Could the Persecuted Church Rescue American Christianity?

Christianity in this country is big, powerful, and familiar. We need it to become strange again.

An edifying article by Russell D. Moore.

“I was distracted at the Baltimore Orioles’ game the other night. At the end of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), my wife and I joined friends at Camden Yards, but a new friend with us there in the stands kept driving my attention to a jail cell overseas.

A few hours earlier, that new friend, Naghmeh Abedini, had joined me on the platform of our gathering of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. I called the SBC to stand with her husband, Saeed, an American citizen who is imprisoned in Iran for his evangelical faith. As we ate hamburgers and watched umpires call balls and strikes, I wondered what was happening, at that very moment, to Saeed. Was he being beaten? Was he, like Paul and Silas of old, singing hymns behind the bars?

I couldn’t help but wonder if we were living a parable.

After all, before and after we had prayed for Saeed and the persecuted church on our knees on the convention floor, we had prayed for awakening and revival in our American churches. Southern Baptist baptism rates are robust compared to tanking mainline Protestantism, but they are anemic given our history and our aspirations of reaching our neighbors with the gospel.

It would be easy to assume that American evangelicals are the “strong” ones, standing up for our “weak” brothers and sisters imperiled around the world. In one sense, that’s obviously true. We can pressure the State Department to act. We can send relief to communities in peril. We can use information technology to alert the global community to what is happening to religious minorities (not only Christians) due to persecution.

But more and more American Christians are recognizing that we should not only advocate for our persecuted brothers and sisters; we should also learn from them how to live as Christians.

Evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer warned in the 1970s that affluence is spiritually dangerous for Christians. He pointed to the ancient words of the Hebrew prophets and said that those who need never to wonder where daily bread will come from soon stop praying for it — and turn to immorality.

It’s hard to question his diagnosis, especially since it echoes Jesus himself.

For a generation, American evangelicals have talked quite a bit about “faith” and “values.” We want “faith-friendly” movies and we build coalitions of “people of faith.” We talk about “traditional values” when it comes to policy questions. But “faith” and “values” aren’t necessarily praiseworthy. Jesus told us there are all sorts of faith responses to the Word he was preaching. He compared these to seeds that fall on different kinds of soil. The seed that falls on rocky ground, Jesus said, appears to be vital, until persecution comes and then the hearer walks away.

But what happens when there is no persecution?

We have grown accustomed to an American civil religion, nominally Christian, where in many places it does someone social good to join a church. To say “I’m not a Christian” has been in those places the equivalent of saying “I’m not a good person.” This has inflated membership rolls, yes, but it has done so at the expense of what Jesus calls the gospel: the call to carry a cross.

Moreover, this nominal Christianity has emphasized the “values” and “meaning” aspects of Christianity while often downplaying the “strangeness” of Christianity, namely the conviction that a previously dead man is alive and returning to judge the living and the dead.

This Bible Belt experiment will not long survive the secularizing of American culture, where increasingly even the “values” seem strange to the culture. The church will survive, and, I believe, flourish — but it will mean the stripping away of the almost-gospels we’ve grown accustomed to.

In the “religion” aisle at any given bookstore, one can see volumes promising “every day a Friday” and so on. Jesus is the totem to acquire what American culture has told us we deserve. This is closer to Canaanite fertility religion than to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have become the people Jesus warned us about.

When we encounter those persecuted around the world, we see a glimpse of what Jesus has called all of us to. We see the sort of faith that isn’t a means to an end. We see the sort of faith that joins the global Body of Christ, across time and space, in the confession of a different sort of reign. We see a gospel that isn’t the American Dream with heaven at the end.

When we pray for those in prison for their faith, we remember that the gospel came to us in letters written from jail. When we plead for those whose churches are burned in Egypt, we remember that our hope isn’t in building religious empires but in a New Jerusalem we’ve never seen. When we weep for those crucified in Syria, we remember that our Lord isn’t a guru or a life coach, but a crucified Christ. That can remind us of the gospel we signed up for in the first place, and free us from our fat, affluent, almost-gospels that can never save.

Maybe at next year’s denominational meeting, we’ll go to another ball game. And, I pray, it’s possible that not only Naghmeh but also her husband can join us — as a free man. We’ll celebrate, and we’ll pray for those still in chains. But then I think we’ll just ask him to preach.

We American evangelicals need our persecuted brother more than he needs us.”

-Russell D. Moore, http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/06/18/could-the-persecuted-church-rescue-american-christianity/32586

 

Halloween and Evangelical Identity

By Russell Moore

“The words “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” have very little meaning. For some, a “fundamentalist” is anyone who believes in miracles. For others, it necessitates a King James only Bible or a pre-trib Rapture or even a certain sort of public posture. At an American Baptist Churches General Assembly, I’d be considered a hardcore fundamentalist. At a KJV-only independent Baptist Bible camp, I probably wouldn’t be counted.

And “evangelical” includes, for some people, everyone from J.I. Packer to T.D. Jakes to Brian McLaren. That can get confusing, especially to those on the outside of our circles.

A few years ago, a friend of mine, the inimitable John Mark Reynolds, attempted to explain, simply, some of the differences for our friends on the outside of conservative Protestantism. Picking up on the old definition, “An evangelical is a fundamentalist who likes Billy Graham,” Reynolds said, “An evangelical is a fundamentalist who watches The Office.”

I tried my hand at explaining the spectrum, with tongue in cheek, using Halloween as a Rorschach test. I posted it over at the First Things group blog. Here goes.

An evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for Halloween.

A conservative evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up for the church’s “Fall Festival.”

A confessional evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up as Zwingli and Bucer for “Reformation Day.”

A revivalist evangelical is a fundamentalist whose kids dress up as demons and angels for the church’s Judgment House community evangelism outreach.

An Emerging Church evangelical is a fundamentalist who has no kids, but who dresses up for Halloween anyway.

A fundamentalist is a fundamentalist whose kids hand out gospel tracts to all those mentioned above.”

-Russell Moore, http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/10/30/halloween-and-evangelical-identity/

Why Zombies Matter

By Russell Moore

“Zombies are everywhere. Ever since the classic “Night of the Living Dead,” the undead have shown up in movies. Zombies now are featured in top-rated cable TV shows, and in apocalyptic novels and survival guides. An entire genre has ignited around the concept of adding zombies to classic literature (”Pride and Prejudice with Zombies,” etc.). But why are we drawn to these gruesome figures?

In the New York Times, columnist Amy Wilentz reminds us why zombies scare us, and why we can’t help but watch through our clenched hands covering our eyes.  The zombie myth is rooted in something quite real, and quite terrifying. The zombie stories emerged in a Caribbean context of brutal slavery. The zombie’s horror is that he is, she writes, a slave forever. After all, if even death cannot free you, you can never be free.

That’s exactly the point, and here’s why it should matter to Christians.

Zombies are horrifying not simply because they’re mean and aggressive. They are horrifying because they represent what ought to repulse us: the rotting decay of death. But they still walk. And, beyond that, they still crave. In their search for human brains, they are driven along by their appetites, though always under the sway of a slavemaster’s will.

That’s our story.

The biblical story of the Fall of humanity is one of a humanity that comes under the sway of death by obeying the appetite. God places a fiery sword around the Garden of Eden, Genesis tells us, so that the primeval humans wouldn’t eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. Why? It’s because God didn’t want to consign humanity to a never-ending existence of this kind of walking death. He sentences us to the curse of death so that, ultimately, we can be redeemed.

The gospel tells us that, apart from Christ, we were walking in the flesh, that is slavishly obeying our biological impulses and appetites without the direction of the Spirit. As such, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). But we weren’t inert. We instead, though dead, “walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). We were walking dead slaves.

And, in our death, our appetites weren’t silenced but instead drove us along. This walking death, the Apostle Paul writes, was driven along as we “carried out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:3).

Caribbean people could resonate with the horror of zombies because they knew what it was like to be enslaved by evil people, with no hope of escape. And maybe our culture pays attention to zombies because we know what it is like to be dead inside, but unable to find peace, unable to stop walking.

The gospel doesn’t just extend our lives forever into eternity. That’s what we, left to ourselves, think we want. The rich young ruler asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life, but Jesus points out that he wants to eternalize his present state rather than to be hidden in the life of Jesus himself. That’s a zombie walk, and Jesus loves us too much for that.

Jesus offers instead life, and that abundantly, as we eat of his flesh, drink of his blood, share in his triumph over the accusing slavemaster.

So let’s have some sympathy for the zombies. And next time you see the trailer for a zombie film, or see the picture of a walking corpse on the cover of a novel, remember that that was your story once too.”

-Russell Moore, http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/10/31/why-zombies-matter/

Is Tim Tebow a Chauvinist?

By Russell Moore

“Tim Tebow says he wants a wife with “a servant’s heart.” Does that make him a misogynist?

Jezebela feminist website, picked up on comments Tebow made in an interview with Voguemagazine, in which he said he wanted a wife who lived up to the high standards set for him by his mother and sisters. He wanted to find a woman he found beautiful, he said, but, beyond that, he wanted a wife with a “servant’s heart.”

Jezebel (their name for themselves; I’m not name-calling) summed this up as that Tebow’s perfect woman is “hot, kind and servile.”

I’ve been saying for years that I don’t think Christians ought to be “outraged” by what the outside world says about us. And I’m not outraged by this. But I think it’s a good opportunity to tell our non-Christian neighbors what Christians mean when they say “a servant’s heart.”

What we don’t mean is that this is something unique to women. I know, I know. You hear this language and you assume Tebow wants a Stepford wife in a French maid’s uniform, massaging his feet and refilling his glass of sweet tea. But this isn’t what evangelical Christians mean when they say “a servant’s heart.”

First of all, in Christianity, a “servant” isn’t a slur.

Now, I get why that’s hard to understand. Our apostolic fathers didn’t get it either. They debated who would be the “greatest” and the “leader” among them. Jesus pointed out that he was the one serving them broken bread and poured-out wine, and he is the king of the entire cosmos. “Who is greater,” Jesus asked, “The one who reclines at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Lk. 22:27).

Jesus serves his Bride, the church, by washing her feet in the upper room. This is what greatness is, Jesus tells Christians, to serve one another and to outdo one another in building one another up. That servant-heartedness isn’t unique to women; all Christians are called to it. And it isn’t antithetical to strong leadership. Serving is precisely how Jesus rules as king, and how he prepares his people, men and women, to rule with him in the reign to come.

Husbands serve wives. Wives serve husbands. Children serve parents. Parents serve children. Pastors serve churches. Churches serve pastors. That concept might be demeaning in the world ofVogue, but it’s not in a new creation where “the leader is the one who serves” (Lk. 22:26).

I’m not upset at our feminist friends for reading Tebow wrong on this. It’s easy to do, if you don’t know the back-story. But it’s a good reminder to all of us, because we Christians have a hard time differentiating between servanthood and servility too. I know I do, and Jesus has to keep breaking in here and reminding me.

When Tim Tebow says he wants a wife with “a servant’s heart,” he is, like any Christian man, hoping also for a woman who is seeking a husband with “a servant’s heart.” It doesn’t mean he wants a doormat. It just means he wants a Christian.”

-Russell Moore, http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/09/22/is-tim-tebow-a-chauvinist/

(Image Credit)

 

How Christians Should Engage Latter-day Saints

By Russell Moore,   

“Christians often wonder why Mormons believe such an incredible system: golden tablets translated with “magic glasses,” an advanced society of ancient American Indian Israelites who left behind no archaeological evidence at all, a “revelation” of polygamy that was reversed when Utah needed to do so for statehood, a “revelation” barring black Mormons from the priesthood that was reversed after the triumph of the civil rights movement, an eternity of godhood producing spirit babies, and special protective underwear.

What we must understand is that Latter-day Saints (LDS) believe these things for the same reason that people everywhere believe the things they do: they want to believe them. Very few Mormon converts become convinced by rational arguments of the prophetic office of Joseph Smith. Indeed, Mormon missionaries don’t ask one to do so; instead relying on a “burning in the bosom” that the claims of Smith are true.

To understand the draw of Mormonism, evangelicals should read the works of Latter-day Saints who explain why they love their religion.

Coke Newell, a convert to the LDS church in his late teens, lays out why a drug culture vegetarian would find the LDS church compelling.  In so doing, he glories in the ancient mysteries of Mormon cosmology and eschatology: from a God and a Goddess who produce offspring to a future in which deified humans rule a vast cosmos. Newell makes clear that he isn’t simply convinced by Smith’s claims; he is convinced because he loves the picture of reality they portray.

This should come as no surprise to Christians who have read the Apostle Paul’s revelation of the roots of human idolatry in the first chapter of Romans.  Fallen humans have affections and inclinations that they then prop up with beliefs, convincing themselves that their systems are true.  With this the case, evangelicals should take more than a scattershot approach to knocking down Mormon claims (although this is necessary). We must also present a counter-story to the Mormon story: one that resonates with the beauty of truth and holiness.

Evangelical “how-to” sermons are not going to reach our LDS neighbors. Neither are anti-theological churches that major on Christian experience and piety disconnected from doctrinal content. Instead, we must present the gospel the way the apostles did in the aftermath of Pentecost: as a “mystery” that now explains everything in terms of God’s purposes in Jesus Christ.

For an example of how to proclaim the gospel to Mormons, we should pay attention to Paul’s proclamation of the gospel to a cultural milieu that closely resembled that of Salt Lake City: the pagan enclave of Ephesus.  Paul presented Jesus as the key to understanding God’s cosmic plan, as the reason for human existence, human worship, human fatherhood, even human sexuality. Paul did not shy away from speaking of what we intuitively seem to know is true: that there is an ancient warfare of which the affairs of human beings are only a part.

The apostle understood that for the Ephesians, and for the Mormons, and indeed for all of us outside of Christ, the allure of falsehood is because falsehood is parasitic on the truth. We need not just ask whether Mormons believe things that are untrue and dangerous; they do. We must ask also why they believe these things, and counter them with the revealed truth.

Latter-day Saints do not need an unbiblical and unsatisfying vision of Christian hope that is not much more than an eternal choir practice. Instead, our LDS neighbors (and all of us) need to hear of the biblical glory of a restored universe in which human beings will rule with Christ over all things, a universe in which nature itself is freed from the curse and in which human friendship, love, and community continue and grow forever.  LDS families don’t just need to hear that we are pro-family. They need to understand that we are pro-family because the family reflects the Fatherhood of God (Eph 3:14), a Fatherhood that finds its meaning not in pre-mortal spirit babies but in the sonship of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:15).

Yes, we need apologetics directed toward Mormons. And, whatever some evangelical leaders may say, we must not back away from the sad reality that Mormonism is not even remotely Christian.  But we must remember that we will not convince Mormons with rational arguments alone.

This means we can’t rely on piecemeal attempts to point out discrepancies in the Book of Mormon, or archeological proofs against the Nephite civilization, or philosophical holes in Mormon cosmology. All of these things are important, but we must remember that, deep within their hearts, Mormons fear that Joseph Smith is wrong. They, like we before conversion, are “suppressing the truth” (Rom 1:18).

The Spirit can conquer this kind of deception, and he does so through the word of truth.  This doesn’t mean proof-text argumentation, necessarily. It does mean presenting the big picture of Scripture, tying it together in the pinnacle of all truth, Jesus of Nazareth.  This is not the subjective, irrational “burning in the bosom” of our Mormon missionary friends. But let’s remember where they found the “burning in the bosom” language.

When Jesus was walking with the dejected disciples to Emmaus, he took them through all of the Scriptures, showing them how the Christ was the focus of them all. After he left them, they said to one another: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).

This was not, and is not, the anti-propositional relativism of postmodern epistemology, nor is it the irrational mysticism of New Age occultism. It is the human heart created in the image of God, freed by the Spirit, resonating with the truth.  This is what the apostle John means when he writes that we know the spirit of truth from the spirit of error because the one who is from God “listens to us,” the prophetic-apostolic instruments of divine revelation (1 John 4:6).

We must remember this when we welcome our LDS neighbors over for dinner, or when we lovingly spend an evening with diligent Mormon missionaries. When divine revelation is presented in all of its Christocentric glory, there is a longing within us for this story. That’s because it is true. And more than that, it is the truth, and the way, and the life.  That is good news for Latter-day Saints, and for old-time sinners like us.”

-Russell Moore, http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/09/11/how-christians-should-engage-latter-day-saints/

Good News for Bad Preachers

by Russell Moore
“Last night, I received an email from a young minister who is discouraged. He’s just starting out in ministry, and says his preaching is terrible. He’s trying to improve, but is just starting out, and is mediocre. I addressed this here a while back, but I decided to reiterate this point because I hear from a lot of young ministers who are similarly worried. Here’s what I think.

Your first few sermons are always terrible, no matter who you are.

If you think your first few sermons are great, you’re probably self-deceived. If the folks in your home church think your first few sermons are great, it’s probably because they love you and they’re proud of you. If it’s a good, supportive church there’s as much objectivity there as a grandparent evaluating the “I Love You Grandma” artwork handed to them by the five year-old in their family.

So your first set of sermons, unless you’re very atypical, are probably really, really bad.

So what?

The great thing about Christian ministry is that Jesus doesn’t start all over again with his church every generation. He gives older men in ministry who shape, disciple, and direct younger men in ministry. This includes (although it’s not limited to) critiquing your sermons.

Your sermons will be critiqued. You want them to be critiqued, and harshly.

Now you don’t want them critiqued harshly by your congregations (and a critical attitude toward your pastor’s preaching, church members, is not a fruit of the Spirit). But you want them critiqued, and you want them critiqued now.

Your sermons will be highly critiqued early on in your ministry, when you’re still being shaped, or you’ll just be left alone.

The great preachers you hear or that you read about in your church history books are almost never those who were preaching great sermons from the very beginning of their ministries.

Great preachers are the ones who preach really bad sermons. The difference is that they preach really bad sermons when they’re young, and are sharpened for life by critique.

Mediocre preachers are those who start off with sermons that are, eh, pretty good, but they’re never critiqued and thus never grow.

So if you’re early on in ministry and you preach a bad sermon, so what? You’re in a train of previously bad preachers that extends from Moses to Aaron to Simon Peter to about every good gospel preacher you’ve ever heard with your own ears.

Your bad sermon says nothing about your future. If you’ve got folks in your life saying, “Hey, that was a really bad sermon,” that does indicate something about your future, so praise God for it. It’s probably a sign that God has something for you to say, for the rest of your life.”

-Russell Moore,  http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/08/14/good-news-for-bad-preachers/

Pat Robertson vs. the Spirit of Adoption

by Russell Moore

In a recent broadcast of The 700 Club, a woman sent in a question about a man who wouldn’t marry her because she has children who were adopted internationally. If they were her “own” biological children, he would have no problem, she said. But because they were adopted, he saw too much risk. Host Pat Robertson’s female co-host bristled and said he was acting like a “dog.” Robertson disagreed.

He said the man “didn’t want to take on a United Nations,” and that, after all, you never know about adopted children; they might have brain damage and “grow up weird.”

I am taking a deep breath here and reciting Beatitudes to myself. I had promised never to mention Robertson here again. Every few months he says some crazy scandalous thing. He blames 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina on gays and lesbians, cozies up to the Chinese coercive and murderous one-child policy, counsels a man that he can divorce his Alzheimer’s-riddled wife because she’s “not there” anymore.

Let me just say this bluntly. This is not just a statement we ought to disagree with. This is of the devil.

The last go round, Robertson “clarified” his statements on a man leaving his sick wife. Didn’t mean to say it was right, he said, just that the man’s got to have some companionship and a divorce is better than adultery. Please. Robertson’s defenders said to me in letters and calls and emails that Robertson is just not what he used to be mentally and that you ought to hold him to a lower standard. That would be true if people were tapping his phone, or going to his house and recording conversations. However, man is on television, representing to millions of people what Christianity is about.

The issue here isn’t just that Robertson is, with cruel and callous language, dismissing the Christian mandate to care for the widows and orphans in their distress. The issue is that his disregard is part of a larger worldview. The prosperity and power gospel Robertson has preached fits perfectly well with the kind of counsel he’s giving in recent years. Give China a pass on their murderous policies; we’ve got business interests there. Divorce your weak wife; she can’t do anything for you anymore. Those adopted kids might have brain damage; they’re “weird.” What matters is health and wealth and power. But that’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ. For too long, we’ve let our leaders replace the cross with an Asherah pole. Enough is enough.

Jesus was, after all, one of those adopted kids. Joseph of Nazareth was faced with a pregnant woman he could easily have abandoned. He knew this child wasn’t his, and all he had to go on was her word and a dream. He could have dismissed either. But he strapped on his cross, provided for his wife, and protected her child. Indeed, he became a father to her child. God called this righteous. The child Jesus seemed to be a colossal risk. His own family and neighbors and villagers thought he’d turned out “weird” (Mark 3:20-21). Maybe he was demon-possessed, they speculated, or maybe even “brain damaged.”

The Bible tells us that Jesus is present with the weak and the vulnerable, the “least of these,” his brothers and sisters. When one looks with disgust at the prisoner, the orphan, the abandoned woman, the mentally ill, the problem isn’t just with a mass of tissue connected by neural endings. The issue there is the image of God, bearing all the dignity that comes with that. And, beyond that, the issue there is the presence of Jesus himself.

Christians are the ones who have stood against the prophets of Baal and the empire of Rome and every other satanic system to say that a person’s worth doesn’t consist in his usefulness. Christians are the ones who picked up abandoned babies, who wiped drool from the dying elderly, who joyfully received developmentally disabled children, and who recognized that our own sin has made us nothing noble or powerful. We’re all just dead and damaged and, well, “weird.” But Jesus loved us anyway.

I say to my non-Christian friends and neighbors, if you want to see the gospel of Christ, the gospel that has energized this church for two thousand years, turn off the television. The grinning cartoon characters who claim to speak for Christ don’t speak for him. Find the followers who do what Jesus did. Find the people who risk their lives to carry a beaten stranger to safety. Find the houses opened to unwed mothers and their babies in crisis. Find the men who are man enough to be a father to troubled children of multiple ethnicity and backgrounds.

And find a Sunday School class filled with children with Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome. Find a place where no one considers them “weird” or “defective,” but where they joyfully sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”

That might not have the polish of television talk-show theme music, but that’s the sound of bloody cross gospel.”

-Russell Moore,  http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/08/17/pat-robertson-vs-the-spirit-of-adoption/

Is it Wrong for a Christian to Sue the Government?

from Russell Moore

“Dear Dr. Moore,

I’ll make this very long story as short as I can. A close family member of ours lost his health due to what appears to be some serious negligence from a government agency. Several people have suggested that we sue this branch of the government.  On the one hand, this might help alert the state to other situations, similar to that of our family member, in hopes of bringing reform. Yet, on the other, the Bible is pretty negative about Christians suing and mandates us to obey and honor the government. I don’t know if we’ll sue, but, if we did, would we be wrong?

Grieving and Confused

Dear Grieving,

First of all, I’m not a lawyer so, of course, I can’t tell you whether your lawsuit would be wise, or even if you have a case. But the questions you raise about your ethical obligations as a Christian are, I think, important. You are right that, first of all, the Bible does command us to not only obey the governing authorities (Rom. 13) but to show honor to them (1 Pet. 2:17) and pray for them (1 Tim. 2:2).

That said, a lawsuit in our legal system is not necessarily an attack. It is, however, when it’s the result of vengeance or acrimony between individuals. But the suit of a governing agency is less like an assault than like an appeal for a grievance to be answered. The normal mechanism of a citizen seeking justice, in our system, goes ultimately through the court system.

In that sense, I think, if all other avenues are exhausted, suing this branch of government would simply be the equivalent of Paul appealing to Caesar to settle his legal dispute (Acts 25:1-12) and pointing to his Roman citizenship in order to question the legality of his scourging (Acts 22:25-28).

This is a very different matter from Christians suing one another, which is forbidden by Scripture. But why is it forbidden? It is not because God is uninterested in justice. It’s that when two Christian persons sue one another they are signaling to the outside world that the church is incompetent, not gifted by Christ, to settle disputes among brothers. That is a defective eschatology, and ultimately says something profoundly untrue about Christ and his gospel. It is better, Paul says, to be defrauded than to do such a thing (1 Cor. 6:1-8).

A suit of a government agency is a different matter precisely because the church has no jurisdiction over the state (Jn. 18:36; 1 Cor. 5:12-13).  A suit could be simply an appeal to the state to do justice on its own terms in a particular matter.

That said, you must examine your motives. If you are really seeking to address a systemic wrong, to prevent others from being injured, that is one thing. If you are seeking some form of personal vengeance, that is contrary to the spirit of Christ and to the letter of Scripture (Rom. 12:17-21).

Finally, there is a difference between something being ethically permissible and being wise. A war, for instance, might be just and yet be imprudent. In the same way, it may be that you can, in clear conscience, sue this government agency and yet that be an unwise use of your family’s resources and emotional energy right now. Only you, in seeking God’s direction in prayer and the counsel of wiser Christians, can discern that.”

-Russell Moore,  http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/08/01/is-it-wrong-for-a-christian-to-sue-the-government/

Race and the Gospel in Mississippi

 by Russell Moore

“As a Mississippian and as a Baptist Christian, I cringed the other day when I heard that the First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs had moved a couple’s wedding ceremony to another venue, to keep a controversy from erupting in the church. The controversy was that the couple is black. My first thought was the scandal this brought to my state. But, more importantly, the issue is the gospel itself.

The pastor of the church isn’t a racist. He moved the wedding, he says, to preserve peace in the congregation, since a small but apparently powerful minority were working behind the scenes to prevent this. The pastor, it is said, probably would have been fired over all of this and, he said, he didn’t want to ruin the couple’s wedding. By moving the wedding, he said, he wanted a “win-win situation.”

That’s the problem, in my view. The only answer to the ongoing struggle between Jesus Christ and Jim Crow is a lose-lose situation.

Back in the darkest days of the white backlash against the civil rights movement, author Walker Percy (who grew up in Greenville, Mississippi) asked what could be done to bring about peace in Mississippi. He answered that his first thought was to say the Christian ethic, but “the trouble is that Christendom of a sort has already won in Mississippi.” This kind of Christendom though, Percy argued, was a Stoic religion rather than a Christian one. Stoicism, after all, prized order and honor and stability and saving face.

Christianity is quite different from all that. It’s not just about moral rules. It’s not about simply maintaining order. And it’s sure not about saving face. The reason the Greek world found Christianity so scandalous is because it tore down everything the world saw as prize-worthy, including one’s racial identity or supremacy. You must not only crucify your desires and your ambitions, Jesus said, you must crucify your entire life, and find a new one in him.

That tends to upend things. And that’s what’s at stake here.

I don’t doubt that this Mississippi pastor has, what they kindly call back home, “a pastor’s heart.” He doesn’t want to stir up division and pit people against one another. And there are many, many situations in which that’s precisely what’s called for. In this case, though, the division is the gospel itself.

The early church thought they could put down controversy and solve division by keeping Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in separate places. The Apostle Peter thought he could appease Jewish opposition by not eating with Gentiles. The Holy Spirit disagreed. As a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul said that the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in one Body is precisely the sign of God’s manifold wisdom that the Father is presenting to the rulers and authorities over this present darkness.

A church that prized carnal divisions over color of skin or cultural background is a church that isn’t finding its identity outside of the flesh and in a Jewish Messiah seated at the right hand of God. The church is made up of people who have lost everything. We are dead. We prize nothing about what we used to take such pride in, and we instead see ourselves as executed and raised in Christ. When we receive one another, and go around whatever obstacles the satanic order puts up, we’re confessing that what we have in common isn’t what we were born with, but what we were born again into: the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit.

So what’s to be done? It seems to me that the majority of the church is horrified by this. I think they can deal with it by doing exactly what the Apostle Paul did with Peter: to confront on the basis of the gospel, and to seek repentance and reconciliation. That’s what I think they should do, and will do. If not, the larger Body of Christ, particularly in the Southern Baptist Convention, should deal with this as an issue of defining importance for the gospel.

But, again, I think this church will take a different stand. And they’ll have to do this without a win-win situation. They’ll have to do it with a lose-win situation. They will lose some face and some reputation by saying, “We’re sinners and we’re wrong, and we repent.” Isn’t that what every one of us must do every day, as repentant sinners?

Mississippi Christians know, perhaps better than the rest of the country, just how satanic and violent racial supremacy can be. We have danced with the devil and we ought to recognize him when he returns. But that’s precisely why Mississippians ought to be the ones to lead the way in showing the church what biblical reconciliation and revival looks like.

But that means a lose-win situation. We lose face, we lose ourselves. We seek mercy and a new start. We repent, and don’t just rebrand.”

-Russell Moore, http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/07/30/race-and-the-gospel-in-mississippi/

Adopted for Life

by Russell Moore

“Ten years ago today, my wife and I walked out of a Russian orphanage with two little one year-old boys. Suddenly, for the first time, I was a father and she was a mother. Suddenly, little Maxim was “Benjamin Jacob Moore” and little Sergei was “Timothy Russell Moore.” Everything changed, for all of us, for life.

As I’ve written in the book, God used this experience to upend my whole life. He taught me much about his Fatherhood, much about the gospel, much about community, and much about the mission of the church. But people sometimes ask me, “In the years since, what have you learned about becoming a family through adoption?”

The main thing is that convictions forged there in the July heat of the former Soviet Union have only crystallized more. As the father of five now, some by that adoption and some by the more typical way, I’m as convinced as ever that adoption, into a family or into the Family of God, is “real.” There is no such thing in God’s economy as an “adopted child,” only a child who was adopted into the family. “Adopted” defines how you came into the household, but it doesn’t define you as some other sort of family member. In the Book of Romans, Paul defines all Christians, both Jew and Gentile, as having received a common “spirit of adoption” (Rom. 8:15; 9:4).

I have also learned a lot about the difficulty of adoption. We were blessed when we received our two sons, but we didn’t know how hard it would be. We’d never had children before, so we simply adjusted to the new normal. Because the boys had never had solid food, one of them was traumatized by the texture of food, would pack it into his cheeks, and gag. Teaching him to eat was the most stressful thing I’ve ever lived through, as I would sit by his chair and coax, “Chew! Chew!” At one point, I turned to Maria and said, “Wait! I, for the first time, really get the whole ‘milk to meat’ concept of the New Testament.” But then our son vomited all that food up, and my exegetical insight was gone.

My grandmother used to always say about the Depression, what I’ve heard almost everyone from that era say, “We were poor but we didn’t know we were poor.” I can relate. Adjusting to life in a new home that first year was difficult, but we didn’t really know it. They were our sons and we just loved and disciplined and laughed our way through it. When our next child was born to us, as an infant, we looked at one another about six months in and said, “This is so incredibly easy!”

I think things would have been very different, if we’d panicked over every pile of hoarded food we found in the house or every fit thrown. If we’d tried to relate all of that back to some kind of possible adoption horror story, or tried to assign a syndrome to all of it, we probably never would have gelled together as we did, as a family. But we did, and we are.

That joyful hardship is exactly like its gospel equivalent in the Spirit of adopting grace. Sometimes we, as a church, don’t recognize how alien a new family seems. People in our midst come to know Christ; they learn to cry out “Abba,” but there’s still a long, hard adjustment to make. Sometimes they wonder if they’re welcome because they don’t know how to find Haggai in their Bibles, or because they don’t have any Vacation Bible School memories, or because they still crave cocaine. If the church is the household of God, we don’t see these struggling, anxious new believers as our guests or our ministry projects. They’re our brothers and sisters. It’s no burden to walk alongside them, steadying the cross on their backs. It’s just what you do, when you’re family.

Ten years later, these boys are growing up and I’m proud of them. We’re going to celebrate “Moore Day” today, and I’m going to retell the story of that transition from orphanage to dinner table. And I’m going to remember that I made the same transition, and tell myself an Old, Old Story too. But, most of all, I’m just going to thank God, as I remember these two little emaciated orphans in that institution far away, and look and see them sitting, together, as a family.

They are my beloved sons, and with them I am well-pleased.”

-Russell Moore, http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/07/27/adopted-for-life-ten-years-later-what-ive-learned-since/