that the author might promote assisted suicide for those with terminal illnesses. He does not promote it, but he would support legislation to enable giving people lethal prescriptions if asked, noting that half of them don’t use them: they just like the assurance that they could. He does note, though, that in countries where it is legal, use has grown: “But the fact that, by 2012, one in thirty-five Dutch people sought assisted suicide at their death is not a measure of success. It is a measure of failure. Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end. The Dutch have been slower than others to develop palliative care programs that might provide for it….We damage entire societies if we let this capability [assisted suicide] divert us from improving the lives of the ill. Assisted living is far harder than assisted death, but its possibilities are far greater, as well” (p. 245). (A good Christian source on some of these thorny issues is When Is It Right to Die: Suicide, Euthanasia, Suffering, Mercy by Joni Earacekson Tada.)

He also points out that it is difficult to know exactly where the lines are sometimes. “We also recognize the necessity of allowing doses of narcotics and sedatives that reduce pain and discomfort even if they may knowingly speed death” (pp. 243-244). Sometimes it is wrong to turn off a ventilator: sometimes it is right. If a 20-tyear-old was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and wanted to let “nature take its course” rather than treating the illness, we’d try to convince her that the quality of life she could have with treatment would be well worth it despite the complications: it would be ridiculous to die of diabetes when there is treatment available and the possibility of a long, productive, and happy life. On the other hand, when my father was dying of various other issues and they suspected he had colon cancer, they decided not to put him through what would be involved in diagnosing, much less treating it, because in the long run it would not make a difference in how long he would live and would only make his last months miserable.

The author writes from a secular viewpoint. As a Christian, I thought a lot about how a Christian worldview would affect this topic. As Christians we know where we and our believing loved ones are going, which takes some of the sting out of death. But we don’t take it lightly or flippantly, either. Death is still called an enemy. We hold life as a gift from God and believe He is the only one with the right to end it. It is to be given back to Him and used for His purposes. Sometimes that includes suffering, yet we’re also called to alleviate suffering if possible. While there are fears about loss of independence and abilities in older age, we can trust God to help us through that time: And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.  Isaiah 46:4. But issues and question the author brings up are needful to consider, preferably before crises hit. In some cases there is no one right answer for what kind of treatment to pursue: the answer will vary depending on a number of factors.

I like this summation near the end of the book:

I am leery of suggesting that endings are controllable. No one ever really has control. Physics and biology and accident ultimately have their way in our lives. But the point is that we are not helpless either. Courage is the strength to recognize both realities. We have room to act, to shape our stories, though as time goes on it is within narrower and narrower confines. A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives (p. 243).

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Is it nice to call someone a false prophet or a false teacher?

Caution

I don’t know whether it’s nice. But sometimes it is necessary, and oftentimes it is the most loving thing one can do.

The Bible has some pretty serious things to say about false prophets and false teachers:

Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Matthew 7:15

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. II Peter 2:1-3

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. I John 4:1

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:6-9

If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. Deuteronomy 13:1-4

I don’t recall seeing in Scripture anything along the lines of “He doesn’t speak the truth, but he is very kind…or gives food to the poor…or has such a nice family…” or whatever. For one thing, those “good works” don’t give anyone points with God. For another, the falsehood is such an important issue that it trumps whatever else the person might be doing.

And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. II Corinthians 11:12-15, ESV.

I’m not talking about every little thing people can disagree about in the Bible. People can have different views of baptism, church government, election and free will, the best Bible versions, standards of modesty, etc., and still each love God and teach the major truths of the Bible. While all of these are important and we should study the Scripture to be fully persuaded in our own minds, the Bible also teaches that people can have different convictions and should be able to still get along. I think as modern day Christians we have spent way too much time fighting amongst brethren on these things and have gotten sidetracked from the bigger picture of sharing God’s Word and making disciples (for Him, not for our views).

But there are majors issues – the fundamentals, if you will – truths that to deny would be to deny Christ and mislead people into tragedy: who God is, how a person can be rightly related to Him, the Deity of Christ, the inspiration and verity of the Bible, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, among others. When a person is wrong on these, I believe it is harmful to dwell only on the “good” he seems to be doing without warning people of his falsehoods. We don’t want to do anything to give credence to his message. That’s why I said earlier that calling a false prophet or teacher what he is can be the most loving thing you can do if it keeps someone from blindly following him into error.

I don’t think that means we have to set up web sites as false teacher watchdogs. I have come across a few like that, and though I am sure the owners meant well, the sites I have seen come across as harsh and unbalanced.

I also don’t think it means that if someone said they read a book or listened to a message from someone we would consider to be a false teacher, that we have to “pounce” on them and rip the teacher to shreds. We should be kind and compassionate with the person we’re speaking to, and part of that may be acknowledging that the person they are listening to might have some good points. We can prayerfully continue and bring biblical truth to bear in the conversation. If a person is really entrenched, we may need to just deal with one aspect at a time.

Jude 1:3 says, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” We are called to contend for the faith. Many of the epistles do just that in dealing with falsehoods making the rounds, even to the point of naming names. Interestingly, I had this started this post last week and saved it, and then last Sunday our Sunday School teacher started teaching from Jude. He said the Greek word for “contend” is used only one time in the Bible, and that is in this passage, and it has the idea of an athlete pouring everything into competing and winning with total commitment. Ephesians 5:11 goes on to say, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”

Besides contending for the faith, we need to clearly separate from false teaching.  Romans 16:17-18 says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned ; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” 2 John 1:9-11 says, “Whosoever transgresseth , and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any * unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”

Considering the above, when I quote someone or review a book, if I have some minor issues I might say something like, “I don’t agree with everything he said but I think there are good things to be gleaned from the book.” But if the author is wrong on the major issues, I can’t leave at “I disagree with some things he says”: I feel I must warn my own readers about this person’s falsehoods. Then if they want to go on and read the book, that is up to them, but at least they’ll know to compare what was written with what the Bible teaches (something we should be doing anyway.)

Warning of false teaching is one way we can we can contend for truth; we also need to be sharing truth proactively, as the Biblical writers did as well. Some years ago when David Koresh was in the news, I was astonished to hear an interview with one of his disciples commenting on his knowledge of the Bible. That person had to have had an amazing lack of previous Bible teaching or reading to think a thing like that. That’s one reason, among many others, that I have a passion to get people into the Word of God for themselves: it teaches us to know Him and His truth, helps us grow in Him, and keeps us from being deceived by false teachers who would lead us astray.

While we don’t need to set ourselves up as the False Teaching Police and become consumed with ferreting out falsehoods, we should be in the Word of God enough to recognize when we come across false teaching of it and be able to articulate the truth. It may be one thing that makes a difference in the hearts of those who hear us.

 

Book Review: Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope

Far CountryI’ve been wanting to read Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope by Christopher and Angela Yuan ever since seeing it recommended by Tim Challies, and I am glad to have finally done so. I’m predicting it will be one of my top ten books of the year.

Christopher and Angela take turns with the chapters, describing events from their different points of view. They open the book with Chris’s coming out to his parents that he was gay. Angela did not object on Biblical grounds: she was an atheist who hated Christians. I don’t think the book ever explains just why she was against his homosexuality, except that they had hoped he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a dentist, and patients would probably avoid a dentist who had the potential to be HIV positive. Maybe it just didn’t fit in with her idea of a perfect family, but it was devastating to her.

Angela had come from an unhappy home and had put great stock into having a good family. But over the years her husband grew cold and distant, her oldest son rebelled, and now Christopher was going in a direction completely unacceptable to her.  She gave him an ultimatum between his family and his homosexuality, and, believing he had no choice in his orientation, he left home to be with friends who would accept him as he was. Angela crumpled to the ground in despair, feeling she had nothing left to live for. She made plans to end her own life, but wanted to talk to a minister first. Though he was kind, nothing really changed in her heart. He gave her a booklet which she later read, and her eyes were opened to the truth that her lifelong desire for belonging could be fulfilled in belonging to God. It was even a relief to know and admit that she was a sinner, that though she was far from perfect, God still loved her. “I had not been seeking God, but I was found by him” (p. 19).

Chris, for his part, was glad to get away from the “Chinese-mother guilt-trip drama” (p. 8). Coming out to one’s parents and the inevitable negative reaction was a rite of passage among his friends. He finally felt free to live as he wanted to. He “started going to gay clubs and began tending bar” (p. 23) at night while attending dental school during the day. Eventually the party scene took over his life. While feeling low after a broken relationship, he accepted someone’s offer of the drug Ecstasy, and within a very short time started selling drugs to support his own habit, then became a popular and leading seller in his area and even across the country. His schooling suffered to the point that he was eventually expelled, but it no longer mattered since he was making money hand over fist and enjoying life and popularity.

Until he was arrested.

During this time Angela had been growing in her own faith and her husband Leon had come to the Lord as well. At first she tried various things to get through to Chris but finally realized that she could not “fix” him. She could only fast, pray, show him love, and not shield him from the consequences of his actions. She and her husband did not intervene when Chris was threatened with expulsion from school and after he was arrested asked the judge to give him a sentence just long enough to bring him to God. Once after reading Psalm 46:1, “Be still, and know that I am God,” she knew “as hard as it was, I knew I had to quit striving and trying to make things work my way. But rather, I had to let God do things his way and in his timing” (p. 73). “It may have just been easier for us to give up on our son, but God said, Wait! He gave us faith to hope against all the evidence we saw and to trust he had a plan, Leon and I committed to focus not on hopelessness but on the promises of God” (p. 109). She “prayed specifically that God would do whatever it took to bring our son to him — not to us, not out of drugs, not out of homosexuality…but to the Father” (p. 159).

With Christopher’s arrest, his popularity vanished. None of his “friends” wanted any more to do with him. One day in prison, he saw a Gideon’s New Testament on top of some trash, and he took it back to his cell and began to read mainly just as a way to pass the time. Over time, both with reading the Bible on his own and studying it with others, Chris came to believe on Christ.

Being in prison had taken care of getting Chris off drugs and out of the party scene, and he came to admit they were both wrong and he needed to stay away from them once he got out. When he talked with a chaplain about his homosexuality, he was told that the Bible did not condemn homosexuality and gave Chris a book explaining that view. That sounded wonderful to Chris, but as he read the book and then studied the Bible, he felt the book did not line up with what the Bible taught. He did discover that in “Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 — passages normally used to condemns gays and lesbians…God didn’t call lesbians and gay men abominations. He called it an abomination. What God condemned was the act, not the person. For so long, I had gotten the message from the Christian protestors at gay-pride parades that the God of the Bible hated people like me, because we were abominations. But after reading these passages, I saw that God didn’t hate me; nor was he condemning me to an inescapable destiny of torment. But rather, it was the sex he condemned, and yet he still wanted an intimate relationship with me” (p. 186). Being gay had been a major part of his identity, but as he continued to study the Scriptures, he “began to ask myself a different question: Who am I apart from my sexuality?” (p. 187). He details his thought processes and conclusions in a chapter called “Holy Sexuality.” One conclusion was:

God’s faithfulness is proved not by the elimination of hardships but by carrying us through them. Change is not the absence of struggles; change is the freedom to choose holiness in the midst of our struggles. I realized that the ultimate issue has to be that I yearn after God in total surrender and complete obedience (pp. 168-169).

This book touched me on so many levels. What a joy to see the journey of how God brought both Christopher and his parents to Himself.

Christopher’s testimony from a documentary is here:

You can read more of Christopher’s life and ministry at his web site, www.christopheryuan.com.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

 

 

A revival of what?

Some days ago I turned on the radio to catch the news at noon, and caught the last few minutes of the prayer time my Christian radio station has right before 12:00. As I listened, I heard the announcer pray for “a revival of Biblical values” in our society. I stopped in my tracks and thought, “What?

50sI’m sure he meant well, and I am pretty sure I know what he meant, but that request struck me as a little off-base. I had the same reaction as I do when people speak of “reclaiming our culture for Christ.” I know they don’t mean this, but it brings to mind a 50s-style era where people were at least fairly decent in their lifestyles and even to some extent “God-fearing.” The problem is you can have a pleasant culture exactly like that with most of its members totally lost and on their way to hell.

I don’t think we’re called to reclaim cultures or promote Biblical values without the underlying base of trying to introduce people to the Lord. He has called us to make disciples. That kind of change comes from within and then influences a person’s actions which will then result in a change of values. Trying to promote Biblical values without a heart change is coming at things from the outside. It may make a person easier to live with, but it doesn’t change their destiny or character. But in this postmodern era, especially, Biblical values don’t make sense to someone without a Biblical heart.

I don’t mean that Christians should not be active in government. I’ve been listening to bits of Stephen Davey’s message “Stay on Task” (in other places it appears to be named “I Pledge Allegiance, Part II”) on the radio. I agree with the general thrust of his message that “The mission of the church is not moral reformation, but spiritual transformation” and “Our true battle is against the kingdom of darkness which has blinded the minds of the world to believe that God is not watching.” (It’s a great message – I encourage you to listen to or read it). On the other hand, just because Jesus or the apostles never tried to organize voters or push for campaign issues doesn’t mean it is wrong to do so. Unlike Bible times, we do have a government in these days where we can use our voice. We should first of all pray “For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (I Timothy 2:1-3). And personally I believe we should at least vote, as intelligently as possible. To be given such a gift at this time in history and not use it would be terribly negligent. Some might be called to do more, as described in the article “Is Voting Enough?” I think it is good for Christians to be involved in government as in every other segment of society, to be salt and light there. Since our government can be influenced by our voices, I am grateful for some who keep on top of issues, stand for the right, keep voters informed, and voice our concerns to our representatives. I don’t believe our ultimate hope is in government, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a tool in God’s hands that can be used for good. Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.” God didn’t tell people to abandon their horses, but He told them rather to remember that ultimately safety is of Him. Our trust is in Him, not in any tools, even though He may use various tools to accomplish His objectives.

And in past history He has done so without a conservative culture or a representative form of government. I am extremely thankful for both of those and I hope we keep them. But the church can and should thrive with or without them. In Paul’s time, dictators were in power, yet the church grew in numbers and in character.

While we can and should use the tools at our disposal, those pursuits should never take priority over the basics of what God has called us to: being salt and light wherever we are, showing His love and grace to people, and telling them about the only God and Savior who alone can save them and meet their needs.