Taking the Law Seriously

Antinomianism is a disturbing trend in contemporary Christian circles. I don't think it's only those of us in the Reconstruction/theonomy/whatever camp who feel this way. In Evangelical circles, especially in the arts, I find there's a sort of disdain toward God's Law that, in my opinion, is wreaking havoc in our part of the Church.

We too easily look at God's commandments as simply that which no longer condemns us since we are in Christ. Being "freed from the Law," we pay no more attention to it. When someone brings it up as regards a particular issue (say sodomy since it's popular) we easily fall into the trap of the "shellfish fallacy." We for the most part dismiss the idea that the Law still has something to say about how we are to live. We're very concerned to not come across as Pharisaical legalists. We certainly don't want to be accused of guilt-by-association with whatever group of so-and-sos those on the other side of an issue want to lump us in with.

The attitude finds its way into our daily life. If we even read the Law we read the "offensive" commandments through lenses made of caveats, through the loophole if you will of our freedom from condemnation.

In certain circles lacking spiritual disciplines (such as Lent), I see at least a temptation to not deal with the idea that God has very definite ideas about what being like Him looks like and does not look like.  In our concern to reach out to the lost we are afraid of confronting the idea that God really does despise certain things and requires certain others.

Are we too easily persuaded that it's kooky to look at, say, adultery in exactly the same way we look at murder? How about reviling parents?

Can we deal with the thought that those (to us) minor things which God considered on par with murder in His Law ought to be abhorred by us to the same extent, because that's what God is like?

It's worth trying on for size, just to see what you really think about it.

My Humble Suggestion:
Lent begins Wednesday. Over the days leading up to Easter, try reading Deuteronomy. Better yet, write it out into a notebook, maybe a chapter at a time. Read it with the attitude that these commandments are God's revelation of who He is, what He is like, and what He wants us to be like. When you hit something that sticks in your craw, don't simply quote Galatians at it. Think of it as the attitude you ought to have in your heart. Really try to believe it.

I promise you, when Good Friday comes around, you'll feel it. When Easter follows, your joy will be full.

You may or may not be persuaded toward the Theonomic position, but you will at least really know why.

P.S. I've already tried antimonianism and found it, shall we say, lacking.

A Don Miller Excursis

Don Miller has raised a ruckus and many thoughtful responses have been written. I am not linking to his posts, because I consider his position poisonous. But I've had some good discussions on account of them (and it's enough to bring me out of blog retirement), so I'm thankful for his thoughts. Maybe I'll even finish some things I said I'd write as a result.

I read a few chapters of Blue Like Jazz before deciding I had better things to read. That's the extent of my interest in Mr. Miller's writing. I have many friends who read his books and blog, and from time to time hear him mentioned. That's how I came to read his "Why I Don't Go to Church" posts. I tweeted a bit about it, but saw an opportunity to address something tangential that came to mind here.

Y'all know, or should know, that reforming the worship of the Evangelical Church is a major concern of mine. I believe many if not most of our culture's problems flow from the practice of our cultus. In Mr. Miller's thinking I see precisely that which guys like John Nevin were predicting 170 years ago when revivalism was in full swing.

Several false assumptions lie behind Miller's self-excommunication. The biggest is that the worship service exists to meet his needs. Failing to do so, it may be abandoned for that which does--a solitary walk in the country, personal devotion, or (tellingly, in my opinion) being in charge of his company and by teaching.

A couple of other assumptions follow from this: that worship exists to provide personal intimacy with God, and that the worshipers are there to learn.

I've already sent out some thoughts on those so suffice to say worship exists for God's sake, and any personal feelings and learning we get from it are secondary. But my interest here has more to do with practice.

When Miller writes of "traditional" Church, he means something quite different from what someone like me, who attends a traditional Church, means by that word, for the service he describes (music and a sermon, probably with an invitation afterward) is a new invention. It is, to use Nevin's language, the "system of the Anxious Bench," or the practice of the revivalists, as opposed to the traditional practice of the historic Church.

It's precisely the revivalistic form and content that is leaving Miller, a "kinesthetic learner," dry. There's nothing for him to do. It's telling he opines that most men probably struggle as he does, as there's likely quite a bit of feminizing emotionalism involved. He's not connected to the lyrics of the music. The sermon's not getting through. There's something to be examined here: Are the songs romantic jingles? Are the sermons simply build-ups to the invitation's fervor? These over time can and do leave people burnt out. Perhaps not, and he is simply being disobedient. But either way, he's bought the paradigm: corporate worship is to serve an individual's felt needs and desires, and so when it doesn't, find another angle or gimmick, or abandon it altogether.

This is the mindset that revivalism's practices have brought about. It's this that I seek to oppose, and I pray in some small way to hold up an alternative.

I have been praying for Don Miller, because abandoning Church ALWAYS--hear me here--ALWAYS leads to kooky town. He, like most of us, needs to have his thinking reformed about worshipping the Triune God His way, and he needs to be doing so, regularly. He needs the only true intimacy with God which is available: Holy Communion with Him in the Body of Christ, and a life lived in its context.

Revivalism, pt. 7

1. Revivalism has failed. It fails because it steers us away from what God wants and towards ourselves--our emotions and felt needs.

2. Revivalist techniques, emphases and content need to be self-consciously avoided, and that which revivalism displaced should be embraced and emphasized in our worship.

3. This is not to manipulate people but to reorient our worship toward what God says He wants.

4. This will bring reform to the Church.

5. This in turn will reform the culture.

6. It will be opposed even from unlikely sources.

7. Because it is what God says He wants, it will happen, after us if not with us. This should encourage us in the face of resistance.

Lent 2011: The Death of Lily and Adam's Sin

I've always had a lot of empathy for our first father, Adam. I've listened to many foolish brothers run him down for what he did, and for the consequences which his sin brought into the world. My knee-jerk response has always been, "You'd have done it too, probably sooner. Honor thy father."

Whenever I read of the Fall, my thoughts inevitably lead to considering what must have been Adam's profound regret, a sorrow which would last the better part of a millennium. I grieve over what it must have felt like to watch mankind multiply and fill the Earth, only to sicken, fight, and die, knowing that each person is your offspring and every death is your responsibility, even down to the lowliest inhabitant of a creation subjected to futility.

This year, during the "bright sadness" of Lent, just the barest inkling of that experience has intruded into my life, as I watched our dear cat Lily Belle die on the vet's table.

Lily came to us at an Evening Prayer service at our home with some of our Church family. I was playing drums at another Church that evening, and so came home late after everyone had arrived. Immediately, my wife and friends started telling me of a stray "kitten" who had walked out of the bushes and onto our doorstep, trying to come in each time another guest arrived. Later, I met her too: tiny, dirty, flea-ridden, and emaciated, with the saddest little face. My heart melted, and after feeding her we made her a little pallet in the garage.

We explored shelter options, but I soon discovered that she was deaf. That settled it: we would cross the two-cat limit and become "those people." Our vet informed us that our "kitten" was actually a sweet little old lady, somewhere around seventeen years old!

Lily Belle came home and fit right into our life. She was content to eat tons of Fancy Feast and rest in a couple of comfy spots. Occasionally she'd explore but she was happy with the claim she had staked to the living room. She arrived at detente with the two boys with a minimum of complaining from either side.

A sweeter cat you'll never find. Lily maintained a constant, gentle purr whenever her people were present. She was at home and pleased in our presence and loved to have her little head stroked. She wasn't particularly playful (either old age or life on the street had killed those impulses) but sometimes we'd walk into the room to find her sitting in a paper bag or cardboard box reserved for the younger cats' use.

But the way of all flesh crept upon Lily Belle, and her little kidneys began to give out. She stopped eating, became dehydrated, and grew more and more lethargic. After attempts on our part to give her subcutaneous water and syringe feedings, it became apparent that there would be no prolonging the end results of the disease. We would either watch her suffer or euthanize her before her tiny body began to shut down.

Most of us know the pain of that trip--that agonizing last car ride, the tearful goodbye, the lonely drive home and the sting of every reminder around the house. It's heartbreaking.

But what lies behind that heartbreak? Is it merely a severed emotional attachment, the loss of a companion, the interruption of a comfortable home life? Is there more, something that gives the deaths of our beloved pets meaning?

I believe so. I believe so because I believe that my father Adam sinned, and in him I sinned.

Before the transgression our father was given charge of the entire creation, and interestingly that mandate has never been repealed. Rather, it was restated several times to his descendants, and recorded for the rest of us. We have inherited a position of kingly stewardship over all the other creatures but now the glory of our authority is tainted by the curse, and our relationship to them is strained and marred by death.

We haven't lost it all. I also believe our delight in our animals derives from our exercising loving dominion over them. Taking responsibility for their lives, for their care and well being, brings deep satisfaction to our souls, because in that we imitate the God Who cares for all. A wise man regardeth the life of his beast, and acting in wisdom always brings blessing.

The tragedy of the Fall is that the blessing of owning responsibility for our pets' lives involves owning responsibility for their deaths as well. We brought Lily Belle into our lives knowing she'd be leaving us. We took on that grief the day we opened our door to her.

But we did open our door. We knew what it would cost, yet we esteemed loving her, nurturing her, doing what we could to restore her as a thing worth the pain of having to watch her die. As two among the many commissioned to restore the world, we did what we could.

I think in the end that's my Lenten lesson. As I live through another cycle of the Church year — at this time owning my own sin even while I'm forgiven — I live through the pain of the curse while working my small part in its undoing. I grieve the pain in the world with my eyes set firmly upon the wiping away of every tear. I know my Redeemer is making all things new, and I thank Him for our Lily Belle and for giving us an achingly brief charge over her life. I take comfort and joy in that the creation's groaning is ever so slowly giving way to singing.

I heard a bit of both this year, and was greatly blessed in it.

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, pt.2

Read this. This is a perfect set-up for this series of blog posts, and a reminder to me to get on it. Stay tuned.