Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cherishing the Perishing

Since my wife died on February 11, almost every morning I have awakened with a hymn in my heart. I know that is because people are praying for me, and to all of you who read this, I say, "'Thank you' for your prayers. They work."

This morning's hymn was this, penned by the blind hymnist Fannie Crosby in 1869:
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Though they are slighting Him, still He is waiting,
Waiting the penitent child to receive;
Plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently;
He will forgive if they only believe.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Rescue the perishing, duty demands it;
Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
Back to the narrow way patiently win them;
Tell the poor wand’rer a Savior has died.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.
Although this is not a commentary on contemporary Christian music, modern mega-churches never sing this song because it is too lyrically complicated, and because swaying religious sentiment can be more cheaply attained.

The song triggered my recollection of three principles or maximums set forth by Immanuel Kant in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals:

First Maxim: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

Second Maxim: "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end."

Third Maxim: "Therefore, every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends."

Boiled down to their simplest expression, the maxims assert that mortality mandates morality. We should do good to other human beings because they, all of them, are destined for death. In view of the compulsion and compunction of an inner law of rightness and goodness, and in view of universal mortality, we should never treat others as means to our own selfish ends, but as ends in themselves, "ends" because of their destiny with death; in other words, we should cherish those who will perish.

In Christian terms, this means the Golden Rule applied to all humanity. How difficult it is for us to apply that rule even to those we love the most, and inestimably difficult to apply the rule to those we do not love at all.

Dear Reader, as moral human beings, let us be about not just cherishing the perishing but, as Fannie Crosby reminds us, let us
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The surprisingly systematic televangelist---updated

Does heresy bother you? Do heretical preachers irk you? Are you doubly perturbed by heretics who make a lot of money and who have large television audiences? Do the embers of anger burn within when a heretic becomes the face of American Christianity?

I reckon some people don't care. In fact, I imagine that most Christians assume that "everyone" knows faith healers and prosperity preachers are nuts and don't worry about the deleterious effect they have on people's lives.

I just can't do that; I can't avoid being genuinely angry at prosperity preachers because I've seen firsthand how they prey on the weak, poor, and desperate. I've also seen at least one great man of God drink the snake oil of a particularly evil prosperity preacher.

Currently, I'm reading a book on the Word of Faith Movement, by Hank Hannegraaff, the famed "Bible Answer Man." (I like Hank---he's not a Calvinist, but he does good work, and he seeks a biblical answer to things, which I greatly appreciate; he's amillennial, and he encourages people to read their Bibles.) I've been surprised to learn how worked out and consistent Word of Faith theology is. In the past, I considered all the prosperity preachers to be semi-bible literate fools, who knew just enough Scripture to bilk people out of money. Not so. Prosperity preachers have a worked out theology, one bent on minimizing Christ and overestimating the value and ability of mankind.

Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Rod Parsely, Kenneth Copeland, John Hagee, and the new rising star Todd Bentley (famous for attempting to literally kick the cancer out of people) are the main players in this movement, and they are all branches from the same cultic tree of Kenneth Hagin.

The foundational belief of the Word of Faith Movement is that faith is a force and words are the containers of the force. Each of the above-listed "preachers" peddle this doctrine. The force of faith is a godlike force, by which men can alter reality through their words. For instance, a prosperity preacher might tell his listeners to speak to their checkbooks, or avoid speaking words of fear, etc. They do this, not in order to that their listeners maintain a positive attitude about life, but in order to cause God to do things. Words can force God's hand, positively or negatively, with the right kind of faith. From a positive perspective, Osteen talks about how his wife kept speaking positive words about the house they would live in. From a negative perspective, Joyce Meyer essentially accuses Job of killing his 10 kids due to speaking words of fear.

Perhaps the belief in people's ability to alter reality is derived in part from the teaching that men are gods. Faith teachers love difficult passages of Scripture. In fact, if there's a passage that you have a difficult time understanding, chances are the faith teachers focus a good deal of their time on it. Case in point is Psalm 82, quoted by Jesus in John 10. The psalmist states in Psalm 82 that men are called "gods" (elohim), and Jesus said in response to claims that He committed blasphemy by equating Himself with God that "Is it not written in your Law, I said, 'ye are gods"'" (Hal can explain this better than I, but it appears that "elohim" is used at times to describe the judges and to describe even priests in Exodus. But it's obvious in Psalm 82 that the "gods" lack attributes of deity, since they end up dying.)

The belief that men are gods is bolstered, in their teaching, by the fact we are created in God's image, which to a faith teacher means exact replica inclusive of nature. Essentially, they teach we have the same nature as Christ. They teach that Jesus was a born-again man (born-again in hell), and that Jesus being the "firstborn among many brethren" means that Jesus is the first born-again man, and we are just like him. Copeland goes so far as to claim that just as Christ went down to hell to defeat Satan (see below) so Copeland could have done the same. This idea was, of course, revealed to Copeland through a conversation he had with the Almighty.

Perhaps the most blasphemous idea promulgated by the faith teachers is that Christ is not God. Creflo Dollar has gone to great lengths to inform his listeners that Jesus was just a man, not the God-man. His reasoning? Well, God neither sleeps nor slumbers and Jesus was asleep in the boat. Duh. The effect of faith teaching is to deify man and de-deify Christ.

In a similar vein, faith teachers aver that Jesus didn't merely pay for sin on the cross---atonement did not occur on Calvary. Instead, Jesus had to go to Hell for three days to do battle with Satan. Osteen describes in detail a battle Jesus had with Satan. Copeland states that God essentially tricked Satan because the Devil was holding Christ illegally in Hell. One particularly odd teaching of Osteen was that Jesus refused to let Mary touch Him because He still had His blood on Him, which needed to be poured out on the mercy seat in heaven. The apostle Thomas couldn't be reached for comment on this teaching.

Yes, according to faith teachers atonement took place in Hell. Why? Because the ransom had to be paid to Satan, who owns humanity. (I realize that is inconsistent with literally sprinkling the blood of Jesus on the mercy seat in heaven, but there you go.)

As you know, faith teachers also encourage people to become wealthy, as Jesus was wealthy. They go to great lengths to discredit any notion that Jesus was poor. Hagee says Jesus "wore designer clothes." Others say that because the apostles had to have a treasurer, Jesus was rich. Oh, one more from Hagee---In light of John 1:38-40, Hagee contends that Jesus had a big house because He invited all of His followers to come back to His place (a quick reading shows that Jesus invited exactly two people over).

Faith teachers share a lot of the same tools of the trade; one of my personal favorites is the "point of contact." They often send out a prayer clothe, holy water, or holy oil as a point of contact to their devotees. The recipient is to send in a "seed of faith" and then pray over the point of contact in order to reap a whirlwind of blessing.

Well, I've waxed a bit long. I just wanted to share some of the theology of the Word of Faith Movement. Their books sell for a reason, and no doubt all of us know people who've read them. If you have the time, I encourage you to pick up a copy of "Christianity in Crisis 21st Century," if for no other reason than to use as a reference book for the heretics discussed therein.


I wanted to take a few minutes and relay my first hand account of the Word of Faith Movement. As you know, I'm in Texas, where the mixture of pollen, pine trees, and bluebonnets somehow mixes together to form internationally-known, wacky preachers. Deep in the piney woods of East Texas the big WOF player for sometime has been R.W. Schambach.

Around seven or eight years ago Schambach was hosting a Miracle Night at his compound one night a month. He had big, flashy billboard advertising it, inviting one and all to come "receive your miracle." Well, one night my roommate (Chris) and I got a wild hair and decided to go check out Miracle Night.

We arrived at the service around 7:00 p.m. In the lobby we were greeted by a couple effete college-aged kids with official-looking nametags and wide smiles. Immediately facing us as we walked in was a table where one could purchase all manner of books, tapes, CDs, and other memorabilia pertaining to Schambach ministries.

As we thumbed through the wares, the man himself entered the lobby from the auditorium. Our ears were ravaged by the thump-thumpety-thump of the bass from the "music" playing in the "sanctuary." Schambach had a presence about himself, moseying in with aplomb and a toothy smile, as much game-show host as preacher.

Chris and I were among the few WASPs in attendance, so we avoided shaking Schambach's hand for fear of being found-out. After he glad-handed people for a few minutes, he went back to the auditorium, and we followed suit. Amidst the realization that we should have brought some aspirin (or adult beverage) to dull our senses to the noise, we grabbed a couple seats in what we called a semi-normal section.

45 minutes later the music was still blaring with no end in sight. 99% of the people had their hands up (hand raising itself doesn't offend me religiously, but it's usually done irreverently), about 75% were dancing in some fashion or another, and about a third must have had "the anointing" because they were speaking in unknown tongues (unknown to them, me, and most assuredly the Lord because they lacked any sort of syntax or structure). This goes on until probably 8:30 or so.

Schambach gets up. He didn't really preach so much as pitch his books and brag on his ministry. All manner of healings, both physically and financially were touted. This lasted approximately 45 minutes.

Then came the announcement: "Are you ready for your miracle?" Cheering; applause; hollering. They were ready. Chris and I were immediately reminded of the movie Fletch Lives where the televangelist ostensibly heals people with the aid of someone telling him who to single out and what the ailment is. Dozens of people went to the front and were proclaimed healed.

From the moment I first heard the music something was just off-kilter with me. What was it? Then, when the healing began it hit me. I leaned over and told Chris, "I can literally feel the presence of evil in here." And I did. It's indescribable, and I lack the intellectual capacity to put it in words, but you could simply feel the presence of evil in that room, and that "feeling" of the presence of evil grew within me even as the feeling of jubilation grew among the listeners of Schambach (who, by the way, told people not to even go back to the doctor because they were healed).

The people were pretty impressed by the physical healing, but they didn't get raucous until Schambach resumed his position at the plexi-glass pulpit and said, "The average American citizen has 16,000 dollars in unsecured credit card debt." Cheering; amens; you-know-that's-rights. "We're gonna burn some debt tonight!!!!" Whooping; clapping; dancing. (I leaned over to Chris and said, "We preach both kinds of gospel here: health and wealth." That's a Blues Brothers allusion, if you didn't catch that.) People loved burning debt; they'd go down to the front with their credit card statements and just burn it. They could "expect a financial miracle," if, that is, they kept the faith.

I should note at this point that when we took our seats at Miracle Night, there were three items in our chairs: a brochure about the ministry; a prayer card; and an offering envelope which made clear that Schambach ministries accepts Mastercard and Visa. Of course, if you're burning all of your debt, why not give a ton of money to Schambach? Especially since he's telling you about the "hundred fold increase" you stand to get if you sow seeds in his ministry.

The demographic of the gathering was depressing: poor, mostly minorities, marked by desperation. And Schambach is there preying on them. Sickening. Once we saw the flames go up on the first few credit card statements, no doubt sending up "strange fire" to the Lord, we left. We'd seen enough. It was pretty late at that point, but we decompressed at a Chili's and called up some friends to hang out with us as we debriefed them on our encounter with Miracle Night.

Perhaps somebody here can make a convincing argument that my attendance there was sinful; I hope it wasn't. It served as an eye-opener for me on the evils of the Word of Faith Movement and the images, sounds, and feelings I was confronted with that evening have stuck with me ever since.

As an aside, may I ask a bleg? (That's a beg in a blog.) Is preterism (in all its forms) mutually exclusive of amillennialism? What do preterists believe about the millennium if so? Anybody have a good book they can recommend making an honest distinction, and elucidation of those views?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Unlawful Government, Crazy Kids, and Cuba

I have been absent from this space for a while (absent in writing, not in reading), but I now make my return in a rather haphazard way. But you're accustomed to my haphazard ways, I'm sure.

I just finished reading John Locke's Second Treatise on Government. Brilliance. Locke is one of those men we're taught to revere as a great thinker, but we're never challenged or encouraged to read his writings. It's been said that history affords all great men one sentence: Lincoln freed the slaves, Washington is the father of our country, and, if I may speculate, Obama is the first black president. In such a vein, Locke may be considered the father of liberal political thought.

I cracked open his treatise ready to disagree with what I understood to be his basic premise: that all men are born free in the state of Nature (as opposed to under the law of a particular government). While Locke is an ardent defender of the basic tenet that men are equal and free, he does so on a subtle, more palatable basis: that no man has the freedom or right to exert unprovoked force on another. It is from this negative right, really, that the positive rights of life, liberty, and property flow. I wish he would have expounded on that difference a bit more---explaining that one is a corollary to the other. Oh well.

Some of Locke's most poignant observations pertain to the origin of governments. How did it come into being that men have governments? Very simply, Locke postulates that originally men would have looked to their fathers to settle disputes---some paternal chief of sorts who was regarded and revered in the local community or family group. This power would only be exerted when a dispute arose, and was more judicial than legislative in nature.

As communities grew more complex, people got together and would appoint leaders who could legislate and act in a manner to preserve the property and liberty of the polity. This is really the only end of government according to Locke---preservation of life and property. The government, then, does by consent of the governed that which each of the governed had the right to do in nature---preserve and protect life and property. Government has no right to do anything else, according to Locke.

The basic reasoning of Locke makes perfect sense: a group of people got together to form a government; what rights could that group convey to that governing body? No more rights than what the people themselves had in nature. To exert force beyond what the people themselves had right to do is to engage in unlawful governance, and the people then have a right to organize a new government because the leader they had appointed had thereby lost his position of authority by exceeding his rights.

Interestingly, Locke thought it improbable that elected legislators would take property from the people when they were only elected for a term. Just goes to show you that brilliance doesn't mean prescience.

Care for some talk about crazy kids? Really, this is more a story about crazy parents. Three weeks ago in Sunday School (middle school boys) we were discussing the fall of man and its effects on all people. I won't go into the lesson, but suffice it to say that it was orthodox. The common objection of fairness arose---a child arguing that everyone has an equal shot at getting in to heaven. (All people seem to think that the world started when they were born, and that it's essentially static. It boggles the mind of the young to think there was a day when not every soul had access to a Bible, or that even now not every soul has access to the Bible.) Anyway, I brought up the American Indian, posing the question to my students that if everybody has an equal chance of getting in, what do you do with a people group who had never heard of Jesus, or even Jehovah, until 1492. (The issue being whether everyone truly has an equal chance.) One child cocked his head back and said he knew the answer: the Indians had a copy of the Ten Commandments, you see. After I let him explain what he had just uttered, I gently told him that he was wrong.

Well, yesterday I was presented with an Internet article about how the Ten Commandments were chiseled on a wall in a cave in New Mexico, circa 1000 b.c. Barry Fell, I think, was the name of the author of the article. The article also contained an allusion to some Welsh missionary to the Indians who said that he could easily understand their language because it was essentially Hebrew. This all sounds Mormonistic to me, though I'm sure the child in my class is no Mormon and neither is his family. Perhaps it's some kooky Dispensational dogma, whereby the Indians are the progeny of the "lost tribe of Israel." Anyway, I don't imagine I'll bring this up again with this poor kid. It's not my place to tell him that his mom is nuts.

Cuba: A great man of God at my church is a missionary to Cuba. He has a church that he works with down there. Due to the governmental constraints of Cuba, and the potential for a crackdown on my friend and the church he works with, I can't say much about him. I must convey to you, however, that the Lord's work is being done in this forgotten land 90 miles off our coast.

One interesting story about Cuba: my friend works with a particular pastor in Cuba. This pastor, prior to meeting my friend, had attended seminary in Cuba and was typical Baptist Arminian (but I'm sure with a Latin flare!). One day he happened upon a book by Spurgeon, old and tattered, translated into Spanish. A few days prior he'd had a dream in which God told him he had an errant view of grace. He did not learn in the dream what the proper view of grace was, but then came upon this Spurgeon book. The Lord opened the pastor's eyes to the truths of free grace, through a dream and a book! I love that: Spurgeon's writings used by God in Cuba. My friend now teaches a class down there when he goes---essentially it's a makeshift seminary, imparting the doctrines of grace in the land of Castro. I just can't get over that Spurgeon book. Amazing.

Well, I've prattled on enough. Kudos to anyone who made it through my ramblings.