Monthly Archives: January 2016
(This is an excerpt from Disestablish, a 50-page summary of the Antidisestablishmentarianism and Conflict of the ages series to date.)
An establishment of religion is the collection of taxes and the enforcement of laws to both indoctrinate and require acceptance of a state religion. From the very beginning, pagan temples used an established religion to provide public festivals, sacred sex (temple prostitutes), public proclamations, public welfare, and education. Pagan establishments of religion had very human leaders being worshiped as gods. The most important requirement of an establishment of religion was the communication of the will of the tyrant to the people as the divine will.
The concept of an establishment of religion began very soon after the flood with Nimrod in Babel. Plato detailed what he thought to be the ideal establishment of religion in his work, Republic. Aristotle, China, Egypt, and every other ancient culture has writings detailing how their establishment of religion should work. Many others governments and cultures have nearly identical standards for a state or established religion. Though many kingdoms rose and fell, the practice of a state religion enforced on different populaces used paganism for more than 2,000 years. The spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire witnessed the disintegration of paganism and the old established religions, such as Rome where Caesar was both head of state and high priest (Pontifex Maximus).
During the Dark Ages, not only paganism, but all forms of government collapsed. During this time, established religions were separated from the head of state. In England, the Magna Carta opened with the words that “the English Church is to be free and to have all its rights fully and its liberties entirely.” In spite of these words, the monarch was still the head of Church, appointing the Archbishop Canterbury. On the European continent, the peace treaties of Augsburg and Westphalia allowed princes to worship in their own way and establish the religion of their choice in their territories, separate from the emperor. These treaties also permitted the worship of God in other ways besides the established religion. For one of the few times in history, people could worship God apart from the established religion.
As part of the ratification process of the first amendment of the US Constitution, all thirteen colonies put in writing their understanding of an establishment of religion. Without exception, an establishment of religion means government control, taxation and legislation of public worship, thoughts, ideas, education, welfare, and provisions for poor people. State establishments of religion were permitted under the newly-passed First Amendment to the US Constitution, though there was considerable disagreement as to this being a good idea. At the time of the ratification of the US Constitution, every one of the original thirteen colonies had some degree of an establishment of religion. In some colonies, such as Rhode Island, it provided little more than to make government buildings available for education. In other colonies, such as Virginia, clergy were paid through taxation. All of the original documents are available through http://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/.
Several important men opposing any established religion of any kind were Roger Williams, William Penn, John Bunyan, George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, James Madison, and George Washington. Because these men were opposed to government control of welfare and education does not mean that they were opposed to education or helping people in need. In fact these men were the colonial leaders in raising funds to support charitable institutions and schools. George Whitefield founded an orphanage and spent the rest of his life raising funds for it.
There is no law, or even policy, for the separation of church and state in the United States. Separation of church and state is certainly not found in the Constitution. The very attempt makes a secular state into an establishment of religion. It was never the intention of the men who wrote these documents to have the state persecute the church; any church. It was the intent that no one church, or non-church, would be favored over others.
It is important to understand that during this time of defining an establishment of religion, Thomas Paine rejected not only Christianity, but all religion except humanism. By doing this, Thomas Paine brought the secular humanism of Plato’s Republic to America and desired to make a secular government our establishment of religion. But it would take over one hundred fifty years to turn those desires into the official policies of the United States government.
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(This is an excerpt from our book The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A Readers’ and Writers’ Guide for Believers)
Philippians Three has a strange statement at the beginning. So then, my brothers, keep on rejoicing in the Lord. It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you; indeed, it is for your safety. (3:1) You may think some things in this book are repetitive, but as Paul says, repetition aids safety. You can’t tell people too many times to keep rejoicing in the Lord. How is it for your safety? Several translations mention the idea of safety, but one says it is “necessary.” Apparently good writers repeat things for our own good.
Paul not only wants to remind us to keep rejoicing, but he also wants us to remember to be on guard against false teaching. We mentioned counterfeiting in the introduction. We wish we could just avoid counterfeit Christians, but they are all around us. They also write books, so we need to watch out for them in what we read.
In the Jewish culture, dogs are unclean. So perhaps Paul, when speaking about dogs, may have meant that we are not to accept what is unclean. Peter had a vision before preaching to Cornelius in which God showed him not to call anything common or unclean, and he had to learn that lesson more than once. Paul accused him publicly of wrongdoing when he separated from Gentiles to gain favor with visiting Jews. Peter was not to treat non-Jews earnestly seeking truth any differently from his fellow Israelites.
This is not what Paul is talking about here. He does not want people to pollute the church by inviting in those who are not cleansed from sin. Some people think we must show love for all by including everyone, regardless of whether their message is true.
Some believers participate in ecumenical meetings where people who do not believe the Scriptures and who teach heresy are allowed equal participation. We cannot love everyone so much that we allow them to cause confusion at best and corruption at worst in our churches. We should not be sucked in to believing error and watering down the word by what we read, either.
Those who put human, or even spiritual, experiences above the Word of God are evil workers. The Old Testament Scriptures warned against believing a prophet who told the people to do things the law told them not to. This might seem obvious, that a message opposite to the Scriptures is wrong, but so many people are sucked in by books communicating a heart-wrenching story, a vision of angels, a life-altering experience. Humans cannot rely on their feelings to decide who and what to worship. That’s why we have the Word of God. It is the perfect standard.
In Paul’s day, people came to the Gentile Christians and told them they had to be circumcised in order to be truly saved. There is nothing wrong with being circumcised. It is not mutilation in itself. Paul circumcised Timothy when he began to be a part of the ministry. Physical things become mutilation when they are works that people say we must have as part of salvation. Justification is by faith alone. A writer whose book demands works as part of salvation is mutilating the faith.
Paul says his former assets are liabilities, because confidence in the flesh is the opposite of confidence in Christ. We cannot save ourselves by our works. People in books can and should do good works, but not as a way to become justified.
You might think that an imitator is a fake or a bad thing. But Paul wanted to be an imitator of Christ. During our college years an instructor gave an illustration using a pattern. We lay it on a piece of fabric so that we can cut out something that is exactly the same. But what happens to us, as human beings, when we lay the pattern of Jesus Christ onto our lives and begin cutting? Sometimes God picks us up, holds us side by side with Christ, and says, “You don’t look much like My Son.”
Some of the people in the books we read, fictional or real, don’t look much like Jesus Christ. They are imitating something quite different. We don’t want to be influenced by the kinds of books that give us the wrong kinds of patterns to imitate.
Paul, as stated above, tossed everything he once valued — his human works — onto the rubbish heap. The pattern of Jewish tradition apart from the Scriptures wasn’t making him look much like the Messiah. It is because of him that I have experienced the loss of all those things. Indeed, I consider them rubbish in order to gain the Messiah. (v. 8)
Paul admonished us to do as he had done, to be
found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but one that comes through the faithfulness of the Messiah, the righteousness that comes from God and that depends on faith.
The books we read should teach this need to embrace this change, as Christ has embraced us, wholeheartedly.
I want to know the Messiah—what his resurrection power is like and what it means to share in his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, though I hope to experience the resurrection from the dead. (3:10)
How many books really teach us this kind of passion to know Christ better? How many self-help books really help us toward the goal of being Christlike in every aspect of our lives?
It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already become perfect. But I keep pursuing it. But this one thing I do: Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I keep pursuing the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly call in the Messiah Jesus. (3: 12-14)
Read books about the maturing process. Don’t dwell on the past, successes or failures, but keep seeking to answer God’s call and become more like Christ. Look at it as a prize to be won, not an ordeal to be suffered through.
Our citizenship, however, is in heaven … He will change our unassuming bodies and make them like his glorious body (3: 20-21)
Many books focus on this world, this life, and barely consider heaven. If they do, they focus on near-death experiences with visions of what it will be like, disregarding what it really takes to go there. We get to heaven by his glorious power. People practically worship heaven and angels in books, but we must worship Christ and focus on him.
The Scriptures take two positions toward enemies. One is praying for their destruction. The other is Jesus Christ’s admonition to love your enemies. (Matthew 5:24)
Books that manage to balance those perspectives are excellent reading. Paul delivers his warning with a mixture of sadness and finality.
For I have often told you, and now tell you even with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of the Messiah. Their destiny is destruction. (3: 18-19)
Destiny of destruction
Loving your enemies does not mean you want them to keep on doing evil. Paul reassures believers that these people will not be able to continue to harm believers or the cause of Christ. Their days are numbered.
God of appetite
Easy believism, the prosperity gospel, and any beliefs that allow focus on self fall into the category of making your appetite your god. It is the opposite of everything Paul has been talking about. The shame is that it is common in Christianity.
Glory is shame
We read a blog that decried “divorce parties.” The writer was already angry that divorce would be considered a festive occasion. But a reader of his blog iced the cake by sagely justifying multiple divorces. What is wrong becomes right, and is then justified and even celebrated. Sin and freedom are almost synonymous in many books nowadays. Words are redefined to glorify what should be shameful.
Mind is earthly
For people who truly want to know Christ, the books written by shallow, world-bound people who claim to be Christians are easy to spot. But more and more people are losing their grip on the Scriptures and substituting expert opinions, devotional stories, commentary, studies, and popular sermons for Scriptures.
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