Archive for July, 2010

This post is part of an ongoing discussion on the Writers’ Block about the necessity, or lack thereof, of procreation for Christians. To see other articles about this issue, click here to return to our home page.

In a previous post, John briefly mentioned an interesting point in regard to the command to “be fruitful and multiply.” He wrote, “I think this command is still vitally important, even though we already have filled the earth and ‘subdued’ it (some might argue we overdid it there).”

I had never thought of it this way, but reading John’s comment made me realize that this command from Genesis is very similar to the common marriage vow: “until death do you part.” Both the vow and the command have a built-in termination point. The marital vows end when we die, the command in Genesis (“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it…” [NRSV]) ends when the earth reaches its human saturation point. This raises the question: When can we say the planet is “subdued?” I see an answer to that question in the Bible’s commands about personal wealth management:

  • “The good leave an inheritance to their children’s children” (Prov. 13:22).
  • “If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you?” (Prov. 22:27).

These examples of the biblical wisdom on wealth reveal one of the things I love about Scripture: the book is very practical. If you consider the two verses I cited, they both implicitly encourage people to plan ahead. Consider how much you have and then live life accordingly, otherwise you may not have even the most basic of possessions or die in poverty with nothing to pass on. (For a more complete study of the wealth management topic, see The Recession as a Moral Crisis over at the Center for Theology.) It would seem only natural that if the Bible encourages us to be this careful with our money, we should plan how much of Creation’s resources we use and how much will be available to the next generation (this was the point made by the Australian Anglican Church, who started this discussion on here).

So, how many people can live on this planet before we deprive the progeny of those who have children? This is an exceedingly complex question because it cannot be answered by simply totaling up the amount of all resources we have. Tomorrow, a group of scientists could come up with a way to turn grass into a fuel capable of running cars, and thus the planet’s energy supply would be greatly extended. Technology allows us to use our resources more efficiently and turn some things into far more useful commodities.

With that caveat in mind, consider the state of the world today. The world’s population continually rises (it stands at roughly 6.7 billion), one-in-six do not have enough food to be healthy, nature continually recedes (every year, an area of forest four times the size of Switzerland is lost), and many scientists question the stability of our current environment with considerations such as global warming.

While I am not saying our planet cannot handle any increase in population, perhaps we should slow our growth and consider the future. Perhaps our mandate, at our current level of technology, has been fulfilled and we should pause to take stock.


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I sympathize with Adam’s desire to avoid the inconvenience of child-rearing.  Also, it’s hard for this narcissistic and selfish millennial to imagine that self-sacrifice in the name of Fatherhood will ultimately serve my happiness. Of course, I’ve been wrong on that subject before.

However, I do think the command “Be fruitful and multiply” takes precedence over our natural desires and even the stipulations in the New Covenant, as Adam argues in another post. After all, the command was not given to Abraham or David or any of the other patriarchs who served as the original members of the Old Covenant.  Rather, it was given to Adam, the very first man, long before the Old Covenant comes into play.  The fact that the “Be Fruitful” command comes first, and is given to the very first man, indicates the vital importance of procreation. For whatever reason, God wants his people (all of his people, not just Israel) to fill the earth and subdue it.

I think this command is still vitally important, even though we already have filled the earth and “subdued” it (some might argue we overdid it there).  After all, according to the new report from the Kepler Society, we now have 140 “earth-like” planets in our Galaxy that will need to be populated and subdued. So let’s get to it!  😉

This post is part of an ongoing discussion on the Writers’ Block about the necessity, or lack thereof, of procreation for Christians. To see other articles about this issue, click here to return to our home page.

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This post is part of an ongoing discussion on the Writers’ Block about the necessity, or lack thereof, of procreation for Christians. To see other articles about this issue, click here to return to our home page.

Megan DeFranza has begun an article series exploring an Anglican “Theology of the Body.”  Whereas the Catholic position on sexuality maintains that procreation is a mandatory commitment of all married persons, and thus birth control is prohibited, Anglicans typically take a more moderate position–one that allows for birth control while encouraging married couples to procreate.  Read more by clicking here.

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This post is part of an ongoing discussion on the Writers’ Block about the necessity, or lack thereof, of procreation for Christians. To see other articles about this issue, click here to return to our home page.

In any discussion about the theology of procreation, Genesis 1:28 will eventually come up. Like so many phrases from the Bible, this verse has one of those lines that is almost a cliche: “be fruitful and multiply.”

Slam dunk for procreation, right? God says to Adam and Eve to get out there, get it on, and get some children out of it. Toss the birth control, honey, we’re obeying God’s command tonight!

As usual, it is Paul’s contributions to Scripture that challenge us to add depth to our two-dimensional ideas. He argued that celibacy was preferable to being married (1Cor. 7:5-7 NRSV). This is an odd sentiment in Scripture if all of humanity was issued a command to add to the population. Instead, this passage is concerned with the fact that those who are married are worried about “the affairs of the world” and how to please their spouse (1Cor. 7:33-34).

The Corinthian passage seems to be a new manifesto for a new way of life for God’s children. The command in Genesis, and the subsequent blessings of children given to the faithful followers of God in the time of Abraham and the kingdom of Israel, represent a time when God’s people existed as tribal and political units. The new covenant, however, while an extension of the old covenant (another blog post for another time), does represent a different situation. God’s chosen are no longer a single people group (Jews), but open to all the world (Rom. 3:21-30). (For an excellent discussion of this topic, I recommend N.T. Wright’s book, Justification.)

With the opening of God’s kingdom to all, I think there may be a shift in the purpose of marriage. A man and woman coming together is no longer solely concerned with adding to Israel, but is a means by which some Christians can live a holy life. This idea of providing a tool for holiness is exactly the sentiment Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians 7:2, where he tells the congregation to marry if they struggle with lust. Nowhere does Paul mention children, in this letter or anywhere in the New Testament, as being a necessary result of marriage.

Perhaps this indicates that living a life “anxious about the affairs of the Lord” (1Cor. 7:34) is not defined by procreation, but about service that carries us to the hurt, the needy, and the unbelievers.

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I don’t want kids.

Right now, an uneasy truce between my wife and I exists on this subject. She has that innate need to nurture and cuddle something cute and utterly helpless. My paternal feelings, however, are strongly tempered by the shrill crying, perpetual diaper changes, and the time commitment associated with children. Why have children? There are so many other good works and righteous pursuits to occupy our time.

My argument has picked up some supporters. The Anglican Church in Australia has asked the government to rescind the incentives to have children (you can read about it here). Since Australia currently has an unsustainable population growth, the Aussie Anglicans argue that this will take resources from upcoming generations, violating the eighth commandment against theft (that line of reasoning is in this article.)

In reporting on this story, Christianity Today cited a number of Christians who think procreation is an obligation of the married faithful. This brings up an interesting point: are Christians required to procreate? Some of the writers on this blog are going to engage the issue over the next week or so (maybe longer) in the hopes that we can clarify the issue for all of our readers and for our writers.

Who knows, maybe someone will make a point that will make my wife very happy.

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I came across some interesting quotes the other day, both from Anglican clergy.  On the surface, both of these quotes can stand for an orthodox expression of the faith.  Without their contexts, both are in many ways very true.  But there is a sinister underbelly to one of them that reveals far more than its veneer of orthodoxy could ever hide.  And therein lies the danger of a theology which attempts to blend elements of revealed orthodoxy with the philosophy of the world at large; such attempts “have an appearance of wisdom” but ultimately “lack any value” in realizing God’s plan of salvation for believers (cf. Colossians 2:23).  So that the full power of syncretism to hide its poisonous effects in the sweet flavor of revealed truth may be clearly manifest, I will present both of them now free of their larger contexts, and provide commentary after.

In an attempt to inspire her fellow Episcopalians to a common cause,  Judy Mayo of the Diocese of Forth Worth sounded this rallying cry: “Surely we can say together that Jesus Christ is Lord. And if we can’t, we have no reason to be here.”  Such a rally was met with all manner of comments, both for and against, which included this one from the Canon Theologian of the  Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, Rev. Eugene McDowell (now serving a church in Massachusetts), who articulated his conviction that how one lives his life is the more important issue than whether one affirms Jesus as Lord: “Actions speak louder than proclamations…What Jesus calls us to do is to live our lives.”

Can you smell the savory aroma?  Surely we can confess that Jesus is Lord.  Surely we can also confess that Jesus wants from his followers far more than just lip service, as he heartily warned his disciples in Matthew 7:21, among other places.  As Saint James also assures us, for the believer, actions do indeed speak louder than words (James 2:14-26).  So what gives? Where is this poison I so resoundingly decry?

In all things, context is key.  Ms. Mayo’s comment came on the heels of a resolution at the gathering of Episcopal clergy and laity at the 2006 General Convention.  The resolution called on all the bishops, clergy, and lay deputies there present to affirm their “unchanging commitment to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the only name by which any person may be saved” (Resolution D058).   However, the party led by Rev. McDowell, which outnumbered Mayo’s group nearly three to one, prevented Resolution D058 from leaving committee and going to the larger Convention for a vote.  Did you catch that?  The nuance of it demands repeating: they prevented even talking about bringing the resolution to a final vote.

From Rev. McDowell’s point of view, affirming the Lordship of Jesus Christ is irrelevant to the moral life.  Jesus calls his disciples to be agents of social transformation and justice.  Such a call cares not about creeds and confessions, which concern the mind only, but only demands outward obedience.  Indeed, to suggest that Jesus would have wanted his Church to confess his Lordship rather than do his work in the world strikes Rev. McDowell as a form of Nazism.  Yes, Nazism.  Read his own words about the Resolution: “this type of language was used in 1920s and 1930s to alienate the type of people who were executed. It was called the Holocaust.”  “Confessions” as Rev. McDowell envisions them only breed contempt for dissenters, and are therefore as undesirable as Auschwitz or Buchenwald, where their propagation must inevitably lead.  (Because clearly one cannot disagree with someone without also desiring their extermination.)  No, only actions properly express the love of Christ, and therefore only actions count.

Let us return again to Paul’s words in Colossians.  In that church, the people had been deluded into thinking that the proper expression of the Christian faith demanded their obedience to a whole laundry list of outward religious acts.  But Paul will have nothing of it.  For Paul, Christ is wholly sufficient in his person for the Christian precisely because he is the fullness of divinity in bodily form (1:19, 2:9), the Lord of creation (1:16-17), the Lord of the Church (1:18), and the very image of God himself (1:15).  In other words, the proper expression of the Christian faith is nothing else but the confession of Christ as Lord because that’s who he is, and that’s why the Church exists at all.

Does Paul then deny the importance of works in favor of mere confession?  In his own words, “may it never be!” (Romans 6:2).  “Count yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body” (6:11-12, emphasis added).  For Paul, the confession of Christ as Lord not only demands but even assumes an outward obedience to Christ’s commands, including the ones calling the Church to be a public witness to holiness and justice.    Indeed, Paul goes much further than this, because Paul knows about the power of sin and death, which reign in all our mortal bodies.   For Paul, we simply cannot muster up a holiness and justice our own without Christ’s aid (Romans 8:7-8; Ephesians 2:12; cf. Hebrews 11:6).  It is only by means of the confession of Christ’s Lordship that the Church can live the moral life precisely because of what such a confession entails.  To confess Christ as Lord means to affirm the destruction on the Cross of the sin and death which plagues us, to acknowledge the reality of his bodily resurrection which testifies to that completed work, and to affirm that God has therefore seated him at his right side, with the power and authority to pour out on God’s people a holy and just character (Romans 6:4; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22; Ephesians 5: 26-27; Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 3:1-4).  It is this character which then produces all manner of holy and just behavior in a dying and unjust world.  That’s why confession is really all there is, because it not only assumes but even produces all the rest.  Indeed, our Lord himself taught the same thing: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29, emphasis added).

Rev. McDowell has turned the Gospel of Jesus Christ completely on its head.  For him, we save the world by our actions, which we, apparently, do in Christ’s name, having “realized” that we should “live into” a grace which is “already there.”  Or something.  In other words, our works save us and the world.  Confession is then not only unnecessary, but potentially even damaging to the world.  Potentially even genocidal, it would seem.  Such is the poison of his teaching.  Not least does it lead him to wild conclusions about where orthodox confession must necessarily lead, but more importantly he says that, at the end of the day, it is up to the church to “realize” God’s grace on their own, without the help of a divine Lord and Savior.

His words look sweet on the outside because, without appropriate context, his words ring true.  Christ does indeed call his disciples to more than mere words.  But he only calls them to that because he has previously empowered them to that on account of his being Lord of all creation. Without the confession, the life simply does not follow.

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The good news: I found a news story about Christians that did not focus on homosexuality.

The 11th assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) met today in Stuttgart, Germany under the theme, “Give Us Today Our Daily Bread.” While the delegates will be discussing the implied message of their theme, world hunger, the president of LWF said  they will be discussing hunger in an abstract sense as well: the hunger for peace, justice, etc. (To read some of the LWF president’s remarks, click here.) In the two articles I consulted about this meeting (click here for the other one), homosexuality had a total of three paragraphs devoted to it.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have discovered a creature previously thought extinct in the Christian kingdom: news about Christians that does not focus on homosexuality. Can it be that Christians are actually doing something other than talking about sexuality in society, Romans 1, or the definition of marriage? Could it be that we care about helping people, bringing about peace in the world, and a whole host of other things that we cannot talk about when we are having to defend our condemnation of homosexuality?

I worry that orthodox Christianity is becoming a single-issue religion in the American press. If all you know of Christianity is that we pray to a guy on a plus sign and we oppose homosexuality, then it is understandable that someone outside the church could think poorly of us. Read enough comments attached to Web stories regarding homosexuality and you will eventually find someone who criticizes Christians for giving so much attention to condemning a sex act when there are so many people hurting–say through starvation–in the world. So, I am happy to see that Christians can meet without homosexuality defining our agenda or the subsequent media attention.

Now for the bad news: I found a news story about Christians that did not focus on homosexuality.

The LWF does not represent a group of Christians who are untouched by the sexuality issue. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a member of the group meeting in Germany, allows unrepentant homosexuals to serve as clergy. Two of those paragraphs that mentioned homosexuality noted that the Lutherans of the world are currently in a five year study of the issue. Speaking about the sexuality debate, Ishamel Noko, the general secretary of LWF, said, “What might appear to be tension between some churches is simply the expression of diverse views on these issues.”

Apparently, we can only talk about non-sexual issues if we don’t think homosexuality is important.

A five year study would be laughable if it was not so frightening. Sexual immorality is listed as a cause for expelling someone from a Christian congregation in 1 Corinthians 5:11. When you consider how important being a member of the body of Christ is (for some of the reasons why it is important, click here to see an article over at the Center for Theology), every assembly of the ecclesia should be about this issue until it is resolved.  Setting aside five years to debate this issue–or perhaps forestall it–is a travesty; the body of Christ, the judges of angels (1Cor. 6:3), are shirking a responsibility that enables them to be holy church. Martin Luther would be ashamed.

I want to address other issues in the world, and I think it is good to continue our efforts to better the world while we address the issue of homosexuality. We cannot, however, stick our head in deeds outside the church in order to ignore the order within the church. While it sounds noble to ignore such sin in favor of ending the horrible atrocities that go on in the world, it is not at all what Christ intended. Our sin, personal and corporate, must be addressed so that we can remain in communion with God. Christ did die to save the world from starvation; he also died to save us from our personal evils.

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For a fair amount of the 20th and 21st centuries, Christianity has been accused of sexism. We refer to God as “Father,” and this father has a Son. (The Holy Spirit is androgynous, so there is not much help for women there.) Perhaps most insulting of all, the majority of biblical heroes are men, which might lead some to conclude that God only assigns men the important jobs.

I was reminded of this after reading an article about one author’s journey to a church that she considered “patriarchal.” (You can read Anne Eggebroten’s article, “The Persistence of Patriarchy,” on the Sojourners’ web site here.) Eggebroten’s article highlights many issues in church-female relations, but she failed to address one verse I find most fascinating:

“For I promised you (the church) in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2Cor. 11:2).

How was this verse and verses like it received back in the day it was written? Roman society was far more patriarchal than ours, but this verse assigns men the same place as women. The marriage image, which shows up in at least two of Paul’s letters and in Revelation, describes the relationship of Christ to all men in the church as a husband to a wife.

This post is not a serious theological treatise, or extensive discussion of the subject (though the subject warrants both), but merely a quick note to help people see the answer to this blog’s title. Yes, the Bible is sexist. However, it is not always sexist in the same direction.

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Back in my college days, I was sitting through a sermon that had almost nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with money. This is not to say that it was a bad lecture. The preacher (or wealth advisor) gave some pretty good advice about how to use your money to a crowd of people who would, in a few years, leave school with a massive amount of debt and no parents in the house to constantly warn them to pay off their loans quickly rather than buying the next Xbox.

Then he did a quick spiel about Jesus and asked if anyone wanted to give his/her life to God.

I have nothing against a sermon that is oriented toward financial advice (though, sermons with almost no biblical references do concern me), but tacking on an altar call to one seemed a little odd. I noticed international students in the crowd that night and wondered, if some of them had little knowledge of the Gospel, who they thought Jesus was after hearing that. “Oh, he must want to save us from financial hardship and provide us with wealth-bearing wisdom!”

Perhaps an altar call is not appropriate to every sermon. Some within the evangelical movement seems to think it has missed an opportunity if every sermon, Bible study, and potluck do not conclude with an altar call. The problem is that not everyone is familiar enough with the Gospel to understand a very brief call to discipleship. Sure, a lapsed Baptist, who went to Sunday school every week for twenty years, will probably understand all of the implications of becoming a disciple of Christ, but what about the international students I saw? Some of them may have little to no knowledge of Christianity. For that matter, in today’s society, not everyone in America understands the basic tenets of the Gospel.

The famous maxim of communication, “the message is the medium,” should give us pause. Sermons or functions that focus on very specific aspects of our lives (finances, marriage, etc.) may give those ignorant of the Gospel a false impression about the character of God. A sermon completely about finances, followed up with an altar call, could lead some to conclude that our religion is simply about money. Someone unfamiliar with our religion may have no reason to think otherwise. This, the only sermon they have every heard, focused entirely on money, and the preacher has now asked them to commit their life to a God whom they see as only being interested in this one subject.

The random altar call may have its place, particularly in a group of people who are familiar with the Gospel, but I want everyone who preaches or leads in church to consider their audience. Are we presenting the Gospel and asking them to follow that? Or, are we accidentally evangelizing with a truncated and distorted message?

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I just finished reading an interesting reflection on the online behavior of Christians by Jonathan Acuff, a Christian blogger writing over at CNN.com.  Acuff, using a casual writing style and sarcastic humor, explains that Christians are online jerks (sometimes) because the internet allows Christians to abandon their ethics and become “different people” who like to nitpick people to death.

The really interesting part of the article was the comments board.  As I write, there were 1200 comments from many people who (more or less) agree with this statement from a person who posted as  “nonbeliever”:

“Christians aren’t jerks online. They’re mostly just jerks.”

The comment went on to describe how the attitudes, beliefs, and actions of Christians betray them as jerky people.  Others generally agreed that the historic beliefs of Christians make us jerks since we force our beliefs onto other people. Take, for example, these comments:

David: “If you want a prime example of “Christian” hatred, look no further than any new article about gays and lesbians-gay marriage In particular. You will read the most judgmental, disgustingly self-righteous, vile comments imaginable…Is it any wonder a huge and growing chunk of the population can’t stand ‘christians’?”

Wraithian: “As a pagan, I get very (very) tired of hearing, over and over, “God bless this, god bless that, this person is going to hell,” or just how wonderful your, “lord and savior,” is and, “only by finding him shall you be saved…” …

Terry: “Why are Christians sometimes jerks online and offline? Because they think that they are right and everyone else is wrong!”

Gabriel: “Christians are taught primarily to judge, not to love…After becoming so good at judging, Christians can’t reconcile their judgmentalism with their own hidden feelings or behaviour that are deemed to be un-Christian, so they go into denial, projecting what is really self-hatred onto other people.”

Luke: “The bible is littered with hatred, killing, genocide, slavery and bigotry. While it also teaches love and compassion, those that follow the bible are inherently taught, one way or another, to hate.”

I’ve always taken seriously the criticisms of the church and Christianity from non-believers. I think they have a unique perspective, able to make judgments Christians are sometimes unable to see.

And so, in regard to jerky Christians, I pay attention to what God is saying to his church through the mouths of outsiders who, like the pagan nations that surrounded ancient Israel, are sometimes raised up by God to render judgment towards His children.

And, in my personal opinion, I think these criticisms reinforce the conclusion I drew from the response by the commentators in media reports on the provincial council of ACNA held in Amesbury three weeks ago. There, I argued that the best way to respond to such criticisms is with mercy, compassion, and charity to the marginalized in society.  Rather than reacting with intellectual arguments that show we’re not hateful, we should prove to ourselves and the world our Christ-like love through our acts of love shown to the “unlovable.”

Christians will always be judged for being judgmental–after all, in order to think, speak, and act in love we must be able to distinguish between love and hate–but we can overcome the criticism by showering our communities with acts of sacrificial service to those in need.  Since all are in need, all can receive the church’s unique gift of charity.

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