...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness Fri, 27 Mar 2015 04:01:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer no The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer (The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer) 2006-2009 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness The Curse of Knowledge – Part 2 Fri, 27 Mar 2015 04:01:21 +0000 churchrowLast week I listed off some of theological beliefs that I had come to over the years, and described how that made if difficult for me to find a church. This week I wanted to respond to a number of the insightful comments that I received and carry on the conversation.  As usual my Fridays are busy, so be nice to each other!

The most perceptive comment (in my mind) came from Flatrocker:


Mike, In thinking and praying about this, my thoughts keep coming back to “so what if you find a new home?” What happens when the inevitable feelings of longing and shortfall return? What then? I know you are praying on this but in your search to find a home, what are you really – in your deepest heart – searching for? Beyond the reasons you gave above which feel so intellectual – and sterile and safe. What is it?

This is my greatest fear when it comes to finding a church. My father has a history of becoming unhappy in any church he goes to after just a few years. I am my Father’s son, and recognize the same trait in myself. That is one reason why I took as long to leave as I did. That thought is also reflected in my previous Pastor’s comment: “If we are not a good ‘fit’ for you, I wonder where you would ‘fit’.” What am I looking for? I am looking for a church that is active and visible in my community, or at the very least active and visible in a neighboring community. I am looking for a church that has a vision and a plan for reaching the community. I am looking for a church that loves to sing. I am looking for a church that reaches out to the margins of society. I am looking for a church where I could bring a friend and he would feel welcome.

That brings me to Dave Denis’ questions:

I would ask you to consider this question: why do I require from a church complete consonance with every single conviction I might hold regarding doctrine and praxis?

Am I perhaps in danger of being a bit of a spiritual princess, being kept awake nights by a pea beneath my bed?

To answer the second question first. No I am not in danger of being a spiritual princess. I have already arrived. I do suffer a bit from a mild anxiety, and conflict of any source, spiritual or otherwise, will keep me awake at night.

As for the first question: I don’t require complete consonance. I am looking for a church that is heading in the same general direction as the road that I am on. The bigger question involves leadership. To quote my previous Pastor again, “I regard you as a gifted potential leader in God’s Kingdom, and pray that you will be able to exercise that gift somewhere.” My spiritual gifts involve leadership. Leadership, or even membership, in most churches involves affirming their statement of faith. I am quite happy to worship with those who believe differently. If churches are willing to exclude me from membership or leadership because of what I believe, then those churches are rather non-starters for me.

Do I have to go to an Arminian church? No, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable in one that was anti-Arminian. Do I need to go to a Charismatic church. No, but I probably wouldn’t attend an anti-charismatic one. Do my church leaders have to be theistic evolutionists? No, but I wouldn’t go to one that loudly espoused Young Earth Creationism (It goes back to the earlier statement of being able to invite a friend.) Must I go to an Egalitarian Church. Yes, or at least the church needs to be headed in that direction. This is what I would consider to be a gospel issue. (And I know some here will disagree with me.) Cermak_cd has pointed out that if the churches she were exposed to were egalitarian, she might still be a Christian. I have a desire to introduce people to Jesus, and quite frankly complementarianism gets in the way of that.

The church Fathers are important because I think churches need to have a sense of the fact that they are part of a much bigger picture, and that they follow in a long history of Christian belief. If is for similar reasons that I don’t have a lot of appreciation for independent churches and their lack of oversight. Think of course brings me to Stephen’s point.

Everyone is forgetting the one tried and true solution; the recourse of dissenters universal since the original Easter morning…

Start your own church.

Calvin Cuban chimed in:

Mike, have you considered starting your own house church? With your particular strongly held belief set, coupled by what appears to be your limited mobility, it seems unlikely that you will find something to your liking. And with your knowledge and experience in ecclesiastical matters, you would probably be successful at it.

I have been involved in a number of church plants in the past, helping out in Associated Gospel (think Baptist without the emphasis on Baptism), Christian and Missionary Alliance, and Pentecostal Church Plants. Starting a church is hard work. Michael Spencer tried it. Most of us here would have loved it. But ultimately it did not continue. I currently do not have the energy or time that such a commitment would entail. The thing that I miss most about my previous church is the small group that we led. We invited friends and neighbors and had as many as 50 (adults and kids) out to some of our gatherings. Typically we would have about half that number with about half of those being kids. I would want to tie into a small group ministry at any future church. While a small group is not a church per se, it can have many of the hallmarks of one. Trying to do something on my own without a larger church backing me up does not appeal strongly to me at all.

So what options do I have?

Miguel asked:

Would you be open to churches that aren’t necessarily “formal liturgical,” but DO integrate assorted liturgical elements lightly? Maybe the Lord’s prayer, Apostle’s creed, and a reading or two from scripture?

If your answer is yes, if you can thrive in the middle ground between super high formalism and formless revivalism, then you have a few options in the US. I have no idea how this plays out in Canada…

Miguel, absolutely. I would actually really appreciate those elements the service on a regular basis.

I was interested to see that the majority of the suggestions centered around churches in the “Holiness Tradition”. These were:

  • Methodist
  • Wesleyan
  • Christian and Missionary Alliance
  • Nazarene
  • Brethren in Christ

I will first discuss these and go on to some of the other ones mentioned that have Canadian parallels.

When I left the Plymouth Brethren in Ottawa in 1987 as I recounted earlier, I started looking around for Churches that would be a good fit.  The top three on my list for visiting were “Arlington Woods Free Methodist”, “Sunnyside Wesleyan”, and East Gate Alliance.  I eventually settled on East Gate Alliance where I met my wife.  I was there for three years before heading off to Seminary.  I have to say that those were three of the best years of my life.  All three would be options now except for the reasons listed below.  (As an interesting side note, Klasie Kraalogies mentioned that the Prime Minister of Canada is an Alliance member. East Gate Alliance is where the Prime Minister of Canada occasionally hangs his hat, so we have a few mutual acquaintances!)

1.  The Methodist Church:  In 1925 the Methodist Church of Canada, the Congregational Church of Canada, and 70% of the churches of the Presbyterian Church of Canada merged to form the United Church of Canada.  By 1960 they had one million members.  They have been in dramatic decline ever since.  Along the way they also took a sharp left turn.  There are a number of Free Methodist churches around the Province.  The closest is about 20 minutes away, and not really part of the community in which we live.

2.  The Wesleyan Church: The closest Wesleyan church is an hour away.

3.  The Christian and Missionary Alliance:  I have helped close two Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches in the area.  They are much stronger in Western Canada, but the ones in Eastern Canada are a little less conservative and a little more to my liking.  I have several friends who are, or have been leaders in the denomination.  There is a church plant about 12 minutes away that started up about a year ago that meets on Sunday evenings in an Anglican Hall.  I am facebook friends with the Pastor and he seems to be a kindred spirit with a real desire to serve his community (both church and neighborhood).  I would not be surprised if I ended up there.

4.  Church of the Nazarene: I have a short history with the Nazarene church.  When living in Africa we rented the Nazarene manse, and I attended their youth group.  In Canada they have joined forces with the Alliance for theological training.  In my city they are little over 20 minutes away, and so not high on my list for visiting.

5.  Brethren in Christ: I have a long history with the Brethren in Christ.  My Great-Grandfather was a missionary to Rhodesia with the Brethren in Christ.  As mentioned in an earlier post my Grandmother was shunned (excommunicated) by the Brethren in Christ when she married my Grandfather.  That being said, they have a large presence in my area, and it is where I have attended for 3 of the last five Sundays.  “The Meeting House” is a multi-site church that meets primarily in movie theatres.  They are doing a lot of good things, including service to the poor.  They  attract people by being a “church for people who aren’t into church”, and their primary teacher, Bruxy Cavey communicates the good news of Jesus very well.  Not sure that my wife and I fit into the church “byline” very well, but I don’t think we have ruled it out as a church.  If you are the sort of person who is interested in listening or watching sermons online, Bruxy’s sermons are certainly worth listening to.  Theologically they are the best fit as far as I can discern.

Some quick thoughts on some of the others mentioned:

6.  Mennonite: I had an invitation from Will F to attend a local Mennonite church.  It had already been next on our list to visit.  I went last Sunday.  Apparently Will didn’t  (Or if he did he didn’t introduce himself.)  It was a lovely service, with a lot of creative thought and preparation put into it.  We already know a few families there (though one is moving) and will consider going back and trying it out some more.

7. Vineyard: We visited one when our first Alliance Church in the area closed.  I have some strong Vineyard connections in Western Canada and Ottawa.  The local church was going through some significant conflict at the time of our visit, and so we decided against going back.  Probably not high on our list of churches to try again.

8. American Baptist: The Canadian equivalent would be the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec.  There is one just a couple blocks from my house.  When the second Alliance Church in the area closed we tried attending there for a few months.  Let just say that no one bent over backwards to make us feel welcome.  In the end it just felt like we didn’t belong.

9. North American Baptist: E.G. suggested this one.  This just happens to be the church that we left.  As I have said it has lot of positive things going for it.  However their statement of faith holds to inerrancy, and it insists on baptism by immersion. In spite of those things, after a lot of soul seeking, we decided to become members. My wife had to be re-baptized as she had only been sprinkled when she came to faith.  As time went on, other items continue to pop up and it got to the point where it seemed impossible to continue.

10. Baptist General Conference: Our church home for two years when attending seminary in Western Canada.  Does not exist in Eastern Canada.

11.Episcopal/Anglican: There is a local church.  I am willing to give it a try, but I am guessing it will feel too liturgical.

12.  Anglican Church in North America: There are two congregations in my city, but both over 20 minutes away.  I am probably moving in the opposite direction in terms of the Christian response to homosexuality.

13.  Lutheran:   I am a strong believer in open communion.  So those Lutheran churches that practice closed communion would not work.  My Arminian beliefs would also not make a good fit.

A couple of final thoughts.

Jeremiah extended an invite to his church in Brantford.  At 30 minutes away it is a little far for a regular church home, but I will certainly try to come by and visit some day.

Finally, Tom asked me how my wife was doing in all of this.  My choosing to leave was difficult for my wife.  I would have left much earlier had it not been for her.  That being said, we are visiting these churches together, and we will look to find a destination that works for both of us.

As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome.

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Merton on Humility Thu, 26 Mar 2015 04:32:04 +0000 15158189085_8741c1347a_z

Lord, You have taught us to love humility, but we have not learned. We have learned only to love the outward surface of it — the humility that makes a person charming and attractive. We sometimes pause to think about these qualities, and we often pretend that we possess them, and that we have gained them by “practicing humility.”

If we were really humble, we would know to what an extent we are liars!

Teach me to bear a humility which shows me, without ceasing, that I am a liar and a fraud and that, even though this is so, I have an obligation to strive after truth, to be as true as I can, even though I will inevitably find all my truth half poisoned with deceit. This is the terrible thing about humility: that it is never fully successful. If it were only possible to be completely humble on this earth. But no, that is the trouble: You, Lord, were humble. But our humility consists in being proud and knowing all about it, and being crushed by the unbearable weight of it, and to be able to do so little about it.

• Thomas Merton
Thoughts In Solitude

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A Desperate Measure? Wed, 25 Mar 2015 04:01:29 +0000 o-GAY-WEDDING-CAKE-facebook

Note from CM: We didn’t have enough strong opinions expressed yesterday(!), so I thought I’d start a discussion on something that’s happening here in the heart of the great Midwest. I don’t normally devote much space to political debates, but since this one is specifically “Christian” in origin and intent, why not? No, I’m not spoiling for a fight. Just anticipating that one might break out. Be careful, please.

• • •

The legislature in state in which I live, Indiana, is sending a “Religious Freedom Bill” to the governor’s desk for signature. Yesterday the Senate passed the bill 40-10, following the House’s action on Monday by which it approved the measure 63-31. The governor says he’ll sign it.

You can read the entire bill HERE. This is the official summary:

Religious freedom restoration. Prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the governmental entity can demonstrate that the burden: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest. Provides a procedure for remedying a violation. Specifies that the religious freedom law applies to the implementation or application of a law regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity or official is a party to a proceeding implementing or applying the law. Prohibits an applicant, employee, or former employee from pursuing certain causes of action against a private employer.

The legislation was fashioned after a federal law called the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993, signed by President Clinton. Passing such laws in various states around the country is now a focus of many conservative groups in response to recent rulings that have legalized same-sex marriage.

145970946-e1426604521182Why do supporters say we need this law?

Our governor says the bill “is about respecting and reassuring Hoosiers that their religious freedoms are intact.”

One of the bill’s authors stated his underlying concern: “You don’t have to look too far to find a growing hostility toward people of faith.”

A state representative said, “It’s important that we allow our citizens to hold religious beliefs, maybe even those we might be appalled by, and to be able to express those.”

USA Today cites another who supported the bill: “Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, spoke about an anesthesiologist who didn’t want to anesthetize a woman in preparation for an abortion. Borders said he believes the Bible’s command to ‘do all things as unto the Lord’ means religious believers need to be protected not just in church, but in their workplaces as well.”

Another supporter called it a “good, tested, protective shield for all faiths.”

However, it is clear that this bill was passed in a specific cultural context and was designed to allow businesses such as bakeries, florists, photographers and caterers who don’t want to provide services for gay couples to act in ways they deem compatible with their religious faith and without government intrusion.

religious-freedom1The bill’s critics, on the other hand, call it a “religious discrimination law.”

One representative charged, “”It basically says to a group of people you’re second rate, you don’t matter, and if you walk into my store, I don’t have to serve you.”

A similar bill in Arizona was vetoed by then-Republican Governor Jan Brewer, who gave this reasoning in her press conference:

Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences. After weighing all of the arguments, I vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago.

To the supporters of the legislation, I want you to know that I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before. Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes. However, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want. Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value, so is non-discrimination.

One of the interesting implications for politics with a bill like this is that it threatens to divide social conservatives and economic conservatives, and this could become an even more serious problem than it is now for the Republicans.

Business interests in Indiana certainly don’t like the law. The Chamber of Commerce, as well as several major Indiana corporations, spoke out against the bill, warning that it could seriously affect the state’s business climate. They are concerned about being able to attract the best employees to a state which appears not to welcome all. As the Chamber remarked, “this legislation threatens to undo years of progress we have made in positioning Indianapolis as a welcoming community.” They also expressed concern about the potential costs of litigation.

Others have warned that the state’s sports and convention business could take a big hit. Already GenCon, who brought 56,000 visitors to their convention in Indy last year, has petitioned the governor to veto the bill, suggesting they might seek accommodations elsewhere if it becomes law. A local sports columnist quoted a leader in Indianapolis’s hospitality industry:

“We came out against the bill about two weeks ago, joined several other organizations who are fighting this bill,” said Chris Gahl of VisitIndy. “We feel like anything that could be viewed as making Indy inhospitable or unwelcoming could impact our ability to book future business. We’ve been fielding calls all day from potential visitors and convention people who are concerned about this. We’re not in the business of being a political organization, but anything that impacts our ability to draw conventions and events to our city is an issue for us. We want to be as hospitable a place as possible for all our visitors.”

IMG_3616In response to this legislation, so far more than 500 businesses have signed up for the “Open for Service” campaign to communicate their position of non-discrimination.

• • •

In a nutshell, here’s my reaction.

  • Desperate times apparently call for desperate measures. This is a transparently desperate measure by those who feel they’re losing a “culture war.”
  • The main originators, sponsors, and spokespersons for Indiana’s bill have spoken from a “Christian” perspective. I’m sorry, but I missed the “love your neighbor” part of the law, which I thought was the summary and central focus of God’s Law. I can’t think of anything much more Christ-like than humbling yourself and setting aside your personal objections to serve a neighbor with grace while keeping your opinions to yourself.
  • The law is so vague and open to interpretation that one might posit a number of outrageous scenarios. Could a Protestant baker, for example, refuse to make a wedding cake for a Catholic wedding? Or could a photographer refuse to take pictures of an interracial couple?
  • It is also entirely possible that, if signed, this law won’t amount to much at all. Perhaps what one Indiana legislator said is the real story: “This is a made-up issue. It is made up for the purpose of going in front of a few Indiana citizens and thumping your chest for social causes.”
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Damaris Zehner: Some Thoughts on Artificial Birth Control Tue, 24 Mar 2015 04:01:18 +0000 Schwartz-Birth-Control-Development-1200

This is such a divisive topic.  I’ve tried for years to write about it and haven’t found the courage or the focus.  Here’s my claim:  I don’t like artificial birth control.  I think it is spiritually, physically, and socially harmful.  However, I don’t want to write a diatribe against it or try to persuade people with confrontational arguments.  I’d just like to explain myself well enough that those who commented on my last post can understand my “bass-ackward” and “troubling” point of view.


By artificial birth control, I mean hormonal treatments such as pills, injections, and implants; physical barriers such as the diaphragm and condom; withdrawal; chemical spermicides; irritants and abortifacients like the IUD and morning-after pill; surgical sterilization; and abortion.

There are three main options to the use of artificial birth control.

The first is celibacy, either temporary or permanent.  It is one hundred percent effective.  It may have some long-term health impacts – women who have never given birth, for example, seem to be at slightly higher risk for certain types of cancer, and several male sailors I’ve known described a painful condition called “blue balls,” which I will leave to the imagination of the reader.  Opinion is divided over the psychological impacts of celibacy.  Some claim it leads to madness, while others praise the focus and opportunities of the celibate life.  Permanent celibacy is always going to be a minority practice, though, so we’ll move on to the next.

The second is the – well, let’s call it the bunny option.  Some religious groups have made unrestrained breeding a holy activity.  There have even been people – I hope in the past, but nuttiness springs eternal – who disapproved of breast feeding because it delayed the mother’s ability to conceive again.  These groups hope to outbreed their ideological competition.  May I say, as firmly as possible without hitting Caps Lock, that these bunny breeders do not represent most people who have objections to artificial birth control.  God has asked us to restrain all of our primal appetites for our own good and the good of others, and our appetite to procreate is no exception.  Children are not weapons in an ideological war.

The third option is natural family planning (NFP).  The term is often greeted with scorn because of the failure of “the rhythm method.”  This was a primitive attempt to understand a woman’s natural cycles so as to avoid sex during fertile times if the couple didn’t want children.  It relied on counting days, but there is too much variation in cycles for that to be accurate.  So far as I know, no one still uses the rhythm method exclusively any more than bleeding, cupping, or phrenology.  (Okay, yes, sometimes modern medicine still bleeds patients, but my larger point stands.)  Modern natural family planning is an entirely different thing.


I won’t go into detail about how NFP works, but you can read more if you follow the links below.  Tracking fertility by using a variety of symptoms, NFP can achieve effectiveness rates between 99% (as claimed by advocacy groups) and 75% (as claimed by the US government).   Be aware that the government fact sheet lumps together all types of natural family planning, including the rhythm method.  The first document’s numbers only reflect the most effective combination of techniques and exclude the rhythm method, so these two rates are not as far apart as they seem.  The government document does state that tracking a variety of symptoms leads to higher effectiveness rates.  No method except abstinence prevents 100% of pregnancies or live births, but my experience over the course of the more than two decades I used NFP was that I never conceived when I wasn’t trying to conceive.

People who have gotten this far in the research about NFP point out that it is only effective when properly used.  Well, that’s true of all methods of birth control.  (Unless you are willing to discuss forcible sterilization and abortion – and those only work when leaders can find all the women.  Let’s not even go there.)  For NFP to work, both partners have to respect each other, know each other, be committed to each other, show self-restraint toward each other – in other words, be loving and responsible.  I could make the point that no one should be having sex with someone who isn’t responsible and loving; however, I can see the reality of dysfunctional and casual relationships all around me.  But when large numbers of people in a society have sex with people who aren’t loving and responsible, that society has bigger problems than just birth control – whether we’re talking about the rape of child brides in Yemen or the crazy rates of teenage pregnancy I see in my job.  There are caring people who try to reduce the effects of the societal problems by pushing artificial birth control.  When I consider my teenage community-college students who are struggling to get anywhere while caring for a toddler, I can understand why.  I have to say, however, that most of my students have access to birth control and choose not to use it for complex personal and social reasons.  Should America then forcibly require implants or other long-term methods of preventing pregnancy?  Should the government make contraception a requirement for receiving social benefits, as some have claimed?  These are not benign claims.  There are other aspects of artificial birth control we need to consider.


Artificial birth control has been implicated in many health problems.  It’s a tangled issue, so I’m not sure who to believe when I read studies and statistics, but artificial birth control has at minimum caused allergic reactions, high blood pressure, infection, urinary tract problems, hormone imbalances, infertility, and possibly cancer.  These problems overwhelmingly affect women, not men.

NFP uses no hormones, spermicides, surgery, or latex; it does not break the skin or insert anything into the body beyond the occasional thermometer.  Once couples get the original training, they don’t need to make regular visits to a health care provider.  Not only does NFP do no harm, it also promotes health.  Couples who use NFP are quicker to notice changes in the woman’s cycle that can indicate health problems.  They tend to be more in touch with their health and understand it better.

NFP, unlike condoms, does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, and that can be considered a point against it.  However, STDs are one of those bigger problems I mentioned above and need to be addressed more holistically than just handing out condoms.  If NFP promotes loving and responsible sex, it will necessarily reduce the chances of STDs.


Depending on how it’s done, NFP costs little or nothing.  There are virtually no ongoing costs.  That independence is a good feeling in America; it’s essential in poorer countries.  Women who have little or no income can, with brief education for themselves and their husbands, avoid the costs of supplies, travel, and treatment for the secondary effects common to artificial birth control.  I’ve trained couples in a developing country in NFP.  They were desperate for an alternative to hormone injections or abortions, the two methods of birth control offered where we were.  Even to get the injections or abortions, they had to pay to travel to a larger town, find somewhere to stay, and feed themselves during the trip.  In many cases village women did not have the money to do that.

Another plus is that people using NFP are not supporting multinational pharmaceutical companies by buying monthly supplies of pills or condoms – it’s the ultimate local, sustainable technology.  I don’t want to vilify pharmaceutical companies unjustly, but even if their motivations for providing birth control are entirely charitable (which they aren’t), they still cannot know and care about individual women.  Village health educators, mentors, and support groups can.

natural-family-planningWomen’s Rights

Reproductive choice is accepted around the world now as a basic human right.  Those countries that deny women reproductive choice are unattractive ones – poor, violent, and repressive.  It’s good that we in developed countries care about women’s rights to have children or not to have children as they see fit.  But as far as reproductive rights affect us here in the West, let’s be honest – what we want is the right to have sex whenever we want, with whomever we want, and not get pregnant.  And even that is complicated.  In our current environment of sexual freedom, most women at least occasionally have sex not because they really want to but because they think they have to – to be liberated, to avoid seeming clingy or old-fashioned, to keep the affections of a man who could find sex somewhere else, or just because everyone’s doing it.

Artificial birth control is profoundly anti-woman.  Now that it is widely available, no one, man or woman, sees the need to understand the unique qualities of female physiology.  One could say – and many do – that ignoring feminine uniqueness and having sex as if we could never get pregnant is liberation.  Almost every movie and television show takes for granted that sex on demand is liberating and fulfilling for women.  On the contrary; by ignoring feminine difference we are treating women like commodities or slaves – they are to be available for sex at any time, however costly it is to their bodies and psyches to do so, and any “failure” of women to be just like men, in other words to get pregnant, has to be paid for by the woman.  And by the child, of course.  (Abortion is even costly for men, although not all realize it.)

NFP starts with the conviction that fertility, both male and female, is a natural, healthy thing.  It also accepts that there are times when pregnancy is not a good option.  NFP asks men and women to respect themselves enough to practice abstinence for a few days when they have both agreed to delay pregnancy.  Both pay the cost of restraint.  Both participate in the monthly discussion of whether to allow for pregnancy or not.  In this relationship, women are equal to men and have a voice in how they are treated, given their own unique nature; they are shown true love by being respected for who they are.

Population and Resource Balance

I hope by now I don’t even have to make the case that NFP is not an irresponsible approach to the larger environmental issues.  All of us, when we wonder if our species can sustain our current lifestyle, set moral limits on what we’re willing to do to control our population.  For example, nuclear weapons are a very efficient means of population control, but we aren’t willing to consider nuking the world.   Artificial birth control is not the only option for finding balance.  NFP is as effective as artificial birth control and, unlike nuclear holocaust or artificial birth control, respects individual choice and dignity.  It does no harm to its participants, isn’t financially burdensome, and requires cooperation and not coercion so it can’t be forced by repressive governments.

If you are concerned about a sustainable lifestyle, artificial birth control is a useless band-aid.  It has not in itself prevented the world population from increasing from 4.4 billion in 1980 to 7.1 billion today, despite its legality and availability in most countries during those years.  It has nothing to do with the increasing per capita consumption of the richest citizens of the world.  Offering birth control to people who can’t restrain their appetites, who judge their worth by their fertility, or who force themselves on others doesn’t do anything to address the root problems of our sinful nature.  Our goals should be justice for men and women, rich and poor; temperance in our impulses; unselfish love for those around us; and a respect for a variety of lifestyles, including celibacy.  These are what the Bible calls for.  That’s hopelessly idealistic, you might say – it’ll never work.  Well, no, it won’t work.  None of our own efforts will work to save us or our world.  A better question than “Will it work?” would be “Is it right?”


Until 1930 all churches believed that artificial birth control was wrong.   The Catholic Church still does.   I don’t want to present their arguments here, but those who are interested can read more about the topic in The Catechism of the Catholic Church (which is available on line here or in St. John Paul II’s The Theology of the Body (which can be read here). While these are Catholic documents, they express a view that was more or less universally Christian until recently.   Just because people did something for a long time doesn’t make it right, of course, but it’s worth looking into their reasons for thinking what they did.

I’ve tried to address the most common criticisms of alternative family planning methods – that they don’t work and that those who espouse them think that women should be kept barefoot and pregnant.  I don’t want to imply that those are the only issues to consider, though.  NFP isn’t just a more benign form of contraception, although it can be used as such.  What sells it to me is that, unlike artificial birth control, its undergirding philosophy supports the revolutionary, even bass-akward, Christian ideals of justice, love, and self-sacrifice.

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Music Monday: There are years and there are Years (part 2: 2015) Mon, 23 Mar 2015 04:01:59 +0000 1280x720

In 2015, I’m looking forward to a great year in music.

As I said last week, it would be hard to overestimate how much music means to me and how the songs and albums I listen to each year accompany and shape my life. Michael Spencer loved music and wrote about it or spoke about it on his podcast regularly. When Jeff and I began writing together five years ago, it became clear that we were kindred spirits with Michael in this area, and so we began regularly sharing the music we were enjoying with you. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever . . . .

Now, let’s talk about a few of the audio treats that have already been released in 2015, the concerts I’m anticipating, and a couple of albums that I’m eagerly awaiting.

2015 started off on a high note for me with the release of the Decemberists’ record, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World. By the way, a perfect title for Internet Monk.

Led by Colin Meloy, the Decemberists have been known for literate, story-telling songs, with a twist of geekiness, darkness and obscurity thrown in for good measure. There is a bit of that on What a Terrible World, but for the most part, this album presents a straightforward melodic and refreshing folk-rock-pop sound and sensibility that is at times exuberant, at times just pretty.

The opening song, “The Singer Addresses His Audience,” suggests that a change is coming with tongue firmly in cheek. And then, with some of the catchiest horn hooks since Chicago, the band launches into the exuberant “Cavalry Captain.” It’s a sign of good things to come. As Autumn de Wilde says in her brief Rolling Stone review, on this Decemberists record, heart usually emerges more prominent over head, but the end result is a pleasing balance of both. Highly recommended.

Here is an in-studio performance of “Make You Better”:

• • •

How about something new? Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors were unknown to me until earlier this year, but I am liking them a lot. The band is from Nashville, has several connections with Christian artists (Holcomb and his wife are involved in Nashville Young Life), and have toured mostly in the southeastern U.S.

For the most part, Holcomb and his group present lovely singer-songwriter ballads on their new album, Medicine. But then there’s my favorite song on the record, “Here We Go,” a honky-tonk romp that lifts my spirits every time I hear it.

Bonus: it comes with one of the funniest videos I’ve seen in awhile — a fever dream that ends up looking a bit like a Fellini flash mob:


• • •

Speaking of fun, it would be hard to find music that is more smile-inducing than the western swing played by Asleep at the Wheel.

Over the years they have devoted themselves, among their other projects, to keeping the music of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys alive. On their latest effort, Still the King, they bring artists from a whole new generation into the fold, including Amos Lee, the Avett Brothers, Kat Edmondson, Pokey LaFarge, Elizabeth Cook, Katie Shore, and others.

Here is a video feature of Elizabeth Cook and her “Betty Boop” voice, singing her rendition of “I Had Someone Else Before I Had You.”

When things get heavy, this music is the perfect stress-buster.

• • •

Ah, here’s one I’ve been waiting for. Mark Knopfler’s latest release, Tracker, came out last week, filling my car with MK’s tasteful narrative textures. “Quietly riveting,” Rolling Stone opines, and I agree.

Listening to Knopfler is like sharing a few pints around a table with the local storyteller at a pub. I could sit there and listen and ask questions for hours, soaking in the characters and plots and atmosphere for all its worth, eager to come back the next day for more. There’s a laugh or two, a lot of wry winks, and a few turns of phrase that fairly break your heart. This is organic music, wise and well-observed, literate and always generous in spirit.

And one of the best pieces of news I’ve received so far this year is that Mark Knopfler is coming to Indianapolis in the fall, and I can’t wait to enjoy him in person.

Rather than just put up a video of a Knopfler song, here is a behind-the-scenes look at the songwriting and recording process behind Tracker.

• • •

acl3712wilco396273v1Finally, here is a list of some more music I’m looking forward to in the months ahead:

The event I’m looking forward to most is coming up in May, when Wilco plays here in Indy.

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Sundays with Michael Spencer: March 22, 2015 Sun, 22 Mar 2015 04:01:56 +0000 086Note from CM: We are drawing near to the fifth anniversary of Michael Spencer’s death. Each Sunday this year we are re-posting some of his encouraging, challenging words. The following is excerpted from a piece he wrote in March 2008.

• • •

I’m not a literature scholar, but I play one in the classroom several hours a week. That is, when I’m not teaching the Bible to kids from all over America and the world, I teach AP English. Mostly Shakespeare and poetry. The interaction of the two brings some stimulating questions to my mind from time to time.

For example, can you study a text too much?

Let’s say that you came to my house and I had 1500 volumes of books, almost all on Hamlet and related subjects. Extensive reference materials. Everything ever written about the play. Interpretations and commentaries and more interpretations. A small ocean of Hamlet.

You noted that I read Hamlet systematically every day. You noticed that I gave talks on Hamlet and wrote may pages of articles and comments of my own on Hamlet.

One day you begin reading some of my work on Hamlet, and after a while, a thought crosses your mind. Eventually, you look me up to ask me the question that’s presented itself.

Do I believe that everything I see in Hamlet is really there? Or, by studying Hamlet to the extent that I have, do I run the risk of having a lot more to say about Hamlet than is actually in Hamlet? Have I studied a text to the point I’ve lost the perspective of simple, direct meaning in pursuit of what only scholars can know?

In other words, if Shakespeare came into my library, read my articles and listened to my lectures, would he say “Spot on. Keep at it?” Or would he say “Huh? You’ve got to be kidding? Where did you come up with this?”

044Can you study a text too much? Too deeply? With too much background? Too much insight? Finding way more than is actually there in the text?

. . . Now I have as much admiration for lifelong Bible study as you can have. I’ve given the study of the Bible years of my life and the major portion of my education and energies.

I know it has riches and transforming power. I know it is a full library of doctrine and a wonderful collection of law, literature and liturgy.

I believe it is God’s inspired word. It’s authoritative for me and my faith.

But I suspect we’ve looked too closely, and seen a lot that’s not there. I believe we find, arrange, display, demonstrate and defend a lot that isn’t really plainly taught in scripture. I am afraid the Bible is a Rorschach test for many people, and what they see isn’t clouds. It’s rabbits and a train and. . . .

I believe that if we take the Bible as literature, we would be able to say something like this:

The Bible is an extensive collection of literature that, when taken together, presents the story Christians call the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians believe this book is inspired by God and interpreted by the Spirit of God, but it remains a book written by human authors and understood primarily in the obvious ways we approach any literature. The message of the Bible answers the biggest, most important and most vital of life’s questions and proclaims God’s saving message to all persons. The rich literary contents of the Bible can occupy anyone with much study, but in its basic message- its essential, Christ-centered message- there is a remarkable directness and brevity. You do not have to be an expert on first century Judaism or the sociology of sacrificial systems to understand the Bible. The message is ably summarized in the Gospels and elsewhere in the New Testament. Even a child can understand it, believe it and live it.

If we leave the impression that the Bible needs an army of Ph.ds, thousands of brilliant preachers with 3 degrees each or a library of commentaries to be understood, proclaimed and applied, we’re distorting the truth.

Thank God for all the knowledge we have about the Bible, but we’re not gnostics looking for the “secret message” in between the lines. It’s a book, with a plot, a story and characters. Read it — or skim it with some help — get the New Testament message clear, and you are good to go, grow and live.

In fact, what we need is more reminding, recollecting and repeating of the Bible’s message, and less addition to that message.

Study it less? Maybe. Maybe live it, live out of it, communicate it and teach it more. But what we’re looking for in the Bible is fully and completely there in the one Paul said he always preached: Christ Jesus: the crucified Lord.

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Saturday Ramblings, March 21, 2015 Sat, 21 Mar 2015 04:01:16 +0000 Hello imonks, and welcome to SPRING!!!!!  Ready to ramble? Last week’s post just did not have enough silliness, so we are doubling up this week. You don’t mind, do you?

Speaking of silly...

Speaking of silly…

March Madness has begun! How’s your bracket?  Yeah, mine too…  Indianapolis is hosting the Final Four, and the biggest hotel in town just installed a 165 foot tall bracket. Officials said the 44,000-square-foot banner will be in place for three weeks and the hotel will update the bracket after each round of the tournament.


Man, someone’s gonna need a huge sharpie…

Pot for pets? Nevada is considering a bill that would allow pet owners to buy marijuana for sick animals.  This sets my mind a Rambling…what would stoned dogs and cats think about? I mean, living in a human society must be confusing enough to our pets.  How much more so when they’re high.  So I have decided to insert pictures of stoned pets randomly into the post. I can do that, you know.  I get to write the post.  You can’t stop me. 10-dog-stoner-dog-03

Peter Leithart has an interesting argument about gender roles in the liturgy and gender orientation in creation. “Liturgical order and sexual order stand together, and they may fall together. For now, some churches try to split the difference: The sexes are interchangeable in the pulpit and at the table, but radically distinct in bed. That unsteady position will erode, and churches won’t be able to hold the line on the same-sex marriage issue without revisiting and resolving the question of interchangeable sexes in pastoral ministry.” Thoughts?

From the Irony Department comes this headline: Fire Extinguisher Factory Burns Down in Chicago.

Jose Espinoza had a problem.  The cops were looking for him, and he needed some way to disguise himself.  Jose, apparently not understanding the U.S. justice system, decided to make himself into a black man. But how can one change races? Well, obviously…with spray paint. Thankfully, police were not fooled by this brilliant subterfuge:

Police Report: "The camouflage was ineffective."

Police Report: “The camouflage was ineffective.”

A German court fined the father and two uncles of an 18-year-old Muslim citizen for depriving him of his personal freedom when he was a minor in an attempt to force him into marriage with a woman despite his homosexuality. The victim’s father and uncle allegedly threatened him to make him renounce his homosexuality, and then had him kidnapped  in order to arrange his marriage to a Lebanese girl.

images (2)

“Breast is best” is not the (official, anyway) slogan of the SI swimsuit issue, but rather a mantra of sorts that sums up much of today’s research on breastfeeding. Now a longitudinal study has been published, which interviewed 5,914 new mothers about their plans for breastfeeding and then followed up to see how the children did. What makes this study unique is that it followed the subjects all the way to age 30. “We observed that breastfeeding was positively associated with performance and intelligence at 30 years old, as well as with education, school achievement and higher monthly incomes.” More specifically, the subjects who had been breastfed for 12 months or longer had a higher IQ (about 3.7 points), more years of education and earned roughly 20% more than the average income level.

Wanna see 40 seconds of a kitten trolling a turtle?  Of course you do:

Imonk reader Greg sent us along a picture of the church sign below, with this note: “My wife and saw this on a Sunday drive yesterday and turned around to take this picture.  We thought it might be intended as humorous, but the other side had something that was serious.  I don’t know what they mean to say but what it says doesn’t want to make me visit their church!”:

So marriage is denying my desires?

But maybe it’s not as bad as this sign a Knoxville church put up this week:

So, minorities = demons?

So, minorities = demons?

Well, this is strange.  And sad.  Did you know that Tanzania has a problem with witch doctors murdering albinos for body parts?  For some reason, the albinism rate is almost 15 times higher in albinosTanzania than in the rest of the world, and many superstitions have developed about them. It seems almost 80 albinos have been murdered in the past decade or so, and one set of albino body parts sold for $75,000 (in a country where most people make only a few hundred a year).  Thousands of albinos have gone into hiding.

And what to make of the tone of the article that ends this way: “Reconciling fundamental human rights can sometimes feel like a blurry balancing act. The right to life and the right to freedom of religion or belief are both enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But if practicing your beliefs involves the murder of another human being for whatever reason you’ve convinced yourself is legitimate, prepare to face the consequences. Your right to manifest a belief doesn’t trump another’s right to live. The right to life is absolute.” Really? This needs to be said? And how is this anything close to a “blurry balancing act” between religious freedom and the right not to be murdered?

Worse, if possible, is the comment by socialjusticeNOW under the article: “I don’t know how to feel about this issue. Are the albinos a minority that is being oppressed, or does their skin give them white privilege that they think should trump the indigenous beliefs of People of Color? There is a real paradox here that cannot be brushed aside with simplistic moral posturing.” i dont

Germany will allow, for the first time since World War 2, for the book Mein Kampf to be published.  Opponents of the decision said “This book is too dangerous for the general public” and “outside of human logic.”  One person who supports the decision argued,   “But we should remember that a free society rejects the idea that it is up to the authorities to decide what opinions are acceptable. That’s our job, each of us individually…Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. There is an important symbolism built into encouraging robust free speech: We can handle it.” Thoughts, imonks?

Saint Gilbert? There is a movement to make G.K. Chesterton a Saint.  It’s just in the prelim stage right now, but I would totally support that.  If, you know, I was Catholic.puppy-tries-to-escape

Ever heard of Zaytuna College?  Neither did I till this week, when it became the first Muslim college in the U. S. to be accredited.  It offers only one degree — a bachelor of arts in Islamic law and theology.

Party Poopers: Ikea apparently will no longer allow massive hide and seek games in its stores. Last summer the company allowed a few hundred people to play the game in one of its Belgian stores.  The pics on social media, of course, made others desire to do the same thing.  Ikea put up the NO sign when someone put up a Facebook event for one Dutch store and 32,000 people pledged attendance.

images (1)Science and faith detente? Last year a sociologist at Rice, Elaine Ecklund, reported that 76 percent of scientists in the general population identify with a religious tradition.  This week, after finding and crunching more data, she reports that  70 percent of self-identified evangelicals “do not view religion and science as being in conflict.” Both these conclusions are drawn from a survey of 10,000 U.S. adults that claims to be the largest study of American views on these issues. Among Evangelicals, 48 percent view science and religion as complementary, 21 percent view the two world-views as entirely independent of one another, and about 30 percent see these world-views in opposition. Your thoughts, imonks?


Odd headline of the week: Test of love — Man’s girlfriend and ex-partner jump into river to see who he’ll rescue. A police spokesman said: “The girls began arguing and the man’s ex-girlfriend felt insulted by a comment made by the new girlfriend, and so she jumped into the river calling for her former lover to save her. The new girlfriend, fearing that he might indeed jump in to save his ex-lover, then jumped in as well and both of them began calling for him to rescue them from drowning.” Wu [the unfortunate young man] settled the matter by jumping in the water to save his current girlfriend, and then taking the soaking wet and slightly injured young woman to hospital. The police spokesman added: “He called his brother on the way home and told him to go to the river and rescue the ex-girlfriend.” tumblr_mu5wbyCpc61qewacoo5_500Inkwell, a posh village in England, just a few miles from the mansion where Downton Abbey is filmed, finds itself in a bit of a sticky wicket: They are plagued by a poo bomber.  Apparently the woman (residents claim to know who it is but haven’t caught her “in the act’) keeps leaving piles of her excrement in the alleys and driveways. One woman complained, “What she’s doing is definitely not the sort of behaviour you expect in the place like this.” I love the British understatement, but can’t help wondering where, exactly, this resident would expect this sort of behaviour to occur.

But a solution may be in the pipeline: the poo bus.  England’s first bio-bus (but nobody will call it that) will hit the streets this month, operating four days a week on Service 2 (yes, really). If the route proves a success, the company will consider introducing more buses. Sewage will be turned into biomethane gas, which powers the vehicle. I believe it can also run on political campaign promises.

Hopefully its headed to fuel up at Inkwell

Last year, a federal judge overturned Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage.  Last week, the Oklahoma  House of Representatives passed legislation that will require couples looking to get married to seek approval from a clergy member in order for them to be married in the state. The bill’s sponsor: “I think Oklahoma’s at the point where we have decided we are drawing a line today and sidestepping the government overreach. You know in the early days, the king actually went before the priest to ask for marriage. Somehow along the way, we’ve changed it to where we have to ask the government before we go to the priest to be married, and now we have problems.” tumblr_mu5wbyCpc61qewacoo8_500

Customs officials in Italy seized a ginormous egg fossil that a man attempted to ship to the United States. The fossil is believed to be the egg of an Aepyornis maximus, also known as an “elephant bird.” The giant kiwi-like creatures could reach 10 feet tall and weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

A couple of these would have made a nice omelet

A couple of these would have made a nice omelet

Finally, Microsoft announced this week that it is killing off Internet Explorer, the tool commonly used to download Chrome or Firefox.  Well, technically they’re not “killing” it; They’re just putting it in a dark room and refusing to feed it.  Ever.  So Windows 10 will have a new browser, with no official name yet. Microsoft is said to be debating between Dora the Internet Explorer, Internet Tourist, Firewolf, or ChromeME2.  RIP, Internet Explorer.  You will always live on in our viruses.


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The Curse of Knowledge Fri, 20 Mar 2015 04:01:33 +0000 Square Peg in a Round Hole

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Genesis 2:16-17 – NIV

I know too much.

My theological training isn’t killing me, but it certainly makes it difficult for me to find a church.

If you had read my post from two weeks ago, you would know that a little over a month ago I took the final step in leaving the church that I had been attending for eight years. It was a good church, and it was a really hard decision to make.

My previous Pastor, in one of his last emails to me wrote: “I wish you well in your search, but I feel that you will be hard pressed to find another church that is as loving and as tolerant as [ours] even though we are not the perfect church… If we are not a good “fit” for you, I wonder where you would “fit”.

He is absolutely right in what he wrote, and this is my biggest challenge.

Over the last number of months on Internet Monk I have laid out much of what I believe along with the journeys that I took to arrive at those positions. To summarize (with links), I am or have become:

1. A Theistic-Evolutionist

2. An Arminian

3. A (Quiet) Charismatic

4. An Egalitarian

5. A Fan of the Early Church Fathers

You could add to that list the fact that I don’t hold to inerrancy (though I do have a high view of scripture), am strongly in favor of open communion, am open to different modes of baptism, and reject dispensationalism. I also do not have a great appreciation for a formal liturgical style of worship. There are a number of other items which I won’t get into, and I have a few other areas in which I have yet to make up my mind. If I was to speak my mind on those topics I am sure I would make more than a few people uncomfortable.

A few months ago I visited the first service of a church plant that friends of mine were involved with. Experientially, the service was wonderful, one of the best services I have ever attended. When I looked at their statement of faith, however, I found that we disagreed on points one through four (from my list) along with inerrancy. In short, I could never become a member of their church because I could not be true to myself and my own beliefs and sign on the dotted line. It would have been so much easier if I didn’t have the knowledge that I have, or if I hadn’t drawn the conclusions that I have drawn.

Like Adam and Eve were free to eat from any tree, I am free to attend any church. Like Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge and being barred from the Garden, my knowledge bars me from many churches.

If you look at my fairly short list you would see that I am not a good fit with wide swaths of Christianity. Calvinistic or Reformed? Nope. Lutheran? Nope. Catholic or Orthodox? Nope. Evangelicals? Nope.

I used to be willing to do some pretty impressive mental gymnastics to fit in. Or I would sign a statement of faith holding my nose because of the metaphorical smell I was getting from the document. I find that I can’t do that anymore and still be true to myself.

But I still want to belong. Somewhere.

So here are my questions for our readers. Would your faith tradition/denomination/local congregation work for me if it was transplanted up to Dundas, Ontario? If not, why not? If you think it would, what make you think that? Make sure you tell me what your faith tradition is. What other Christian traditions should I consider? They may be different from your own. Lastly, what would you be doing if you were in my shoes? As always your thoughts and comments are welcome and feel free to interact (respectively) with each other on your suggestions as well.

Update: There have been some great questions posed back to me. I don’t have time to answer them today (work calls), but I will take the time over this week to answer each one, and respond to them in next Friday’s post.

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A Strange and Awesome Conclave Thu, 19 Mar 2015 04:01:32 +0000 A Strange and Awesome Conclave

criminal_justice_jurisprudenceInside the kingdom of night I witnessed a strange trial. Three rabbis, all erudite and pious men, decided one winter evening to indict God for having allowed his children to be massacred. An awesome conclave, particularly in view of the fact that it was held in a concentration camp.

But what happened next is to me even more awesome still. After the trial at which God had been found guilty as charged, one of the rabbis looked at the watch which he had somehow managed to preserve in the kingdom of night and said, “Ah, it is time for prayers.”

And with that the three rabbis, all erudite and pious men, bowed their heads and prayed.

• Elie Wiesel
Background of The Trial of God

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Alms, not Tithes Wed, 18 Mar 2015 04:01:17 +0000 The Widows Mite, Ravenna mosaic

The Widows Mite, Ravenna mosaic

I have never heard an evangelical sermon on almsgiving.

Despite countless texts in the Hebrew Bible about generosity toward the poor, the example of the first Christians, and a long tradition of the practice, especially during Lent, I have rarely heard the word mentioned in my adult life as a Christian. “Tithes and offerings,” yes of course, and many are the sermons I have heard about the generic subject of “stewardship” or “giving,” but rarely has anyone explained to me what “almsgiving” means and how it relates to other kinds of giving practices.

The other day as I sat in the sanctuary it hit me that the “Bible-believing” churches, pastors, and teachers I’ve sat under and those like me who’ve come forth trained under their direction have gotten the subject of Christian generosity and serving others with our resources all jumbled up. We don’t grasp some important distinctions when it comes to “biblical giving.”

Take the tithe, for example. I still hear people talk about it all the time. I still hear churches urge tithing as a fundamental Christian duty. Even in churches that don’t use the term or think of it as a NT concept, it seems to me that most churches have functionally taught the basic principle of the tithe.

This may surprise you, but that basic principle of tithing is not the concept of giving 10%. 10% is the amount a tithe represents, but it doesn’t describe why the Old Testament required tithing.

The fundamental point of the tithe in Israel was to maintain the theocracy. The various tithes required in the law went primarily to support the Temple, the priesthood, the government and civic institutions of the nation. There were charitable uses for tithes as well and special tithes specifically for that purpose, but always in the context of national and civic responsibility. The tithe was the taxation engine of the nation of Israel to support their life in the Promised Land.

In other words, paying your tithes in ancient Israel = paying your taxes.

The basic principle of the tithe is that it was mandated to keep the God-ordained institutions running. Of course, even the tithe was to be given out of recognition that God owned everything, that he was the true King, and that he had redeemed them and provided the Land for them. It was not simply a civic obligation. As citizens in a theocracy, giving tithes was an expression of their faith, gratitude, and love for their neighbors. I am not denying the spiritual import of the tithe. But it is important to see that the tithe was primarily the financial means of supporting Israel’s infrastructure as they lived as a nation in the Land under the Law.

That is why you will find precious little about the tithe in the New Testament for the Church of Jesus Christ. It is not because for Christians “stewardship” and “giving” changed from being something “required” to something “voluntary,” a statement which I have heard (and taught) a thousand times. Rather, it’s because there was no longer a Temple, a priesthood, or a nation to underwrite — they were all fulfilled in Christ. There is no more localized, institutionalized theocracy to maintain!

However, churches have taken this basic principle of the tithe — mandated institutional support — and transferred it to the Church (as an institution). Whether they call it “tithing” or not, whether they uphold a 10% standard or not, churches that teach that Christians are responsible to do their primary giving to “support the Church” are advocating the principle of the tithe. When ministers teach that Christians’ first giving responsibility is to “support the Church” and her ministries, they are revealing a “tithe” mentality.

And I think they are completely missing the boat when it comes to what scripture is urging us to practice.

Now, I am okay with giving to my church to support its vocational ministers (as encouraged by Paul) and to help provide a place and programs to advance the cause of Christ. I happen to think it’s a worthy cause. But I see it as more of a practical necessity than a requirement. There is no “biblical” command that Christians must underwrite buildings, organizations, various kinds of staff, or programs and projects to “build the church” or maintain it.

Indeed, I would dare to say that most of this kind of “giving” is not the kind Jesus and the apostles, or even the law and prophets are talking about at all when advocating generosity and charitable giving. “Supporting the Church” is not the NT meaning of “giving.”

widows-mite-lInstead, I would argue that exhortations and examples of Christian giving, as presented in the NT, are based on the concepts associated with almsgiving.

This is a different kind of giving. Almsgiving is not grounded in the need to support theocratic institutions, but on the specific call to “remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10).

When speaking of the responsibility of God’s people to practice charity and generosity to others, particularly the poor, the Talmudic Rabbis used a Hebrew word which indicates compassion for others that arises from a love of justice (צְדָקָה, ẓedakah). Greek-speaking Jews used the word ἐλεημοσύνη (mercifulness). The Jewish Encyclopedia summarizes the concept they were trying to communicate as: “charity in the spirit of uprightness or justice.” This is exactly the way Jesus talked about it too; he called it “practicing righteousness” (Matthew 6:1). When the “haves” share their abundance to help the “have nots” have peace and security, this promotes the process of turning the world rightside-up.

Thus, almsgiving takes us in a different direction than mandated institutional support. It takes us outside the realm of “paying taxes” and “supporting the enterprise” into the realm of caring for others through generosity.

And so in the NT we read of the needy man outside the Temple to whom people gave alms as they entered (Acts 3:2). We have a Gentile exemplar of almsgiving in Cornelius: “He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God” (Acts 10:2). When Jesus pointed out the widow who was giving her “mite,” she was putting coins in an alms-box outside the Temple, not paying her tithes. Though poor herself, she sought to help others even less well off. One of the Apostle Paul’s greatest projects was to raise alms from his Gentile churches that he might present to their poorer brethren in Palestine, not only as an act of compassionate care, but also as a sign of unity in Christ. Some of the strongest passages in the NT on the subject of generous giving grew out of this charitable effort (1Corinthians 16:1-4; 2Corinthians 8-9), and the underlying principle is that of almsgiving — caring for others through generosity.

I used to think that the primary difference between “giving” under the Old Covenant and “giving” under the New Covenant involved a law vs. grace issue. Under Moses, charitable giving was required and specified through the 10% rule. However, in Jesus I was taught that we practice “grace giving” — we give freely to others because Christ gave himself freely for us. Turns out it’s not that simple. It is not just law vs. grace, required vs. voluntary, 10% tithe vs. sacrificial giving. There is as much or more about grace and gratitude and compassion, justice, generosity and sacrificial giving in the OT as in the NT. The NT instructions about such giving, indeed, grow directly out of the OT soil of almsgiving.

Unfortunately, over the years churches and ministers and teachers have gotten it all jumbled up so that people don’t really understand the basic principles and purposes of charitable giving. As a result, the focus has been on “supporting the Church” and not on “caring for the poor.” It has been about following a principle which underlies the theocratic notion of tithing rather than on giving focused attention to caring for the needy.

Christians are not the nation of Israel any longer, and we do not have the Temple and the priesthood, theocratic institutions to maintain or civic responsibilities in the Promised Land to uphold. Therefore, we don’t tithe anymore. We are citizens in all lands, and if you pay your taxes and support good civic causes, you are already doing the equivalent of “tithing” in Israel.

And once again, I must also reiterate: if you want to support your church or Christian organization in that way, you are free to do so and it may indeed be a wise investment in the work of the Kingdom. But don’t let any preacher lay on you the responsibility to “tithe” or suggest that giving to “support the church” is a “biblical” description of what God requires. It’s not about maintaining the infrastructure and keeping the institutions of theocracy going. At the core it’s about doing what Jesus did — practicing generosity so that others might have life and have it more abundantly.

I don’t have space in this post to explore various dimensions of what it means to give alms, to practice “charity in the spirit of uprightness or justice.” Suffice it for now to say that the focus is on caring for others in genuinely compassionate and just ways and doing so with grace and generosity. This can be done through individual acts and gifts of charity or in more organized and extended ways through trustworthy organizations that exist for such a purpose.

Perhaps we’ll explore that further in another post. Lent is an ideal time to think about these things.

Bottom line? Jesus-shaped giving, almsgiving, is all about loving our neighbors from the heart — in practical, generous ways — because of the love and grace God has shown us, so that his righteousness and peace may fill the earth.

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