Sunday, January 27, 2008

I Sold My Soul on eBay

This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. A young, well-educated atheist (Hemant Mehta) had a curiosity about Christianity, so he came up with the idea of allowing various churches to bid for his attendance at their church. What happened surprised everyone. He spent a year visiting all kinds of churches all over the country. This book is a look at faith through an atheist's eyes. He is not angry or anti-Christian, and he has no agenda other than seeking the truth.

The last chapter is called "What it Would Take to Convert Me." It is a wonderfully candid critique of what churches are doing right, and what they are doing wrong. One observation was interesting. He writes, "Speaking of those who walk into church late, I want to know why they do so. Not everyone gets stuck in traffic. If church is so important, there is no reason to walk in late. In fact, if going somewhere to worship God is important, then people should arrive early. It seems completely disrespectful to me when people walk into the auditorium five or ten minutes into the service. And what's worse is when parents come in with their children, who learn by example that walking in late is not a big deal. It's just church, right? No need to get there on time. Is that what Christians want to teach their children?"

Interesting observation from the ultimate outsider. Your thoughts?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

My Favorite TV Ad

This is my favorite TV commercial of all time.

Friday, January 18, 2008

There's No Place Like Home

Feeling cold this weekend? Here's a typical January day in my hometown, Port Elizabeth. Ahhh.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Churches of Christ and Civil Government: How we went from Sect to Mainline

The last post got a discussion going on the nature of civil government. So I have done some research into where Churches of Christ have stood historically on this issue (though we have never been uniform on anything). I think you will be surprised. But first, some working definitions to keep in mind:

Apocalyptic Worldview:
An outlook on life whereby the believer gives their allegiance to the Kingdom of God only, not the kingdoms of this world, and lives as if the final rule of God were present here and now. Such a perspective generates a countercultural lifestyle.

A religious group which insists that it, and it alone, constitutes the entire body of Christ, and is thus the “true church.” Typically, a sect believes it has restored primitive Christianity and thus stands in judgment of other religious groups, and has not made peace with the larger culture in which it exists.

A church that is only a part of the universal body of Christ. A denomination has typically made peace with the culture in which it exists.

During the 1800’s the apocalyptic outlook of Barton Stone characterized Churches of Christ in the American south. The more rational (and legalistic) impulses of Alexander Campbell characterized the northern churches. David Lipscomb (1831-1917) was the most influential preacher/editor of the late 19th century. (I also believe he is responsible for the split in 1906 between Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ – evidence of his influence.) Lipscomb was the founder of Nashville Bible School (now Lipscomb University), and founding editor of the Gospel Advocate. He was a staunch pacifist. During the Civil War Lipscomb discouraged “his boys” (students) from joining the Confederate cause. He insisted that he had no enemies in the north, and would make no enemies in the north because politicians told him to. He mourned the fact that Christians from the north and the south were killing each other for political reasons. After the war he wrote a book (that has been purged from Churches of Christ) called “Civil Government.” Here are a few excerpts.

“He who maintains and supports an institution is responsible for the general results of that institution. The general and necessary results of human government are war and the use of carnal weapons to maintain the government. Every one that actively supports human government is just as responsible for the wars and bloodshed that grow out of its existence and maintenance, as are the men who actively wage and carry on the war. Every one who voted to bring about and carry on the war is just as much unfit for service in the kingdom of God as is any soldier in the army."

“To vote or use the civil power is to use force and carnal weapons. Christians cannot use these. To do so is to do evil that good may come. This is specially forbidden to Christians. To do so is to fight God's battles with the weapons of the evil one. To do so is to distrust God. The effective way for Christians to promote morality in a community is, to stand aloof from the political strife and conflicts, and maintain a pure and true faith in God. To go into political strife is to admit the leaven of evil into the church. God has told his children to use spiritual weapons, has warned them against appealing to the sword or force to maintain his kingdom or to promote the honor of God and the good of man. When they turn to the human kingdoms and their weapons, they turn from God, reject his help, drive him out of the conflict and fight the battles for man's deliverance with their own strength and by their own wisdom. Human government is the sum of human wisdom and human strength.”

“The Christian should take no part in the administration or support of the government. Jury service is a part of its administration, and frequently lays on the juryman the duty of determining the life or death of his fellow man. Some say that clerkship in the executive offices are not political - but they are part of the essential elements of the administration, and make the holder a supporter of the government. Yet there are employments sometimes given in carrying on government operations that a Christian might perform. Teaching school is no part of the administration of the government. It seems to me a Christian might teach at a government school as an employee without compromising his position. As a rule he may work as an employee of the government but may not be an officer or supporter. As a rule the government exacts an oath of its officers, to support the government but it does not of its employees. This work constitutes no part of the government administration and requires no affiliation with or obligation to support the government.”

This extreme position characterized most Churches of Christ a hundred years ago. I know it’s hard to believe! But it’s true. So what changed? Lipscomb died in 1917 - the same year the U.S. entered WW1. J.C. McQuiddy took over as editor of the Gospel Advocate. The same year Congress passed the Espionage and Sedition Act, and U.S. Attorney General, Lee Douglas, threatened McQuiddy with imprisonment for publishing “seditious” articles. Suddenly the Gospel Advocate started publishing articles encouraging patriotism: “Be careful that you do not say anything against the government of the United States during the present crisis," and “manifest your love for your country and show patriotism in every way.” This was a complete 180-degree turn from the historical tradition of Churches of Christ. Not all our institutions buckled. In 1918 the Selective Service Board caused Cordell College in Cordell, Oklahoma to close because the president and faculty would not cooperate with draft regulations.

Also, between WW1 and WW2 a number of other changes took place. After Churches of Christ broke from the larger body of Disciples, we lost a considerable amount of money, church buildings, and people. All over the south we started over from scratch in tents and storefront buildings with only a few poor members. We wanted to regain the social respectability we had under the umbrella of the larger Disciples of Christ movement. So, to make a long story short, between WW1 and WW2, the center of gravity for Churches of Christ moved from Tennessee to Texas (sorry my Nashville friends), we rebuilt social acceptability with the establishment of new schools and the flourishing of new congregations and new elaborate buildings in the 1920’s, the Cambellite wing of the movement (rational, legalistic, and argumentative) took control of the journals and papers from the Stone/Lipscomb wing of the movement, and men like Foy E. Wallace Jr. (editor of the Firm Foundation) destroyed all remaining premillenial tendencies in Churches of Christ. Premillenialism was the theological foundation of the pacifist apocalyptic worldview. During WW2 the Bible Banner encouraged Churches of Christ to call in all existing copies of Lipscomb's Civil Government and "burn them." In 1941 Foy Wallace lambasted pacifists as "impractical," "misguided," "freak specimens of humanity," having "dwarfed minds," a "screwy philosophy," and being "idiotic drivel and unpatriotic rot."

So, by the end of WW2 we had made the transition from countercultural sect to mainline denomination. In the 1950’s we declared that we had finally got everything right, and by the 1960’s we were bolding declaring ourselves to be “the fastest growing religious group in the U.S.” And then came a new band of rebels in the 1970’s. But that’s a different story.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Illegal Immigration: The Church's Response?

As the political season heats up, I will jump in the fray from time to time with some issues and questions. One of the big issues is illegal immigration. It is a significant problem. Regardless of political stripe, I think everyone can agree that our borders are broken, and President Bush has been AWOL on this issue. Last year's immigration bill was killed in the Senate because of pressure by social conservatives. So, for all my socially conservative readers, I want to present you with some facts, and then get your response.

Firstly, if there are as many as 12 million (some say as high as 20) illegal aliens in the US, how do you propose to "get rid of them." You do realize that rounding up that many people and removing them will be the biggest and most expensive forced migration in human history? Many of these people came here as small children. This is the only home they know. How would you find all these people? Where would you detain them? How would you physically get them to their country of origin? How will you pay for their lawyers? What courts will hear their cases? That brings up another misconception that needs to be straightened out. I hear people say that the US constitution only apples to US citizens. That is wrong. The Constitution places restraints on the Federal government - it does not grant or take away rights from persons. The protections that the Constitution offers applies to ALL persons in the US - period! So every illegal alien taken into custody has the right to legal representation and a court hearing. We simply do not have the manpower, facilities, money, or fortitude to remove 12-20 million of our neighbors. It is a mean-spirited fantasy that will NEVER happen.

Here are some more facts that we should consider. The following numbers come from D Magazine, “Mexican Invasion,” by Rod Davis, February 2007. Let this really sink in:

Of the 31 million total immigrants in the US, about 12 million are undocumented with 1.5 million in Texas (5% of the state’s population).

43% of Dallas area Hispanics are immigrants and only 19% are legal.

In Dallas almost half of the foreign born residents have no documentation.

50% of these immigrants live below the poverty line and have no health insurance.

Dallas County gained 175 000 Hispanic residents between 2000 and 2005.

Exit polls during the last election reported that 66% of voters listed immigration concerns as “extremely” or “very important” and 50% said undocumented aliens should be given a chance to earn legal status, while only 30% were in favor of deportation.

Entering the country without proper documentation is a civil matter, not a felony. Therefore, it is not a “crime.”

In 2006 workers sent $24 billion to Mexico - representing 2.5% of Mexico’s GDP.

In Texas, immigrants contribute almost $53 billion to local economies.

Undocumented Texas workers contributed $1.58 billion in taxes to state coffers in 2005.

If all undocumented Texas workers suddenly disappeared, the gross state product would drop by $17.7 billion in revenues.

Jobs follow market needs: a skilled carpenter in Mexico earns $125 per month; the same laborer can earn over $2000 in the US.

Sixty families in Mexico control 40% of the nation’s wealth.

Unemployment rates in Dallas - Fort Worth stand at about 5% - the result is a labor shortage.

70% of the Dallas construction workforce is immigrant and largely undocumented.

Texas Workforce Commission reports that Texas will need almost 125 000 additional restaurant workers and over 35 000 additional truck drivers in the next few years.

A language other than English is spoken in 44% of Dallas homes, as compared to 20% nationally.

High School graduation rates for Hispanics in the DISD is 32% - graduation rates for undocumented immigrants are even lower.

What should the church's response be? What is the proper Christian attitude? Somehow I don't think "round them up and send them home because they're lawbreakers" is an appropriate attitude for people who follow Jesus and are supposed to show kindness, compassion, and hospitality. What Kingdom values should we apply here? Remember, we are Christians first, Americans second.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


The world's greatest kid, William Riley North, wishes everyone a Happy New Year, and asks that people not give his dad such a hard time this year!