Spiritual: June 2004 Archives

IreneQ raises some probing questions about the dangers of fasting, praying, and having intense worship experiences. Yes, you read right. These things can lead to idolatry if we enter into them for the purpose of trying to use them to get something out of God, acting as if your prayers will be more effective if you fast or if your relationship with God will be more fulfilling simply because you've engaged in certain practices like certain worship experiences.

That doesn't undermine fasting, praying, worshiping God, or worshiping God and having an emotional experience, in a group of privately. It does require examining your motives. Are you doing this to get something out of it, even something in your relationship with God, or are you doing it to worship God or to honor God's revelation that he wants us to treat him as a Father who gives to his children what their sanctified hearts long for and ask him for? If it's the former, it seems an awful lot like those Jesus warned against who think that they'll be heard because they use many words. Use of intense emotional experiences isn't any different. Such attempts are strikingly reminiscent of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel who thought tearing their clothes, shouting loudly, and making all the right rituals would get the attention of their god. Do we want to treat God that way?

Righteous Anger

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Jollyblogger has started a new series on relationships based on a a sermon series he's doing. The inaugural post is on conflict and has some good stuff.

His comments on the use of "righteous anger" as a fake justification are spot on. Almost no one ever has righteous anger, at least not unless mixed with selfish or prideful motivations. Usually people's claims to righteous anger aren't even close. As most people use the term, it describes anger that they feel justified in having, but it almost never involves concern for justice for others instead of concern for one's own wounded pride or feelings of being wronged (even if in some cases it's a feeling of being wronged because a loved one has been wronged).

Last week Gene Veith asked about whether unity comes in institutional membership or in sharing common belief. The Southern Baptist Convention just left the Baptist World Alliance due to the presence of groups within the Alliance with attitudes they consider sub-Christian.

I have really mixed feelings about this sort of thing. I can understand the desire to distance yourself from dangerous doctrine (or lack thereof) and, perhaps more importantly, gross moral laxity within the church. Yet persistent divisiveness in the church is the third member of the trinity of biblical reasons for excommunication, and it's not any less important than the doctrinal or moral issues. Any possibility of division, of separating ties between genuine believers, needs to be wary of that. There are genuine believers in the group they left. There can be unity without shared organizational membership, which is the point of Veith's rhetorical question. Yet do we want to say that this action doesn't send any bad messages? I'm not saying there isn't a good message sent, but there also seems to be a bad one, and that's to those who are genuine believers in Jesus Christ who are part of that group. To them it will mean that the Southern Baptists consider them apostate. I think this is one real danger of denominational splits or church splits.

When two or more...

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Christians often mention Jesus' statements that "when two or more are gathered in my name I'll be there" and "when two or three agree about anything I'll do it" in the context of believers gathering for prayer. Tim Challies has an excellent explanation of why this is ripping those verses from their context. I have to admit that this has been a pet peeve of mine for years, and that may not be entirely good, but you'd think that we'd be a little more careful with something we believe to be the very word of God.

Christians and politics

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Jollyblogger has an excellent post on being Christian and being politically involved. It's an excellent trip through the various things the Bible says relevant to why it's good to be political involved and bad to identify some political party or nation with Christianity. This is about as balanced as you can get on this topic. I agree with all his main points. Unfortunately, I find myself disagreeing with him on quite a few of his minor and tangential points, and I can't resist picking nits by mentioning those (since I can't wholeheartedly recommend a post this glowingly if it has so many things I disagree with without also registering that disagreement).


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In modern times, biblical passages about idolatry get applied to any circumstance in which someone puts something as higher than God. It occurred to me not long ago that I'd never seen anyone argue for applying idolatry passages this way in our current setting. People simply say that this is what idolatry is now that we don't have literal idols that we think of as representing deities. The assumption seems to be that what's wrong with idolatry is also wrong with putting something as a higher priority than God, but is that enough reason for calling it idolatry? One might give a philosophical argument for saying they amount to the same thing, but I hadn't seen a biblical statement to this effect, and I'd never seen anyone even making the philosophical connection clear. I've now discovered at least two passages that make this line of reasoning seem thoroughly biblical instead of marginally so, as it had seemed to me in the past.



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