Friday, January 29, 2010

The Visitor

It was a cold day at the close of February, even as far south as The Hinterlands, Texas, and those who gathered there for the 2010 Disputing for the DoctrineTM Lectures were grateful for a warm church building at Cistern and Gopherwood. Some snow flakes peppered the air, and there was a distant rumbling in the dark grey clouds - but the auditorium was filled with a palpable anticipation of names being named, sins being counted and God's judgment pronounced.

A few minutes before the first lecture was to begin that Sunday morning, a smiling visitor in a three-piece suit, carrying a clipboard, took his place behind the lectern, and the crowd quieted out of curiosity.

"Thank you," he greeted. "I won't take much of your time; I'm just here to take an informal survey of sorts and a quick show of hands will take care of the answers I need. It's just for legal and liability purposes.

"The theme for this year's lecture is 'Portraits of Heresy #1,' which makes me assume that next year's theme will, of course, be #2. I see from the program that it consists of refutations of books, sermons and other works by others within the fellowship.

"First question: Has anyone contacted any of these authors and speakers directly to discuss with them any difficulties they may have had with the content of those works before preparing his remarks here? Anyone? Show of hands, please."

The visitor looked at least as perturbed as the people in the audience. No hands went up.

"Okay," the visitor acknowledged, and wrote something on his clipboard sheet. "So we have a potential procedural violation of code 40.18.15-17 and 40.5.23-24.

"Got it. Second question: How many of you can name all of the false teachings, heresies and apostasies described the New Testament? Hands?"

Again, though there were no hands going up, there was a considerable amount of consternation apparent.

"I'm not going to ask you to list them all; I'm just asking if you know them all," the visitor smiled sympathetically. Looking about, he saw no response and inscribed another character on his clipboard sheet, muttering: "Complete unfamiliarity with 48.5.6, 54.1.3-10, 61.2.1, 62.4.3, 63.1.7 ... and all the rest."

"What are you talking about?" hollered a fellow sitting near the front, trying to rise to his feet and suddenly finding himself unable to do so.

"Oh. Your legs have fallen asleep." The visitor appeared to consider it. "Appropriate. - I'm talking about law. You do consider scripture to be law that must in every case be fully known and obeyed, do you not? No, no; I wasn't asking for a show of hands on that one. - What I'm doing is simply expressing scripture as citations of law; I thought that might be your preference. I'll convert back, if it will make things clearer. Third question: Everyone's aware of, uh, Matthew 7:1-2 ... 'Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you ...?' How many of you believe that does not apply to you because you are, in fact, disputing for the doctrine?"

Thunder sounded outside, a little more threateningly than it had before.

A few hands started to go up, but there was some confusion over the phrasing of the question and they quickly went down. A middle-aged fellow jumped to his feet and shouted, "Listen ... Who are you? What gives you the authority to ...?" But his question was interrupted when he suddenly gasped, clutched at his chest and sank back into the pew dumbstruck.

The visitor's smile had faded. "Ouch. Chest pain? Heart, I'll bet. Perhaps you should take it easy. - Those are the last two questions, by the way, identity and authority - although in reverse order. Fourth question: How many of you believe that everything regarding worship and service to God must be specifically authorized in scripture ...." At this, virtually every hand shot up and even the cautious ones - seeing the majority vote enthusiastically - joined eventually. "... and that anything not specifically authorized in scripture is of sin and leads to God's judgment and to eternal damnation?" No hands wavered, though, even as the visitor added in a clarifying tone, "Including instruments used in worship, cooperation in giving to aid the poor and widowed and orphaned, purchased places of worship with heating and air conditioning units ...?"

Outside, the storm was audibly growing closer, and the snowflakes falling more furiously beyond the stained-glass windows.

Counting with his stylus, the visitor etched what must have been simply a rough estimate of the total attendance on his clipboard sheet. "Thank you; last question. This is a purely hypothetical one, of course: If I just happened to be an angel of the Lord, can anyone here give me even one reason why I should not call down fire from heaven to consume this place and all who are in it?"

That was the last straw; dozens of people launched themselves in the general direction of the lectern at the front. Shouts began: "Now see here!" "You have no right!" "Stop this very..." But at that very moment, a colossal flash of lightning through the windows whitened the image of every soul present and a simultaneous sonic boom of thunder pounded the rafters, the pews, the floor, and the center of each heart there. Though the lights flickered out, they did not stay out - yet they returned much dimmer. There was a sizzling electrical noise nearby that died out a few seconds later, and the hint of a scent of smoke.

As the crowd looked around, they realized that the visitor was gone from the lectern. No one had seen him go during the instant of brilliance and then darkness. He simply was not there.

The host of the Lectures rose to his feet, his knees still a bit wobbly from having just regained prickly wakefulness. He took his place at the lectern and said haltingly, "Well ... heh, heh ... that was unusual, wasn't it? Can't ever remember a Lecture beginning quite like that before; can you?"

There was some nervous laughter. He reached for a song book. "Well, let's sing a song to begin."

As the strains of Will the Circle Be Unbroken filled the auditorium, punctuated at the end of nearly every phrase by staccato thunder, the sense of anticipation returned ... though this time, with a good measure of apprehension. Eyes occasionally darted up to the ceiling or toward the windows as thunder sounded. And the warmth in the auditorium slowly seeped away.

Which was no great mystery; the bolt of lightning had fried the HVAC unit out back.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek or not Star Trek?

That is the question.

And the fans of the old series (and all of its clones) and the new fans of this latest voyage are having at it on the blogs and bulletin boards and news sites.

My daughter and I went to see the new movie last night. It was fast-paced, blurry, loud, bright and had plot-holes big enough to drive a starship through.

With all the millions of credits spent on great casting, fabulous sets and special effects, it was a break in the super-reality chain-of-logic to see the "engineering room" of the spiffy'd-up Enterprise and find out that the ship runs on twentieth-century fluidics. That's my theory, at least, because it looked like a water-recycling plant. Scotty deserves a nicer place to work. The new place was no particular improvement over his research lab on Delta Vega.

Yup, that's my singular gripe. One set. (More likely, a cheap location.) It just slapped me in the face and whacked me out of my pretend command chair in the multiplex pocket theater.

All the rest of the stuff, you can explain away to the inevitable paradoxes of yet another well-worn Star Trek time-travel story - this one at least leaving us with some new, dark twists in the trekiverse. We were overdue for some new imagination. No real complaint there.

(Well, I might gripe about the twentieth time that the cinematographer flashed halogens in my eyes instead of letting me see what was happening between the characters.)

Other than that, I'm on board with Scotty, whose show-stopping line at the very wrongest moment made it all the more wonderful:

"I like this ship! It's exciting!"

Saturday, February 14, 2009


As nearly as I can tell, a word translated "fellowship" is only used in scripture a little more than a dozen times - apart from the word "offerings."

Nowhere in scripture does God say to refuse fellowship to anyone who has a different understanding of scripture than you do.


Ephesians 5:11 says: "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them."

To see what some of the unfruitful works of darkness are, go up a few verses to the beginning of the chapter.

Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.

But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.

Those trespasses are a world away from disagreeing about what man says that scripture says. When we disagree about that, aren't we using truly vain words? That, somehow, I know that this or that scripture means more than it says?

In fact, if we say that we have all the answers and are doing all the right things in the right ways and that anyone who disagrees with us is forever damned ... how exactly is that different from what is said in 1 John 1 ...?

If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

In fact, doesn't Paul in Romans 16:17-18 counsel us to be wise about people who draw complicated lines and cause divisions and to avoid - but not "disfellowship" - them?

"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly."

Just asking.

I'm asking because the word "disfellowship" occurs nowhere in scripture; it is coined by man with his own belly in view.

Because I think we have too often been eager to sacrifice brothers and sisters in Christ over the burning pit of hell as fellowship offerings to the god of our own arrogance.

And because that god would be Satan.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

This I Believe

... that worship cannot be restricted to an hour or two on Sunday with one to several thousand fellow Christians present with you in a specially-constructed facility owned by a church.

... that worship involves everything a follower of Christ does to glorify God, and to draw himself/herself and others closer to God, any time of day, any day, in any place.

... that there cannot be anything right with imposing on anyone else an expression of worship which God accepts, but with which the other person disagrees.

... that there cannot be anything right with forbidding anyone else an expression of worship which God accepts and which that person craves with heart, soul, mind and strength.

... that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with/unscriptural about a cappella worship nor with instrumental worship nor with a combination of vocal and instrumental, as long as the hearts of the worshipers are fully intent on praising God and encouraging each other.

So I gotta tell you: when I am listening to a song of worship on contemporary Christian radio in my car and singing along with the vocalists and the instrumentalists at the top of my voice, I am not just participating in my own entertainment with a song that should be sung a cappella if I expect for God to forgive all of my other sins and take me to heaven some day.

I am worshiping.

Those songs may not speak to you - not all of them speak to me; and you won't catch me singing along with the sillier, sappier ones - but many of them speak the words and the music that is in my heart and it's pointed to God through His Son in His Spirit.

And my belief is that while the instruments may not carry the weight of the words of praise, they assist in the lifting of it musically - now, as surely as they did when David was king and as surely as they will when the trumpets sound and God gives us our harps.

I love the purity of a cappella worship. It has an inimitable place in the canon of praise, and nothing can match it for what it is and what it does to the human heart. It may well have been the expression of choice for a church of late century one, hiding in the catacombs of Rome and whispering their praise lest they be discovered and tried and tortured and murdered.

However, not every piece of music is meant for an a cappella arrangement. You can perform the "Hallelujah Chorus" a cappella, and it is a gorgeous work of choral praise. But it lacks, in my ears, the majesty of the accompanying orchestra with its fanfare of brass and thunder of drums and harmony of strings. Does God turn a deaf ear to the "Hallelujah Chorus" when the instruments are added? Does He say, "Well, that was nice entertainment - but it certainly wasn't praise"? Or does He just drink it in for what comes from the hearts, souls, minds and strengths of both the singers and the players?

We simply do not have a definitive answer to that question, like many others, in scripture.

To determine one requires more intense study, more flawless human logic, and more inspiration of the Holy Spirit than most of us are willing to participate in. I sure don't claim to have it.

I fully respect the positions of those who prefer a cappella praise or instrumental praise or praise consisting of both in their worship, and are willing to state it as a preference. My preferences have expanded over the years, and at present, include not forcing them on - or forbidding them from - anyone else.

Because I've had to ask myself ... and keep asking myself ... "Is this really about whether a certain expression of worship is right or wrong? Or whether I'm right or wrong?"

As a result, I have not become a big advocate for introducing an expression of worship in churches where a preponderance of members would consider it - not just a preference they don't like, but somehow wrong. To do so would be divisive and arrogant. Nor have I become a contender for forbidding an expression of worship in churches where the majority of members view it as - not just permissible, but somehow necessary. To do so would be contentious and headstrong.

But the real sin, to me, would be to miss that when we gather to worship or when we worship alone it should be about loving and respecting and exhorting each other while being united in our praise for God, 24/7 - in whatever expression He accepts and gifts us in expressing.

And so help me, if one more time I hear someone say how glorious it is that when the sun rises on the International Date Line on a Sunday morning, a great long chain of unbroken praise follows its light around the world among followers of Christ until the sun sets on that imaginary line in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as if all of our worship and praise somehow dims and fades and winks out at the close of one 24-hour day at the beginning of the week, SO HELP ME I BELIEVE I AM GOING TO HAVE TO RESIST THE URGE TO THROW UP.


That I believe.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Other 'Blog In My Own Eye'

If you're looking for Keith Brenton's "Blog In My Own Eye," that'd be here.