Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dirty Worship Team (The Existential Dilemma In The Churches)

            In his article entitled “Drunken Worship Leaders and Mercenary Musicians,” Dr. Brown launched a scathing attack on the hypocrisy of certain worship leaders, “If there’s anyone in the body of Christ who should be an example of purity of heart and purity of life, it is the worship leader, the man or woman who leads God’s people into his holy presence. Yet it is increasingly common to hear about worship leaders getting drunk after church services and dropping f-bombs while they boast about their “liberty” in the Lord. Some churches even hire unsaved musicians to play on their worship teams because of their talent. How can this be happening in the house of the Lord?”1

            This crisis could be experienced by many churches, if not all, for the simple reason that all are imperfect. Worship leaders are not immune to imperfection.

            However, expectation of a high moral standard for a Christian leader is reasonable and biblical (Cf. 1 Timothy 3). Christian leadership includes worship leaders, and those in the worship team should also be deemed a part of the church leadership (secondary leadership, if you may) because they are upfront and leading the congregation, in worship - albeit passively; not interacting directly with the congregation.  

            It’s not just the drunkenness and/or the F-bombing members of the worship team that’s the bane of the local church. The imperfection extends far beyond that.

            Consider the anger issues or the rebellious attitude of some in the worship team or the gossip machinery laden with unjust judgment or the groupism predicated on every frivolous possibility or the trampling of the lesser talented members by their more talented counterparts. Each problem mentioned above is not inferior to drunkenness or F-bombing, from the perspective of sin, because it neither glorifies God nor elevates the worship team members to a higher moral standard.

            So there is an existential dilemma in the church (with respect to the worship team). Godly wisdom is absolutely mandatory to resolve this dilemma.  

            Without implying that Christians are way better than non-Christians, should the church hire non-Christian musicians for their worship team? Having non-Christians to play in the church worship team is a risky proposition from a spiritual perspective. Dr. Brown emphasizes this aspect, “…What? A God-mocking atheist playing guitar on a church worship team? And what happens when they pray together and seek God’s heart? Or do they even pray together at all?

            Little did I realize that it is becoming more and more common for churches to hire musicians who have no connection to their church—and sometimes no connection to the Lord—to play in their Sunday morning services. Forget about unity in the Spirit. Forget about harmony in the Lord. Forget about ministering under the anointing. The show must go on!

            Oh yes, it’s important that we do things with excellence, and I know that a poor musician or an off-key singer or a lousy sound system can drag down a whole service. And as a musician myself, saved as a 16-year-old, heroin-shooting, LSD-using rock drummer in 1971, I fully understand the power of music, especially anointed music. And I believe that the laborer is worthy of his hire and that those who sacrificially serve should be compensated. But I also understand that God hates foreign mixtures, that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, and that the spirit of the world and the Spirit of worship are incompatible.” (Emphasis Mine).2

            Should the church accept (into the worship team) only those who do not show any outward imperfections? This is one possibility. An entailment of this principle is that those accepted into the worship team should have been an active member of that church for a minimum period of one or two years or more. The one year (minimum) active membership could reveal the moral credibility of that member to the church.

            But what if a musically anointed person joins the church and desires to be a part of the worship team immediately? Would the church management provide an exception for this member, thereby antagonizing those who are in the shelf waiting for their chance to participate in the worship team? This is for each church to deal with.

            If a church is dogmatic about allowing members without any outward imperfections (so to speak) into the worship team, then it is quite possible that the church ignores or overlooks the other imperfections of that person. There could be hidden sins in that person as well (e.g. if that person plays dirty politics at the workplace and the church does not have any clue whatsoever about this imperfection or if he/she abuses his/her spouse or children, and the abused parties are silent…the list is endless).   

            How should the church respond when their worship team members are found in sin? This is a gazillion dollar question for every church.

            The easier option is to fire those who are caught in sin from the worship team. But then the Lord’s gracious response to the woman caught in adultery would haunt the legalistic decision of the church management, “Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”” (John 8: 11b, NASB).

            But the church management would argue that the lady caught in adultery was not an elder, overseer or a deacon in the local synagogue or the church. Hence, they may further argue, that the instance of Christ’s gracious interaction with the woman caught in adultery does not apply to the decision of the church, in our context.

            Very well!

            Did Jesus employ sinless people as HIS disciples? No. There were horrendous imperfections in every one of HIS disciples, even to the every end of Christ’s earthly life.

            God chose imperfect people to accompany HIM day and night while HE was on earth! What a great honor and an awesome privilege rendered to imperfect people by God! And these were the very imperfect people whom Christ trusted (so to speak) to carry out HIS great commission to the very ends of the earth.

            In other words, the Lord Jesus was extremely gracious. HE did not focus on the imperfections of HIS disciples. HE kept forgiving them seventy times seven (Cf. Matthew 18: 21-22). Therefore, the church does have the option to forgive the sinning member as long as he is truly repentant of his/her sins.      

            The member found in sin should be corrected. Forgiveness notwithstanding, the church should also encourage and monitor the sinning members to quit their sinful deed. Whether the church suspends or allows the worship team member to participate in the team while he/she is on the corrective path is up to the church.

            But what if one or a few in the Church leadership (Pastor, Elders, Overseers, Deacons) are also guilty of the sins committed by the errant worship team member? Would the church then deal with the errant worship team member with a high-handed approach while being soft by overlooking the sins of the influential leader of the church? It goes without saying that the church should be consistent in its operations.

            There is another element of risk in this business and in this very context. Consider a pastor or an elder who drinks in moderation (I have no idea whatsoever about the precise definition of “moderation,” but then that topic is for another day!). It is quite possible that a worship team member could follow the footsteps of this pastor / elder by drinking in moderation and still retaining the hallowed halo of holiness upon himself. But in due course of time, the member could become a victim to drunkenness.

            In this very situation, it was the pastor / elder’s practice of moderate drinking that led to the worship team member’s drunkenness. This is another dilemma the church has to constantly confront.

            What if the worship team member refuses to acknowledge his/her sins? How should the church engage this situation?

            Confronting a sin should not be based on the witness of a single person. Instead it should be based on the witness of two or three [credible] witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15 & 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1Timothy 5:19). If the member is proven to be sinful and if the said member refuses to acknowledge his/her sins, the church has all the liberty to fire that person (1 Corinthians 5:5, 13b).

            Is firing the only option? No! The church can be gracious in its actions as well. Once again each church has to deal with their situation with the measure of godly wisdom that they seek to perform with.

            Someone said, "the church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners." Humble and repentant sinners have a great role to play in the church of Jesus Christ. A gracious church is one whose leadership, first and foremost, accepts that they are wretched sinners as anyone else. Grace flows top down.

            A church that rejects a notion that it consists of sinful members, whose leaders are as sinful if not more, rejects the gospel of grace. As Christian theologian Father Hans Küng said, “…The church must constantly be aware that its faith is weak, its knowledge dim, its profession of faith halting, that there is not a single sin or failing which it has not in one way or another guilty of. And though it is true that the church must always disassociate itself from sin, it can never have any excuse for keeping any sinners at a distance. If the church remains self-righteously aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God’s kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”

            Therefore, every decision of the local church should be overflowing with the grace of God. Such a church is the need of the hour and that church will overcome all its existential dilemmas by the grace of God and with godly wisdom.

Endnotes:

1http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/38195-drunken-worship-leaders-and-mercenary-musicians


2Ibid.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Can A Celibate Gay Be A Christian?

            Celibacy refers to abstaining from sexual relations. Celibate gay refers to a person who is attracted towards same sex people but does not indulge in same sex sexual intercourse. When Christianity, which deems homosexuality as a sin, is brought into this context, a pertinent question is whether a Christian with homosexual orientation, but not practicing homosexuality, claim to be a genuine Christian?

Critical Definitions

            Homosexual Orientation: A person who is attracted to members of his own sex.

            Homosexual Behavior / Practice: A person who practices sex with members of his own sex. 

            Homosexual: (A homosexual could address himself / herself so by virtue of his / her sexual orientation or by virtue of his / her sexual behavior.) From a Christian standpoint, a person is a homosexual when he engages in homosexual behavior (practices homosexual acts). A person with heterosexual tendencies could also be a homosexual. In other words, a heterosexual person could have homosexual orientation to practice homosexuality.

            A person desiring to rob another person is not a thief. A person who physically robs another person is a thief. A person who desires to rob merely has the potency or the capacity to become a thief. Until he / she physically robs another person, this person cannot be termed as a thief. Just as how a thief is a thief only when he physically robs his victim, a homosexual is a homosexual only when he engages in homosexual behavior.

Why Can A Practicing Homosexual NOT Be A Christian?

            The Bible deems homosexuality as a sin. Hence Christians cannot practice homosexuality. A practicing gay person cannot be a Christian, for the simple reason that sins cannot be legitimized and a Christian cannot volitionally live a sinful life.  

            The Bible does not condemn homosexual orientation. But the Bible categorizes certain actions as sins. So they remain to be sins irrespective of any compulsions – sociological or biological or whatever. When Christians endorse homosexuality, they declassify homosexuality as a sin. This is a problem. Why?

            Certain actions (and thoughts too) have been classified as sins by God. Sins such as homosexuality or child sex cannot be declassified as sins by man. Fundamentally, sins are an assault on God (i.e. HIS commands). Hence God alone has the authority to declassify a sin. Since the Bible, which is the Word of God, does not declassify homosexuality as a sin, homosexual practice is a sin.

            If a gay person claims to be a Christian, he or she has taken the prerogative of declassifying homosexuality as a sin (by twisting the relevant verses in the Bible). Since man has no authority to declassify a sin; man’s declassification of homosexuality as a sin is moot. Therefore, Christians cannot practice homosexuality.

Can A Celibate Gay Be A Christian?

            A genuine Christian recognizes sins and keeps them in their proper place. Sins are a part and parcel of a Christian life in the sense that the Christian could be a victim of sporadic or constant temptation.  

            From the perspective of temptation, a Christian is oriented to sin when he is tempted. But when a Christian is tempted, he may or may not sin. (When the Christian sins, he confesses his sins to God and repents.) If a Christian does not sin, he is not a sinner per se. Hence, even if a Christian is oriented to sin, he is not a sinner unless he performs that sinful deed.

            A married woman may be sexually attracted to a man, who is not her husband. But if she controls her sexual attraction, by the grace of God, she remains sinless in this context. Similarly, Christians with homosexual orientation would remain sinless, if they control their sinful urge, by the grace of God, and do not indulge in sinful sexual practice with members of their own sex. So a person with homosexual orientation but not practicing homosexuality can surely be a Christian.

Orientation Need Not Translate Into Sins

            If a person was brutally deceived by his friend, he could be oriented to attack the deceiver (the attack need not necessarily be a physical attack). But the Bible mandates us to love our enemies. So even if we are oriented to deceive or injure the person who betrayed us, we are called to suppress that orientation by the grace of God so to not indulge in sin. Similarly homosexual orientation or the sexual attraction to members of same sex could be suppressed by the grace of God.

Could Christians Embrace Celibacy?

            Celibacy certainly has its place among Christians, “…Bible defines marriage as between one man and one woman, rather than two persons of the same sex. In Matthew 19:4–5, Jesus connects the phenomenon of marriage with the fact of our having been created male and female. Marriage is predicated on gender difference; it’s because we’re male and female that we have this thing called marriage. Jesus then goes on to show that the only godly alternative to marriage is singleness. When the disciples balk at the intended lifelong implications of marriage (v. 10), Jesus points them to the example of the eunuchs—the long-term singles of his day (vv. 11–12). If marriage is too much commitment, there’s the option of celibacy. Jesus gives no third alternative, whether cohabitation or some alternative construal of marriage.

            For marriage to be a parable of Christ and the church, it must be between like and unlike, male and female. Change this arrangement, and you end up distorting the spiritual reality to which it points. Alter marriage, and you end up distorting a picture of the gospel itself…So if this is the ultimate purpose of marriage, where does that leave singleness? Are those of us who are celibate wasting our sexuality by not giving expression to our sexual desires?

            It means singleness, like marriage, has a unique way of testifying to the gospel of grace. Jesus said there will be no marriage in the new creation. In that respect we’ll be like the angels, neither marrying nor being given in marriage (Matt. 22:30). We will have the reality; we will no longer need the signpost.

            By foregoing marriage now, singleness is a way of both anticipating this reality and testifying to its goodness. It’s a way of saying this future reality is so certain that we can live according to it now. If marriage shows us the shape of the gospel, singleness shows us its sufficiency. It’s a way of declaring to a world obsessed with sexual and romantic intimacy that these things are not ultimate, and that in Christ we possess what is.

            This doesn’t mean our sexual feelings are redundant, dangling unfulfilled like the equivalent of an appendix. The consummation our sexual feelings long for can (if we let them) point us to a greater consummation to come. They remind us that what we forego on a temporal plane now, we will enjoy in fullness in the new creation for eternity. Sexual unfulfillment itself becomes a means of deepening our sense of the fuller, deeper satisfaction we await in Jesus. It helps us to hunger more for him. We skip the appetizer, but we await the entrée.

            Celibacy isn’t a waste of our sexuality; it’s a wonderful way of fulfilling it. It’s allowing our sexual feelings to point us to the reality of the gospel. We will never ultimately make sense of what our sexuality is unless we know what it is for—to point us to God’s love for us in Christ.”1

Dangers in Celibate Gay Christian Movement

            Celibate gay Christian movement, as the name suggests, is a growing movement of celibate gay and lesbian Christians, who teach gay people to use their same sex attraction to serve God. Hence, on this view, the celibate gay Christian movement purports the sinlessness of same sex attraction because of their celibacy.

            There are two innate dangers in the conceptualization of this movement:

            (1) Flawed Identity: The members of this group need not be identified as celibate gay Christians. Instead, they could identify themselves as celibate Christians, who struggle(d) with gay attraction.

            Christians are identified as the disciples of the Lord Jesus and the children of the living God. Identifying ourselves based on our sinful proclivities is unnecessary, for we are redeemed people.

            (2) Flawed Thought Process: If a Christian wife is sexually attracted to a man, who is not her husband, and if she does not control her sexual urge, she has sinned in her thoughts. The engagement of this sexual attraction, even in thought, is sinful. Hence, this sinful thought ought to be confessed to God and repented to gain HIS forgiveness and liberation from this sinful thought process.

            Similarly, Professor Denny Burk posits the sinfulness of same sex attraction (SSA), “The defining element of same-sex attraction is desire for a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex. Once that desire is removed, it is no longer SSA. It is just friendship. In that sense, same-sex attraction is not a means to better, more holy friendships. It is an impediment to them. When one feels himself desiring a sexual relationship with a person of the same-sex, the only appropriate response is repentance from sin (2 Tim. 2:22). It is not right or helpful to think of that sinful attraction as the foundation for building holy friendships. It is not.”2

            Just as how the Christian wife struggling with her sinful sexual attraction cannot legitimize her sin by claiming that she is hardwired to be sexually attracted to men, Christians struggling with same sex attraction cannot legitimize their sinful same sex attraction. Just as how a Christian with sinful thought process ought to repent and claim forgiveness, the celibate Christians struggling with same sex attraction ought to repent and claim forgiveness, so to continue living as normal people and not as gay people.

Endnotes:

1https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/how-celibacy-can-fulfill-your-sexuality


2http://www.christianity.com/christian-life/political-and-social-issues/celibate-gay-christians-is-that-biblical.html    

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

F-Bombs and Bikinis: Being Gracious

            A thematically pertinent and a well articulated article entitled, “F-Bombs and Bikinis: What It Really Means to Be a “Christian,”” emphasized the conflict between spiritual pride and grace.1 However, this article missed emphasizing something of equal value.

            While God’s grace is a fascinating subject to comprehend; the antagonist of grace - spiritual pride - inflicts a greater damage upon Christianity than F-bombs and bikinis.

            Holiness (of a Christian) is an entailment of God’s grace. Holiness cannot be diluted or compromised. But before we get to the aspect of holiness that has been compromised, either intentionally or unintentionally, here’s the article:

            “Christian subcultures are an entertaining phenomenon. Multiple brands of Christianity claim the same Lord and read the same Bible, and yet they promote a set of values sometimes as different as apples and orangutans.

            I once heard a story about a Christian woman from the East Coast who confronted a West Coast youth-pastor, who allowed “mixed bathing” at youth events. “I can’t believe any so-called Christian leader would allow boys and girls to swim together!” She expressed her concern, all the while puffing on a cigarette. The youth pastor couldn’t help but smile, speechless at the irony.

            I attended a conservative Brethren church when I lived in Scotland. Some of the women wore head coverings and none of them spoke in church. When I had our Irish pastor and his wife over for dinner, I asked them what he would like to drink. “Beer please,” the preacher said. “And for you, madam?” “I’ll take a glass of Chardonnay, thank you.” Were they liberal or conservative? I guess it depends on which subculture you come from.

            When you try to cut out Christians with a religious cookie cutter, you not only tarnish diversity, but you trample on grace. It’s one thing for Christian subcultures to cultivate unique values. But it becomes destructive when those values are chiseled on Sinaitic tablets for all to obey.

            It’s even worse when Christians expect instant holiness from recent converts—holiness, that is, in areas where we think we’ve nailed it.

            It’s a shame that some believers have scoffed at some of Shia Labeouf’s recent comments about converting to Christianity, pointing fingers at the fact that he still uses bad language weeks after becoming a Christian. It’s worth noting that some are speculating that Labeouf’s conversion may have actually been more of a rather dramatic example of method acting than a true conversion but, regardless, many Christians chose to focus on his language instead of his heart. God only knows the true believers from the false. But to judge a man’s faith because there’s a residue of potty mouth?

            Bad language may take years to weed out. Even more difficult to extract is the pride that drives judgmental Christians to mock the Spirit’s work in a man seeking his Creator. That sin could take decades to discover. Grace means that we are all works in progress, and God shaves off our rough edges in His timing. Just look at the thugs God works with in the Bible.

            I know we’re programmed to see the 12 apostles as saints with halos and contemplative faces. But actually, they were criminals. These guys were more like prisoners than pastors, and few of them would have been let inside our churches today.

            Take Peter, for instance. Peter walked with Jesus for three years, witnessing miracle after miracle, sermon after sermon. Still, on the night before Jesus’ death, a servant girl asked Peter if he knew Jesus. “I do not know the man!” Peter responded. And he even evoked a curse on himself to prove he wasn’t lying (Matthew 26:74).

            Can you imagine if your pastor did that? “Good morning, church. I just want to say that I don’t even know who Jesus is!” We have a hard time forgiving pastors who commit adultery. I don’t think we’d know how to handle a pastor who had a public bout with doubt.

            Then there’s James and John, whom Jesus nicknames “sons of thunder.” Apparently, they never made it through an anger management seminar. On one occasion, these two hotheads wanted to nuke an entire village because they wouldn’t let them spend the night (Luke 9:51-56). The whole village—women and children. Luckily, Jesus stepped in to prevent the destruction. These two holy apostles would have been better fit as bouncers outside an expensive casino in Vegas owned by a mobster, than preachers of the gospel of love.

            My favorite pair is Simon the “Zealot” and Matthew the tax-collector. How did those two thugs get along?

            Matthew’s vocation was nothing less than political and religious treason. Tax-collectors were Jewish agents of Rome, who mediated pagan oppression through taking money from innocent people. Imagine if you found out that your childhood friend was making a living off funneling money to ISIS. Would you use him to plant a church? Apparently, Jesus did.

            Tax-collectors were more than extortionists. They were known for living excessively immoral lives and hanging out with all the wrong people. Religious Jews, in fact, believed that tax-collectors were past the point of repentance. Matthew didn’t have a moral bone in his body. But of course, after becoming a Christian, he immediately stopped sinning and never used bad language ever again.

            Yeah right.

            Simon, as a “Zealot,” probably grew up on the other side of the tracks. The “Zealots” were named such not because they were prayer warriors. They were just warriors—Jewish jihadists. The “Zealots” were known for killing their Roman oppressors or other Jews who were sell-outs. They were aggressive, violent and they did anything but love their enemies. Had Simon met Matthew on the streets, there’s a good chance one of them would have been found lying in chalk.

            To build His Kingdom, Jesus handpicks what could be compared to the leader of the Black Panther party and the grand wizard of the KKK. I doubt anyone closed their eyes at that first prayer meeting.

            You cannot sanitize grace. You can’t stuff it into a blue blazer and make it wear khakis. Grace is messy, offensive and it sometimes misses church. To expect God to pump prefabricated plastic moral people out of a religious factory is to neuter grace and chain it inside a gated community. If God’s scandalous relationship with the 12 thugs means anything, then we should expect a variegated spectrum of righteousness and be patient—or repentant—when such sanctification doesn’t meet out expectations. God meets us in our mess and pushes holiness out the other side.

            Not anti-mixed-bathing holiness. But the real stuff. The holiness that serves the poor, prays without ceasing, redeems the arts, loves enemies, elevates community above corporate success, and preaches the life-giving Gospel of a crucified and risen Lamb in season and out.”2

            There’s more to holiness. Holiness is transformation; we are being transformed into HIS likeness from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3: 18, RSV).

            The fundamental transformation in every Christian should enable them to recognize their own wretchedness (cf. Romans 7: 15-24). Unless the Christian recognizes his own wretchedness, he would not be gracious to his fellow Christian.

            A Christian who recognizes himself as the worst of all sinners (cf. 1 Timothy 1: 15) will be gracious to his Christian neighbor. He will graciously offer the “F-bombing Christian” the much needed guidance to grow spiritually without condoning or condemning his sin.

            The fact that Christ worked with “thugs,” does not offer us immunity to continue being a thug. There was transformation in the life of all the disciples – from unbelief to belief and from bad to good.

            In fact, Peter emphasized the need to not curse or swear, “…Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.” (1 Peter 3:10, NIV). James, the brother and disciple of Christ, reflected the same thought, “…but no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.” (James 3: 8-10, RSV).

            Therefore, just as the disciples of the Lord transformed and grew in their spirituality because of their love for the Lord Jesus Christ, we should grow and be transformed into Christ’s likeness. May we also help each other to grow spiritually by not condemning each other’s sins; may we be gracious Christians.

Endnotes:

1http://faithit.com/f-bombs-and-bikinis-what-it-really-means-to-be-a-christian/, last accessed on 9th March 2017.


2Ibid. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Marriages Made In Heaven? What Happens If You Do Not Marry The Person of God’s Choice?

            The question “Are marriages made in heaven?” is akin to asking “Does God bring the right person for marriage into the life of a Christian?” or “Does God create two people (man and woman) specifically for each other?”

            The Bible suggests that God brings the right person into the lives of Christians for the purpose of marriage. The first marriage between Adam and Eve and Isaac’s marriage to Rebecca was ordained by God (Genesis 24). Proverbs 19:14 indicates God’s activity in bringing the right person into the life of a Christian for marriage, “…a congenial spouse comes straight from God.” (MSG). Matthew 19: 6 also suggests that God ordains a Christian marriage from the perspective that HE brings the right person to the Christian for marriage.

            Although God may choose the right person for us to marry, is it not possible for imperfect humans to disregard God’s choice for our own? Young Christian men and women seeking God’s will for their marriage (that God would show the person HE has chosen for them) is a common sight in the God-fearing stratum of Christendom. But how many Christians marry the person God has chosen for them?

            Building selfish preconditions into our marriage invariably purges God from our marriage equation. God, who commanded prophet Hosea to marry the adulterous Gomer, cannot be limited to our convenient whims and fancies.

            A mere glance into the selfish thoughts and plans driving the Christian marriages in the Indian subcontinent is an adequate proof of our whimsical convenience that eliminates God from the marriage preparations. Christians, in India, seek to marry people from their own caste or clan (e.g. same language groups). Casteism is man-made and is abhorrent in God’s sight. So God would not sternly command a man to marry a woman from within his own caste.

            There are those Christians, within and outside the Indian subcontinent, who seek to marry the affluent or the well educated. Other Christians seek educational harmony for marriage - a software engineer seeking to marry another software engineer or a doctor seeking to marry another doctor. Few Christians seek to marry only the beautiful / handsome member of the opposite sex. This list could go on and on.

            When our cozy and convenient preconditions determine our choice of spouse, God disappears from our marriage equation.

            Consider this theme from another vantage point. Do long-lasting and joyous Christian marriages imply a rigorous obedience to God’s choice of the marriage partners? If you think so, then I beg to differ. Why?

            Reflect on the non-Christian marriages that are happy and long-lasting. Obviously they neither sought nor obeyed the God of the Bible while choosing their spouse. Hence I conclude that the presence of happy and long-lasting non-Christian marriages provides adequate proof that all happy and long-lasting Christian marriages need NOT necessarily be a consequence of a righteous and a rigorous obedience to God.

            Then there is the tragic element of “drama or performance” in Christian marriages. There are Christian marriages that falsely portray an image of a godly or a loving union to their audience.

            Some Christian couples constantly quarrel for all things big and small. There are those who have not shared a same bedroom for years or decades! A few Christian couples do not love their spouse truly, but robotically live out their marriage for the sake of their children or for the sake of their reputation in the church / workplace / society. Without an iota of doubt, fraudulent Christian marriages exist in Christendom.

            The question we should ask is, “would God have architected such a fraudulent Christian marriage?” No!

            God desires that the husband love his wife and the wife submits to her husband. This is the Christian paradigm for marriage. Hence, God would not have architected a Christian marriage where love and submission are entirely missing.

            So to recap:

1. God brings the right person for marriage into the life of a Christian.

2. Sinful man’s imperfection could disregard God’s choice of spouse for his/her marriage.

2.1. Existence of happy and long-lasting Christian marriages need not necessarily indicate obedience to God’s choice of spouse.

2.2. Existence of fraudulent Christian marriages reveal man’s disregard of God’s choice of spouse for his marriage.

            The possibility of Christians disregarding God’s choice of spouse is overwhelming. Yet if a Christian married a person of God’s choice, it is still uncertain that their marriage would be innately joyous and without any trace of squabbles.

            Why?

            Imperfection of man and the possibility of devil’s attack on a Christian marriage could lead to instability. The [imperfect] husband and the wife, despite obeying God, need not be immune to Satan’s lure and temptations.

            The date and time of devil’s assault upon a Christian marriage will not be stated. Hence, Christian marriages cannot be so smug about its apparent stability.

            Presence of one spiritually weak partner in the Christian marriage is the perfect recipe for the devil to feast on the Christian marriage. The devil will manipulate and devour the weak link to ruin a Christian marriage.

            Yet if God’s protective hedge is upon a Christian marriage so to prevent the devil looting the Christian sanity from it, the possibility of man’s freewill usurping the stability of the marriage is plausible.

            Consider our present context that demands the employment of both the husband and the wife in a majority of urban Christian households. In such as situation, a Christian marriage would crumble if one partner transmits the anger and disappointment from their respective workplace into their marriage.

            Notwithstanding the devil and man’s freewill, it is normatively sufficient for a marriage to crumble because of an imperfect upbringing of either of the partners in the marriage. Consider the case of “anxious attachment” that causes jealousy and unduly worry in a partner that potentially leads to the demise of a marriage, “Anxious attachment is a way of describing the way some people connect with others — especially emotionally significant others — in their lives,” said Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and speaker. Individuals with an anxious attachment believe they’re flawed, inadequate and unworthy of love, she said.

            Our attachment styles develop in infancy. Some infants perceive their parents as inconsistently available, which distressed them (understandably so, “children need their caregivers for their very survival”).

            When kids become distressed, their parents may give them extra attention. These kids also may receive attention when they meet others’ needs.

            Over time, “they develop a characteristic sense of feeling needy for attention and needing others to help soothe them,” said Becker-Phelps, author of Insecure in Love: How Anxious Attachment Can Make You Feel Jealous, Needy, and Worried and What You Can Do About It.

            Kids with an anxious attachment grow up to believe they need to earn others’ support and attention because they’re essentially flawed, she said. They believe they aren’t loved for themselves, but for what they do for others or how they respond to their needs.

            Naturally, such beliefs negatively affect their relationships. Anxiously attached individuals are often self-critical and regularly question themselves, which “can be tiring to friends and loved ones who try to be supportive.”

            They also cling to their relationships and get jealous easily. They expect others to leave them because, inevitably, they believe they’re going to disappoint others, said Becker-Phelps.”1

            The writing on the wall is this; the Lord Jesus said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6: 34c, NASB). So disagreements and troubles will be an inherent part of a Christian marriage whether the couple obeyed God or not.

            This is not an imperative to not seek God’s will in your marriage. But God’s will should be sought while choosing the spouse and married couples should constantly seek God to keep their marriages safe and alive.

            If you doubt whether you married the person of God’s choice, do not fret or fear. You can still make your marriage a success, if you both seek the Lord fervently. If your marriage is treading stormy waters, do not worry, but remain prayerfully steadfast in the Lord, who alone has the power to calm the storm.

Endnotes:

1https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/08/02/when-you-regularly-feel-insecure-in-your-relationship/, last accessed on 2nd March 2017. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Miley Cyrus Hates Christianity! How Do We Respond?

            Miley Cyrus can choose to perform Lakshmi Pooja than watch the Superbowl LI (51); none would object.1 But when Miley Cyrus spews venom upon Historic Christianity; Christians should respectfully object. Millions of youngsters love Miley and consider her as their idol. So Miley’s thoughts could subtly and swiftly replace the thoughts and actions of these young fans.

            Prior to probing Miley’s tirade against Christianity, her spiritual evolution should be considered. Miley, once upon a time, loved the God of the Bible. However, as she began to grow older, she apostatized and embarked to wallop Christianity.

            Consider Miley’s spiritual evolution, “Less than a decade ago, Cyrus was considered a role model for young girls. As a teen, the "Hannah Montana" star refused to dress immodestly, telling People Magazine, "I like to look kind of like what girls would want to look up to, and their moms and dads will say, 'Hey, that's cool. That's different.' " She also wore a purity ring, signaling her commitment to practice abstinence until marriage.

            In 2007, Cyrus referred to her church "the greatest source of strength" and recited Ephesians 6:10-11 as her favorite passage in the Bible, which says,  "Finally, my brother, come close to the Lord for if you put on the full armor of God you can stand against the walls of a devil."2

            Then came her rejection of Christianity, “At a time when most 15-year-olds were posing for junior prom photos in front of their parent’s porch, Miley Cyrus was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the cover of Vanity Fair. She wore only a bed sheet…And yet, when she reinvented herself as an in-your-face, raunchy, bisexual, selfie-obsessed pop icon, the public at large reacted with surprise.

            There was an outcry of disgust when she shimmied and simulated sex with Robin Thicke at the MTV VMAs in 2013. Her songs began to gravitate from fun-loving (“Party in the USA”) to drug-glorifying (“We Won’t Stop”.) With every public appearance she seemed to feel the need to shed more of her clothing. And now, with her set of inflammatory statements about her feelings on conservatives (“they shouldn’t make our laws”) and sexual liberty (“I am literally open to every single thing, as long as it’s consenting”), it seems that Miley has emerged from her time of rebellion as a fully-formed product of a lifetime of others’ adulation.”3

            Why did Miley apostatize? It is possible that she may have desired to liberate herself from the pure lifestyle that the Bible mandates Christians to aim for and live to the best of their abilities. It is quite possible that she desires to live to satisfy her carnal needs and wants.  

            Having posed in nude, her dislike of Christianity could originate from the fact that Christianity prohibits this lifestyle. Christianity condemns bisexuality, but if Miley desired to be bisexual, evidently Christianity cannot be her religion.

            Her father Billy Ray Cyrus reckons her entry into the entertainment industry at a young age destroyed her faith, “In 2011, the singer's father, country star Billy Ray Cyrus, said in an interview with GQ Magazine that he regretted having her in the "Hannah Montana Show" and confessed that his family was cautious of the temptations within the entertainment industry before to going to Los Angeles.

            "Somewhere along this journey, both mine and Miley's faith has been shaken...That saddens me the most," he said, adding there is "no doubt" that his family is being ruined by Satan.”4

            Miley’s Christianity-bashing is astounding, “…she recently described people who believe Noah's Ark was real: "That's [expletive] insane." She added: "We've outgrown that fairy tale, like we've outgrown [expletive] Santa and the tooth fairy."

            Then she discussed her sexuality: "I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn't involve an animal and everyone is of age. Everything that's legal, I'm down with. Yo, I'm down with any adult—anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me. I don't relate to being boy or girl, and I don't have to have my partner relate to boy or girl."”5

            Miley thinks of herself as a least judgmental person. But her judgment of conservative Christians is shocking, “In a recent interview with Paper magazine, Cyrus, who appears nude within the publication, refers to herself as the “least judgemental person ever.” However, the magazine notes that while she was raised in a Christian home and was baptized in a Southern Baptist church, the “Wrecking Ball” singer “maintains a particular contempt for fundamentalist lawmakers who rally against this sort of progressive, potentially life-saving changes for the LGBT community.” “Those people shouldn’t get to make our laws,” Cyrus said of Christians who hold to a traditional view of marriage.”6

            Was Miley’s apostasy grounded on valid reasoning? God has given man freedom to either love or hate HIM. So Miley is free to choose her religious platform. But when she is a successful public icon, her actions would most likely be emulated by her fans without any doubt or without thinking twice. Hence there is a need to determine the validity of her reasoning to apostatize from Christianity.

            How do we respond to Miley slamming Christianity?

            First, know that Miley’s arguments against Christianity are blatantly invalid.

            It is plausible that Miley did not research and study the reasons invalidating her objections before abandoning Christianity. Consider Miley’s objection to the miraculous narratives in the Bible and her views on objectionable sexual practices.

            There are very good reasons available in the public domain that ascertains the validity of the biblical narratives of Noah’s Ark or Jonah in the fish. Apparently, Miley is unable to believe in the narratives of the miraculous in the Bible.

            Very minimally, since God is the maximally great being, HE should be able to raise a man from dead or wipe out an entire community with floods (for justifiable reasons, of course!) or enable a man to live in the stomach of a huge fish. God’s maximal greatness allows for the occurrence of the miraculous.

            Regarding Miley’s endorsement of bisexuality; consensus or agreement cannot be a valid reason for sexual activities between people NOT united in marriage. Consensus notwithstanding, the Bible explicitly condemns and prohibits homosexuality, adultery and the likes.

            Even if you were to not consider the biblical prohibition of sexual sins, it is scientifically proven that child sex, incest and adultery are detrimental to a healthy lifestyle. If consensus were to be the sole valid reason for sexual activities, then by the same reasoning, adultery and polygamy should be acceptable.

            Moreover, if consensus is the sole reason for valid sexual practices, then the extent of sinful sexual practices between two people would be horrendously extended. For instance, the gory and ghastly child sex and incest should be acceptable as long as two people, irrespective of their age, agree to sexual intercourse. But child sex and incest are unacceptable sexual practices in every culture and in every situation. So consensus, even if you were to not consider the Bible, cannot be a valid reason for two people to indulge in sexual practices outside the confines of a marriage.

            To reiterate, the Bible prohibits all forms of sexual activity outside the confines of a marriage.

            Second, Christians cannot follow Miley Cyrus. Every Christian should glorify God through his/her life. Christians cannot follow Miley’s lifestyle or the sinful messages that she propagates through her music and video.

            Sinful lifestyle manifesting via public nudity, vulgar language, and biblically unacceptable sexual practices cannot be observed in a Christian’s life. So Miley’s sinful life cannot be a valid standard for Christians to pursue.

            Third, while Christians should not follow Miley’s sinful lifestyle, we should love Miley unconditionally, just as how God loved each and every one of us while we were still sinners. Love for Miley should translate into prayers for her to regain her love for the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians ought to realize Miley’s sins and pray for her liberation from these sinful activities.

            May Miley realize that God loves her immensely and may she return to the Lord Jesus in repentance and faith.

Endnotes:

1http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2017/02/06/miley-cyrus-just-did-lakshmi-puja-at-her-home-because-she-loves/, last accessed on 23 Feb 2017.

2http://www.gospelherald.com/articles/55983/20150610/miley-cyrus-mocks-christians-who-believe-in-old-testament-fairy-tales-says-those-who-oppose-homosexuality-shouldnt-get-to-make-laws.htm, last accessed on 23 Feb 2017.

3http://www.jewsnews.co.il/2015/06/22/miley-cyrus-slams-the-bible-weve-outgrown-that-fairytale-former-xtian-star-has-completely-left-xtianity.html, last accessed on 23 Feb 2017.

4http://www.gospelherald.com/articles/55983/20150610/miley-cyrus-mocks-christians-who-believe-in-old-testament-fairy-tales-says-those-who-oppose-homosexuality-shouldnt-get-to-make-laws.htm, last accessed on 23 Feb 2017.

5http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/50104-miley-cyrus-belief-in-noah-s-ark-is-insane, last accessed on 23 Feb 2017.


6http://www.americasfreedomfighters.com/2015/06/12/miley-cyrus-slams-christian-conservatives-these-people-shouldnt-get-to-make-our-laws/, last accessed on 23 Feb 2017.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

God of Christianity & Islam: Same or Different?

            Pope Francis’ disquieting statement that the God of Christians and Muslims is one and the same surprised many.1 This was further echoed in the academia. Dr. Larcyia Hawkins of Wheaton College claimed that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.2 When theologically controversial statements are proclaimed by the Christian leaders, chaos governs the flock, for the fundamental belief of Christians (about the Godhead) is rattled.

            Any dialogue between Christians and Muslims would hit a bottleneck while discussing the Godhead. While Christians believe that God is a Trinity, Muslims claim that God is one (a singular being - one in essence and person) and deny the Trinity.

            On the other hand, the Bible and the Quran narrate the creation of Adam and Eve, the flood in Noah’s time, the great escape from Egypt under the leadership of Moses, and the birth of Christ Jesus to Virgin Mary. Hence, it is quite plausible to think that the God of the Bible and the Quran is one and the same.

            Therefore, when the Pope or other Christian leaders claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, a conundrum needs to be solved.

            When the Pope mentions Christians and Muslims as the people of the book and worshiping the same God, he merely emphasizes the Quranic assertion, “And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, "We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him."” (Quran 29: 46, Emphasis Mine).

            This verse from the Quran and the innate naiveté of some may motivate a thought process that Islam and Christianity are one and the same. But this subject is more complex than what it seems to be.

Christian Argument for Similarity

            “Muhammad Ali” is also known as “Cassius Clay.” The properties defining Muhammad Ali and Cassius Clay are one and the same. So the terms “Muhammad Ali” and “Cassius Clay” refer to the same person. Hence Christian scholars like Francis Beckwith of Baylor University argue that God is one whether HE is referred to as “Allah” or “Yahweh.”3

            Beckwith’s argument is predicated on the understanding of God in “classical theism.” A classical theist believes that in principle there can be one God. Since great thinkers from both sides, Thomas Aquinas (Christian) and Avicenna (Muslim), subscribed to Classical Theism, it is plausible to think of the God of Muslims and Christians to be one and the same.

            But when the Trinity is discussed by the Christians and Muslims, disagreement ensues. How does Beckwith solve this conundrum?

            Beckwith argues for the Muslims from within the distinction of belief between the Old Testament and the New Testament believers. We could possibly assume that those who lived in the Old Testament period were unaware of the Trinity, for Christ had not arrived then. But those who have understood the New Testament believe in the Trinity of the Godhead. Nevertheless, those who lived in the Old Testament and the New Testament period worshipped the same God.

            So Beckwith, using the same reasoning, contends that Muslims may be genuinely unaware, either intentionally or ignorantly, of the pure ontology of God. But that does not disqualify them from worshipping the same God, for he says, “But doesn’t Christianity affirm that God is a Trinity while Muslims deny it? Wouldn’t this mean that they indeed worship different “Gods”? Not necessarily. Consider this example. Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.” On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.”

            Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not. In the same way, Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity, but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do. Does that mean that Augustine, Aquinas, and Graham do not worship the same God as Abraham and Moses? Again, of course not. The fact that one may have incomplete knowledge or hold a false belief about another person – whether human or divine – does not mean that someone who has better or truer knowledge about that person is not thinking about the same person.”4

Christian Argument for Divergence

            The argument that Abraham and Moses did not believe in the Trinity does not mean that they rejected the Trinity. Instead they were merely and possibly unaware of the Trinitarian nature of God, because God, at that specific point in time, had not revealed HIS Trinitarian nature to HIS believers. On the contrary, the Muslims reject that God is a Trinity.

            Keep in mind that Islam originated in the 7th century (hundreds of years after Christ’s lifetime). Muhammad was aware of Christ and HIS teachings. For instance, Muhammad would have been aware of Christ’s claim to divinity. Nevertheless, Muhammad rejected Christ’s claim to divinity.

            Furthermore, Islam rejects quite a few fundamental teachings of Christianity.5

            First, Islam rejects the Christian belief that Christ is God. If Christians believe that Christ is God and if Islam rejects this belief (Quran 5.72), how is it possible that Muslims and Christians worship the same God?

            Second, Islam rejects that God is a Trinity (Quran 5.73). Christians believe in a Trinitarian-Monotheistic God (God is one in essence but in three persons), whereas Muslims believe in a strictly monotheistic God (cf. the Islamic doctrine of Tawhid holds that God is one).

            Third, Islam rejects the Fatherhood of God. God is personal to all Christians. God is our Father. Islam not only rejects the Fatherhood of God (Quran 112.1-4) but exhorts Muslims to ridicule the Jews and Christians for deeming God as their Father (Quran 5.18). 

            Fourth, the nature of the God of Muslims and the God of Christians reveals a fundamental incompatibility between the Godhead conceptions of these two religious worldviews.6 The God of the Bible is a loving God. HE loves the sinner (John 3:16).

            On the contrary, within the Islamic conception of the Godhead, Allah does not love sinners (Quran 2.99, 277; 3.33 et al). So when the Quran terms Allah as all-merciful, it refers to Allah being merciful only to the believers, who do righteous deeds (Quran 2. 278, 282; 9.105; 19.97). Allah does not love the unbelievers and the sinners.

Conclusion

            Christ cannot be God and not God. God cannot be loving and not loving. Therefore, it is either that the Muslims and the Christians worship the same God or that they do not worship the same God. Since fundamental contradictions about the respective Godhead are revealed by the Quran and the Bible, it is very reasonable to conclude that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.

            Christian apologist and the author of the best-selling book “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus,” Nabeel Qureshi said, “Christians worship a Triune God: a Father who loves unconditionally, an incarnate Son who is willing to die for us so that we may be forgiven, and an immanent Holy Spirit who lives in us. This is not what the Muslim God is; it is not who the Muslim God is; and it is not what the Muslim God does. Truly, the Trinity is antithetical to Tawhid, fundamentally incompatible and only similar superficially and semantically. Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.”7

Endnotes:

1http://nationalreport.net/pope-francis-followers-koran-holy-bible/

2https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2015/12/17/do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/

3Ibid.

4Ibid.

5http://rzim.org/global-blog/do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/

6http://www.reasonablefaith.org/concept-of-god-in-islam-and-christianity


7http://rzim.org/global-blog/do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/