“A Piece of My Mind”
October, 2015 Newsletter from
Advancing Christian Faith and Values,
Defending Religious Liberty for All,
Supporting Civility and the Common Good
through Preaching, Teaching, Writing,
Activism and Reasoned Conversations
The Pope in Cuba
“A 100-year-old ideology that proposed a collective paradise of social justice and economic equality on earth will confront a 2,000-year-old belief in the eternal power of devotion to the divine and reverence for human dignity.”
“The Pope‘s goal is nothing less than the global establishment of a completely Christian alternative to the once alluring Marxist philosophies of this age. Yet even after communism imploded in virtually every other corner of the planet, Fidel Castro remains faithful, a true believer in a god that failed. ‘History will absolve me,’ he proclaimed at the start of his revolution, and he believes it will absolve him still.
“John Paul II is equally certain that his religion will one day soon sweep away even this last vestige of godless communism.”
The Original Saint Francis
The Original St. Francis lived c. 1182-1226. His love of and service to God’s Creation has so impressed me that we bought a “St. Francis” fountain for our front yard!
If you are privileged to belong to a church that still benefits from the richness of Christian hymnody, you likely will sing his 800-year-old hymn, “All Creatures of Our God and King.” * I share here two outstanding verses:
Dear mother earth, who day by day
unfoldest blessings on our way,
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
let them God’s glory also show!
O praise ye! O praise ye!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
All ye who are of tender heart,
forgiving others, take your part,
O praise ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
praise God and on him cast your care!
O praise ye! O praise ye!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The hymn is in the spirit of Psalm 148, which calls all of creation to praise God—angels, sun and moon, stars, sea creatures, storms, mountains, animals large and small, birds. Then it summons kings, princes, people old and young, men and women, all the saints, and ultimately Israel (“the people close to his heart”) to praise.
“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted;
his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.” (Psalm 148:13)
The hymn and psalm both perform the valuable service of calling us to cherish God’s creation while never making the mistake of turning it, itself, into a god.
* This hymn was sung and played magnificently at the September 25 Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Madison Square Garden.
Message of the Month—“To Heaven and Back?”
Doc Brown: “I just sent you back to the future!”
Marty McFly: “But I’m back! I’m back from the future!”
– “Back to the Future II”
Once again a movie has emerged about a person who went to heaven and came back to tell the story.
I’m not going to argue, “it happened” or “it didn’t happen.” I simply will set forth two scriptures that rise to relevance in light of claims like this. First:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. – 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (New International Version)
Commentators generally believe that the Apostle Paul speaks of his own experience, putting it in the third person for rhetorical reasons. Be that as it may, here are some thoughts from the verses:
1. The man with the heavenly experience didn’t know whether this was an “in the body experience” or an “out of the body experience.” Whichever it was, only God knew—it didn’t matter to the man who experienced it! With modern claimants, it matters a great deal.
2. Next to nothing is said about what this person saw or experienced. “Heaven” and “paradise” are the only words used. Drawing doctrinal conclusions from experiences that go beyond what is said in Scripture is always a risky thing to do.
3. The person of 2 Corinthians 12 heard “inexpressible things” and he is emphatic that no one is permitted to repeat what was heard. This man will not be writing any books, giving talks, or making a movie!
This scripture downplays the very things that are important to those who make the modern claims. And there’s one more scripture to ponder…
Jesus told the story of “the rich man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31). In death, the closed-hearted rich man was punished but Lazarus was at peace. The rich man argued for Lazarus to be sent back from the dead to warn his brothers, “You don’t want to come where I am!” He was certain that a visitor from the dead would bring them to a change of heart.
But he was told, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (verse 31).
The take-home lesson is this: the “evidences and apologetics” value of a “death and back” experience is zilch. The power to change lives comes from the divine message found in the books of the Bible.
A Somber Message for Evangelicals as well as Catholics
“The days of acceptable Christianity are over.
The days of comfortable Catholicism are past.”
– Princeton University Professor Robert George
Good News from Grace
Grace Community Church of Seal Beach, CA joins its community in October to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Seal Beach! For over 70 of those 100 years, the church has joyfully served Jesus and the community.
Grace Community Church has its idyllic location one block inland from the pier, on palm-treed 8th Street.
Don’s Upcoming Ministries
2 Sundays – October 4 & 11 at 11:00 a.m.
Speak on “Hi-Speed Social Change: How to Understand and Respond to What’s Happening to our Values” (2-part seminar) 11:00 adult class at Grace Community Church.
November 8 – Speak in morning worship services at Grace Community Church “Healthy Churches Live Out the Meaning of Christian Baptism”.
Religious Liberty Vigilance –
Recent Thoughts on Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis’ Refusal to Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses
Kim Davis had been in the Rowan County KY clerk’s office for 16 years working under her mother, the elected county clerk. In 2014 Ms. Davis ran as the Democratic candidate and was elected County Clerk in her own right.
As everyone knows, the U.S. Supreme Court validated same-sex marriage in all 50 states this past June. Thus, the conscience issue for Ms. Davis’ is very recent, filling a tiny, tiny proportion of the time she has served. Could this be a hypothetical comparison? Suppose a Muslim has been an outstanding employee of Starbucks since its inception, but very recently refused out of religious conviction to handle alcoholic beverages in a location now introducing them. Should he or she be accommodated? Or should the new requirement lead to firing if the employee refuses to serve alcohol?
The main difference is, Kim Davis is a government official. As a general rule, I would (1) seek accommodation for her to work in accord with her religious convictions, if this can reasonably be accomplished or (2) suggest she resign her position (many conservative commentators have called for just that).
She, on the other hand, may be convinced that the issue is larger than any one employee’s predicament and thus refuses to resign and must be prepared to take the consequences. I understand that, too. But I do not expect her to prevail in the courts on anything.
As of this writing, it appears that an accommodation is in place though the situation remains fluid. Deputy clerks can issue same-sex marriage licenses; her name will not appear on them. In a free society that sometimes has to balance competing rights, a “win/win” situation is often best, even if not always logically coherent and even if, for sure, each side isn’t fully satisfied.
I issue here a call for consistency. A government official is required to uphold the oath of office that was taken, which in one way or another requires the official to follow the state and federal constitutions and the law. If the issue is same-sex marriage, this should apply to either side in the debate.
So here’s a situation that is comparable, in my opinion. But it is more troubling because of the high government position involved. The California Attorney General takes an oath of office that says (emphases mine):
“I, ___________________________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.”
Attorney General Kamala Harris took that oath but later she refused to “defend…the Constitution of the State of California”:
SAN FRANCISCO (March 26, 2013) — Attorney General Kamala D. Harris issued the following statement on today’s Proposition 8 arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court:
“I declined to defend Proposition 8 because it violates the Constitution. The Supreme Court has described marriage as a fundamental right 14 times since 1888. The time has come for this right to be afforded to every citizen.”
Now, on June 26, 2015 five justices of the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with her. But her job as Attorney General was not to make that judgment. It was to defend a provision of the California Constitution in court, like it or not.
She refused to do that. Following her refusal to defend the state constitution, the court found in 2013 that the proponents of Proposition 8 lacked standing before the federal courts.
Furthermore, in citing Supreme Court decisions, she should have looked back ten more years to 1878 (Reynolds v. United States), when the court ruled against the Mormons and said bigamy was not a right.
One can be neutral on both cases but still believe that both the Attorney General in California and the County Clerk in Kentucky are placing their personal convictions above their oaths of office, and the consequences for one should be the consequences for the other. How can one be celebrated and the other castigated?
Theology Insight: Kim Davis’ “Apostolic Church”
Kim Davis belongs to Solid Rock Apostolic Church in Morehead, Kentucky. Here are some facts about this church’s denomination*:
• It is a Pentecostal denomination.
• As a very traditional Pentecostal group, its expectations of its members on lifestyle are very strict **. With almost all other Pentecostals and Evangelicals, it would oppose same-sex marriage.
• It is non-Trinitarian—often called “Oneness Pentecostal” or “Jesus-only Pentecostal” ***. Around 1915 a big dispute over the doctrine of the Trinity split the new (1906+) Pentecostal movement. “Oneness” Pentecostals are a sizeable minority within Pentecostalism.
• “Jesus-only Pentecostals” believe that Jesus alone is God—he himself bears the titles Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (This makes the baptism scene of Jesus taught in Matthew 3:13-17 quite awkward—Jesus must be quite a ventriloquist, to have the Father’s voice sound from heaven while he is in the water here on earth!)
• “Jesus-only Pentecostals” baptize “in the name of Jesus Christ,” taking Acts 2:38 as a verbal formula. They do not believe Matthew 28:19 gives a formula when it says, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” For, after all, they believe Jesus bears all three titles.
• These groups separate themselves even more with the claim (argued from Acts 2:38) that a person is saved this way: (1) repentance, (2) baptism in the name of Jesus, (3) receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (which, by Pentecostal understanding, is evidenced by “speaking in tongues”).
• Bottom line, they teach that those baptized by Trinitarian baptism are not truly saved, and those who don’t speak in tongues are not truly saved (or at least haven’t entered into a “complete New Testament experience”, though I have more often encountered the absolutist position). In my mind, this poses quite a problem because it means that Pentecostals who are baptized by Trinitarian baptism and speak in tongues are not truly saved. What, then, is the source of inspiration for the “tongues” they speak?
I’ve had interaction with “Jesus-only Pentecostals” over the years. I’m open to any new information that would cause me to rethink my observations.
* The denomination to which Kim Davis belongs ( www.apostolic-churches.com ) is not to be confused with the Apostolic Christian Church of America, known for its simple, conservative worship and lifestyles. ( www.apostolicchristian.org ).
** The pastor of a church belonging to a similar denomination once told me that roller-skating was wrong because it was “dancing on wheels”!
*** While the dispute around 1915 had to deal with a supposed “revelation” that denied the Trinity, there’s nothing new about “oneness” doctrine. In early Christianity and at times since, the notion of “modalism” (one God manifest in different modes) has been around. Ask some people in a typical evangelical church to explain God, and you will likely get a few modalistic notions (“I think God is like water—it may be in the form of steam or liquid or ice, but it’s all water”)!