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Weekend Roundup – November 17, 2017

He’s not worried that you’re following along on YouVersion: Pope Says No Phones in Church. Parishioners Keep Scrolling. (Note: you can get YouVersionhere.)

Not sure Francis would agree: The Reformation is over. Protestants won. So why are we still here? “Winning is dangerous — what do you do next? Do you return to Mother Church? … a number of my Protestant graduate students … convert because Catholicism is an intellectually rich theological tradition better able to negotiate the acids of our culture.”

For better, and for worse: Churches merge, close: ‘We no longer live in Christendom. We really have to accept that it’s a thing of the past’

Declining almost as fast as their congregations: UMC’s Young elder numbers slip in 2017

But some UMC congregations are fighting the trend, like Adam Weber’s Embrace Church: S.D. church makes ‘fastest-growing’ list. What’s their secret? “What we wanted to do was lower the bar for people to come in the front door,” Weber said. “We tried to open the door as wide as we possibly could.”

This played a role in my conversion: Are Free Minds and Free Markets Compatible With Christianity?

So much for the divide between science and religion: At Vatican, ‘Tenets of Faith’ Seen as Crucial in Climate Change Effort

Speaking of which, apparently there’s a debate between supporters of the Meteorite and Deep-Ocean Vent theories: We’re More Confident Than Ever That Life on Earth Really Did Come From Meteorites

Did the sun stop moving, or stop shiningHow Scientists Identified the Oldest Known Solar Eclipse … Using the Bible

Like “Friendly” ones. Welcoming Churches are Dying Churches. “Yes, we need to be welcoming… but more importantly, we need to be invitational. That means taking a risk and putting ourselves out there for possible rejection when we invite people to our church. It means going out into the world, making contact with people and building relationships with them.”

When Everything Is Missions: Kevin DeYoung reviews When Everything is Missions, by Denny Spitters and Matthew Ellison, who argue that a missionary is “(a) sent (b) across a boundary to where the gospel is not known, (c) to see a church planted that (d) can reach that region with the gospel once the missionary leaves.” I get what they’re saying, but I don’t think that (c) is always required and (d) defines the problem so nobody is a missionary unless they are planning to leave. But suppose you (a) go to work and (b) nobody there knows the gospel and (c) you invite them to be part of a home Bible study and (d) someday you move to a different town and the study moves to someone else’s home. Doesn’t that make you a missionary, even by their own definition?

(Cross-posted at jlppastor.)

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Gun Violence Information

It doesn’t seem like it. Mass killings happen randomly, yet rate has remained steady, study finds. However, other data support that conclusion: Kieran Healy: Assault Deaths to 2015

Point and Counterpoint: America’s unique gun violence problem, explained in 17 maps and charts (Vox.com), and I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise. (Leah Libresco, formerly with 538)

Christians don’t have to live in fear, but we do need to rethink what it means to be a church today: How Your Church Should Prepare for an Active Shooter

(Cross-posted at jlppastor.)

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Pew Data on Same-Sex Marriage

The Pew Center has released some interesting new data on public attitudes about Same-Sex Marriage.

Polls and surveys are tricky for two reasons. The first is methodology: was the survey properly taken, did they get a representative sample, and so forth. The second is suitability: is a poll really the right tool for the job? Years ago, the Harvard Lampoon published a parody edition of USA Today featuring the headline: “Chromium Heaviest Metal: Poll Finds.” The poll might have found it, but chromium isn’t the heaviest metal.

Anyway, I was interested in this bit of the poll:

Among the groups most likely to favor same-sex marriage in 2014 were Millennials (67%), Democrats (64%) and people without any religious affiliation (77%).

(Some of my previous posts on this topic.)

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Church and State, Part 17,402

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Methodists and Same-Sex Unions

From an unlikely source comes a surprisingly good (fair) explanation of the situation in the United Methodist Church regarding same-sex unions:

(The source is non-sectarian public-policy think tank, and I think they should be congratulated for wading into a theological argument to try to help explain it. Their position seems to be pro-SSM but they are reasonably fair in explaining, or at least briefly summarizing, the anti-SSM position.)

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Christian Wedding Cake-Baking

Should there be a faith exemption from nondiscrimination laws? Should a wedding photographer be required to offer his services to gay couples the same as to straight couples? Should a baker be able to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple on the grounds of her faith?

I won’t speak (here) to the legal issues except to quote Martin Luther King: “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” I think it’s probably best to use the law to prohibit bad behavior rather than to require good behavior. But the law doesn’t concern me as much as the underlying faith issue.

Should Christians bake cakes for people whose lifestyle they disagree with? Kevin Deyoung asks that very question and suggests the answer is no, because to do so would be to compromise with a sinful culture.

Let me explain why I disagree.

What do you know about Joseph, the guy who wanted to divorce Mary quietly? Do you remember what his job was?

Joseph was a carpenter, according to Matthew, and, according to Mark, so was Jesus. The Greek word used in both places is tekton, which refers to craftsman who made things of wood. (Mark Driscoll says that Joseph and Jesus “worked construction,” which is a pretty good way to get the point across.)

What else, besides houses and cabinets, is made out of wood? Hint: Jesus died on one. They had three crosses on Golgotha that day.

Nothing in the Bible says so, but it’s not inconceivable that Joseph did the rough work necessary to fashion the beams used by the Romans to crucify people.

According to Matthew, Jesus’ family fled to Egypt during the reign of Herod the Great, and returned to Nazareth after he died. Not long after Herod died, someone named Judas the Galilean led a revolt that was centered around Sepphoris, the Roman capital of Galilee, about four miles from Nazareth. The Romans crushed the rebellion, burnt Sepphoris to the ground, and crucified 2000 participants. (See James Tabor’s summary or go look at Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 17, Chapter 10, and The Jewish Wars, Book 2, Chapter 5.)

The Romans needed 2,000 crosses. Where did they get them? Probably not by shipping them from Rome! More likely, they bought (or simply commandeered them) them from the nearby villages. If the Holy Family was back in Nazareth by then, it’s not at all unlikely that Joseph worked on some of those crosses.

If Joseph did work on crosses — and remember, this is speculative — he probably found it repugnant. As a Jew, he wouldn’t have liked the Romans: not their culture, their religion, or their occupation of his country. And nobody approved of crucifixion — which was the point of using it.

As someone with reason to think a lot about God’s purposes in the world, Joseph’s theology would have informed his opinions. But if the Romans told him to make crosses for them, Joseph would have had to do so, unless he wanted to wind up on one himself. And if Joseph didn’t get caught up working on this project, others in his trade — siblings or cousins, perhaps — certainly would have been.

That wasn’t the last time the Romans crucified anyone in Galilee, either. It’s no great stretch of the imagination to think that Joseph (and possibly even Jesus) worked on crossbeams from time to time, long after that revolt was crushed.

Is this all too speculative? Then consider Colossians 3:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.

Why did the writer say that? (Ephesians 6 is essentially the same.) He wrote it because slaves don’t get to choose what they do and don’t do. Slaves have to obey their masters, and if they refuse, they’re punished. The only alternative available to a slave is passive-aggression: they can obey unctuously when their master’s paying attention, and then spit in the soup when he’s not looking. But that’s ruled out by the New Testament. Instead, slaves are told to do just as good a job even for a cruel master as they would do for Jesus himself.

What particular things do you suppose the writers of the New Testament letters were thinking about when they gave that instruction? There’s no telling. But it was probably something you wouldn’t want to do. It was probably something you’d find objectionable.

You don’t have to like this. Maybe you think the Bible ought to have told slaves to rise up in rebellion and throw off their chains. Fine. But it doesn’t. Other books say different, but the New Testament tells slaves to do what they’re told. (To be sure, masters are told their slaves have been freed and slaves are their brothers.)

Christians have always had to do things they didn’t approve of. So why should a Christian baker or photographer be exempt from the reality that applied to carpenters like Joseph, if not to Joseph himself? Why should Christians today be exempt from the reality that certainly applied to the slaves who may have been a majority in the early church?

So my counsel would be to go ahead and take photos at the gay mens’ wedding. Bake a wedding cake for the lesbian couple. Or, rather, bake it for the Lord, like you do everything. Then, when the lesbians have their wedding, they’ll say, “I don’t agree with Christians, but all the best bakers are Christians. They have superior products and deliver superb value. I wonder why they do that?”

I’ll close with this clip of Jim Burgen talking about this same topic but widening it not just to commercial transactions but to every interaction:

(Update: fixed some grammar.)

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Seniors Love Social Media

People tell me they’re not on social media. It looks like they better get with the program, according to this Pew Center research:

Although online seniors are less likely than other age groups to use social networking sites, adoption rates for those 65 and older have tripled in the last four years (from 13% in the spring of 2009 to 43% now).

Via.

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Grace vs. Consequences

From the infinitely-rich “God doesn’t give us what we deserve” department, the Anchorage Daily News brings us a cautionary tale:

A Sutton man is being treated for serious head injuries after he was found pinned under his ATV on the Glenn Highway, troopers said Sunday.

Some take-aways:

1. don’t drink and drive

2. not even ATV’s

3. maybe especially not ATV’s

4. and wear a helmet!

Also remember what Matt Groening said so long ago: “At night, the ice weasels come.”

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Denominations and Gun Control

I’m an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and serve a union church of the PC(USA) and the United Methodist Church. For this reason, it always pains me to see these denominations’ national lobbying arms reflexively leaping to endorse whatever dreadful leftist nonsense is topical. Today’s D.L.N. is gun control, and the tragic shootings in Connecticut are being used as cover for a very predictable liberal effort to disarm the populace, according to the right-wing gun nuts at the New York Times:

A new federal assault weapons ban and background checks of all gun buyers, which President Obama is expected to propose on Wednesday, might have done little to prevent the massacre in Newtown, Conn., last month.

But that doesn’t matter to the institutional left who lobby for mainline denominations and various other progressive religious groups. These usual suspects have thrown together something called Faiths Against Gun Violence. They have a website and everything, and a list of supportive denominations (as a .DOC file, of all things!). The left’s Long March through the Institutions is complete now, at least for mainline denominations. Count this as reason #796 why the mainline denominations have become utterly irrelevant except as mutual-admiration societies.

What impresses me about these organizations is their blind faith. Not in God or Jesus or the institutional church. No, these groups are interfaith or even inter-religious; even among the Christian members that kind of faith is pretty shaky and has to bend to whatever’s trendy in the popular culture. But the faith in the benevolence of government and its ability to transform society for the better: that is unshakeable:

By banning assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines, this plan will do much to keep these weapons of mass destruction out of the wrong hands and prevent future tragedies like we saw last month in Newtown, Conn.,” said Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and chair of the faith coalition.

Weapons of mass destruction? I know that these people aren’t … well, they just aren’t especially bright, but, still, you’d think they could learn the difference between firearms and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Can you imagine the surprise when all their lefty friends learn that (by this idiot definition) Iraq had W.M.D.s after all?

But it’s not just Methodists. From the same article, we see that the people Presbyterians spend their money to employ in Washington are every bit as ignorant and hysterical:

The Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of public witness for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said political leaders can resolve the problem if they only have the will. “We are living in a society in which gun violence is making everyone vulnerable to premature death,” he said. “With over 30,000 gun deaths a year in the United States, it is time that faith leaders and others call elected officials to committed action so that gun laws are stiffened and lives are saved.”

How many of those gun deaths are from the type of firearms they purport to be concerned about? How many are from handguns? How many are due to suicides? And how will stiffening gun laws save lives? The way that stiffening drug laws have kept drugs off the streets? Or maybe the way stiffening alcohol laws did?

Here’s a thought: if you want to stop mass murder, how about institutionalizing crazy people, like the nuts who carried out the Tucson, Aurora, and Newtown murders? How about arresting jihadis like the Fort Hood shooter?

And speaking of mass murder, how about appointing a special prosecutor to investigate President Obama and his Attorney General, Eric Holder, who have the blood of hundreds of Mexicans and at least two U.S. nationals on their hands from Operation Fast and Furious?

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Dad is #10 Most-Wished For Present

Sign of the times: A ‘dad’ is tenth most popular Christmas list request for children:

…a survey of their typical lists for Father Christmas has shown many have more serious concerns, requesting “a dad” instead. A study of 2,000 British parents found most children will put a new baby brother or sister at the top of their Christmas list, closely followed by a request for a real-life reindeer.

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