Death and Darkness ~ ISIS: 9 Things You Should Know | re-blog – Joe Carter, TGC

Peanut Gallery:

Christmas and Epiphany are celebrations of Life and Light – the birth of Jesus brought Life and Light to everyone. That’s why it’s a joyful season of peace on earth to all people of goodwill. The Apostle John says:

The Word (Jesus Christ) gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:4-5)

But it’s that last phrase that jolts me back to the reality of this present age – where the forces of darkness futilely attempt to extinguish the Light of Christ. No where is this more brutally apparent than in the evil wrought by the Islamic State. They will not prevail, and there will be a day of Judgement – John makes that point:

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” (John 3:18-21)

The following article by Joe Carter (The Gospel Coalition) was written shortly after the Paris attacks in November, 2015. I would draw your attention to points #6, #7 & #8 which address the “rape culture” of ISIS. We are beginning to discover what that means for the women captured and held prisoner by ISIS.

As we shine Light on this embodiment of Evil, never forget that they cannot “win”: one day their “sins will be exposed” and they will receive justice appropriate to their crimes. Count on it!
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via 9 Things You Should Know About Islamic State (click on link for original article)
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Here are nine things you should know about this Islamic terrorist group.

1. Islamic State is the current name of an Islamic militant group that was established in Iraq in 2004 and pledged allegiance to “Al-Qaeda in Iraq.” They later broke away from Al-Qaeda because of differences in doctrine and objectives and formed a distinct organization. From late 2006 to mid 2013, the group called itself the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). From 2013 to mid 2014, when they expanded into Syria, they called themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). (Most Western media translate “Levant” as “Syria,” hence ISIS.) Since 2014, they have expanded their ambitions to be a global organization and today simply refer to themselves as “Islamic State.”

2. The stated long-term goal of Islamic State is to establish a “caliphate” to rule over the entire Muslim world, under a single leader and in line with Sharia (Islamic law). A caliphate is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph, a person considered a political and religious successor to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.

3. The religious-political ideology of Islamic State is Salafi-jihadism (sometimes referred to simply as “jihadism”), a distinct strand of militant Sunni Islamism. Salafi-jihadist groups like Islamic State emphasize the importance of returning to a “pure” Islam, that of the Salaf, the pious ancestors. Such groups also maintain that violent jihad is a personal religious duty of all Muslim believers. Former Islamic State leader Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi once emphasized the importance of “offensive jihad,” which he defined as “going after the apostate unbelievers by attacking [them] in their home territory, in order to make God’s word most high and until there is no persecution.” (Under their doctrine, “persecution” is understood to mean idolatry.)

4. The most prominent elements of Islamic State’s religious-political doctrine require that: all Muslims must associate exclusively with fellow “true” Muslims and dissociate from anyone not fitting this narrow definition; failure to rule in accordance with God’s law constitutes unbelief; fighting the Islamic State is tantamount to apostasy; all Shi‘a Muslims are apostates deserving of death; and the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are traitors against Islam because they compromise with the non-caliphate political process (e.g., democracy).

5. The focus on personal jihad makes Salafi-jihadist groups like Islamic State considerably different than most terrorist groups throughout history. For example, in the 1970s most Marxist and pan-Arabic terrorist groups killed people or committed other acts of terrorism in order to bring attention to their cause. For Salafi-jihadists, though, killing large number of “apostates” is itself a worthy religious objective.

Prisoners: Many Yazidi women have been taken captive by ISIS
Prisoners: Many Yazidi women have been taken captive by ISIS

6. Islamic State enshrines a theology of rape that justifies the practice of sexual slavery. Islamic State publishes a glossy propaganda magazine called Dabiq. In the October 2014 issue, IS included an article titled “The Revival Of Slavery Before The Hour,” which explains the justification for sex slavery. In Islamic terminology the “hour” refers to the Day of Judgment, a time of reckoning either for an individual upon death or on mankind. According to the article, Islamic State asked its own sharia scholars to render a verdict on whether the Yazidis (a religious minority group in Iraq) could be enslaved. They determined that “enslavement of the apostate women” was not only justified by the Quran but was a sign prefiguring the Day of Judgment.

7. Islamic State condones the rape of young girls. Last fall the Research and Fatwa Department of the Islamic State (ISIS) released a pamphlet on the topic of female captives and slaves:

Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?

It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.

8. Islamic State’s theology of rape also serves as a recruiting tool. As the New York Times has noted, the practice of slavery has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden. Capturing sex slaves has become nearly as important for Islamic State’s objectives as capturing territory.

9. The Islamic State has ordered that all able Muslims around the world must emigrate to the territory under its control. As the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, stated in an audio address in 2014: “O Muslims in all places. Whoso is able to emigrate to the Islamic State, let him emigrate. For emigration to the Abode of Islam is obligatory.”

Alzheimer’s Disease: 9 things you should know | Re-blog – Joe Carter | TGC

Peanut Gallery: Recently I boarded an airline flight early and, with an aisle seat near the front, watched the parade of the remaining passengers. One older couple caught my eye. She seemed confused as her husband gently guided her to her seat in the row behind me. She didn’t seem to know how to slide in to her window seat, or where to sit, or how to buckle her seat belt. All the while, her husband patiently explained what to do and how to do it. And then it dawned on me – the woman must have Alzheimer’s Disease.

I have re-blogged this article written by Joe Carter, September 20, 2016, for The Gospel Coalition to help you better understand the nature of the disease. Alzheimer’s disease affects nearly 6 million Americans. Perhaps it is affecting someone you know.
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via 9 Things You Should Know About Alzheimer’s Disease (please click on link for full article)
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alzheimers

1. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells (neurons) that produce the brain chemical (neurotransmitter) acetylcholine. The disorder causes the connections between the nerve cells to break and ultimately die. The destruction of these nerve cells results in loss of memory, thinking, and language skills, and can cause behavioral changes.

2. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a general term for a range of mental impairments such as memory loss and inability to focus that are both persistent and serious enough to affect a person’s ability to function normally. Dementia is a syndrome (a group of symptoms that doesn’t have a definitive diagnosis) and is not, like Alzheimer’s, a distinct disease. Neither dementia nor Alzheimer’s is part of the natural aging process.

3. Alzheimer’s disease symptoms vary among individuals, but the most common initial symptom is a gradually worsening ability to remember new information. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, this occurs because the first neurons to be damaged and destroyed are usually in brain regions involved in forming new memories. As neurons in other parts of the brain are damaged and destroyed, individuals experience other difficulties. Other common symptoms of Alzheimer’s are memory loss that disrupts daily life, challenges in planning or solving problems, difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure, and confusion with time or place.

4. Alzheimer’s disease is named after the German clinical psychiatrist and neuroanatomist Alois Alzheimer. In 1906 Alzheimer gave a lecture at a meeting of German psychiatrists in which he identified an “unusual disease of the cerebral cortex” that affected Auguste Deter, a woman in her 50s. The disease caused Deter to suffer disorientation, hallucinations, and memory loss before leading to her death at age 55. At the time the lecture—and the discovery—attracted little notice. Although the local press commented extensively on the lectures given at the meeting, only two lines were devoted to Alzheimer’s lecture.

5. Among the leading causes of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease ranks sixth. In 2014, 93,541 Americans died from the disease. However, official mortality figures may be substantially underreporting deaths due to the disease. Recent research shows that the disorder may rank third, just behind heart disease and cancer, as a cause of death for older people. And a 2014 study published in the journal Neurology found that the number of deaths due to Alzheimer’s disease in people 75 and older could be six-times higher than the official count, with researchers’ estimating that 503,400 deaths in 2010 were due to Alzheimer’s.

6. People with Down’s syndrome have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in middle age. One study found that the proportion of the overall population with Down’s syndrome and dementia is about 17 percent, and that about one-third (32.1 percent) of people aged 55 to 60 that had Down syndrome also suffered from dementia.

7. People with fewer years of formal education are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias than those with more years of formal education. Some epidemiological studies appear to suggest that lifelong experiences, including educational and occupational attainment, and leisure activities in later life, can increase a person’s “cognitive reserve” (i.e., the mind’s resistance to damage and deterioration in the brain) that enables individuals to better compensate for changes in the brain that could result in symptoms of Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

8. To diagnose Alzheimer’s a primary doctor or neurologist (a physician trained in brain conditions) will review a patient’s medical and medication history and consider all related symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, the doctor may also order additional laboratory tests, brain-imaging tests, or send the patient for memory testing. Such tests can help doctors rule out other diseases that cause similar symptoms.

9. Currently, there is neither a cure for Alzheimer’s nor a way to reverse the damage caused by the disease. However, new research announced last week might lead to a breakthrough in understanding the disease. Researchers at Northeastern University say that Alzheimer’s disease may “progress not like falling dominoes, with one molecular event sparking the formation of plaques throughout the brain, but rather like a fireworks display, with a unique flare launching each plaque, one by one.” The finding provides “critical insights for developing therapies to slow, halt, or reverse” the disease, the researchers say.

40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags ~ Reblog Kevin DeYoung (TGC)

40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags (click on link for original article)

July 1, 2015 | by Kevin DeYoung

Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?

For evangelicals who lament last Friday’s Supreme Court decision, it’s been a hard few days. We aren’t asking for emotional pity, nor do I suspect many people are eager to give us any. Our pain is not sacred. Making legal and theological decisions based on what makes people feel better is part of what got us into this mess in the first place. Nevertheless, it still hurts.

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There are many reasons for our lamentation, from fear that religious liberties will be taken away to worries about social ostracism and cultural marginalization. But of all the things that grieve us, perhaps what’s been most difficult is seeing some of our friends, some of our family members, and some of the folks we’ve sat next to in church giving their hearty “Amen” to a practice we still think is a sin and a decision we think is bad for our country. It’s one thing for the whole nation to throw a party we can’t in good conscience attend. It’s quite another to look around for friendly faces to remind us we’re not alone and then find that they are out there jamming on the dance floor. We thought the rainbow was God’s sign (Gen. 9:8-17).

If you consider yourself a Bible-believing Christian, a follower of Jesus whose chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, there are important questions I hope you will consider before picking up your flag and cheering on the sexual revolution. These questions aren’t meant to be snarky or merely rhetorical. They are sincere, if pointed, questions that I hope will cause my brothers and sisters with the new rainbow themed avatars to slow down and think about the flag you’re flying.

1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?

2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?

3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?

4. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?

5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?

6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?

7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?

8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?

9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?

10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?

11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?

12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?

13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?

14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?

15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?

16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?

17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?

18. How would you define marriage?

19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?

20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?

21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?

22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?

23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?

24. If not, why not?

25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?

26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?

27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?

28. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?

29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?

30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?

31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?

32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?

33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?

34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?

35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?

36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?

37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?

38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?

39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?

40. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?

Food for thought, I hope. At the very least, something to chew on before swallowing everything the world and Facebook put on our plate.
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Note: An earlier version of this post had the questions in paragraph format rather than enumerated. The content is still the same. Readers interested in studying what the Bible teaches about homosexuality may be interested in checking out my new book on that theme.

Same-Sex Marriage and the Future: Reblog / Russell Moore / TGC

Same-Sex Marriage and the Future (see original article here)
Russell Moore / June 26, 2015

Above all, we must prepare people for what the future holds, when Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality aren’t part of the cultural consensus but are seen to be strange and freakish and even subversive. If our people assume that everything goes back to normal with the right President and a quick constitutional amendment, they are not being equipped for a world that views evangelical Protestants and traditional Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews and others as bigots and freaks.

The Bible tells us that the king of Israel once wanted to hear from the prophets, as to whether he would be victorious over his enemies. All the court prophets told him exactly what he wanted to hear. Yet the king of Judah, wisely, asked whether there might be another voice to hear from, and Israel’s king said that, yes, there was, but that he hated this prophet “because he never prophesies good concerning me” (1 Kings 22:8).

Once found, this prophet refused to speak the consensus word the king wanted to hear. “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak” (1 Kings 22:14). And, as it turned out, it was a hard word.

future-ssm

When it comes to what people want to hear, the church faces a similar situation as we look to the future of marriage in this country. Many want the sort of prophetic witness that will spin the situation to look favorable, regardless of whether that favor is from the Lord or in touch with reality.

Some people want a court of prophets who will take a surgeon’s scalpel to the Word of God. They want those who will say, in light of what the Bible clearly calls immorality, “Has God really said?” Following the trajectory of every old liberalism of the past, they want to do with a Christian sexual ethic what the old liberals did with the virgin birth—claim that contemporary people just won’t have this, and if we want to rescue Christianity, this will have to go overboard. All the while they’ll tell us they’re doing it for the children (or for the Millennials).

Preaching a Gospel That Doesn’t Save

This is infidelity to the gospel we’ve received. First, no one refusing to repent of sin—be it homosexuality or fornication or anything else—will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9–10). This strategy leaves people in condemnation before the judgment seat of Christ, without reconciliation and without hope.

Second, it doesn’t even work. Look at the empty cathedrals of the Episcopal Church, the vacated pews of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and right down the line. Let me be clear. Even if embracing same-sex marriage—or any other endorsement of what the Bible calls sexual immorality—“worked” in church building, we still wouldn’t do it. If we have to choose between Jesus and Millennials, we choose Jesus. But history shows us that those who want a different Jesus—the one who says, “Do whatever you want with your body, it’s okay by me”—don’t want Christianity at all.

But there will be those who want prophets who will say that the gospel doesn’t call for repentance, or at least not repentance from this sin. These prophets will apply a selective universalism that denies that judgment is coming, or that the blood of Christ is needed. But these prophets don’t speak for God. And we have no one to blame but ourselves since, for too long, too many of us have tolerated among us those who have substituted a cheap and easy false gospel for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Too many have been called gospel preachers who preach decision without faith, regeneration without repentance, justification without lordship, deliverance by walking an aisle but without carrying a cross. That gospel is different from the one Jesus and his apostles delivered to us. That gospel doesn’t save.

So when these prophets emerge to tell people they can stay in their sins and still be saved, we must thunder back with the old gospel that calls all of us to repentance and to cross-bearing, the gospel that calls sin what it is in order to call grace what it is. J. Gresham Machen warned us that our Lord Jesus himself never attempted to preach the gospel to the righteous but only to sinners. Those who follow him must start by acknowledging themselves to be in need of mercy, to be in need of grace that can pardon and cleanse within.

Marriage Revolution Is Real

There’s another form of court prophet of these times, too. This one has no problem identifying homosexuality as sin. He may do so with all sorts of bluster and outrage, but he still does what court prophets always do—he speaks a word that people want to hear. Some people want to hear that sexual immorality is moral after all, and other people want to hear that same-sex marriage is simply a matter of some elites on the coasts of the country. This prophet implies that if we just sign checks to the right radio talk-show hosts, and have a good election cycle or two, we’ll be right back where we were, back when carpets were shag and marriages were strong. I don’t know anyone in any advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.—and there are many fighting the good fight on this one—who is saying that. As a matter of fact, the organizations closest to the ground know just how dark the hour is.

In some form or another, your church will have to address the marriage revolution. This includes thinking through steps that churches should take to protect themselves and their confessions of faith from legal action. But it also includes being honest about our congregations. It’s simply not the case that homosexuality, same-sex attraction, transgenderism, and so on are issues in “big” churches or “city” churches. In backwood rural churches of Appalachia or the mythological Bible Belt of the American South, congregations have to know how to faithfully and compassionately minister to the sexual revolution’s refugees. Churches that aren’t addressing these issues in their Sunday gatherings are ignoring the Great Commission.

That’s why this isn’t merely an issue of an election cycle or two. There is an urgent need for conscience protections for those who dissent from the High Church of the Sexual Revolution. Look at the way the CEO of Mozilla was hounded out of office simply for supporting a ballot measure defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Look at the way Baronnelle Stutzman was accosted by her own government, not for refusing services to gay customers (she served many gay clients for years) but for refusing to agree with two customers, and the state, about a same-sex wedding.

If the church doesn’t read the signs of the times, we will be right where we evangelicals were after Roe v. Wade—caught flat-footed and unprepared. Thankfully, many Christian leaders, and many outside the evangelical tradition, became bold leaders in the cause of protecting unborn life. We owe much today to their courage.

Lessons from the Pro-Life Movement

So what should we do? Precisely what we should have done before and after Roe. We should recognize where the courts and the culture are, and we should work for justice. That means not simply assuming most people agree with us on marriage. We must articulate, both in and out of the church, why marriage matters, and why its definition isn’t infinitely elastic.

We must—like the pro-life movement has done—seek not only to engage our base, those who already agree with us, but to persuade those who don’t. That doesn’t mean less talk about marriage and sexuality but more—and not just in soundbytes and slogans but in a robust theology of why sexual complementarity and the one-flesh union are rooted in the mystery of the gospel (Eph. 5:22–33). We must—also like the pro-life movement—understand the danger of a Supreme Court that won’t will into existence constitutional planks.

Above all, we must prepare people for what the future holds, when Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality aren’t part of the cultural consensus but are seen to be strange and freakish and even subversive. If our people assume that everything goes back to normal with the right President and a quick constitutional amendment, they are not being equipped for a world that views evangelical Protestants and traditional Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews and others as bigots and freaks.

Jesus told us we would have hard times. He never promised us a prosperity gospel. He said we would face opposition, but he said he would be with us. If we are going to be faithful to his gospel, we must preach repentance—even when that repentance is culturally unwelcome. And we must preach that any sinner can be forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ. That means courage, and that means kindness. Sexual revolutionaries will hate the repentance. Buffoonish heretics, who want only to vent paranoia and rally their troops, will hate the kindness. So be it.

Be Ready

Our churches must be ready to call out the revisionists who wish to do away with a Christian sexual ethic. And we must be ready to call out those who tell us acknowledging the signs of the times is forbidden, and we should just keep doing what we’ve been doing. An issue this culturally powerful cannot be addressed by a halfway-gospel or by talk-radio sloganeering.

The marriage revolution around us means we must do a better job articulating a theology of marriage to our people, as well as a theology of suffering and marginalization. It means we must do a better job articulating to those on the outside why children need both a Mom and a Dad, not just “parents,” and why marriage isn’t simply a matter of court decree. It means we must start teaching our children about marriage “from the beginning” as male and female when they’re in Sunday school. It means we may have to decide if and when the day will come in which we will refuse to sign the state’s marriage licenses.

The long-term prospects for marriage are good. Marriage is resilient, and the sexual revolution always disappoints. It’s true these are dark days for the culture of marriage. But dark days are exactly what our gospel is for. No day was darker than the day the Son of God died in Palestine on a criminal’s cross. We are here because that dark day was not the end of the story. And because it wasn’t the end then, it will never be the end now.
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Editors’ note: For more resources on same-sex marriage and homosexuality, visit Equip, a joint initiative of The Gospel Coalition and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention to provide a broad range of resources on homosexuality and same-sex marriage issues to prepare your church for this changing culture.

The Only Path to Societal Renewal – Reblog by Dan McConchie (The Gospel Coalition)

The Only Path to Societal Renewal (see original here)
May 26, 2015 | The Gospel Coalition

As recent attacks against religious liberty have demonstrated, it is increasingly difficult for Christians to speak truth in the public square. The temptation is to respond by withdrawing, turning your faith inward, and warming yourself in quiet communion with like-minded faithful. However, even if this were a legitimate response, the purveyors of societal change have demonstrated they will not be satisfied with acquiescence. In the end, they will demand cooperation, which is why the fight over religious freedom and conscience has become so toxic, so vitriolic, so quickly.

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It’s easy to point to the culture wars and see them as a proxy for living out our faith. There are real dangers to a nation when the powers-that-be succumb and embrace societal sin. But fighting these battles, while important, is not enough to spread the gospel. The church, having turned in to itself in so many places, no longer provides the moral yardstick by which people measure cultural norms. While we must continue to stand for truth and religious freedom, it is not enough to get us back to a path of societal renewal. We must also return to the basics of personal holiness and care for the physically, morally, and spiritually destitute.

When the tyranny and paganism of Rome was at its height, James assigned in his epistle a surprisingly simple role to the church. He wrote that a “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). In applying his words to today, we can and should continue our fight for truth in the public square, but only as long as we continue to live in holiness and demonstrate that Jesus lives within us by caring for those who are suffering, doing so with both love and in truth.

Saving by Serving

Who are the widows and orphans today? Perhaps the question is better stated, “Who most needs the church to stand in the gap for them?” The answer, whatever it is for your church, will likely make you uncomfortable. When we stray from our comfort zone in meeting the needs of the lost the Lord tends to use us most effectively.

Journalist D. C. McAllister recently told her story of redemption, how 15 years ago she was a single, destitute mother with two young children and another on the way. She went to Planned Parenthood for an abortion but sat alone in the parking lot never getting out of her car. She writes that she realized she couldn’t “sacrifice my child on the altar of my own selfishness.” She drove away.

Impoverished, she applied for welfare but didn’t qualify because she was “able-bodied” despite being single with children who needed her care. With no place else to turn, she despaired. Then:

I went to a local church and asked for help. They gave it to me, no judgment, no condemnation. Only love. I sat in the pastor’s office and wept uncontrollably as I told him my story. He said it didn’t matter. God’s grace is sufficient. They would help me get through the next year or so until I was on my feet. They gave me counseling and accepted my daughter into their preschool so she could make friends. The women at the church took me under their wing, giving me clothes for my baby when she was born and encouraging me when I felt overwhelmed.

If the government had given me welfare, I doubt if I would have gone to the church for help. And if I hadn’t, I would never have benefited from their love and grace—and that’s what I needed most. I needed physical help, but I desperately needed spiritual, emotional help. And they were there for me. Loving me, supporting me, encouraging me, and counseling me. They saved me.

In reading her story, I was struck by both her bravery as well as her admission that she would have likely never gotten the help she truly needed if the government had given her a handout. The absence of government action enabled her to find healing. A stingy government program’s failure to help led her home.

Giving What Government Cannot

Starting in the 1930s with the New Deal, federal and state government supplanted the church as the central societal organ caring for the needy among us. In an effort to help the poor, the state inadvertently severed bonds that helped hold society together for centuries, one where faith and spiritual change were central in the healing of a broken, needy person.

A 2007 study published in the Journal of Public Economics found that “benevolent church spending fell by 30 percent in response to the New Deal, and that government spending can explain virtually all of the decline in charitable church activity observed between 1933 and 1939.” True, the government can spend more money on programs to help the poor. But money alone does not change the heart. In fact, direct governmental payments can crowd out the opportunity for spiritual change, for the holistic support so often needed to address the real roots of material poverty.

Holistic support only comes from the Christ-centered mission of a healthy, vibrant local church that can introduce the broken soul to the healing that only comes from Jesus. He provides the healing of heart and mind that fully enables the downtrodden to attain a state of health that enables them to fully exploit the opportunities God gives in a free society such as ours.

At the same time the government supplanted the church in benevolence, the church lost the maturing, sanctifying effect that the poor had on the church. As Arloa Sutter, leader of inner-city Chicago’s Breakthrough Urban Ministries, once told me, “The poor need us, but even more than that, we need the poor.” Those of us who have wealthy, unencumbered lives need to be pulled out of our comfort zones back into a world of grit and pain where once again we can see and experience Jesus as the only answer to the trials that assail us all.

And when we experience Jesus on this level, when we have experienced that revival of mind and soul that only he can bring, we cling to the Word of God as the only bedrock on which to renew a nation and people.

In an era when government policy so often limits opportunity for the church to be the witness it was assigned to be, the church must be vigorous in reclaiming its vital societal role. With chronic overspending by the state and a burgeoning debt crisis, that job may be easier than we expect in the coming years. But even if the state fights the church for the role, it is essential that the church win that fight.

And when the church regains its central position as the place of first resort, again serving as Jesus’s hands and feet to those in need, it will again have both the platform and the moral authority to reclaim its place as the stick by which cultural norms are measured again.
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Dan McConchie, MA, is a national pro-life lobbyist and board member of a Informed Choices Pregnancy & Parenting centers in suburban Chicago. He received his MA in Christian Thought from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and attends Harvest Bible Chapel – Lake Zurich. You can follow him on Twitter @danmcconchie.