January 28, 2014

Christians, Atheism, Incest, and Cannibalism

For the first three centuries Christians had to endure many flare ups of severe persecution. Among other things, Christians were crucified, fed to lions, dragged behind mad bulls, burned at the stake in Nero’s garden to light his parties, sews inside animal carcasses and then torn apart by the dogs, and subjected to the iron chair—a metal chair was heated until it was red hot and then a naked Christian was brought out and forced to sit in it.

Christians were not persecuted by Rome simply because they worshipped Jesus. The Romans had many gods and they really didn’t care if Jesus got added to the mix. It was other things that drew the ire of the crowds and the crown. In his excellent book Church History in Plain Language, Bruce Shelly lists three main reasons why Christians were persecuted. These included (1) life-style, (2) slander, and (3) Caesar worship.

1. Life-style
The Christians sought after holiness and lived lives that were very different from the pagans around them. They didn’t worship the pagan gods. They didn’t frequent the temples and offer sacrifices. They didn’t approve of the violence of the gladiatorial games. They didn’t practice infanticide (but instead rescued abandoned infants). And they had a sexual ethic vastly different from the promiscuous world around them. Christians were therefore scorned because they refused to go along with the normal practices of society. Shelly writes,

Thus, simply by living according to the teachings of Jesus, the Christian was a constant unspoken condemnation of the pagan way of life.  It was not that the Christian went about criticizing and condemning and disapproving, nor was he consciously self-righteous and superior. It was simply that the Christian ethic itself was a criticism of pagan life.

2. Slander
It may sound strange, but early Christians were accused of (a) atheism, (b) incest, and (c) cannibalism. They were accused of atheism because they denied the existence of the pagan gods. They were accused of incest and sexual immorality because Christians met together for “love feasts.” Love feasts were simply the early version of the Lord’s Supper, but the hyper-sexualized non-Christians around them assumed that anything with the name “love feast” must be something erotic. Also, since the Christians referred to each other as “brother” and “sister” the rumor was that Christians met for incestuous orgies at their secret meetings. Finally, Christians were also accused of cannibalism because at these meetings Christians would, of course, eat and drink the body and blood of their founder.

3. Caesar Worship
Finally, Christians were persecuted because they did not participate in the state-mandated worship of Ceasar. By the time of Decius’ reign (249-251) emperor worship was universal and compulsory. Again, it wasn’t as if Rome was telling the Christians that they needed to stop worshipping Jesus. All they needed to do was to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar and say with their lips, “Caesar is Lord.” But Christians were unwilling to do that.

By way of application, there is a lot that we can learn from each of these.

(1) When we live according to God’s plan, people of the world will resent us because of our different lifestyle. No matter how loving and kind we are, this will happen—even if we never open our mouths to “judge” anyone else. Sin loves company, not a contrast.

(2) Christians in the early church were slandered unfairly with wild accusations. We shouldn’t be surprised when the same thing happens to us today. Followers of Jesus today are unfairly accused of being narrow-minded fools, hateful bigots, anti-scientific cavemen, judgmental tyrants, hypocrites, and more. If you expected to be treated fairly by the world, I’m sorry you had that illusion.

(3) Pluralism is the order of the day. Most people won’t care if you worship Jesus—as long as you don’t think that He is the only way. That type of exclusiveness is something that our tolerant society simply cannot tolerate. Also, we may not be asked to burn incense to Caesar, but don’t be surprised when you run into other ways that you will expected to compromise your integrity in order to be considered a good citizen.

Persecution comes in many forms. Will you acquiesce or will you declare that Jesus is Lord?

January 23, 2014

Designed by an Idiot

If you look carefully at the car in this picture you will notice that it contains major design flaws. There are several. You might not be an engineer, so I will point them out to you:

  • Notice the front, driver-side wheel. The way that it is bent down on an angle is a major design flaw. That is going to be terrible for gas mileage. It will also affect handling and give uneven wear on the tire. Ideally, all wheels should be straight. 
  • The windshield on this car will provide terrible visibility. It will also provide less protection than if the windshield had been designed as one piece of solid glass.   
  • The driver-side door also has major problems. The concave design is bad for wind resistance. It is also makes it difficult for the driver to get in and out of the car easily. 
Okay, enough pretending. Obviously this car has been in an accident. However, if somehow I actually thought that this car rolled off the assembly line in this condition, I could only conclude that the car was designed by an idiot.

There are people who make this same mistake when they look at the world we live in. The look around and they see sickness, and earthquakes, and violence. They conclude that there simply can’t be a perfect God who designed this world.

We live in a world of conflicting data. When we look at the world, it is obvious that there are things that point to its design. Even looking at the crashed car, a person can tell that certain parts were designed to fulfill certain purposes. The car was in an accident, but it wasn’t the result of an accident. It wasn’t put together by a tornado in a junkyard. There might even be some parts of the car that still work.

In our world we see a combination of design and disaster. There is beauty and there is ugliness. The world is finely tuned to support life. Statistically, we should be shocked that there is even one planet in the universe that is able to support life. When we think of our bodies, we should be amazed that they work even half as good as they do. But other people look at the world and see all of the things that are badly bent out of shape and ask why would God do that? 

Why do I have this sickness? Why did my family fall apart? Why are there birth defects and diseases if there is a God? Why did my friend die? Many people look at the disorder in the world and conclude that there simply can’t be a God. It just would not make sense. 

In fact, this was one of the motivating factors that caused Charles Darwin reject God and develop his theory of evolution. Nature was red in tooth and claw. In a letter, Darwin wrote:

“There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designed and created the Ichneumonidae [parasidic wasp] with the expressed intention of their [larva] feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that the cat should play with mice.”

Darwin saw too much pain and misery in the world to believe that it was designed by a good and all-powerful God.

There were many people in Darwin’s day who argued for the existence of God based on design. If you walk along the beach and find a watch, you can look at its parts and conclude that it was designed and thus that there was a Designer. But Darwin and others saw the flaws and reached the opposite conclusion. Darwin looked at the pain and suffering in the world and concluded that it could not be the work of a competent Designer. 

The problem was that people had forgotten the Biblical storyline. Creation, Fall, Redemption…

Deistic arguments from design failed because they didn’t take into account the Biblical narrative. And because of that failure there were unable to explain the real world that confronts us. We exist in a world that appears to contain both unfathomable design as well as unexplainable chaos.  Biblical Christianity is able to explain what other worldviews cannot. In fact, this world is exactly the one we would expect if Biblical Christianity is true. 

According to the Biblical story this world was designed and created by God. God is perfect in goodness and unlimited in power and wisdom. When the world that God created rolled off of the assembly line, it was in pristine condition. God inspected His handiwork and certified it as “good” (Genesis 1:31). 

Yet as soon as God handed over the keys of creation we proceeded to drive it directly into a tree. 

Our first parents rebelled against God and in doing so plunged God’s good creation into ruin. This is what we call “the fall.” Since the event of the fall in Genesis 3, this world has been a different place. There is still evidence of design, but the creation is horribly damaged. Romans 5 tells us that because of one man’s sin, death spread to all men. Romans 8:19-21 describes the created order as now being “subjected to frustration” and in “bondage to decay” because of the fall. Although God had created the world as "very good" things are no longer the way they were. 

The car was designed well, but it was in an accident. That’s the world we live in. 

If you don’t realize that, you might say to yourself, Why is my body such a disappointment if I am designed by God? How can there be a God when my aunt or uncle died of cancer? How can there be a God when my family fights so much? If there is a God and things are designed this way, why aren’t my parents together? Why did the person I love die? Why do tsunamis kill thousands? Why is there so much hurt? Why is there so much pain? Why do I struggle with these temptations? Why would God design me with desires that I’m not supposed to have?  

The Bible explains why there are things that are beautiful. It explains why there are so many things that work wonderfully. It explains why we can even be here. The Biblical story also explains why there is disorder and death and cruelty and suffering. It explains the order as well as the disorder. 

God has made a way to fix this broken world. He did this by coming into this messed up world and fixing it from the inside out. By Christ’s perfect and life and death, He is able to make all things new.  

January 17, 2014

The Golden Rule Argument for Marriage

While driving today I was struck by an argument for the standard understanding of marriage as the union on one man and one woman—based on the Golden Rule. I believe it is succinct and compelling—if people are honest with themselves. Here it is:

The Golden Rule tells us to do unto others as we would have them do unto ourselves.

Ask yourself: Do you wish that you had been raised by your own father and mother who stayed together after they conceived you and then raised you in the context of a committed and loving relationship?

If you wish this for yourself then you should wish this for others as well. 

Therefore you should support the historic understanding of marriage as the lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and you should oppose anything that weakens, redefines, or devalues that understanding. 

If you were raised by your own mother and father who stayed together, loved each other, and loved you, then you are envied by many many people. My wife and I have worked with young people for fifteen years and have had many conversations with youth from all sorts of fractured families. Yes... young people have a way to roll with the punches, but across the board they would tell us that their deepest longing was the wish that their mom and dad had been able to stay together as a family. Some could only dream about this as a fairy-tail. 

Marriage is what keeps mom and dad together. We would do well as a society to treat the union of one man and one woman as something very special and sacred. Every single human being on this planet owes their existence to this one precise combination. This combination is the source of life. When a society values authentic marriage children have a better chance of being raised by mom and dad. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...