Sunday, April 30, 2017

2017: The Year Baptists Went Transgender

You know things are getting completely out of control in our world when there are transgender pastors in Baptist churches. Daniel Robinson, who now goes by the name Allyson Robinson, is our nation’s first transgender Baptist preacher. A recent article revealed that during a Baptist gathering in April, Robinson detailed how a supposed angel of the Lord named “Reason” convinced him to pursue being a transgender minister of the gospel.

He said that one day in his early seminary days he contemplated suicide, but an “angel of the Lord” that he called “reason” stopped him. “What if God hasn’t fixed you because you’re not broken?” Robinson said he heard inside of himself. “That can’t be true,” he thought. “The Bible says I’m broken.” “WHAT IF THE BIBLE IS WRONG?” THE VOICE SAID. “WHAT IF YOU’VE BEEN READING IT WRONG?” Robinson told those gathered that in that moment he “sacrificed his certainty” and hoped that God would count it as “righteousness.”

There is so much to break down, but let’s begin with this word righteous. Something that has been declared righteous has been approved by God. Conversely, something that has been declared unrighteous has been divinely disapproved. Paul gives a list of several of these unrighteous actions in his first letter to the Corinthians.  

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Perhaps you read that list and thought, “Wait, Paul didn’t say anything about transgender people!” Well, this is one of the many cases when the early Christians provide a tremendous amount of historical clarity to the modern reader.

The word effeminate is seldom used in our society, but the early Christians wrote a decent amount about those who could be described by that adjective. Here’s an example:

Men play the part of women, and women that of men, contrary to nature; … no passage is closed against libidinousness; and their promiscuous lechery is a public institution. … Such was predicted of old, and the result is notorious: the whole earth has now become full of fornication and wickedness. I admire the ancient legislators of the Romans: these detested effeminacy of conduct; and the giving of the body to feminine purposes, contrary to the law of nature. … What reason is there in the law’s prohibiting a man from “wearing woman’s clothing“? Is it not that it would have us to be manly, and not to be effeminate neither in person and actions, nor in thought and word? … The apostle very firmly assails them. “Be not deceived; neither adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers,” and whatever else he adds to these, “shall inherit the kingdom of God.” – Clement of Alexandria 195CE, ANF Vol. 2, p. 444, 469, 600 [CD-ROM]

Clement of Alexandria could have used several modern terms to describe the unrighteous behaviors he witnessed. Transgender, transvestite, gay, bi-sexual and several other descriptors could apply. However, to Clement, they all could fall under the word effeminate, which leads to the next point.

Notice that this “angel of reason” encouraged Robinson to indulge his effeminate urges. One could use the post-modern rationale that God made me this way, and it feels good, so it must be good and true for me.

But when dealing with these vital issues of morality, we shouldn’t disrespect ourselves and others by wallowing in the mire of post-modern subjective relativism. We need concrete, objective truth that remains unaffected by time and culture. We need the Scriptures.

We already witnessed God declare effeminacy unrighteous, but just incase there was any question about the reasoning used by Robinson’s “angel”, Paul made this inspired prophecy in his second letter to Timothy:

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

Lovers of self. Arrogant. Unholy. Without self-control. Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Holding to a form of godliness, but denying God’s power.

Consider all of those descriptors, and think about what this “angel of reason” encouraged Robinson to do. The “angel” encouraged Robinson to indulge the fleshly, sinful desires with the attitude that God can’t change people to be in line with the Scriptures. That spiritual being convinced Robinson to deny the regenerative power of the gospel, which is a truth we all need to believe with all our hearts and minds.

Finally, when looking at Robinson’s story, I was reminded of Paul’s warning to Christians in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!”    

According to Muslims, an angel named Gabriel strangled Muhammad during his sleep, and then commanded him to recite the words of scripture given to him from Allah.

Joseph Smith has convinced countless Mormons that in 1820 he was visited by God the Father and Jesus who informed him that all churches were deceived.  He then claimed that in 1823 he received a visit from an angel named Moroni, and was told about golden plates which were supposedly written in Reformed Egyptian. Smith boasted to have been blessed with the supernatural ability to translate the plates, and eventually produced the Book of Mormon.

Look, let’s not make the same mistake America’s rationalistic forefathers did in downplaying or outright dismissing the supernatural. There are lying spirits that are actively seeking to convince Christians to apostatize. They are seeking to ravage the Church.

As Paul and Tertullian advise us, may we take our thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ. May we love Him far, far more than ourselves and demonstrate that love by crucifying our fleshly lusts and following after Him.

Who are the ravening wolves but those deceitful senses and spirits which are lurking within to waste the flock of Christ? … Who are the false apostles but the preachers of a spurious gospel? Who also are the Antichrists, both now and evermore, but the men who rebel against Christ? … We, however, are not permitted to cherish any object after our own will, nor to make choice of that which another has introduced of his private fancy. In the Lord’s apostles we possess our authority; for they did not choose to introduce anything themselves, but faithfully delivered to the nations (of mankind) the doctrine which they had received from Christ. If, therefore, even “an angel from heaven should preach any other gospel” (than theirs), he would be called accursed by us. – Tertullian 198CE, ANF Volume 3, p. 387, 389 [CD-ROM]

Sunday, April 23, 2017

When My Time Comes

James 4:14 says that our lives are like a vapor that appears for just a little while, and then quickly vanishes. This sobering reality was put on full display recently when a 13-year-old accidently shot himself in the head on Instagram Live with his neighborhood friends watching.

My son is 13, and I can’t imagine what that kid’s parents are going through. It seems like only yesterday when we adopted him, and to think of him losing his life today is almost unfathomable.

However, by the time I was 16, I had already had several brushes with death. At around 10, I had a severe anaphylactic reaction to Noxema. When I was 13 I spent a little over a week in the ICU because I had been poisoned by a corrupted batch of Albuterol we were using in my breathing treatments. And in my junior year of high school, I miraculously survived a massive car accident coming back from College Station where my brother and I flipped three times across the highway at about 80mph.

Today I found out that the guy who has been cutting my hair at Great Clips died two days ago of a heart attack. He was in his mid-40s. Hosea says that the span of our days on earth can be compared with dew that’s here before breakfast and gone before lunch.

However, the Bible teaches that death is not the end. In many ways, it is a beginning. But the choices we make during our time on earth determine an unalterable eternal destiny for each one of us.

Hippolytus was the Bishop of Rome in the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries. He was a personal disciple of Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyons), who was a personal disciple of Polycarp (Bishop of Smyrna), who was a personal disciple of the Apostle John. Hippolytus’ writings are therefore regarded as faithfully carrying on the tradition of the Apostles, and he had quite a bit to say about what happens when people die.

Now we must speak of Hades, in which the souls both of the righteous and the unrighteous are detained. Hades is a place in the created system, rude, a locality beneath the earth, in which the light of the world does not shine. And since the sun does not shine in this place, there is necessarily perpetual darkness there. This place has been destined to be, as it were, a guardhouse for souls. … And in this locality there is a certain place set apart by itself, a lake of unquenchable fire, into which we suppose no one has ever yet been cast. …

But the righteous (who will obtain the incorruptible and unfading kingdom) are indeed presently detained in Hades, but not in the same place with the unrighteous. For to this locality there is one descent, at the gate of which we believe an archangel is stationed with an army. And when those who are conducted by the angels who are appointed unto the souls have passed through this gate, they do not all proceed down one and the same path. Rather, the righteous are conducted in the light toward the right. …

They are brought to a locality full of light. And there all the righteous persons from the beginning dwell. They are not ruled by any necessity. Rather, they perpetually enjoy the contemplation of the blessings that are in their view. Also, they delight themselves with the expectation of other blessings, ever new. … And that place brings no labors for them. … But the faces of the fathers and the righteous are seen to be always smiling, as they wait for the rest and eternal revival in heaven that follow this location. And we call this place by the name of “Abraham’s bosom.”

However, the unrighteous are dragged toward the left by angels, who are ministers of punishment. These souls no longer go of their own accord. Rather, they are dragged as prisoners by force. And the angels appointed over them hurry them along, reproaching them and threatening them with an eye of terror, forcing them down into the lower parts. And when the souls are brought there, those appointed to that task drag them on to the vicinity of Gehenna.

And those who are so near [to Gehenna] hear incessantly its agitation, and they feel the hot smoke. And when that vision is so near, as they see the terrible, and excessively glowing spectacle of the fire, they shudder in horror at the expectation of the future judgment, already feeling the power of their punishment. And again, when they see the place of the fathers and the righteous, they also suffer punishment merely from seeing this. For a deep and vast abyss is set there in the midst, so that neither can any of the righteous in sympathy think to cross it, nor do any of the unrighteous dare to cross it. – Hippolytus 205CE, ANF Vol. 5, p. 395-396 [CD-ROM]

I understand that some of what Hippolytus wrote may be outside of your denomination’s tradition. However, please remember that it faithfully represents the majority of the apostolic fathers’ beliefs. Also, please be sure to keep the main thing the main thing.

Hebrews 9:27-28 sums it up well, “Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”

When we die, our souls either go to be with Jesus forever, or they descend to an incredibly horrific place of no escape. Then, after the resurrection of our bodies, the righteous will reign in glory with Jesus forever in the new heavens and new earth. And, the unrighteous will face a second death, the lake of fire, which burns forever and ever.

I understand it’s not pleasant to think about death, but it is a healthy exercise. And similarly to the day we meet the person we will eventually marry, it often comes unexpectedly as we’re operating in the regular rhythms of life. Death will not only happen to us, it will also find every single person we know. However, because Jesus lovingly gave His life as a ransom for all people, everyone we know has an opportunity to receive Him as his or her Lord and Savior.

Have you done that? What about your family members? What about your friends and coworkers? What about your neighbors?

This week, how can you help someone who doesn’t know Jesus become more prepared to meet Him face to face when his or her time comes? 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Egyptian Church Bombings and the Early Christians

A little over a week ago on Palm Sunday, around 50 people were murdered when two bombs were detonated at Christian Coptic churches in Egypt. Responsibility for this horrific act was quickly claimed by the Islamic State, who vowed to spill rivers of blood from countless other followers of Jesus.

Two of the most common emotional reactions to unspeakably tragic events like this are anger and fear. We have to be careful with both emotions because though the Bible does give room for times when these attitudes of the heart are appropriate, they are frequently labeled as sinful and often lead to unholy actions.

For instance, James writes this about anger in 1:19-20, “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”

In Luke 12:4-9, Jesus gives a masterful explanation of the difference between holy and worldly fear. “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”

There is a time and place for holy indignation and we should approach every situation with a fear of the Lord, however, I have experienced the destructive consequences of anger and anxiety far more than I would like to admit. If I was an Egyptian Christian, I’m sure those emotions would be tempting me to act in ways I would later regret. After all, it’s only human to try to overcome evil with evil.

But when I read about atrocities like the Egyptian church bombings, my mind always travels back to the early Christians. They faced unconscionable forms of persecution. So, how would they respond to a situation like this?

First, they would write apologetic letters to the governing authorities to help increase understanding and dispel rumors around the country about the Christian faith.

The Christians, O King … know and trust in God, the Creator of heaven and of earth, in whom and from whom are all things, to whom there is no other god as companion, from whom they received commandments which they engraved upon their minds and observe in hope and expectation of the world which is to come. … They comfort their oppressors and make them their friends. They do good to their enemies. … From now on, let the tongues of those who utter vanity and harass the Christians be silent; and in the future let them speak the truth. – Aristides 125CE, ANF Vol. 9, p. 443, 445 [CD-ROM]

Second, the early Christians would continue to faithfully follow the simple words of Christ, believing that the more persecution they faced, the more the power of the gospel would be unleashed.

We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons — our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage — and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified. … Now it is evident that no one can terrify or subdue us who have believed in Jesus over all the world. For it is plain that, though beheaded, and crucified, and thrown to wild beasts, and chains, and fire, and all other kinds of torture, we do not give up our confession; but the more such things happen, the more do others and in larger numbers become faithful, and worshippers of God through the name of Jesus. – Justin Martyr 160CE, ANF Vol. 1, p. 413, [CD-ROM]

Finally, as described in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the early Christians believed that the power of prayer could transform enemies of the gospel into sons of the living God.

So when he (Polycarp) heard that they (the arresting soldiers) had come, he went down and spoke with them. And as those that were present marveled at his age and constancy, some of them said. “Was so much effort made to capture such a venerable man?” Immediately then, in that very hour, he ordered that something to eat and drink should be set before them, as much indeed as they cared for, while he pleaded with them to allow him an hour to pray without disturbance. And on their giving him leave, he stood and prayed, being full of the grace of God, so that he could not cease for two full hours, to the astonishment of them that heard him, insomuch that many began to repent that they had come forth against so godly and venerable an old man. – Martyrdom of Polycarp 135CE, ANF Vol. 1, p. 68 [CD-ROM]

The early Christians show us that we neither have to resort to worldly anger nor fear when faced with persecution. There is always another way. There is the way of the misunderstood King who rode a young donkey into Jerusalem a week before He was crucified. It may not be safe, but it transforms enemies into brothers.