Tuesday, December 29, 2009

“Holy Anorexia” and Sanctified Starvation

Catherine of Siena was bulimic. So was Theresa of Avila.

Did you know that? I’ll bet you didn’t know that fellow mystic, Catherine of Alexandria, is the patron “saint” of anorexics and bulimics.

One of the most bizarre chapters in Christian history is that of the Medieval ascetics. Many of these devotees to Christ and the so-called “cult of the Virgin” daily flagellated themselves, starved themselves, wore chains and hair shirts, mutilated their own bodies (particularly their sexual organs), and even purged food as an act of piety and self-denial. Some even ingested cat vomit as an act of 'penance' (Norman Cohn, review of Holy Anorexia, 1986).

Amy Indyke writes about Catherine of Siena: This 14th century woman subjected her body to ruthless abuse and neglect throughout her life; these severe practices informed her theological constructs. Catherine does not discuss the extent of her asceticism in her writings, but the eyewitness accounts of her practices are innumerable. Her bulimia was so infamously extreme that she was reported to have shoved “twigs down her throat to bring up the food she could not bear to have rest in her stomach. Other accounts report spontaneous vomiting.” The idea of swallowing twigs and “spontaneous vomiting” denotes extreme pain caused by bloody lacerations, scratches, and the blood vessels that burst from forced vomiting. Rudolph Bell, author of Holy Anorexia, asserts that "not only did Catherine die from starvation but also from her perverse bodily mortification. She was also a flagellant who whipped herself “with chains for an hour and a half three times daily. At one time she wore a hair-shirt, but later replaced it with a chain bound to tightly about her that it embedded itself in her flesh. She reduced her sleep to approximately one half hour every two days, and used only a board for her bed.” Whipping and tightly-bound chains must have left her body bruised and torn. She believes suffering is necessary also because it imitates Christ’s paradigm, embodied by his crucifixion, and facilitates the Soul’s reintegration with God.” (Emphasis mine).
<== A heavily "re-touched" picture of Catherine of Siena

This kind of twisted thinking is difficult to fathom, even for the unregenerate mind. Self-destructive behavior is sinful, and the idea that it was held as a sign of holiness is a perversion, obviously, of biblical truth. Elevating starving and purging to the level of virtue is a twisting, a bastardization of the spiritual discipline of fasting and self-control (which is one of the fruits of the Spirit).

“In the medieval period, the control, renunciation, and torture of the body were understood not so much as a rejection of the physical, but as a way of achieving the divine…Theresa of Avila began frequently to use twigs of olives to induce vomiting and completely empty her stomach. In this way she was able to truly take into herself the Host, which became her unique source of sustenance. From an investigation of the conduct of 170 Italian medieval saints by Rudolph Bell (1985), fully one half of them exhibited symptoms of anorexia.” (Mario Reda,“Anorexia and the Holiness of Saint Catherine of Siena”).

As a former Catholic, I can attest that a much more subtle form of this "piety by suffering/starvation" still exists - especially among women who grew up before the Second Vatican Council. These medieval "saints" were held up to women of my mother's generation as heroines and role-models (I recognized the painting of St. Catherine above immediately -- from my mother's "Lives of the Saints for Children"). My mother's particular hang-ups about food may or may not have had anything to do with her fanatical catholicism, but the morbid fascination with "mortifying the flesh" rampant in that religion is a sort of gnosticism (the idea that matter is inherently evil, and the physical flesh must be subjugated). Nowadays, it is far less pronounced - I am quite sure none of my Catholic neighbors sleeps in a hair shirt, or that the local priest would condone (or even knows about) Catherine and Theresa's bulimia.

Without getting into a lengthy discussion of medieval mysticism and why altered states of consciousness are demonic, (Ray Yungen does an excellent job of addressing this subject in “A Time of Departing”, as does Dave Hunt in “The Seduction of Christianity”), suffice to say that contemplative spirituality, which gripped the Roman church and thousands of pious young women during the Middle Ages, is a counterfeit trap of Satan. The lure of mysticism arises from it’s emphasis on personal experience, and is essentially a flesh-pleasing form of spirituality. Subtly, all biblical principals are misconstrued or ignored – the soul is seduced with the promise of “union with the divine”. Extreme fasting has traditionally been a part of this practice, which elevates altered states of consciousness to a holy rite.

The TRUE face of anorexia

Since the mystical practices associated with “sanctified starvation” are so clearly demonic – levitation; self-mutilation; demonic attacks – is it not logical that the eating disordered behavior these “contemplative saints” practiced was of the devil, as well? Here’s why:

1. Humans were made in the image of God.

2. Satan wants to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10) children of God.

3. One way he attempts this “revenge” against God is by harming you physically (even killing you, if possible).

When writing my book, I discussed at length the fact that Satan cannot make the believer do anything, but he can tempt you to harm yourself. This is especially effective if he has convinced the believer that the self-harm is a good thing, or has spiritual value (on some level, many women today believe that self-starvation is a noble, if not spiritual practice). One of the main ways the devil has operated from the beginning is by twisting God’s words and thus brainwashing His children.

<==A "holy woman", or one desperately in need of help?

I am convinced this is what happened among the medieval mystics, secluded in their austere convents. They were not reading God’s Word, which was forbidden at the time, but instead were relying heavily on their subjective, ecstatic experience. Furthermore, the notion that they, as sinners, could participate by physical suffering in Christ’s redemption of humanity belies an almost incredible hubris on their part. From the scant amount of research I’ve done on these Catholic ascetics/contemplatives, I am convinced that many of them were demon-possessed (or at least suffering demonic oppression). Out of body experiences are one of the characteristics of occultism, and combined with the unscriptural practices of the monastic life, demonization was the natural result.

“….a certain level of pain and suffering through careful dieting may be required. Women are not forced to do this by male religious authorities. This is not masochism either. On the contrary, young anorexics and bulemics believe that their pain brings them closer to God, for self-inflicted suffering imitates Christ’s own pain and suffering on the Cross. Saint Catherine is therefore the patron saint of anorexics. Modern women have a tendency to suffer guilt and remorse when they diet, instead of regarding it as a healthy spiritual process. Such suffering is unnecessary if modern women can learn that through the pain of the Eucharist and fasting that they can attain that higher mystical state. Women must learn to renounce food while the men must renounce power.” (“Voices and Saints”, emphasis mine).

How food and spirituality became intertwined is an interesting historical subject, but the spirituality ascribed to self-starvation did not begin with 20th century Western culture. I like to think, though, that no woman today purges in the Name of Christ. It is inconceivable to me that these “holy” women are canonized as saints; their purging and cutting given sacred value.

As a Christian counselor, it is particularly bizarre to me seeing how the concept of faith and holiness has historically been perverted to sanctify anorexia and bulimia. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20). Ladies, self-starvation, mutilation (including cutting), induced vomiting, and excessive restricting is not God’s will for you, and it never was. It is a false idol, an impure practice and is destructive to your body – the temple of the Holy Spirit. There is NO virtue in this practice, and it does not make you one iota holier – only progressively enslaved to sin. You cannot live the abundant life Christ promised – which includes obedience to Him and service to others – if you starving and purging yourself to death.

Catherine of Siena starved herself to death, by the way – in “atonement for the Church’s sins”. A rather ignoble end to a tortured life.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

...And Just in Time for St. Stefan's Day...

As some of you may know, today, December 26th is the day which honors the feast of St. Stefan, the first Christian martyr. Acts chapter 7 details the fearless testimony Stefan gave before the Sanhedrin, before being dragged outside to his death (by stoning). I was so impressed by this young, politically-incorrect hero of the faith that I named my second son Stefan in his honor. (In fact, if we were adherents of the Eastern Orthodox faith, we'd be celebrating his "name day" today. Maybe I'll just read him "Stefan Stands Strong" before bed tonight.)

Stefan of the first century immediately came to mind this morning as I read the AP report below. This Korean-American witness for Christ is almost certainly walking to his death, a fact he must know. Very few people come out of North Korea alive - even fewer of the Christians.

This guy doesn't seem fazed by what they do to people in the gulags. Amazing witness for Christ.

Activist: US missionary crosses border into NKorea

Robert Park, a 28-year-old Korean-American, crossed the frozen Tumen River into North Korea from China on Christmas Day to urge Kim to release political prisoners and shut down the "concentration camps" where they are held, said the activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the issue's sensitivity.

It was unclear Saturday if Park was in North Korean custody. Illegal entry into the country is punishable by up to three years in prison. The communist regime held two American journalists for nearly five months earlier this year before freeing them during a visit by former President Bill Clinton.

Park is a missionary from Tucson, Arizona, according to the activist, who works for Pax Koreana, a conservative Seoul-based group that calls for North Korea to improve its human rights record.

"I am an American citizen. I brought God's love. God loves you and God bless you," Park was quoted by two activists as shouting in Korean as he crossed the North Korean border, according to the activist who spoke to The Associated Press.

He said Park was last seen by the two other activists, who saw him enter North Korea near the northeastern city of Hoeryong from the poorly guarded border late Friday afternoon. He added that the crossing was videotaped and the footage would be released Sunday.

North Korea holds some 154,000 political prisoners in six large camps across the country, according to South Korean government estimates. The North has long been regarded as having one of the world's worst human rights records, but it rejects outside criticism and denies the existence of prison camps.

North Korean state media did not mention any illegal crossing. The country's criminal code punishes illegal entry with up to three years in prison.

Park carried a letter to Kim calling for major changes in how the country is operated, according to Pax Koreana.

"Please open your borders so that we may bring food, provisions, medicine, necessities, and assistance to those who are struggling to survive," said the letter, according to a copy posted on Pax Koreana's Web site. "Please close down all concentration camps and release all political prisoners today."

The activist said that Park also carried a separate written appeal calling for Kim to immediately step down, noting alleged starvation, torture and deaths in North Korean political prison camps. The second letter was addressed to the leaders of South Korea, China, the U.S., Japan and the United Nations.

North Korea is expected to react strongly because Park raised the issue of its political system, said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University.

Demanding Kim step down is "a kind of hostile act" and "the North won't likely compromise on such an issue," Koh said, predicting it will take time to resolve.

Kim wields absolute power in the communist state of 24 million people. Any acts seen as hostile to him and his leadership carry harsh punishment, said Choi Eun-suk, a professor on North Korean legal affairs at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said it is looking into Park's case, but it had no details.

"His fate to us is unknown," said embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson. She said a charitable organization, which did not identify, had notified the State Department in Washington of Park's actions.

The activist said Park came to South Korea in July and stayed there until leaving for China earlier this week to enter the North.

"I would not go to North Korea to live. Even if I die, world leaders should really repent for keeping silence" on North Korea, Park said in Seoul before leaving for China, the activist said.

The activist said Pax Koreana is affiliated with another organization called Freedom and Life For All North Koreans, which is a coalition of advocacy groups for North Korean human rights. Park is a member of the broader group, he said. The coalition and other activist groups plan to hold rallies in New York, Tokyo, Seoul and other cities from Sunday to Thursday.

In August, North Korea released two U.S. journalists it had sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for trespassing and "hostile acts." Their release came amid a trip to Pyongyang by former President Clinton aimed at winning their freedom.

American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were captured by North Korean guards near the Tumen River in March while reporting a story on North Korean defectors.

Park's reported entry comes weeks after North Korea held one-on-one talks with the United States and signaled its willingness to return to international negotiations on ending its nuclear weapons programs. Pyongyang said earlier this month it would try to resolve remaining differences with Washington.


Associated Press writer Cara Anna in Beijing contributed to this report.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Local Second Grader Suspended over Jesus Sketch

This from my home state of Massachusetts today: a second-grade class was instructed to draw pictures of "something that reminded them of Christmas". (Kinda surprising....in my kids' elementary school and preschool, Kwaanza and Hannukah seem to take precedence).

The point of the exercise was to get the kids creatively sketching something associated with the holiday. (Read the whole article here.)

An eight year old draws a crucifix - which he no doubt sees every week at church - and has the audacity to associate the cross with Christmas (very perceptive of him, by the way - few adults do as much. Baby Jesus in the manger is so much less confrontational and threatening than a Christ Who provides the only means of salvation, and demands repentance and surrender.)

The boy is dismissed from school and required to undergo a psych evaluation (we all know how objective and unbiased they are, right?) before he can return to the public school system.

People, this is the "Judeo-Christian culture" in which we live. Free speech is great, until you mention Jesus.

He (still) makes people uncomfortable.

From Glenn, at "Sanity in an Upside Down World": "You know, it’s a really upside-down world where a school system can teach grade-school kids all about homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle but requires a psychological evaluation of a child who draws a stick-figure of Christ on the cross when asked to draw something reminding him of the day we celebrate Christ’s birth."

Good point.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Peace with God and the Peace of Christ

As we anticipate Christmas and are drawn again to ponder the Babe in the manger, I find nothing restores joy to my soul more than reflecting on the real gift of God that night over 2,000 years ago - as relayed by the angels in Luke 2:14.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

God extended to mankind the gift of true peace - peace with Him. For the first time in the course of human history, He initiated a permanent relationship with mankind who was at enmity with Him and rejected true holiness.

How could one find "favor" with God? Haven't we all gone astray; each one to his own way (Isaiah 53:6)? How, then, could He be pleased to dwell with us? The answer, of course, lies in the same verse from Isaiah: "the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." There was only one way to please God then as now: by faith. Mary "found favor with God" (Luke 1:30) because she humbly trusted and had faith in His will. Abraham and the patriarchs likewise pleased Him with their faith, demonstrated by doing whatever God required of them. The only way to please God is by "believing on Jesus Christ, Whom He has sent" (John 6:29).

Because of our faith in Christ, we have a permanent place in God's family. We are eternally forgiven and adopted as dearly beloved children (Eph. 1:5; 5:1). This is what it means to be at peace with God. Fellowship is promised to those "on whom His favor rests." The Father's favor rests on you if you are united with His Son, and it is an irrevocable, constant favor - you have received the peace of being forgiven; the peace that comes from knowing the Holy Judge is also now your Loving Father. You cannot lose this peace - it is initiated and maintained eternally by God Himself.

There is another type of peace which the Lord also grants us, but it is the type we are prone to "lose" at times during our Christian walk.

In John 14:27, just before dying a horrible death, the Lord Jesus says something intriguing to His disciples: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." Jesus, during His earthly life and ministry, was always at perfect peace. He did not need the Father to extend the same offer of peace that sinners so desperately need; He, of course, was sinless and as God Incarnate always in perfect fellowship with the Father. Yet what He displayed and offered to His followers (and by extension, us) was a peace that can transcend the worst trial, fiercest storm, and keep our hearts stayed on the Savior's perfect love and care of us.

In Matthew 14, we witness Jesus during what had to be the second most stressful day of His life. First thing in the morning, He hears about the death of His cousin, John the Baptist. On the heels of this bombshell, the emissaries of the news warn Him that Herod is interested in murdering Christ, as well. Choosing to withdraw (no doubt for prayer, as was His custom), the disciples return exuberant from an evangelistic outreach. The crowds followed Him. When Jesus landed, Matthew says He "had compassion on them and healed their sick."

Can you imagine this from a human perspective? The ministry of Christ was marked by interruption, constant and immediate demands from (often ungrateful) people, threats, uncertainty, persecution and hardship (they regularly hiked over 20 miles a day over rocky terrain. No thanks.) Think on this the next time you are tempted to think Jesus doesn't understand stress or pressure. Continually, we see that while Jesus' emotions may have varied, His demeanor didn't. In fact, Hebrews 13:8 reminds us we can count on Jesus' consistency at all times: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."

How we react in a given situation reveals what is in our hearts. When Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you", He almost certainly was referring to the peace with God that the disciples (and all believers) had been granted. When He continued, "My peace I give to you", He was almost certainly referring to the supernatural peace of the Holy Spirit that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

For you Greek-geeks, in all of these verses the word for "peace" is εἰρήνη (eirēnē). It denotes a cessation of conflict; a quietness of spirit and an absence of hostility or disharmony. Qualitatively, the "peace" spoken of in Scripture is the same thing - but there are different ways in which the believer can experience peace. It is entirely possible to lack the peace of Christ, even while positionally being at peace with God (because of the Cross). If we truly have the peace that comes from yielding our lives to Christ, it will show up in the way we respond to trial.

We do not have to beg God to give us this quality of deep harmony and grace to deal with unexpected demands; it is a fruit of the Spirit. It is a by-product of simply surrendering our will, minds and desires to Him and learning to rest in His love. When we feel that we've "lost" that peace - anxiety, worry, depression or spiritual apathy has set in - it is usually a result of moving away from the quiet, intimate presence of the prayer closet. If we "take back" areas of our life and place too much importance on an area that is not GOD's first priority, we feel that loss of peace as stress or disharmony. We feel distant from God.

One thing I have learned through study and counseling women is that depression and anxiety are actually a refusal to bend the knee to Christ. Rather than simply accepting that God is in sovereign control of our lives and has our best interest at heart, (even when our "best" is not enjoyable), the depressed individual chooses to believe lies of Satan. She essentially becomes her own god, dwelling on the "vain imaginings" of her self-absorbed heart rather than the revealed truth of God's Word. Self-absorption, lack of peace over feeling slighted, unforgiveness and attention-vying tactics are all manifestations of pride (Stuart Scott has an excellent booklet on this subject, available from Focus Publishing).

What is honestly amazing (and convicts, inspires and encourages me) is that the Christians I know who have suffered true adversity and tragedy are, incredibly, the ones who experience the deepest, purest peace of Christ in their lives. I do NOT say that they are always happy-clappy folks who never shed a tear; not do they hide their emotions and refuse prayer and tangible support from other believers (that would also be prideful). However, the witness they have displayed by their steadfast, unwavering faith in God's goodness is staggering. I know one woman (a Christian blogger) whose husband was imprisoned for several years, while she raised their son in the love of the Lord. Her life has been quite difficult, especially around the holidays when many of us take our families and provision for granted. She grew ever closer to the God Who always provided; always comforted (although not always immediately). A woman in my church (a fellow Bible study leader) lost her 18-year-old son to brain cancer last February. I cannot imagine what she is growing through this month, but she is always sharing the love of God - inside church and out. Her e-mails of God's sustaining faithfulness convict me - how often have I doubted Him, or taken Him for granted?

Neither of these women have slid into despair or depression. Neither have grown cold spiritually, sought attention, or slid into the deadly trap of self-pity. Often, the most depressed, melodramatic believers with the weakest faith are those with the least to be morose about. They have, in many cases, recreated a "jesus" in their own image - and their faith is built on the sand of emotionalism. Morbid introspection replaces fixing one's eyes on Christ, "the author and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). This type of faith will never result in the peace of Christ; it will always be fluid and dependent on one's fickle feelings because it puts one's self at the center. This is why reading and studying the Bible is so important to one's spiritual growth.

This Christmas season, no matter where you are in your faith or how long God's favor has rested on you, I pray that you will know the peace Christ offers you in Him. Sit at His feet and learn from Him, for He is gentle and humble in heart (Matthew 11:29). Find that rest for your soul, and once refreshed you will be a more productive servant for His glory. Keeping your eyes fixed on Him and abiding in His steadfast love will produce a beautiful, glowing light in your heart much brighter than the lights of a Christmas tree.

The peace of Luke 2:14 is yours forever if you belong to Christ. Whether you posses the peace of Christ He offers in John 14:27b is up to you.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Guest Post from Lizzie at "A Dusty Frame" - Angel Tree Needs You!

Please consider a donation to this wonderful ministry this year. I have written about Angel Tree in the past, and this post comes from a lady who has been touched personally by the program.

Angel Tree needs you!

by adustyframe ~ December 10th, 2009. Filed under: Family, Holidays, Prison/Incarceration.

Angel Tree is short gifts for 50,000 children this year. There’s a map on this page showing each state that still needs help.

You can provide a gift for one child for about $35.20, but you can also give any amount by going to this page.

The rest of this post is my old recycled post, but it’s still pertinent. I still choke up when I watch the video or when I re-read my post.

Tonight, James got out his jammies he got from his daddy from Angel Tree 2 years ago. They’re so small on him now. He had a big smile as he came to me and said, “I love these jammies.”

Angel Tree truly makes a difference.

1 in 40 American children has an incarcerated parent.

“When your parent is in prison, so are you. Your heart is locked behind a wall of loneliness. Your future is bound by shame. But Jesus came to set the captives free, and through Angel Tree your church can bring the love of Christ year-round to prisoners’ kids across America.

In Matthew 18:5 Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”

Through Angel Tree, you can welcome children into your heart as if you were welcoming Jesus Himself. Right now in your community there are some children who are among the most at-risk children in the nation. It is so easy to connect with them through Angel Tree.

Although, I knew about Angel Tree in the past I never participated. This year, is different. Angel Tree is bringing a gift to our home. My husband is in prison. My son is a “1 in 40”

I wrote about the night Angel Tree called us here.

I was very conflicted about being on the receiving end of this ministry. In my heart I felt as though it shouldn’t be us needing this. We should be the ones doing the giving.

As I look at my son this Christmas, I am overwhelmed with thankfulness for this ministry. I see the pain this separation causes all of us. My son misses his daddy so much. My husband misses our son. I struggle through days barely able to breathe with the enormity of the loss our family is experiencing.

Each time I view an Angel Tree video I sob. The pictures of precious little ones with huge smiles. The caregivers with thankfulness in their eyes. When you watch the video, you are seeing people just like my son and I. The pain is often too much to bear. The reaching outand love that Angel Tree offers is just as overwhelming.

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Angel Tree gives an opportunity to connect. My husband had to request a gift before Angel Tree would contact us. I love that the gift comes from daddy. My son will be thrilled.

The purpose of Angel Tree is to minister to hurting families. They share the Gospel of Christ with the recipients. I contemplated the at risk children this week. The “1 in 40”. I truly believe that as hard and sad this continues to be for us, we are much better off than most families in our situation. We know the Lord. We have family support and church support. God is mending our hearts and home. Our marriage is being rebuilt. So many families with an incarcerated loved one, don’t have the things that God has blessed us with. I have said repeatedly that I don’t know how people do this without the Lord.

I thought this week of all these families. All these babies. Muddling through life. Hurting and aching. Drowning their pain in things we find distasteful. How wonderful it is that someone cares for them. Angel Tree reaches out. Hugs these babies. Prays with the caregivers. Shares with them the most wonderful news anyone can share. By giving a gift they say to people like us,“You are loved.” “You are not a leper.” “We care about your incarcerated loved one.”

For a few moments, someone knows about the shame that we try to hide. The elephant in the room we try to not talk about. They hand a gift, a message of good news and give encouragement to those who think they cannot make it one more day. What a small way to reach out to hurting people. For this year perhaps it’s too late to help. Please tuck Angel Tree away in your heart and remember them next year.

To donate

To find a local contact

To get involved

Angel Tree Video

(I especially like the slide show and the 7 minute video) The slideshow and video take awhile to load. I’d like to ask you to consider watching them. They show the true heart in this ministry.
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

R.C. Sproul Weighs In on "Manhattan Declaration"

From Ligonier Ministries, the best summary of the document's issues I've seen yet:

"On November 20, 2009, a document called the Manhattan Declaration was presented to the public by a coalition of cobelligerents. The document is concerned primarily with three very important biblical and cultural issues: the sanctity of life, the meaning of marriage, and the nature of religious liberty. Without question, these issues are up for grabs in our nation.

As anyone familiar with my ministry will know, I share the document’s concern for defending the unborn, defining heterosexual marriage biblically, and preserving a proper relationship between church and state. However, when the document was sent to me and my signature was requested a few weeks ago, I declined to sign it.

In answer to the question, “R.C., why didn’t you sign the Manhattan Declaration?” I offer the following answer: The Manhattan Declaration confuses common grace and special grace by combining them. While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel.

The framers of the Manhattan Declaration seem to have calculated this objection into the language of the document itself. Likewise, some signers have stated that this is not a theological document. However, to make that statement accurate requires a redefinition of “theology” and serious equivocation on the biblical meaning of “the gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).

The drafters of the document, Charles Colson, Robert George, and Timothy George, used deliberate language that is on par with the ecumenical language of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) movement that began in the 1990s. The Manhattan Declaration states, “Christians are heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s Word,” and it identifies “Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelicals” as “Christians.” The document calls Christians to unite in “the Gospel,” “the Gospel of costly grace,” and “the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness.” Moreover, the document says, “it is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season.”

See rest of article here. Well put, Dr. Sproul.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tearing Down the Body of Christ (Part 2)

Last night, during an exchange with an online Christian friend, I had the feeling that I was walking through a minefield located in a cow pasture - no matter where I stepped, I was in trouble. The gist of the problem came from the fact that she had evidently drawn sharp, uncharitable and horrifically racist criticism on her blog for appearing to admire/endorse certain non-Christian music stars with immoral pasts. Not knowing about the most recent firestorm, I asked who a certain rapper was and why she had a picture of him. Evidently she saw me as another divisive mud-thrower, even though I was just curious.

Everyone, please pause for a moment and take a good long look at my profile and accompanying picture. Do I look like someone who knows anything about rappers? (I believe the politically-correct term might be "hip-hop artists". I have never been accused of being politically correct, either).

3.) Another huge way in which the Body of Christ is tearing itself apart is by ascribing motive.

In this case, sharing God's heart for social justice - extending compassion to "the least of these" - has indeed brought venomous attacks out of the woodwork. I've seen this before, but I will admit I was shocked at the intensity of the criticism in this particular case. Lack of compassion and utter disregard for even the most general type of love is particularly ugly when it appears among Christians, and gives enemies of the Cross cause to rejoice and point out hypocrisy among the Body.

Oh, then there's the backlash effect, which tears down the Body even further. Let me lay this out: loveless, professing Christians attack those "bleeding hearts" who truly desire to follow Christ by lavishing love on the unsaved. Their sympathies may or may not be misplaced, but that is not the point - a Christ-follower ought always to err on the side of love. Then, wounded by the unexpected attack, the individual lashes out at his/her attackers, by labeling all fellow Christians hypocrites and evil (even quoting non-Christians to make the point). Meanwhile, non-Christians on the sidelines have ever more ammunition in their arsenal - they don't even have to quote Freud or Marx; they can just point silently to an ongoing battle.

Smugly ascribing motive to other believers doesn't even have to come in the form of argument. I once heard a guest evangelist come dangerously close to saying that you are selfish, spoiled and in disobedience to God unless you are serving on the foreign mission field. As a working mother of four, I found this assessment stunningly disrespectful no matter what spiritual language was used to cloak it.

People, last month I watched an all-out catfight explode online over a relatively minor point of doctrine (on a Christian site). It reminded me why I left "Christian" forums several years ago, and even now avoid most discernment sites and many other blogs. There is, sadly, little there that meets the Philippians 4:13 standard, and fuels my already-cynical thinking. It is even worse, however, when the attacks become personal and affect the well-meaning Christian's relationship with God and other believers.

Related to these cruel attacks is what might be described as a knee-jerk reaction to:

4.) a perceived worldliness/ambivalence towards sin.

Fortunately, I have never heard the word "contextualization" or "relevant" used in church, nor do I anticipate doing so. I have read about the so-called "Emergent Church", mostly online and in CT, and realize it is its proponents' fascination with worldliness and trend-setting that has caused a downhill slide. Why, all of a sudden, is it "cool" in the post-modern church to look like the world, act like the world, dress like the world, and cuss like the world - while slapping a "Christian" label on it? Since when does "outreach" mean heading down to the local coffee shop to smoke with the locals, all the while "engaging" them with "dialogue"? Is this how Paul spread the Gospel (of faith and repentance?)

The smug, superior attitude of many among the so-called house church and emergent church movements is staggering. With no Scriptural backing whatsoever, a derision of doctrine, a re-writing of the Atonement and replacement of the true Gospel with the "social gospel" has infected the Western Church at an alarming rate. Concurrently, the "seeker-sensitive" message has reduced the concept of sin to an archaic, "judgmental" precept. While urban poverty is certainly an area where Christ calls us to serve, why is it suddenly so much less important to address the underlying factors contributing to this condition?

While we're on the subject of holiness, drunkenness, addiction, theft and sexual promiscuity are still sins. This is a subject that hits close to home for me, first as a former addict; secondly as someone who works regularly in criminal court and sees all kinds of rationalizations given by defense attorneys; lastly as one who has studied biblical counseling. (I do counsel addicted women, online and by phone - I am not yet certified.) Jay Adams, the father of the nouthetic counseling movement, wrote Competent to Counsel in the late 1960's. Even at that time, the tendency to blame society for one's own poor choices was becoming evident. Adams lamented the demise of personal accountability - citing the "insanity plea" that was coming into vogue judicially - and asked if ever would come a time when we are all "victims" where no one is responsible for anything anymore. That time has come, when even the Church winks at sin and blames "society". (The blending of secular psychology with Christianity is one more evidence of this error).

Even disregarding the courtroom, in the Christian counselor's office the notion of sin has become so unpopular that counselees abhor it. Last week, a friend who is in the midst of her supervised counseling requirement admitted to me that a counselee got visibly irritated with her for talking about Total Depravity (the fact that we are, by nature, evil and would not be inclined to seek God on our own.) Total Depravity does not mean that we are as bad as we could possibly be, but rather that there is no part of our nature that has been untouched by sin. People, naturally, are repelled at being confronted by their own sin - because of pride. I've got it; you've got it; your pastor's got it and the prizefighter from the ghetto's got it.

But let's not minimize, rationalize, or blame-shift when it comes to sin. Seeking reasons outside of self for one's own sin, while it is tempting, is patently unbiblical.

Recently, in this context someone said to me: "You have no idea what it's like to have experienced ____ and ____!" Supposedly the circumstances of one's childhood, at least partially, vindicate one's ethical responsibility. (I saw a public defender try a variation on that argument last month down in Orleans District Court. It didn't work on the judge.)

To get personal for a moment, the implication of that statement annoyed me. I endured horrific abuse as a child and adolescent, and barely scratched the surface in my book. There was a purpose in this - my testimony is to show God's glory and redemtion, not make readers feel sorry for me. I deliberately avoided the more graphic descriptions of the nightmarish life I lived because nothing can be used as an excuse for my own sin. Nowhere in the Bible do we see a person (or society) being held responsible for another's sin. Yes, our upbringing influences us - for good or bad. Yes, our values are largely shaped by the culture in which we live. But all of us has been given a conscience, and general revelation of the difference between right and wrong (Romans 1).

While we cannot fault unbelievers for acting like unbelievers, lacking the illumination of the Holy Spirit, it is wrong both ethically and morally to make excuses for sin. We who claim the Name of Christ have even less excuse. When He regenerates us, He makes us new. If we ignore His conviction and refuse to pursue holiness, we have no one to blame but ourselves - no matter how hard that is to hear. No one "made" us this way.

Few people in my adult life know anything about my past. They assume that I lived an "easy" life and am just being unsympathetic because I appear professional, pulled together, and educated. It is only because of Christ and the pit He pulled me out of - no thanks to privilege or a presupposed life of ease. I get frustrated at excuse-making and those who languish in sin (Christian or non) only because I know first-hand how long that prolongs one's misery. The sooner we confront sin head-on and deal with it, the sooner we can walk free and help others do the same.

Another HUGE factor tearing apart the Body is the spiritual cancer Christ warned us about:

5.) Unforgiveness.

I freely admit I'm often guilty of this one. Despite my in-depth review of John Macarthur's "The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness" last March, forgiveness still remains, for me as for many other believers, a spiritual Achilles' Heel. For instance, there are many occasions when I am still required to interact with my main abuser. She has never repented nor asked my forgiveness for the unspeakable torment she has caused me (and, to a lesser extent, my family). I do not love her. I do not want to forgive this evil person, and know that as an unsaved soul she is still at enmity with God (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21). Yet even so, I know that as a follower of Christ the standard set for me is not the world's sense of justice. My refusal to forgive distances me from the Lord - and subsequently, other Christians.

Apply this same dynamic between Christians and you can see the devastating results. Imagine if you held onto every time a fellow Christian hurt you, snubbed you, or let you down? Instead of walking in the light, when Christians nurse grudges they're destroying any real fellowship that might exist (not to be confused with the fake fellowship that paints on a smile and sells you a ticket to a Church Related Function). Unforgiveness is a poison that infects believers first individually, and then corporately.

This last one is not so much a phenomenon that directly pits Christians against one another as it is a contributor to a growing sense of individual alienation, and even depression:

6.) Self-absorption, pride, and morbid introspection.

I was listening to a sermon by Kevin Williams the other night in which he addressed the Christian's tendency to slide into depression when he/she disbelieves God. My ears pricked up when he mentioned the counseling room - many people stop coming to counseling when they hear "you need to stop trusting yourself, repent, and start believing God's Word again." One thing, Pastor Kevin noted, that is true of all spiritually depressed individuals: they refuse to bend the knee.

Spiritual depression may not be what we normally think of as pride, but it is a subtle form of this sin. The depressed individual is looking to him or herself as the source of joy, rather than trusting implicitly and unwaveringly in God's goodness and sovreignity. Personally, I have fallen prey to this MANY times and know that when I distance myself from God, it stems from sin (which I am unable to atone for myself) and reflexively thinking "God's mad at me". This is, as Kevin noted, a form of works-righteousness - acting as if "maintaining" our standing with God depended on us (praise God it doesn't!)

Instead of simply confessing the failing (or ungodly thought), Christians sometimes retreat deeper into themselves, find fault with all other Christians, and walk around in a spiritual haze. It happens. And sooner or later, it shows up in their relationships with other people -- or lack of them. You see this all the time - in your Bible study, in the blogosphere, on Facebook. How much time you spend at the feet of Christ is inversely proportinal to how focused you are on yourself.

I was counseling a woman last week who had been told she was bi-polar. Once she learned to renew her mind by staying it on Christ (and habitually turning to Him in times of temptation), she realized that she didn't have a biochemical problem at all - she had a self-absorption problem. The greatest freedom, she finally realized, came from trusting Christ's promises - not her own wildly fluctuating emotions!

Another source of pride that can implode a person's relationship with Christ can actually be ministry. I worked so hard for so long on my book, a testimony to God intended to help His daughters, that now that it is sitting with two publishers and I am waiting....there is a void. The writing itself became a bit of an idol to me, and overshadowed more "mundane" (but vital) ministries such as prayer.

So What Do We Do????

So what do we do? We humans, saved or not, are not like computers - program with the appropriate data; desired results automatically are produced. We are, in fact, complex and emotional creatures (women more so than men, which, I am convinced, is the reason God's plan is male leadership in the Church). No matter how long we have been blood-bought disciples, some aspects of our personalities - emotions included - remain unsanctified. People are imperfect. While God will always preserve Himself a remnant of true believers, the Church is imperfect. The answer is not in re-writing the script, as the EC and liberal church would have us believe, but in steadfastly clinging to the one we already have - the Bible.

I realize this sounds like an oversimplification, and I do not always take my own advice in this area. As I confessed in my last post, I have come to the point where I am so disappointed in the "fakeness" inherent in American Christianity that I sometimes question whether the whole thing isn't profoundly stupid. However, like my parents-in-law who have invested their entire lives in the lie of a communist utopia, there is too much at stake for me to go back. If I took Christ out of the center, there would be a huge vacuum - the whole purpose of my life and ministry would collapse (like theirs if they admitted communist ideology is a futile, deceptive lie and they've wasted their lives). What a tragic mistake, and for what? Because other professing Christians irritate me at times, or engage in fleshly behavior?

Stop tearing each other apart. Learn what the Bible says (hint: it's actually God's Word, and it actually IS non-negotiable) and rest in His love. I was about to type, "....and start doing it", but as Christ Himself said, apart from Him we can do nothing. Until you know that love and really allow Him to change you - from the inside out - it's all in vain.

Believe it or not, I woke up this morning with the song "Blessed Assurance" running through my head. I have no idea where that came from, but meditate on the final refrain:

Perfect submission, all is at rest;
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
watching and waiting, looking above,
filled with his goodness, lost in his love.

That's what it's all about right there. Looking to others to please us will always lead to unhappiness and a critical spirit. Learning to find your joy in Christ alone is the only way.

Tearing Down the Body of Christ (Part 1)

Over the course of perhaps the last year or so, I have noticed an increasingly disturbing pattern among Christians that goes beyond simple "disunity". The term "disunity" implies that some sort of genuine community exists, and I am beginning to question that maxim. For all the lip-service paid to the notion of "community", "oneness" and - the ultimate ambiguous "Christianeze" term, "fellowship" - I have seen more fakeness, backstabbing, callousness and insincerity in the "Body" than I care to notice.

The net result seems to be a growing cynicism and isolation among those who simply want to follow Christ, sans bureaucracy and without striving to "people-please". Their reaction? Counter-attacks and withdrawal. There is a meanness, a cynicism and an unscriptural defensiveness present among too many different believers, for too many reasons. Ironically, none of this has anything to do with Christ Himself and I probably would not have even mentioned it if it hadn't been for the events of the last few weeks.

The causes of this cancer of negativity (and the backlash from the wounded) come from at least three places, in my opinion, and at the risk of opening several cans of worms I'd like to frankly explore them. I'd like your insights. I expect this discussion to take at least 2 or 3 posts, and some of what I will say I freely apply to myself. I have avoided the whole issue because of my own growing cynicism and disillusionment with "the Body" and what it claims to be....anything that violates the Ephesians 4:29 principle is not edifying. ("Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.")

So what is causing so much discouragement, apathy and disillusion among so many of us? I'll start with the one that I notice in my own environment most clearly, then move on to the complaints of other Christians.

1). "Politics" in the local church. By politics, I do not mean running for office of deacon or committee head. Those are necessary roles and should be filled by the correct person with good leadership skills. What I am talking about is the virtual "caste system" present in any church that everyone pretends doesn't exist; the proverbial elephant in the living room that we all step around.

When newcomers enter a church, generally speaking, they are fawned over by "old timers" and effusively welcomed into the "family". This is especially true if they happen to be new Christians, which they are generally assumed to be (a condescending tendency that never ceases to amaze me). People with aspirations of church leadership can't wait to "disciple" the newcomers - even if those newbies happen to have PhDs in systematic theology - and save seats for them until they enroll in the "membership classes". By this time, they are essentially a sure source of income and fresh testimonies, so the Higher Caste Christians move on to the fresher newcomers, in what becomes a never-ending revolving door of caste-shuffling.

Have you ever noticed that everyone wants to "disciple" you, but no one has time to just meet up for a coffee?

The other night, my husband and I were venting our spleens (only to each other) about the presence of politics even in excellent churches like ours. We vowed never to become involved in the game, but I (being passionate about missions) am continually frustrated by the double-standards used to consider proposals for actually doing good. Who you are (and whether your husband is a deacon/elder) seems to have bearing on how seriously you are taken -- which leaves those desiring to make a difference with two options: a) start climbing the church hierarchy, or b) give up and go home. I am entirely too Irish to choose the latter, but my husband and I are both too principled to attempt the former.

Do I really have to say this? Church should not be a "networking opportunity". Not only is this common sense, people, it's forbidden in Scripture: James and Paul both blast Christians for their tendency to show favoritism based on status and rank.

Another toe I'm going to step on is this whole "fellowship" myth. "Koinonia" encompasses a much deeper meaning in Greek than the current, casual use of the term as a noun, verb, and adjective. The word has become so overused in evangelical circles that it is utterly meaningless. Instead of true friendship, we are expected to sign up for the Christmas Fellowship Something or Other and purchase our tickets for only $5 each in order to enjoy a Time of Fellowship. I swear I am not making this up. So people who can't be bothered visiting each other, helping bear each others' burdens (either spiritually or physically), and have no friends outside of Facebook avatars are expected to replace spontaneous gathering as friends with Church Fellowship Events.

I cannot even begin to articulate how bizarre, unnatural and repugnant this is to us. Try inviting these same people to a casual get-together at your house (which is not a designated Church Fellowship Event). They are so busy being busy that if they bother to RSVP at all, it will be to complain about how "busy" they are but they will "try" to stop by...as if you are inconveniencing them by scheduling a party during December, and they are doing you a favor if they condescend to attend.

However, you will still be greeted - exactly once a week - by the Fellowshippers who call you "brother" (or "sister" if you happen to be a woman) and perhaps even hugged. THAT is the extent of "Fellowship" - a contrived, facade of friendliness pulled out around other Christians. At no time is this charade more apparent than during the Christmas season.

Sometimes the facade, for whatever reason, drops and this adds to the growing sense of alienation (and doubts about the authenticity of "fellowship"). Now, speaking only for myself, since Thanksgiving I have been badly snubbed by four other Christian women (two online; two in real life). Now, in one of the cases, it could be chalked up to "it's not personal; it's just business", but it still stung because the lady in question was neither acting in love nor practicing what she preaches. Regardless, even in the other three instances I have gone back and tried to figure out what happened - to see if I had any responsibility at all for the rudeness. I'm coming up empty.

Not that such things will turn me against the Body, but my point is that these things, among Christians already observing hypocrisy, will add to the protective walls we put up around our hearts. Last week, discussing the proliferation of ambitious "Career Christians", I actually said it out loud: "Sometimes I don't even feel like going to church any more." My husband, a bastion of wisdom and straight-forward common sense, replied: "Well, that's wrong already." He is right, of course. To put it simply, when we take our eyes off of Jesus and look at what others are doing, we will always be disappointed, disillusioned, and yes; hurt.

The truth of the matter is, though, my spirit has become so dry and jaded that while deep down I still love the Lord, I cannot worship anymore. I no longer thirst for His Word, although I know it is the only antidote to what I see His Body becoming. I have been running on autopilot for many months - even counseling hurting women; I am so familiar with what I need to say - but have not verbalized my cynical, negative attitude for a reason: Psalm 73:15. "If I had said, "I will speak thus," I would have betrayed your children." You can read the whole Psalm in context, but the gist of it is that Asaph sees the injustice of the wicked prospering, hypocrisy among Israel and a host of other social maladies. He nearly loses his faith, but after pouring it all out to God he realizes it was better that he kept his mouth shut than to bring down God's people. This is, indeed, an important point often lost in the search for "authenticity".

These are some of the things I personally have noticed, and I confess my reaction and attitude has been less than Christ-like. The task of full repentance seems daunting right now, as I have always wanted others to change before I address my own sin.

There are other factors, however, that are causing similar reactions of "forget this" in other believers. I'll touch on just one more in this post.

2.) Ignorance, apathy, and professing Christians who take pride in ignorance and apathy.

Hadassah is one of the sharpest and most gifted Bible study teachers I've had the pleasure of knowing. She was also a superb blogger who shared excellent insights on topical Bible issues, as well as some of her own research into the finer points of Scripture. Her expository writing was a delight to read and was a blessing to many. Over a year ago, she poured her heart and soul into writing a Bible study (the lectures of which I shared with my fellow Bible study leaders at church, as we were gearing up to do the same book). She and I corresponded several times about the stunning level of biblical illiteracy among churchgoers (even though she lives in the Bible Belt).

What is worse is that people seem proud of their lack of knowledge, and derisively label those who study the Bible as "religious", "pharisaical" or "arrogant". Over the course of several months, the apathy of those in the Church seemed to wear her down. While I cannot speculate or put words in her mouth, this gifted servant of God seemed to take on the attitude of "why bother"? I suspect there were other reasons, but she eventually stopped blogging and did not want to lead another study, because of the lack of accountability she was offered.

To say that this is a shame doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. Scripture itself tells us that we are to study God's Word, to accurately handle it and to "be prepared in season and out of season" (2 Timothy 4:2). Since when did deliberate ignorance and uncertainty become the new sound doctrine?

There are two more issues I would like to address that are tearing down the Body, but I will pick this up later. Lastly, the question remains: how are we to respond productively?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gettin' Jiggy With It:

Our four children bustin' out some holiday moves:

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Birthday Presents for Jesus

As I am in the midst of preparing my entire book for a second publisher's review, (as well as homeschooling my older son), I have not had time to launch into any in-depth expository blogging. In fact, I haven't had any in-depth thoughts of late, beyond incorporating interactive web sites into our fourth-grade science curriculum. Yipes!

As we are approaching the dreaded frenzy of the Christmas season, I do want to draw your attention to a simple, fun and meaningful way to experience the true meaning of giving this year. Salvation Army's Angel Tree program allows you to select an impoverished child (from your zipcode) of any age online, receive his or her wish list by e-mail, and gives you the address of the local drop-off center where you may bring your (unwrapped) gifts.

In fact, JC Penney (who is sponsoring the site), will ship the gifts to the donation center for free if you order them from their online store. You literally never have to leave the house to shop for your chosen child! You can pick out the gifts online, supply the Salvation Army drop-off address and child's ID #, and go back to reading blogs - without ever getting up from your chair. It's that easy.

Of course, this exercise in giving is much more fun if you have kids of your own, whom you can take to the store and allow to pick out the gifts for the Angel Tree child(ren). Let them come with the boxed presents to the Salvation Army center with you - that way they feel much more a part of the giving process. On Christmas morning, your children will have the pleasure of knowing some other child, not too far away, is opening up surprises that they had a hand in choosing.

The deadline for donations is December 14th, less than 2 weeks away. Please consider this fun way to share the love of Christ this Christmas.