Sacrifice is built into life

One of the least noticed features of Genesis 4 is that, as far as we can tell, Abel and Cain invented the concept of sacrifice as a human mode of worshiping God.

What’s strange about it is that God accepts the sacrifices despite the apparent brutality (Abel kills lambs) and even simple waste (Cain burns up vegetables). The reason it doesn’t seem as strange to us is that sacrifice is so normal for the rest of the Bible. But it ought to strike us as strange because it was an absent concept in the first three pages of Genesis and it is, in the forms we see in Scripture, absent in our lives.

It’s important to pay careful attention to what sacrifice is and does on the most basic level. It basically says that in order for a limited being (human) to manipulate reality/nature in a positive direction, it must give up something beneficial (which was hard to obtain in the first place) to a stronger actor in the scheme of the cosmos. And that in this way, reality itself (God) will be pleased to continue in its beneficence.

In other words, sacrifice is a dramatization of the idea that there is a hierarchy of value and that certain valuables cannot be obtained without the voluntary release of those previously obtained. Indeed, with sacrifice comes the idea that life must carry on “on the steam” of death. Now, sacrifice is an acting out of significantly more than this, but it isn’t less. Sacrifice wasn’t quite the same as magic because magic always exists outside of a coherent worldview. Sacrifice was performed in the context of believing in gods who were place holders for principles of nature. Magic is the attempt to bypass nature altogether (see Rodney Stark’s Acts of Faith, 104-106).

One might say that sacrifice was a way of acting out your view of the ultimate good and the need to do without lesser goods in order to obtain the ultimate bit by bit. For instance, one might sacrifice a child to Moloch so that you can eat in the future. Of course, this would be the grossest idolatry in the Old Testament because children are in God’s image, so one is literally sacrificing the image of the true God to an image of a false god created by man out of material supplied by the true God in order to get something less than God like food.

It’s important to see this by way of example in the modern world:

  1. The person who sees pleasure as the highest good, might eat junk food every day. They don’t realize it, but they’re sacrificing health and feelings of wholeness in order to seek their vision of the highest possible good.
  2. To the person who sees virtue as the highest possible good, any number of advantages will be sacrificed in order to escape temptations to live a life of vice.
  3. The athlete who sees winning as the highest possible good will sacrifice their future mobility to nevertheless lose. But they will trade joint integrity for the shouts in the stands and admiration of the team.
  4. The parent who wants perfect children will sacrifice their children’s love to pursue the goal of pushing their children into their own narrow vision of perfection. Or, more hopefully, a parent might sacrifice their vision of the ideal child in order to raise their child to be autonomous, virtuous, and happy insofar as it is possible for them to do so.

Sacrifice, then, is baked into the cake of human existence. It’s simply what we do. So when Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” he was relying on one of the simple realities of human existence: you must go without in order to have what is best.

Given what I’ve said about sacrifice, Jesus’ claim raises two important questions:

  1. What is your vision of “best”?
  2. What will you do without to have it?

The Christian answer to these two questions is:

  1. The kind of life Jesus offers.
  2. Everything about yourself.

Now, Jesus understands that those who follow him “see through a glass darkly.” In fact, one of the things we’ll most have to sacrifice in order to follow Jesus is our own conception of him, for as we approach the ineffable light of God we will realize we were pursuing an illusion that resembled him but was insufficient. We await the day when we’ll see Christ face to face, and in that day we will be like him. But until then, the goal is to daily deny ourselves, even to purify ourselves of what distracts us from the vision of the “best life” that Christ offers. Until now, it’s sufficient to be fully known by him whom we long to know.

In what sense is Christianity comforting?

One of the many conceits of the modern era is that religion is believed precisely because it provides irrational comfort to those who refuse to see things as they are.

And while I have no doubt that many believe various religious dogmas for this purpose, it simply isn’t true that Christianity can be believed, by those who understand it, solely because it is comforting. Why? Here are a few reasons:

  1. Christianity says that the world is your fault. The problems in the world are simply because of wrongs you’ve done and you’re responsible for them. Not only so, but it teaches, at its best, that while you must somehow make all of this right, that you cannot.
  2. Christianity, in its Calvinist iteration, says that all the evils of the world are God’s idea, and really and truly good, and that nothing can be done about them except that God undo them. There isn’t much comfort here if the wheels of providence oppose you.
  3. Christianity, in its non-Calvinist iterations, teaches that the earth has fallen under the control of a cosmic socio-path who hates God and pursues destruction as though it were the good. Not much comfort in knowing that not only is nature dangerous and that your sins put you cross-ways with God, but also that supernatural forces which influence human behavior and ideologies hate you.
  4. Christianity teaches that Jesus demands that you give up several legitimate goods, which God made for you to enjoy, in order to do what is right.
  5. Christianity teaches that your inmost secrets are under the scrutiny of a being of infinite goodness and justice.
  6. Christianity teaches that the creation is subject to meaninglessness (vanity) and that we must live as though the world is imbued with meaning even when it feels pointless.
  7. Christianity teaches that our prayers may go without answering because of supernatural incidents beyond our control (see Daniel).
  8. Christianity teaches that even at your most miserable, you’re responsible for your neighbor.
  9. Christianity includes the Old Testament.

The idea that one would adopt beliefs of this sort for emotional solace is a fiction. I do believe that Christianity offers comfort and that Christians are to comfort each other. I’m of the opinion that people would only subscribe to beliefs with such potential to crush their spirit for one of three reasons:

  1. They think they’re true (for good or bad reasons).
  2. They find, in Jesus, an irresistible personality.
  3. A deep fear of hell which lead them to bet on Christianity for redemption.

Why did I abandon free-trade orthodoxy?

The federal income tax decreases liberty and gives government officials incentive to increase the scope and power of the federal government. Because we are a federal system in the United States, we need some form of funding for government operations. In my mind, funding that with tariffs is wiser and more constitutional. Essentially, I’m a protectionist because the debate comes down to: income tax vs tariffs or large vs small government.

This is just a sketch, of course. I suppose I could make a fuller argument, but those wiser and more informed than me have done so.

Thoughts on an income tax:

  1. American citizens are told to, in effect, provide surveillance on themselves or go to jail.
  2. American citizens are told to, in effect, add a third party to their business dealings or go to jail.
  3. American citizens are, from year to year, told to give quantities of their money to fund programs, many of which they would never buy, use, sell, or vote for, or go to jail.
  4. American citizens are at the mercy of legislators who may capriciously utilize their abilities as law makers to increase the power of the government, knowing that citizens can simply be forced to fund it.

Two thoughts on free-trade:

  1. Free trade policies assume that people are interchangeable widgets. In other words, moving industries that developed in one culture into another culture will lead to the same products being produced at the same rate, with the same competence, and with the same level of ethics.
  2. Free trade policies use a collectivist mindset. So they base their understanding of economic well-being on a form of totalitartian ideology. Property ownership, federal debt, physical health, personal debt, and personal savings aren’t the metrics used to determine economic stability, but rather GDP. But the GDP can go up even as personal liberty decreases (when people own less property, pay property taxes in order to keep the property they have, and are overwhelmingly obese and in debt, it’s hard to consider a nation wealthy).

Thoughts on a tariff:

  1. Americans aren’t prohibited from simply manufacturing an import good themselves, so tariffs incentivize creativity within national borders.
  2. Tariffs don’t punish individual citizens for not funding things (by paying taxes) they don’t approve of, unless you consider opting out of purchasing a foreign good a punishment.
  3. Tariffs, while regulating what American citizens pay for goods purchased to a degree (foreign markets simply have to sell cheaper if they want a market here under a tariff), don’t regulate how American citizens have children by heavily taxing those who make more than 70,000 a year.
  4. Tariffs, it seems, tend to lead to in fighting among politicians who want to be reelected over relieving tariffs on goods preferred by their constituents.
  5. Tarrifs, in the United States, are nearly irrelevant because State tariffs are illegal and we’re a gigantic land mass.
  6. Free-trade includes, as a hidden corollary, free movement of peoples for work because goods and services are both considered a form of economic capital. So with income tax and free-trade non-citizens are likely to take local jobs and receive local benefits funded by locals who are working and paying taxes.

Of Saints and Serpents or the Christian and Inner Darkness

La_tenture_de_lApocalypse_28Angers29_28229

In Revelation 20:2, the dragon is the Serpent, both Satan and the devil. Why did Jesus say to be as wise as serpents when the connotation of the day was frequently one of evil cunning? 

Part of my work as a teacher is to help students acquire good habits which ultimately become dispositions. To do this, I’ve been studying the cardinal virtues. To study courage, I’ve been reading up on fear, evil, and the psychology of both. On the popularly level, I found Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear. In the book, I ran across this old quote from Nietzsche that I hadn’t heard in quite a while:

146. He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee. – Friedrich Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil aphorism 146

This line took me to Matthew 10:16. I wondered, “Why on earth does Jesus say ‘wise as serpents’?” He could have said, “As wise as Solomon” or “clever as a fox.” By the time of Jesus, the serpent of the Old Testament had pretty well become associated with Satan or some demonic personification of evil. So, why be clever in that way? I’m speculating below, I don’t presume to know what Jesus was thinking, but things are written to be understood and “be wise as serpents” has a reference point. This means it was chosen for a reason.

In the passage, I see several layers of potential meaning:

  1. Jesus says to beware of people and “behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” So for his disciples to avoid being the victims of predation, he challenges them to think like a more dangerous sort of predator.
  2. The fact of the matter is that we are all sinners. The mistake we make is that we pretend not to be. Admittedly, pretending to be put together is very important in polite society. But we too often lie to ourselves about just how evil we really are. In doing this we make ourselves more likely to fall prey to the evil of others. De Becker observed that, “the rapist might first be the charming stranger, the assassin first the admiring fan. The human predator, unlike the others, does not wear a costume so different from ours that he can always be recognized by the naked eye. (De Becker 47)” Thus, in order to be safe in a dangerous world, we have to be aware of what we’re really like in order to predict what others are really like. Finding the evil in ourselves and the ease with which we slip into sinful behavior protects us from others.
  3. There are more reasons than avoiding evildoers to look at our own sin. We must also look at the direction our own sinfulness and our cunning at sin may take us in order to run away from it. In The Hammer, Father Brown was asked if his apparently supernatural knowledge of sinful motivations was indicative of a demonic identity:
    “Are you a devil?” “I am a man,” answered Father Brown gravely; “and therefore have all devils in my heart.”
    So, perhaps the reason Jesus says to think like the serpent is that in Genesis, the serpent is the cleverest of all the animals and we could easily, find circuitous routes to justifying, planning, hiding, and calling others along with us in our sins. And so Jesus uses the image not only for its predatory imagery, but also for its demonic imagery. In our very efforts to preserve ourselves, we’ve also got to be aware of ourselves. This is why he says, “be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” Jesus is reminding us of the temptation faced by those who fancy themselves clever. And this, tragically, is a sin which befalls members of the churches in Ephesus when travelling teachers use their abilities to seduce neophyte Christians into sexual sin (2 Timothy 3:6).

Your thoughts?

Women and Men Need Toxic Masculinity

In the feminist literature, one of the features of toxic masculinity is stoicism with respect to your emotions. The idea is that controlling, regulating, or moderating your emotions is a form of freudian repression that somehow hurts men. As an aside, having anger is also considered a form of toxic masculinity. I’ll agree that outbursts of uncontrolled anger are bad, but most authors who ever wrote about masculinity or virtue have only ever said that anger, even when justified, is dangerous to allow to grow uninhibited by reason.

All of this to say, it appears that a lack of stoicism (toxic masculinity) is harming women and their relationships in the UK. In an article posted at the Daily Mail, Antonia Hoyle observes that women seem to be exhibiting significantly less self-control with respect to anger:

‘We are treating more women than ever who are struggling to regulate their emotions and express themselves appropriately,’ says Dr Monica Cain, a counselling psychologist at London’s Nightingale Hospital.

So what is causing the red mist to descend for so many women? And why is this anger afflicting so many upstanding women, the sort you might hope would be immune to, or too ashamed of, having outbursts?

Some experts suggest women believe that such outward displays of aggression allow them to seize the initiative from traditionally dominant men. Whether it’s in the workplace or around the dining table, shouting, swearing or throwing things are increasingly viewed as valid methods for women to assert themselves.

Dr Elle Boag, social psychologist at Birmingham City University, says: ‘Women feel aggression is a form of empowerment. It has become so commonplace that it’s not even shameful.’

Indeed, Jo insists it’s her right to shout at family and strangers alike. ‘When I’ve calmed down, I apologise if I’m in the wrong. But if someone has been rude or disrespectful, I feel my temper is justified,’ she says.

‘Lashing out is just a way of expressing myself.’

As well as this sense of entitlement, there’s the ever-present, age-old pressure to ‘have it all’. With competitive streaks accentuated by demanding careers and the seemingly perfect lifestyles displayed by celebrities, women are cracking under the pressure.

‘There is a perception that women have to have the perfect home, raise children and have a career that’s fulfilling and brings in an enviable lifestyle and income,’ says Dr Cain.

If someone has been rude or disrespectful, I feel my temper is justified. Lashing out is just a way of expressing myself

‘We are driving ourselves to the limit and a build-up of internal pressure over time can lead to us getting very frustrated over issues that would normally cause no more than a niggle.’

Such outbursts can also become addictive, a form of almost animalistic release. The burden mounts, tension builds and the almost exquisite joy of letting it all out becomes almost compulsive for some women.

It’s a feeling that Jo, who lives in Brighton with her partner Steven, 50, and his two children Jane, 21, and Tommy, 17, can identify with.

‘While I don’t feel proud of myself there is a cathartic release in letting my emotions out,’ says Jo.

Also, one can see an example of non-toxic femininity from the paragon of sensibility and reason, Jezebel:

One of your editors heard her boyfriend flirting on the phone with another girl, so she slapped the phone out of his hands and hit him in the face and neck…

According to feminists of this sort, an example of a toxic male in ancient literature would be Marcus Aurelius’ friend Sextus:

[A]nd he had the faculty both of discovering and ordering, in an intelligent and methodical way, the principles necessary for life; and he never showed anger or any other passion, but was entirely free from passion, and also most affectionate; and he could express approbation without noisy display, and he possessed much knowledge without ostentation.
Marcus Aurelius, “The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus,” in The Harvard Classics 2: Plato, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, ed. Charles W. Eliot, trans. George Long (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1917), 195.

Instead of showing displays of uncontrollable passion, Sextus was known instead for affection, intelligence, knowledge, humility, and praise of others. Interestingly, accumulated research tells us that acting out on anger without deliberation leads to further irrational displays of anger:

Psychological research has shown virtually no support for the beneficial effects of venting, and instead suggests that venting increases the likelihood of anger expression and its negative consequences.

In other words, the women discussed in the articles above need to absorb the lessons of toxic masculinity (self-control) rather than buying into the idea that angry displays are empowering or worse, the idea that controlling your emotions is a failure to “express yourself.” Stoicism would also be helpful with respect to food.

Approval seeking and its dangers

Everybody wants to be accepted and approved of.

In fact, social rejection (or by inference, sense of rejection by God) can be just as jarring as physical pain.

There’s a haunting scene in the gospels in which people respond negatively to Jesus, and while he has a theological explanation for the event at hand, he still asks Peter, “Will you leave also? (John 6:68)” To wish for acceptance is human and indeed.

In fact, being accepted by the group, is a generally good desire. It could mean the difference between life and death. An Old Testament punishment is being “cut off” from civilization itself! (Exodus 30:33, etc)

Paul the apostle observed that receiving emotional support and acceptance is a positive good:

They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. (18) It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, (19) my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! (Galatians 4:17-19 ESV)

On the other hand, seeking approval of others can be a deadly poison that keeps you from truth, goodness, beauty, and true friendship with God and man. For instance, New Testament scholar George Eldon Ladd, whose Theology of the New Testament is a most excellent book, sought approval so hard that a bad book review tanked his motivation and self-image for life.

John Piper observed that:

George Ladd was almost undone emotionally and professionally by a critical review of Jesus and the Kingdomby Norman Perrin of the University of Chicago. And when his New Testament Theology was a stunning success 10 years later, he walked through the halls shouting and waving a $9000 royalty check.

But, in A Place at the Table, John D’Elia observed that Perrin’s critique led Ladd to

“…descend into bitter depression and alcohol abuse from which he would never recover. (xx)”

I think one of the elements Christians struggle with is acceptance with the world, particularly because of an egregious misunderstanding of Jesus’ command to be “let your light enlighten.” But the struggle is essentially based on a poorly aimed desire to evangelize and therefore seem pleasing. But while acceptance and being accepted are aspects of virtue, they are not themselves virtuous or necessarily indicative of virtue. Seeking acceptance is just another form of seeking status, which ultimately begs the questions:

  1. Acceptance by whom?
  2. Acceptance on the basis of what?

Below I offer a rough sketch of a hierarchy of acceptance/social approval in the Bible. Social approval is a good and it ought to be desired, but it

Acting in order to achieve approval or group acceptance as an absolute leads to conformity, immorality, regret, and resentment. In marriage it can lead to misery. At work it can get you fire. The Bible challenges us to seek approval, but from specific people and groups and by particular standards:

  1. Seek to be acceptable to Christ, while recognizing that he already accepts you.
    “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12 ESV)
  2. Seek approval from God by doing what is good, even in the face of mass social disapproval (Exodus 23:2).
    In one of my favorite comic books a character which the author, I think, meant to paint as a bad guy said, “Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise.” Of course, there are limits to this, you might be wrong about your point of view. But the Bible reminds us of this, too (Proverbs 29:1).
  3. Seek the approval of your family by gaining wisdom in particular and virtue in general. “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.” (Proverbs 10:1 ESV)
  4. Seek the approval of the virtuous people in the kingdom of God by confessing your sin and seeking Christ and Christian virtue with them (Matthew 18:15-20).
  5. Seek the approval of the humanity in general by not being unreasonable by common standards as long as your behavior isn’t objectively evil or illogical (Romans 12:17).
  6. Seek the approval of the rich, not by sucking up, but by offering exceptional service at a fair rate (Proverbs 22:29).

Appendix

My copy of Ladd’s magnum opus:

Book Review: Stuart Ritchie’s Intelligence: All that matters

117951794_140.jpg

Stuart Ritchie, Intelligence. (Hodder & Stoughton, Kindle Edition 2016).

I try to study human performance in sports and cognitive tasks on a regular basis. It’s very helpful for my role as an educator and leader.

Dr. Ritchie is a post-doc researcher at the University of Edinburgh where he is researching the development/decline of intelligence across the life span.

The point of the book is essentially to clarify the facts of the case with reference to intelligence:

“The research shows that intelligence test scores are meaningful and useful; that they relate to education, occupation and even health; that they are genetically influenced; and that they are linked to aspects of the brain. (44-45)”

Through the book Ritchie deftly explains the research with reference to each of these issues. For me to go through how he shows this would make the book superfluous. But some of the most interesting points are:

  1. The differences between male and female intelligence are not in terms of the average, but in terms of the outliers. The mean IQ of men and women is roughly 100. But men skew more toward very low IQs and very high IQs. More men are significantly below average and more men are significantly above average (1226).
  2. While eugenicists were interested in early IQ research, the earliest intelligence scientists were interested in helping the less intelligent to succeed. Not only so, but just like the Nazi discovery of a connection between smoking and cancer, the findings of the early eugenicist IQ researchers have been supported by later research (1192).
  3. Multiple intelligences theory isn’t backed by current scientific research (355).
  4. “Nevertheless, we’re lucky that the tools for raising intelligence – which might partly have caused the Flynn Effect – seem to be staring us in the face, in the form of education.” (1168-70)

The take away of the book is basically this: Intelligence, which can be measured by IQ, matters. The books that claim that hard work is more important than IQ are likely mistaken. Also, education appears to actually increase people’s IQ. This part is really important and while Ritchie never mentions him, it goes nicely with Arthur Whimbey’s research on training people in sequential problem solving and slowly improving their processing speed.

If you’re an educator, psychologist, parent, or political science major, I recommend that you read this book.

Adler’s Moral Axiom

As far as I can tell, there are three major problems in ethical thinking today:

  1. Disconnecting ethics from happiness and therefore thinking that personal well-being and pleasure have nothing to do with ethics.
  2. Hedonism: The idea that right and wrong is only a matter of what leads to the highest personal pleasure. In social ethics, this means allowing people to do whatever they think/feel will make them feel the best. We might call this unscientific utilitarianism (because it isn’t based upon actual knowledge of what is good for the individual or collective human organism.
  3. The is/ought problem: That since knowledge is all descriptive, no understanding of what is can lead to a conclusion about what one ought to do.

In my opinion, all three of these problems are solved in one way or another by Mortimer Adler’s one self-evident moral premise: We ought to desire whatever is really good for us and nothing else.

Below are the paragraphs where he introduces the axiom in his book, 10 Philosophical Mistakes:

The two distinctions that we now have before us, distinctions generally neglected in modern thought—the distinction between natural and acquired desires, or needs and wants, and the distinction between real and merely apparent goods—enable us to state a self-evident truth that serves as the first principle of moral philosophy. We ought to desire whatever is really good for us and nothing else.

The criterion of self-evidence, it will be recalled, is the impossibility of thinking the opposite. It is impossible for us to think that we ought to desire what is really bad for us, or ought not to desire what is really good for us. The very understanding of the “really good” carries with it the prescriptive note that we “ought to desire” it. We cannot understand “ought” and “really good” as related in any other way.[1]

While Adler’s claim is presented as an axiom, a truth about which one cannot accept the opposite proposition, it can probably only be accepted once it is properly understood. For instance, is it possible for there to be desires that are bad for us? Are there desires that are good for us but desired wrongly? Are there desires that are more important than others? For instance, we desire food, but is there a reason to desire food? We desire to live, but is there a reason we desire to live? We desire pleasure, but is there a reason we desire pleasure? We desire sex but is there a reason for sex? If Adler’s axiom is indeed axiomatic, we have a proposition upon which to build our ethics, have disputes as our understanding of human nature advances, and upon which to build theological ethics for those who accept the availability of supernatural testimony as to the purpose and nature of humanity.

References

[1] Mortimer Jerome Adler, Ten Philosophical Mistakes (New York: Macmillan, 1985), 90-91

 

Pastors and Power

Richard Baxter saw, hundreds of years ago, the dangers of cozying up to political power. Ministers of the gospel, if they aren’t careful, will not only sacrifice original thought but also Biblical truth in order to avoid being ostracized, mocked, or disagreed with. Social media has made this quite apparent in the current year. For instance, as the pro-life position has become more and more subject to mockery, less and less Christians are publicly affirming it. I can think of two anti-political pastors (Greg Boyd and Josh Porter) who are “anti-political” as an expression of theology. So, they don’t really talk much about opposing abortion (as a matter of principle one should stay out of politics), but both were happy to engage in making fun of Trump and his voters on Twitter. I suspect that these strategies are more to appeal to people of a left-leaning political slant. And in fact, I’ve known many pastors personally who have taken a similar approach to ministry: mocking openly anybody in their churches that the political left finds distasteful.

Sadly, most positions are held by most people as a matter of tribalism rather than as a matter of truth. This state of affairs ought not be, but it is. As an aside, tribalism is a human default. The prime difference between the Christian and non-Christian tribes is that our chieftain (Jesus) commands us to put truth as our top loyalty (he is the Truth). So there’s a sense in which Christians should have the most disagreements (as seeking the truth entails argument) and the most unity (as we applaud the honest search for truth). Anyway, here is Baxter’s prescient commentary on our own time:

I would not have any to be contentious with those that govern them, nor to be disobedient to any of their lawful commands. But it is not the least reproach upon the Ministry, that the most of them for worldly advantage still suit themselves with the party that is most likely to suit their ends. If they look for secular advantages, they suit themselves to the Secular power; if for the air of Ecclesiastical applause, then do they suit themselves to the party of Ecclesiastics that is most in credit. This is not a private, but an epedemical malady. In Constantine’s days, how prevalent were the orthodox! In Constantius’s days, they almost all turned Arians, so that there were very few bishops at all that did not apostatize or betray the truth; even of the same men that had been in the Council of Nice. And when not only Liberius, but great Osius himself fell, who had been the president, or chief in so many orthodox Councils, what better could be expected from weaker men! Were it not for secular advantage, or ecclesiastic faction and applause, how could it come to pass, that Ministers in all the countries in the world, are either all, or almost all, of that religion and way that is in most credit, and most consistent with their worldly interest?Among the Greeks, they are all of the Greek profession: and among the Abassines, the Nestorians, the Maronites, the Jacobites, the Ministers generally go one way. And among the Papists, they are almost all Papists. In Saxony, Sweden, Denmark, &c. almost all Lutherans: in Holland, France, Scotland, almost all Calvinists. It is strange that they should be all in the right in one country, and all in the wrong in another, if carnal advantages and reputation did not sway much: when men fall upon a conscientious search, the variety of intellectual capacities causeth unavoidably a great variety of conceits about some hard and lower things: but let the prince, and the stream of men in credit go one way, and you shall have the generality of ministers too often change their religion with the Prince in this land. Not all, as our Martyrology can witness, but the most. I purposely forbear to mention any latter change. If the Rulers of an University should be corrupt, who have the disposal of preferments, how much might they do with the most of the students, where mere arguments would not take! And the same tractable distemper doth so often follow them into the Ministry, that it occasioneth the enemies to say, that reputation and preferment is our religion, and our reward.[1]

References

[1] Richard Baxter and William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 14 (London: James Duncan, 1830), 198–199.

Who Should Evangelize?

I saw this quote online today:

It raised an interesting point that I think needs brief elaboration. Here’s the great commission from Matthew 28:18-20:

Matthew 28:18-20 ESV And Jesus came and said to them [the eleven disciples], “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Now, in the quote above, he mentions that evangelism was the job of the disciples. And I agree, the great commission was originally given to the remaining disciples. Here are three points:

  1. The disciples are told that making disciples includes, “teaching them to observe all that I [Jesus] have commanded you.”
  2. This means that making new disciples is one of the skills Jesus commands them to obtain.
  3. The word for all Christians by the time the book of Acts was written was, “disciples.” “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” (Acts 6:1 ESV)

So, I think that all Christians are supposed to evangelize at some point (raising up children in the faith, sharing the gospel with somebody who asks a question, or initiating a conversation with a friend, family member or stranger).

Now, the individual who made this point made a few interesting points that deserve consideration because they were intelligently and honestly made:

  1. God doesn’t need evangelists. This is a fact. God needs literally nothing.
  2. God doesn’t want evangelists. This doesn’t hold if it’s true that Jesus represents God’s will and commands people to become disciples who make disciples. If God wants you to obey Jesus’ commands, then he wants you to be an evangelist.
  3. Ask God what he wants you to do. While I think God can supernaturally make his will apparent, God’s will for our lives is clearly taught in the four gospels, the book of Proverbs, and frankly the rest of Scripture. Waiting for specific, personal words from God when God has made clear what we should do in public revelation might leave us waiting too long.
  4. Unless your life is his will it takes some pain. I think that pain can come from doing good or evil. Not all pain is bad and some pain exists precisely to tell us to repent. It all depends.
  5. Unless we rise to his level, we are servants. Jesus makes clear that even among those who are saved, some people know his business and some don’t. Here’s what Jesus said about the matter, “You are my friends if you do what I command you. (15) No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:14-15 ESV)