Should Churches Be In The Wedding Business?

With all the talk lately about the SCOTUS decisions regarding Prop 8 and DOMA, it has me thinking about the Church’s relationship to the State in regard to weddings. When I perform a wedding ceremony in the state of Pennsylvania, I am acting in part as an agent for that state. I am acting in some sense as a representative of the state as I formalize the marriage of these two people. This can be a complicated arrangement because it seems to me there are three things we’re looking at when we talk about marriage and the wedding ceremony.

A Theological Viewpoint: 

A convincing historical argument can be made that it was Jewish and Christian morality, deriving from Old Testament law, that pushed society toward monogamy between one man and woman. From our perspective, marriage is ordained by God from the beginning, and human kind has always had a propensity to move toward sexual expressions that violate this principle. Marriage is not simply a right granted when people feel romantic love toward one another. It is a covenant promise made by a man and a woman before the Creator God, promising to live in union with one another, one man and one woman forever, emulating the oneness of the Triune God. Continue reading

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Soul Searching 1: Mapping The Big Picture

51pZLoWv7lL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_For the last several weeks, one of the books I’ve been working through is Christian Smith’s Soul Searching (2005). The book is full of statistics and studies, and is interesting if you sort through the data. Smith does a good job of summarizing much of the material, and the book is a fairly easy read. I want to take some time for the near future to pull out some of the interesting findings. This is good stuff.

The book represents the work done by the National Study of Youth and Religion, a 2001-2005 research project done by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looking into the spiritual and religious lives of American adolescents. The survey’s authors came to doubt the common impression that American teens do not have religious and spiritual lives. This research says otherwise, and this book brings out many of the interesting nuances of adolescent belief and practice. Continue reading

When In Rome, It’s Best To Live Like Jesus

I have come to think it best for Christians to preach the Gospel, live like Christ, defend the weak, and help the suffering. Ours is the responsibility to be the voice on the outside speaking truth to power. Ours is the calling of John the Baptist, Paul the Apostle, and the millions of Christians who’ve come before us. We are to preach Christ and him crucified. That said, events of recent weeks have me concerned about religious freedom in this country. While I still don’t think our strategy should be to adopt the conventional culture war mentality, we are facing something now that we have not faced before. We need to struggle against it in the way we have always done when at our Christian best: by being like Christ.

For months now we’ve watched Christian institutions struggle with the new healthcare mandate. We are watching a privately held corporation owned and operated by a Christian family take a stand against the mandate and those provisions within it which they feel violate Christian morality. Who knows how it will turn out for Hobby Lobby?

Just yesterday we heard that well known Evangelical pastor Louis Giglio was uninvited to pray at the president’s inauguration. Technically, Louis gracefully withdrew. Why? Because he once preached a message about sin and repentance full of grace and truth and healing in which he called out all unrepentant sexual sin as the sort of thing that leads to everlasting death. His was a sermon like hundreds I’ve heard in my lifetime and have preached myself.

I believe a significant portion of Evangelism/Fundamentalism shifted its focus over the last 40 years to pursue political power as our primary means of societal transformation because, at the heart of it, we don’t really believe the gospel is enough to change this world. We have preached the gospel of the next politician promising us big things. We have preached the false gospel of the Christian Nation instead of the Kingdom of God. We have deluded ourselves into thinking this nation has a special place in the plan of God, and now we might be tempted to panic. While it may well be exceptional in terms of human kingdoms, if the United States left the stage of history tomorrow, it wouldn’t stymie God’s plan for His kingdom in the slightest. Compared to that kingdom, this nation is utterly unexceptional. We live in Rome, and like the first Rome, this one might well pass away.

Continue reading

The Monday After

(I had another post written up for today as I try to get back into the rhythm of writing, but given the tragedy in Newtown, CT I thought I would weigh in.)

Newtown, CT is a town I’d never heard of. It is a small place of about 2,000 citizens, and it has been the center of our attention since Friday. In the aftermath of the shooting, there has been much comment and opinion. I held off posting about it mostly because I wanted to sort out my own thoughts and emotions. Today felt like a good time to share.

 It Comes From Inside Us

There have been a lot of opinions offered on the matter. Some have pointed at violent video games as a culprit. Some have talked about the need for better strategies for dealing with the mentally ill. The subject of guns will keep coming up. Some will make this a culture war issue. Politicians and pundits will debate. Maybe some conclusions will be reached, and maybe some positive moves will be made.

In all this, we will be looking for something to blame: poor mental health programs, lack of security in schools, violent entertainment, access to firearms, or that schools don’t force children and adults to pray to the God in which they don’t believe. It will be talked about as if this shooting is something from outside of us, caused by external conditions, and if we could just get those right this won’t happen again. Continue reading

The Good News Is That It’s Your Fault

 Dorothy Sayers was a really interesting lady. Perhaps best known for her fiction writing, she also wrote on matters of theology with a whimsical and winsome demeanor. I’ve read a bit of her work this past week, and really enjoyed it.

In my reading I came across this paragraph. In it, Sayers is talking about human sin, and the Christian need for clarity on this topic. The less popular the subject becomes, the more important it is for us to be clear about it. Even though she was writing to a thoroughly modern culture and we are living in a post-modern age, the truth of her claim is still important and useful to us.

Read the quote, and we can discuss…

“The final tendency of the modern philosophies—hailed in their day as a release from the burden of sinfulness—has been to bind man hard and fast in the chains of an iron determinism. The influences of heredity and environment, of glandular makeup and the control exercised by the unconscious, of economic necessity and the mechanics of biological development, have all been invoked to assure man that he is not responsible for his misfortunes and therefore not to be held guilty. Evil has been represented as something imposed upon him from without, not made by him from within. The dreadful conclusion follows inevitably, that as he is not responsible for evil, he cannot alter it; even though evolution and progress may offer some alleviation in the future, there is no hope for you and me, here and now. I well remember how an aunt of mine, brought up in an old-fashioned liberalism, protested angrily against having continually to call herself a miserable sinner when reciting the Litany. Today, if we could really be persuaded that we are miserable sinners—that the trouble is not outside us but inside us, and that therefore, by the grace of God, we can do something to put it right—we should receive that message as the most hopeful and heartening thing that can be imagined.” Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? Continue reading

Guest Post: Pulpit Freedom Sunday: Do We Really Think This Is a Good Idea? | internetmonk.com

I had a mix of opinions about Pulpit Freedom Sunday. For one, I don’t like the notion that a government agency has power over what a pastor can and can’t say from the pulpit.

But…

I have real problems when a pastor loses focus on his purpose as a proclaimer of Jesus Christ. Further, in this particular election, I have problems with both candidates, and without going into detail, my problems with each are significant to me precisely because I’m a Christian. (And no, I don’t have a problem with a Mormon president.)

That said, this post from the Internetmonk.com gives some good perspective on issues like this.

Guest Post: Pulpit Freedom Sunday: Do We Really Think This Is a Good Idea? | internetmonk.com.