OF THE TIMES: BEING LED ASTRAY
April 15, 2009
Red-Letter Justice: Death by Design
Generally speaking, hate is a monstrous word. Even so, the Lord Himself hates conceit, lies, hands that shed innocent blood, a conniving heart, mischief-making, perjury and discord among brethren (Pr. 6:16 ff).
In contrast, Jesus loves children for “of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:14). “Whoever offends one of [them], it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt. 18:5-6). Surely death by “baby pesticide” or by a physician’s “hands that shed innocent blood” qualifies as “offense.” Taking no pleasure in death, God’s clear command is to choose life (Ezek. 18:32).
While it is acceptable to hate what God hates, red-letter Christians go so far as to hate a practice sanctioned under Old- and New- Covenants—that being, capital punishment. Be they rapists, murderers, child molesters, terrorists and/or brutal dictators, criminals themselves are thought to be victims of poverty, homelessness, failed public education, discrimination, arrogance and capitalistic greed. But, then, Christ was homeless with “no where to lay His head”; Peter was an uneducated fisherman; and Paul learned to abound and abase—being full and being hungry—but none made excuses. Nor should we.
In the red-letter worldview, death for egregious criminal behavior is wrong; but death for infants by “hands that shed innocent blood” is no more than “a personal choice.” Never mind that “whosoever receives one such child in [Jesus’] Name receives [Him]” (Mt. 18:5). On the issue of abortion, red-letter Christians apply no litmus test. “Choice” is their mantra. Some choose life; some not.
Christians best heed our Lord’s warning of a time when “most men’s love will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12). Fact is, “the Son of Man will repay every man for what he has done” (Mt. 16:24)—not according to his excuses. Consider Matthew 21. Despite his reluctance, the son who actually went to the vineyard and worked, not the one who said he’d go, but didn’t, pleased the father (verses 28-31).
Red-Letter Justice: Gay Rights
In the words of Jesus, “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lu. 14:26; Mt. 10:37; 19:29). In this context, use of “hate” is understood hyperbolically. That is to say, a disciple of Christ esteems his Lord to such a degree that it’s as if all others are disdained, but only in comparison.
Similarly, in postmodern culture “hate” has taken on special meaning. Defined by political correctness, to hate is to read, assimilate, embrace and preach, as written, the following biblical references: Gen. 19:5-11, 24, 25; Lev. 18:22; Deut. 22:5; Deut. 23:17; 1 Kings 14:24; 22:46; Jdg. 19:22; Rom. 1:26-32; Lev. 20:13; 1 Cor. 6:9, 10; 1 Tim. 1:10 and Jude 7, 10.
Jesus blessed those “who take no offense” at Him” (Mt. 11:6). Indeed, the chief virtue of diversity, known as selective tolerance, is not to offend. Unfortunately, the above scriptures do just that. Progressives blow over or otherwise spin them so as not to hurt whom red-letter clergy embrace as our “gay brothers and sisters.”
True, “both [the wheat and tares] grow together until the harvest,” at which time reapers “gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into [the] barn” (Mt. 13:30). In Jesus’ parable, the harvest represents the close of the age, the reapers are angels and the field is the world. Jesus further identifies the good seed as “sons of the kingdom” and the weeds as “sons of the evil one” (Mt. 13:36ff). Clearly, “sons of the kingdom” are those who obey God’s commands (even politically incorrect ones). Yet these are the very sons whom red-letter Christians finger as hate-mongering oppressors.
Red-letter clergy hold further that churches should decide who may marry and who may not; but it is “what God [Himself] has joined together” that no man, church or institution may “put asunder (Mt. 19:4-6). “He who made them from the beginning made them male and female. For this reason [two different sexes made one for the other], a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two [male and female] shall become one”—this, in the legal sense. Even red-letter clergy are not authorized to relax “one of the least commandments.” To do so, and then teach others to follow suit, is to be “least in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 5:19).
Red-Letter Justice: Progressive Social Theory
In seeking to establish social justice in the here-and-now, emerging church clergy bypass the proverbial narrow way for a broader, more palatable way of political correctness. Their new-fashioned, revolutionary perspective unites under shared causes of civil, gender and sexual orientation rights.
Noticeably lacking in the politically correct, red-letter theological grid is a fully developed, circumspect Bible mandate devised “precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little-there a little” (Isa. 28:13). For example, Jesus affirmed that “it is not fair to take the children’s bread [benefit to the lawfully entitled] and throw it to the dogs” [i.e., the lawless and therefore un-entitled], Mt. 15:26.
Nevertheless, red-letter justice demands that Christians offer sanctuary and sustenance to all illegal aliens. “Illegal,” of course, is the operative word, as illustrated by the expanded context of this telling passage. For Jesus to reference out-of-covenant lawbreakers as “dogs” may sound harsh to an enlightened progressive; but doing so is His prerogative. It is no wonder that we who embrace Christ’s politically-incorrect values “will be hated by all for [His] name’s sake” (Mt. 10:22).
By emerging church standards, Jesus appeared uncaring and even outright rude when He commanded followers to “leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Mt. 8:22). In my view, these are not the words of one obsessed with providing universal health care to all. They are the words of a man on an even higher spiritual mission.
It’s true, the Great Physician “bore our sicknesses” and to this day reaches out with compassion to heal the infirmed. Even as believers have “received without pay,” they likewise “give without pay.” Accordingly, Jesus empowers Christians to exercise faith and thereby “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out demons” (Mt. 10:8).
Even more important than physical health and well-being is Jesus’ call to “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). In Jesus’ own words, it is better to pluck out a sinning eye, or cut off a sinning limb, than to experience physical wholeness out of covenant with the One who alone offers everlasting life in the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt. 18:7ff; John 3:16).
Red-Letter Justice: The Tried-and-True Lord’s Prayer
Biblically sound Christian prayer requires no props, special posturing or audience. One engaging in its practice avoids “vain repetitions” that often accompany religious ritual. Rather, s/he releases the measure of faith God has given while offering fitly chosen, honest expressions of worship, praise, petition, intercession, confession, or the like.
Punctuated in Jesus’ Name, for His glory and according to His will, effectual Christian prayers (whether silent or audible, eloquent or childlike, sung or spoken) consistently align with biblical principle. One may employ human tongues (understandable to men) or “tongues of angels” (intended for God alone); but to the Christian, prayer is a two-way street. Mindful meditation on scripture (not to be mistaken for altered states of consciousness) invites God’s interactive response.
Jesus warns that “not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 7:21). It behooves Christians, therefore, to examine their hearts and practices in light of God’s Word and to be mindful that holistic, red-letter Christians encourage believers to reclaim and practice suspect ancient disciplines unique to Catholic mysticism.
For one, centering prayer (more often than not associated with Transcendental Meditation) is a popular method of contemplative prayer. Placing strong emphasis on interior silence, similar to that achieved by “yoking with Brahman” (yoga), centering presumes to facilitate union with one’s personal deity and is achieved by abstract meditation. Next, the prayer of examen, ancient reflective exercise developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, brings to mind what New Age guru Eckhart Tolle calls “presence power.” The idea is to align with the presence of God so as to develop related faculties of discernment.
While the study of prayer is exhaustive, and its practice highly personal, Jesus taught us to pray according to this simple model: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Mt. 6:9ff). Devout believers do well to follow Jesus’ lead.
Red-Letter Justice: Cosmic Consciousness
Although Tony Campolo distances red-letter Christianity from New Age mysticism, he nevertheless brandishes esoteric buzzwords and advances cosmic consciousness. To perform “a rite of atonement for the sin of excess” may well resonate with Protestant underpinnings of colonial history—and with the global civic ethic espoused by a leading Catholic voice, Hans K?ng—but this so-called rite aligns more with the holistic mindset than it does with biblical Christianity.
Reflecting Native American spirituality (i.e., animism), trendy bio-centric thought assigns greater intrinsic value to the planet’s eco-system and its wild life than to humans for whom Christ died. While red-letter Christians believe relationships between men and animals represent separate “beings,” not persons and “things,” Jesus contends to the contrary that humans are “of more value than many sparrows—or sheep” for that matter (Mt. 10:31; 12:12).
That we are commanded not to “give dogs what is holy” or “throw pearls before swine” similarly underscores mankind’s exalted position in Creation (Mt. 6:26; 7:6). Catholic eco-theologian Father Thomas Berry nonetheless warns that guilt-free human dominion over earth, as commanded in scripture, spawns environmental crisis. To make amends and, then, solve the phantom crisis of global warming, progressive red-letter Christians prod the U.S. to enforce the Kyoto Protocol.
Said to be biggest threat ever to our nation’s sovereignty, this U.N. global-warming treaty takes a giant step toward global governance. In subjecting developed nations to drastic cutbacks in energy (all the while releasing India and China from severe, costly restrictions to which our country is destined to be bound), the treaty essentially dismantles industrialized civilization and thereby redistributes global wealth.
Yes, Christians are called to be scrupulous stewards of God’s creation in tending, keeping and subduing the earth for life’s necessities; however, Jesus warns against “vain worship”—i.e., cosmology. The fact remains that heaven and earth, as we know them, are destined to pass away (Gen. 1:28; 2:15; Re. 21:1). Until then, it’s untenable that God’s creation is somehow unsustainable and inadequate to support human life. To believe otherwise is to “teach as doctrines the precepts of men” (Mt. 15:9).
Red-Letter Justice: Palestinian Politics
As a Muslim Egyptian (now a Christian), Nonie Darwish was indoctrinated early on about Jews’ alleged killing of Arab children and pregnant Arab women. For good reason, Jesus warns of “blind guides” who “lead the blind to fall in a pit” (Mt. 15:14). With tears running down their cheeks, Nonie’s young classmates recited stirring poems that pledged jihad.
Be sure, Islam’s global charge is “one Arab nation with an eternal mission” to elevate to the status of divine mandate the spirituality and culture of 7th-century Arabia. Simply put, it’s forced “submission” to Islamic fundamentalism that drives global terrorism.
Nonetheless, progressive red-letter clergy insist that the U.S. curtail the War on Terror, pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan and create a Palestinian state. This, they mistakenly believe, will address terrorism’s root cause of poverty. Not so. Jesus teaches that “persecution and tribulation—terrorism included—arise on account of the word” (Mt. 13:21). Contrary to sincerely held beliefs of red-letter Christians, poverty is no more the root cause of terrorism than creating a Palestinian state is its solution.
Be sure, the Near East conflict transcends a heated contest over land. What progressives fail to understand is that, in the fundamentalist’s mindset, Israel has no right even to exist—nor does the Great Satan. Both are “hated by all for [His] name’s sake,” Mt. 10:22. Indeed, HAMAS’ founding document proclaims the war to be open against infidels “until Israel ceases to exist and the last Jew in the world is eliminated.”
Unfortunately, red-letter justice overlooks that Jesus “was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”; and He instructed His disciples to go “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and preach ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Mt. 10:5; 15:24).
Jesus’ heart for Israel was clearly demonstrated when He lamented, “How often would I have gathered Jerusalem’s children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Mt. 23:37). Even more, God so loved the world that overspill from Israel’s bounty remains freely available to Gentile believers who exercise the great faith of the Canaanite woman whom Jesus memorialized in Mt. 15:21 ff.
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Where’s the Hope?
If skewed “precepts of men” at war with Bible truth characterize 2009, as they surely do, where’s hope to be found? The answer, once again, is found in words of life inspired by God Himself; words that are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness to the end that believers in Christ might be thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17).