“Let The People Think!”

I love the theatre. To be clear, I’m not saying that I love a particular room with a stage and seating; no, I love the art of the theatre. I love the stories. I love the power a play can have as an audience is suddenly transported out of their own reality for a moment and placed within the imaginary circumstances provided by the playwright. I love how a well-done production causes audiences to laugh, or cry, or think. For all of these reasons and more, I love the theatre. It saddens me to see the theatre slowly fading from our culture. However, while it lasts, I think the theatre is an important means of illuminating ideas, political or otherwise, in a way that all people can grasp. This has always been a strength of the arts, to act as a mirror of the culture.

            Years ago I had the privilege of directing a production of Seussical, a musical retelling of the beloved stories of Dr. Seuss. Although the play is very colorful and energetic, I wanted my actors to find moments of substance that would ground the characters. One particular moment that we discussed was in the musical number “The Biggest Blame Fool”, wherein the majority of the characters are harassing Horton the Elephant because he believes something which no one else does. His large ears allow him to hear the tiny Whos on the dust speck, while the others cannot. The Sour Kangaroo leads the other characters in singing, “Tellin’ lies, makin’ jokes it’s an elephant hoax! Brother, that’s against the law! Breakin’ the peace, creatin’ a fuss! Somebody’s thinkin’ different than us! Biggest blame fool in the Jungle of Nool!”

            Right there on the page, the line jumped out to us. “Somebody’s thinkin’ different than us!” What does this mean for the characters in the story? They feel empowered to treat Horton however they deem right, whether that is to chase him off, incessantly harass him, or even throw him in jail. Thought crimes are just too much for these silly creatures to handle.

            The crazy thing is, however, while this silly musical is intended to entertain children, it gives a lucid look at an important topic in our own day and age. Namely, the popular culture is becoming more and more aggressive toward those whom they see as committing a “thought crime”. In other words, “Believe like us, or else.”                           

            In last week’s article I gave an historical sketch of Isaac Backus and his role in the fight for the separation of church and state in the 1700’s. Though I didn’t give much commentary throughout the article, one of my primary purposes was to highlight the fact that people of all backgrounds should desire that we retain, as a nation and in culture, the vital right of free speech and free thought. While most people seem to affirm this ideal, sometimes the evidence points in other directions.

            Separation of church and state is the basic concept that the state will not mandate a particular church or religious philosophy to be believed by all at the consequence of judicial punishment. Yet, what about the philosophy, dare I say “faith”, of the secular culture? Should that be mandated by the state? Should individuals be punished if they do not bow the knee to the cultural “religion” of the day? Backus wrote, “How can such a union be expected so long as that dearest of all rights, equal liberty of conscience is not allowed?” So while certain groups and individuals will call for the freedom to express their ideas, in the next breath, they call for others to be punished for expressing contradictory ideas.

            “Wait a second,” someone may interject, “haven’t religious people done the same thing as various points in history?” To that I respond, yes! There have been individuals and groups that have done horrendous things to people with contrary ideas in the name of religion. I am ready and willing to admit that. However, just because people of the past did erroneous things does not mean would should continue the habit. Instead, we must be able to work together to ensure that the freedom of conscience remains intact in our culture.

            So while the secular world view gains more and more traction, the question must be posed about the place for people of faith. Will religious believers be allowed to think their own thoughts or should the state curb their ideas? Will Christians be allowed to be Christians in a Biblical and historic sense or will the powers of the culture bring their wrath upon the church?

            These questions become more and more important as we approach another election cycle in which candidates for the office of the President of the United States come forward to vie for your vote. Albert Mohler comments, “The candidates need to be asked if they, as President, would use executive authority through federal departments to force a secular orthodoxy on religious groups, organizations, and businesses. The candidates need to be asked if they will protect the rights of Christian colleges to educate their students and hire their faculty in accordance with the tenets of faith, without being threatened by the state.” In other words, will Christians be allowed to be Christian?

            Forced belief is bad idea for any world view. We must take a strong stance against any form of government coercion regarding belief. This doesn’t mean that people cannot disagree and shouldn’t passionately proclaim their beliefs. It does mean, however, that we have the right to agree or disagree without fear of government punishment. We must fight for the continued right to think!

 Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.      

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Isaac Backus and The Separation of Church and State”

The idea of the separation of church and state has become so common in the minds of contemporary people that it is almost a “given”, an assumption that this principle has always been around. However, a cursory look at history will show that many people had to come forward and fight for this, now treasured, ideal. It was not an atheistic or secular group of people who argued for the separation of church and state, rather, instrumental in its development were early Baptists and Baptist leaders. Baptists were not the only ones who stood for this principles but, as Gilbert Alan Parker explains, “They were among the most vigorous and outspoken champions of the principles governing the separation of church and state.”

            In their advocacy for religious liberty, Baptists took a strong stance against any form of government coercion regarding belief or practice. Scholar Albert W. Wardin writes, “Advocates of this principle maintain that the state would neither control nor subsidize the church, while the church would not seek to control the state.” It is this ideal of freedom that remains a hallmark of Baptist thought. Walter Shurden writes, “Religious freedom means separation of church and state and not accommodation of church and state… Baptists, not only in America, but around the world have been solidly on the side of the separation of church and state.” One of the most indomitable among them being Isaac Backus.

            Backus spent over sixty years of his life and ministry enveloped in the fight for religious freedom. Driven by his desire to allow the Bible alone to be the authority of the church, Backus believed “the union of the two governments [church and state] in the New England colonies must be broken if America is to become a truly Christian land.” Backus believed that the church should be governed by Christ alone and therefore, the church should be free from any governmental regulations. He was fervent in his preaching and writing in which he “articulated a system of religious liberty which was to benefit all denominations.” Freedom to choose and believe according to conscience was a forefront issue for Isaac Backus.

            Born in Connecticut on January 9th, 1724, his life span covered many vital moments in history including the Great Awakening and the American Revolution. Historian Stanley Grenz comments, “[Backus] lived in an age in which ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ were popular and often used words but in which full religious freedom had not yet been granted by the ruling civil-ecclesiastical establishment.” However, Backus would initiate an instrumental work that would begin to shake the old order of things and cause many rise up and take a stand for freedom from all forms of tyranny.

            Backus saw this as a gospel issue. While he did believe that Christian truth was vital for any society, he believed that a state church was detrimental to Christianity. Michael Haykin explains Backus’s belief, “A state church cannot be a true church because it forces people to belong against their wills.” Forced belief is contrary to the Bible’s clear teaching. Backus writes, “Religion must at all times be a matter between God and individuals.”

            In 1773, Backus published his most famous pamphlet “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty” in which he outlines his arguments for equal rights concerning, what Backus referred to as, liberty of conscience. Backus wrote his pamphlet to appeal to the common people, hoping that they would understand and affirm the logical points that he was arguing for.

            Backus begins his pamphlet by clarifying that he is not arguing for an abolishment of government stating, “What a dangerous error, yea, what a root of all evil then must it be, for men to imagine that there is anything in the nature of true government that interferes with true and full liberty!” Rather, Backus claims that submitting to government should not entail an encroachment upon true liberty, especially religious freedom. Scholar Peter Judson Richards points out how Backus was trying to reveal to the individual that liberty has political and spiritual aspects. Richards writes, “The general ignorance of the spiritual underpinnings to liberty caused a slide into mere licentiousness, and a disdain for the God-ordained institution of government.” Again, Backus was not trying to diminish the necessity of government, but to put government in the proper place. Richards continues, “Within this framework, Backus established a fundamental opposition between autonomous individualism and true liberty.”

            Backus then goes on to explain the differences between civil government and ecclesiastical government and how these two spheres must not be conjoined or confounded. History has shown that when these two governments are joined issues arise. Backus writes, “Where they have been confounded together no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued of which the Holy Ghost gave early and plain warnings.”

            Backus closes his pamphlet by appealing to the reason of the reader. He asks them to be consistent in their thinking in order that they may see and understand that what he is asserting is important for every man and woman, regardless of religious affiliation. He puts forth an important question as the nation prepares, in only a few years following the publication of his tract, to declare independence from Britain, “How can such a union be expected so long as that dearest of all rights, equal liberty of conscience is not allowed?” Backus was looking for a true response from the leaders and people of his day. It was his hope that his article would begin a conversation that would bring about the betterment of all involved. In the same way, I hope my brief articles open up conversations that will help our community think and grow as we consider the many important topics that we face today, including liberty of conscience.

 Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“It’s All The Same, Right?”

Sometimes making a choice can be one of the most difficult tasks for a person. Probably the most thorny of these choices is the always troubling question, “What do you want to eat?” I’m sure we’ve all been down this disastrous road a time or two. What’s the problem? Too many choices and too many individual tastes. I’ve been on road trips where we have circled an area five times only to end up in a restaurant that no one is happy with. However, once our stomachs are full and the argument is over, we realize that food is food, and in the end, it’s all really the same, right?

            Looking into the world of religious organizations and belief systems, one may come to a similar conclusion: “It’s all the same, right? I mean, does it really matter what you believe, what your faith is in so long as you have faith?” This kind of thinking is exacerbated when one considers all of the groups in town who claim the title “Christian”. In fact, I was recently having a conversation with a young man who, as the topic moved to spiritual matters, agreed with me but then interjected, “But I look around and see Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, and all sorts of other groups — how do I know which one is right?” This is such an important topic.

            To begin, we must start with the assumption this young man made; namely, that although each of the groups would claim, to varying degrees, the title “Christian”, there must be something which differentiates them. There must be something which makes one “right” and another “wrong”. So while we may try to be “PC” affirming that all groups who self-identify as Christian do so rightly, our instincts tell us otherwise.

            To begin with, we must have a standard about what a Christian is from an objective point of view. You see, words are only as good as their definitions. Somehow we’ve come to believe in our modern culture that words can mean whatever we want them to mean. If this truly is the case, then no words have meaning and all conversation and debate will go nowhere. Fortunately, words do have meaning and this is the case for the term Christian. The standard, then, we use in order to define Christianity must be the Bible. For in the Bible we learn of the Christ, from who Christianity comes. Therefore, if one is going to claim Christianity, we should be able to look at the Bible to discern the validity of the claim.

            However, it may be helpful to start with an illustration. We are currently inundated with coverage of the Democratic debates. Now imagine if a presidential hopeful got up on the stage and began to argue against the basic Democratic position on every topic and to argue instead for the Republican platform. How do you think the others would respond? Perhaps at first they would be confused, but eventually someone might be brave enough to say, “Why are you here? You’re not a Democrat!” The person might respond, “Yes, I am! How dare you say that!” However, in what sense could an individual be a Democrat if they do not hold to any of the foundational beliefs of the party? In truth, they couldn’t. You see, self-identification alone does not mean anything. The question is, “What is the content of your beliefs?” The content comes first and then the label follows.

            Similarly, just because a group or denomination claims a Christian label and perhaps even a Christian heritage, one must look at the content of their beliefs in order to discern how “Christian” they truly are. Now, let me be clear, I am not saying that I personally have a corner on the market of truth. There are areas in which true, Bible-believing Christians disagree, and yet both can still be legitimately considered Christian. The Democratic debates show that there are areas in which Democrats disagree on, while they all remain within the broad Democratic spectrum. However, there would come a place when a Democrat moved so far from that spectrum that they can no longer be consider a true Democrat. This is also true of Christianity. Some have moved so far from historic, Biblical Christianity that there is no way to truly consider them Christian (even while they cling to the term).

            What must be part of the content of the beliefs in order for a group to be considered Christian? Briefly stated, 1) One must believe that Jesus is who He said He was throughout the Gospel records. Jesus was not merely some teacher, guru, great example, or prophet. Jesus is God in the flesh (cf. John 1:1, 14). Jesus clearly recognized He is God (cf. Mark 2:5) and proclaimed Himself to be God (cf. John 8:58).

            2) One must believe that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God and that it can be trusted as such (2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 1:22-25). How can one be a Christian and yet believe the Bible is suspect? If you believe the Bible needs to be updated to fit current trends, that the Bible is missing “many parts which are plain and most precious,” or that the Bible needs to be corrected by science, then I don’t see how you can legitimately consider yourself to be a Christian.     

            3) One must believe that salvation comes by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone. Even a superficially reading of New Testament books such as Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians would make this point very clear. Yet, so many groups want to add rituals, organizational membership, or other types of “works” to the requirements of salvation. This is not Christianity.

            This is in no way intended to be exhaustive or my final treatment on the topic, but it is a starting place. As I talked with this young man, I encouraged him (as I do all of you readers), not to be sidetracked by names on buildings or organizational identifications. Rather, look to the content of their message. If a group is truly part of Christianity, their message and teaching will make it clear.

              Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com. 

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

           

“I Object! That Is Impossible!”

Have you ever been in that awkward situations where someone in a group announces a particular belief as if everyone in the group holds to it? “Everyone knows that (fill in the blank) is good and (fill in the blank) is bad.” The person assumes everyone will nod in agreement, and most seem to. Yet there are times when I watch as everyone nods, and I want to stand up to say, “I object! I don’t agree with what you are saying.” Sometimes I do, but sometimes I let it go because of the situation. No matter what, it can be uncomfortable.

            Over the last few weeks I have tried to engage readers with a number of arguments and ideas in order to create conversation about truly important topics. Everyone has an opinion about everything; however, sometimes we spend our time discussing futile things instead of the most important things. I think perhaps we are afraid to find ourselves in an uncomfortable, argumentative situation. I don’t want us to fear this; instead, I encourage thoughtful reflection and civil dialogue. Just because politicians can’t seem to pull it off doesn’t mean that we, as a community, can’t give it a go.

            One reader wrote of an objection commonly made when one makes a claim that entails the supernatural; namely, that feats beyond the natural world are scientifically impossible. He writes, “I don’t have reason to believe that anyone has ever walked on water, due to my understanding of gravity, water and walking, and to never having seen anyone walk on water.” A fair question.

            I will admit that I agree, walking on water seems completely outlandish and simply impossible! However, I’m not sure that the reasons presented for dismissing the Biblical claim that Jesus did indeed walk on water holds up to further investigation. I would like to provide three primary ideas behind my reasoning.

            There are many things which people have never seen that they believe are true, including facts about historical events and people. Can you prove to me that Julius Caesar existed without using records or ancient writings? How can I be certain that the Revolutionary War really happened and the government didn’t simply fabricate a genesis story of the country in order to drum up patriotism? Obviously, these are silly questions, but I think that is the point. Just because I have not seen something does not alone rule it out as true.

            Secondly, yes, our observations of the physical world do seem to preclude anyone ever walking on water. However, how many times have scientific, inquisitive minds halted particular theories because they seemed to upset previously held notions? My reading through the history of science has shown me that many times new ideas cause others to be thoroughly reassessed. As I was reading through theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking’s book recently, I came across this admission: “Many scientists were unhappy with the universe having a beginning, because it seemed to imply that physics broke down.” In other words, they didn’t like the theory because it messed with their current understanding of the world. Likewise, our knowledge of gravity, walking, and water does not, in itself, mean that the Bible record of Jesus walking on water is impossible. All one could deduce from current knowledge of gravity, walking, and water is that it doesn’t seem possible.

            Finally, I think that people begin in the wrong place when they try to use the miracles recorded in the Bible as an objection to Biblical truth. They are miracles! Of course they are hard to believe and are not part of the natural order of things. Even a cursory reading of the text shows that those who originally witnessed the miracles were amazed and, at times, disbelieving.

            Additionally, one must look at the foundation behind the miracles before considering them. Try to explain an airplane to a person in a jungle, who has never seen one. “I flew through the air in a giant metal tube with wings to get here!” They might respond, “Metal is too heavy to fly in the air! Do you think I’m some sort of fool?” Jumping right to a “flying metal tube” with someone who has no knowledge or foundation of the physics behind air travel would make an airplane seem crazy and unbelievable.

            Similarly, the Bible begins with an all powerful, all knowing, Creator who brings everything into existence by His mere word and will. If then, the self-existent God can create all things, it follows that He can do whatever He wants in and through His creation. Nothing stops Shakespeare from doing whatever he pleases in the worlds he creates — including supernatural events and characters that are not normal in everyday life.

            The God of the Bible is the ultimate author and artist. He is able to act in ways that are beyond the normal constraints of the physical world as we know it, and He has the right to do so! Therefore, while miracles are hard to believe, I can readily accept them because of the God who is bringing them to pass. In fact, anytime a miracle occurs in the Bible, they are done for the purpose of showing that only the true God can do things are beyond the natural world. Examples can be found here: 1 Kings 18:16-45, Isaiah 44:6-11, Mark 2:1-12.

            You see, objecting doesn’t have to be awkward. Nor does responding to objections. I still believe we can have important discussions about highly polarizing subjects in a civil and constructive manner. So please, let us read, think, and grow together in our understanding of the world, of God, and of each other as we consider these various topics. Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com. 

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Don’t Be Fooled: A Look At The Moral Law”

When I was a teenager the newest trend was to download music on your computer to burn your own compilation CD of your favorite songs. Same idea as a mix tape, only a little newer and little cooler — at least I thought so! I was so excited when my family finally got a computer that had the ability to burn CD’s that I ran to Walgreens on the corner and bought a pack of ten to get started. With the playlist ready to go, I opened the cellophane wrapper only to discover that I didn’t actually purchase blank CD’s, I purchased 10 empty CD cases. What a bummer! My excitement quickly dissipated because only a few moments before at the store my mom said, “Let me see the CD’s to see if they’re the right ones” to which I responded, “Don’t worry about it, I know what I’m doing!” Famous last words.

            Sometimes in life we think we know exactly what is going on, until we realize that we don’t. We can assume that our understanding of reality, of the world around us, is what we imagine it to be, only to be caught off guard. We believe we know that Darth Vader clearly says “Luke, I am your father”, only to learn that the line is really “No, I am your father.” All joking aside, it is vital that we all take time to assess what we think we know, what we have assumed, and what we believe to be logical, in order to make sure that we have not been lead astray.

            Last week I introduced a form of Deism common among people who grew up in a church/religious context. However, as I mentioned in the previous article, I truly believe that Deism (in its many forms and permutations) is the commonly held belief of many people today. True, most would not use the term but personal testimony is a dead giveaway. “Sure, I believe in a creator, call it God if you’d like, but I don’t think he/she/it really cares if you go to church, so long as you are a good person. Isn’t that really what all religions are about in the first place, just being a good person?” It might sound good on the surface, but does it really hold up to scrutiny?

            Why would someone who is not “religious”, in the popular understanding of the term, espouse any belief in a god? A number of reasons would be given including, 1) The order and beauty of nature, 2) An internal sense of something beyond the physical world, and 3) the moral law written on the hearts of all people. While these are all true, they are simply not enough. Like a CD case missing the CD, the Deist perspective is incomplete.

            C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, makes the case that a moral law, the basic understand of right and wrong that all people in all times and places have understood, is a pointer to the truth and existence of God. This is part of the natural revelation that Paul speaks of in Romans 1 that leaves mankind without an excuse in denying God. The Deist, however, does not regard any special revelation from God Himself in any religious text, including the Bible. Therefore, what the Deist can know of God must come from natural or general revelation, (i.e. nature and the moral law). The big question is then, “Is that enough?”

            The moral law is good, right? It is good not to lie, cheat, steal, or kill. These basic ideas are foundational in any civilization. It follows that the moral law giver, God, is also good, right? Yes, God is good; however, this leaves the Deist in an interesting predicament. You see, the law of gravity will always be followed, there is no breaking it. Yet on the contrary, the moral law, although we affirm it is good, is constantly broken by all people, even those who believe it is important. So we have a moral law, a moral law giver, and people who break this moral law.

            Now the question is, “What does the moral law teach us about the moral law giver?” That He is good, yes. But does that mean He is also forgiving, gracious, and kind? No, from a Deistic perspective you cannot substantiate any of that. Lewis remarks, “The moral law does not give us any grounds for thinking that God is ‘good’ in the sense of being indulgent, or soft, or sympathetic. There is nothing indulgent about the moral law. It is hard as nails. It tells you to do the straight thing and does not seem to care how painful, dangerous, or difficult it is to do.”

            The reality is God has revealed His moral law in the hearts of all people (cf. Romans 2:15), but not so we can somehow live up to its standards, because if we are honest with ourselves, we see that we are constantly breaking it even as we go against our own conscience. However, God has not simply revealed His moral law, but He has revealed the way for law breakers to be forgiven. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to earth to live a perfect life, free from any law breaking, and then died a sacrificial death in order to set law breakers free. The reality is, thinking we can be perfectly moral in our own strength is like buying a pack of CD cases believing they are filled with actual CDs. While the example may seem silly, the idea it is intended to point at is anything but. Don’t be fooled. Let the moral law point you to the God who is not only good, but who is abundant in mercy and grace.

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.            

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“I Believe In A god That…”

One of my favorite films when I was younger was the classic 80’s flick, The Karate Kid. Filled with iconic scenes and memorable lines, the film garnered a cult following that recently inspired YouTube to produce a spinoff series that catches up with the characters years after the events of the film. Out of all the familiar catchphrases, the one still is recited in pop-culture is the mysterious directive of Karate master, Mr. Miyagi, “Wax on, wax off.” Not understanding why he was told to clean cars and paint fences, (Daniel came here to learn to fight!) he followed the old man’s orders until he could take it no longer. Finally Mr. Miyagi revealed the movements Daniel was repeatedly doing were not simply cleaning motions but were self-defense moves that he could use to protect himself. This changed his outlook and his attitude.

                   “Why are we doing this? What is our end goal?” Knowing the reason why you do something is important; it affects your outlook on life. So let me ask you, why go to church? What is the point? Is it just an optional bonus for some people? The question could be further posed, “What is the point of Christianity as a whole?” Now, obviously your world-view will dictate how you respond.

                   In turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, many people have a view of Christianity that is not Biblical or historic, especially many teenagers who grew up going to church. Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton spent many hours interviewing approximately 3,000 teenagers only to discover that, although most of them self-identified as Christians, the way they expressed their beliefs opposed orthodox Christianity. Smith writes, “To the extent that the teens we interviewed did manage to articulate what they understood and believed religiously, it became clear that most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe, or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it.” In other words, perhaps churches have not been clear about the “point” and goal of it all.

                   In order to classify what these teens were espousing, Smith and Denton were forced to coin a new phrase: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The basic ideas are that a god does exist, created the world, and wants everyone to be nice and happy.  However this god doesn’t really need to be a part of your life unless you need help with a problem. And finally, good people go to heaven when they die.

                   Unfortunately, it has been my experience that it is not simply teenagers who believe like this, but the vast majority of people who have even the smallest form of a religious background. Dr. Albert Mohler comments, “Let’s be very clear, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is religion, but it isn’t Christianity. It’s nowhere close to biblical Christianity.” Yet it seems that many people assume the above ideas do accurately reflect Christian belief.

                   While many people will never use a term like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (or any form of Deism) to describe their world-view, it seems to be that the basic tenets are widely-held by many people. In the past, I have simply regarded people who would espouse these types of beliefs as irreligious or indifferent. Yes, they would say they believe in a god, but they simply can’t be bothered by this god. Yes, they would pray if they were in a bind, but to join a group of like-minded people seems preposterous. Yes, they think that they deserve to go to heaven when they die, but solely to be with lost loved ones in a type of paradise not to be with God. According to this mindset, life is primarily about one’s self-fulfillment and happiness while on this earth. It all sounds good, right? So what’s the problem?

                   My question to anyone who holds these types of beliefs is first and foremost, “According to what?” Meaning, where do you get these ideas? I clearly remember a moment speaking with a person about the kind of god she believed in, to which I responded, “Where are you getting this information from? Aren’t you just making this up?” She thought for a moment and admitted, “I guess you’re right.” However, she didn’t seem to be troubled by this self-realization. An entire world-view created in one’s imagination, with no foundation and yet, she doesn’t care… I don’t understand this type of thinking.

                   We must examine our motives. Are we doing something over and over, like Daniel in the Karate Kid, simply because someone told us to do so? Do we know our motive, our end goal? One must remember that growing up in a Christian church and having Christian family members does not make one a Christian ipso facto. And what we believe does ultimately matter. Yes, knowledge of God is only truly achieved through His sovereign hand. Knowing God is what Christian salvation is all about (cf. John 17:3). However, Christians must strive to be evermore clear about the truth of God and the gospel of Christ as revealed in the Bible. We must not allow tradition or culture to get in the way of what is truly Biblical. We must not be like Mr. Miyagi and hide our motives and purposes; instead we must make sure we are understood as we forthrightly proclaim truth to our children, to our community, and to the ends of the earth.  

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.            

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“You Have Faith… But I Have Science!”

Some people may find it strange to note that one of the earliest and most important proponents of what is known today as the Big Bang theory, was none other than astronomer and Roman Catholic priest, Georges Lemaître. As a priest, Lemaître believed in a God that had revealed Himself in a way that mankind could understand. As a scientist, Lemaître believed that the mysteries of the physical world could be understood through observation and intellectual inquiry. Although many today believe there is an uncrossable chasm between faith and science, tracing the history of science tells a very different story, with many of those great minds of the past also being devout believers in a supernatural God. 

            Before Lemaître’s proposal, the consensus of the scientific community was the eternality of the universe, that is, the belief that the universe has always existed. It was regarded as “religious” to think that the universe had a beginning. In fact, famed theoretical physicists Stephen Hawking writes, “Many scientists were unhappy with the universe having a beginning, because it seemed to imply that physics broke down. One would have to invoke an outside agency, which for convenience one can call God, to determine how the universe began.” 

            So while all of the evidence was coming forward that the universe did in fact have a beginning, something that Bible believing people have always affirmed, many in the scientific community did not want to believe the objective evidence because of their emotional response. Objectivity is when one is “not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.” I believe this example is helpful in pointing out that even when we affirm that we are being objective in our view of evidence, all people must be aware that we have particular beliefs that we hold for emotional reasons. All people have beliefs that are, in a very real sense, beliefs of faith.

            It was not until the 1960’s that the universe having a beginning became the scientific consensus. But instead of the evidence of a universal beginning convincing all people of the truth of God as the Beginner, many people had to convince themselves that the universe came forth out of nothing — that is, there once was nothing and for no apparent reason, there was suddenly something. Stephen Hawking writes, “I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science.” To be fair, Hawking does go on to try to explain why he thinks this; however, consider such a statement in light of everything else you know about reality. Does something ever come from nothing? Not only is this sort of thinking non-scientific, it is a full-blown statement of faith. Hawking is relating something he believes without empirical evidence; in other words, something he believes by faith. 

            With all of this in mind, I believe that, simply stated, there is an infinite, eternal being, who created all things. I believe the Creator has revealed Himself to all mankind through His creative work. The Apostle Paul writes that God has plainly made Himself known stating, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Romans 1:20).” Additional, I believe this Creator entered into His own creation in the person of Jesus Christ revealing further that our Creator is personal and not merely some cosmic force. The actions of Christ proclaimed His true divinity and finally, His resurrection from the dead solidified His claims. How can I believe these things? Are these just faith statements or do they also contain scientific inquiry?

            I look at the world around me, I see all that has been made, I recognize that there is a maker. I learn of the life of Christ and the claims that He made, I learn that He was killed by Roman officials, a fact that has little dispute even among irreligious historians, and that He rose from the dead three days later, appearing to many people including an appearance to a crowd of over 500 people (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:6). I read of these events in the most widely dispersed, historically reliable, best attested work of antiquity, the Bible. Finally, I have had an encounter with this Creator God through the new birth of His Spirit. Biblically speaking, the idea of Christian regeneration, or the new birth, is something that is an objective work of the Spirit apart from the will of man.

            I am not asserting that Biblical Christianity is solely an objective stance simply come to through a series of tidy arguments; obviously faith is vital for Christians. The primary point I am trying to make is that all beliefs, including those held by atheistic or agnostic scientists, have an aspect of faith to them. Therefore, when one asserts, “You have faith, but I have science” as if they automatically have the intellectual “higher ground”, you can assess their statements and point out their faith.

            Biblical Christianity makes sense. It makes sense scientifically and spiritually. It makes sense of all that we see and all that we cannot see. As C.S. Lewis eloquently put it, I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Hawking quotes are from his book “Brief Answers to the Big Questions”.

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.            

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“By What Standard?”

Many times when people with varying world views and belief systems are having a heated conversation you will hear each person state particular ideas without offering any evidence to back up those ideas. Generally speaking, the ideas that we feel we don’t have to question are our presuppositions. In other words, no person is coming to a conversation with a completely neutral position, instead, we argue from our held beliefs. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as we recognize that we are doing it. Being blind to our own presuppositions or assuming that they are universally believed is a prime reason so many conversations do not end well.

            We must be able to get to the root of our beliefs in order to have constructive conversations. We do this by asking two primary questions. 1) Why do you believe what you believe? And 2) What is the standard or foundation for your belief? Let me explain using an illustration that I have used many times in the past.

            Imagine I’m working on a puzzle. After hours of work, I put in the last piece, smiling as I look at my accomplishment. You look at my work and say, “Something is wrong.”

            Amazed at your seemingly rude comment, I respond, “What do you mean?” You tell me I did the puzzle incorrectly, that I need to go back and correct it.

            “What gives you the right to say that I’m wrong? Who made you an authority on this puzzle?”

            “I don’t consider myself an authority. However, if you look at the picture on the box, you’ll see that yours doesn’t match. I may not be an authority, but the puzzle box sure is.”

            I take a deep breath, look at the box, and finally admit you are right. In fact, if I’m honest with myself, I can see that many of the pieces don’t actually fit together but were forced together. As I use the box to correct the puzzle, the picture becomes clear. Originally, my puzzle appeared to be an abstract painting, but now I see that it is a lake with a boat and a big blue sky filled with clouds. It’s a beautiful picture and I almost missed it.

            In this example, the puzzle box is the standard or objective measurement by which one is to judge the correct construction of the puzzle. Sure, you may be able to force some pieces together, but unless you use the true standard to judge the puzzle you will always be off. Similarly, if one were to ask the second person why he believes that the puzzle was wrong, he could simply point to the box. In other words, the question is, “Why do you believe what you believe about the puzzle being wrong?” The answer would then be, “The box shows that it is wrong.” We’re not talking about emotions or “this is the way I was raised”, we are talking about objective standards for belief.

            You see, this is important for all people to consider. Whether you consider yourself religious or nonreligious, a Christian or an atheist, a Republican or a Democrat, why do you believe what you believe? By what standard do you support your belief? Are your beliefs grounded in objective truth and reality? Or do you believe particular ideas because your parents did? Or because you’ve been swayed by culture? Or because you have an emotional attachment to a particular view? There are many reason we believe certain ideas, however, the question remains, “What is the standard of your belief?”

            One person might say, “I believe that God created the world in six literal days. That Adam and Eve were the first humans from which all people today have come.” Another person might say, “I believe that the universe came about through the Big Bang and that human beings are the result of billons of years of natural evolutionary processes.” Still another says, “I believe the earth was made by the Fairy Queen from Candy Land.” How would one go about judging each of these beliefs? Which one is true? “It’s true if it’s true to you.” No, that’s not a tenable position. We tend to go hyper PC when dealing with beliefs. That is not helpful to anyone. Instead, we can start by asking the two questions mentioned above.

            Imagine a brief conversation between the above people (we’ll leave out the Fairy Queen for now). “I believe that God created the world because it’s part of my religious faith.” The other person interjects, “Well, I believe in the Big Bang and evolution because it’s science. And I believe in science.” Now, this could be a very short conversation that wouldn’t get anywhere if these two people don’t start to address each others presuppositions. For instance, what is the standard for religious belief? Is there objective reasons to believe in God and His revealed truth? Likewise, what is the standard for scientific inquiry? What can science tell us and what are the limits of science? Perhaps, some might find it interesting the faith and science actually tend to go hand in hand. So whether you would say you believe in God creating the world, the Big Bang, or somewhere in between, my question is why do you believe that? If your response is simply because of my religion or because of my belief in science, I don’t think you’ve thought it through enough. What is the standard for your belief in science or faith?

            Over the next few weeks, I want to continue to engage each reader with a number of arguments and propositions intended to get us all to examine what we think we know. What are the standards for what we believe and are we willing to examine these core issues? Finally, if we see contradictions or false ideas in our belief systems and world views, are we willing to change them accordingly?

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.            

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Test All Things”

Why do you believe what you believe? Last week I discussed the important idea that not every belief is created equal; in fact, some beliefs are outright wrong. Just because an individual is sincere and devout about a particular set of ideas does not make them true. This may be a hard “pill” to swallow, but truth is important and grasping truth is important.

For instance, the idea that the earth is the center of the universe, geocentrism, was the commonly held belief among the best and brightest minds for 1,500 years following Ptolomy’s  work, “Almagest”, which codified this model in the second century AD. However, the idea was wrong. We know this today: the earth is not the center of the universe. That is not to say that Ptolomy was an idiot and we should make fun of him. Nor were those who came after him who believed in and even built off of his work. Yet the fact remains they were wrong about the geocentric model of the universe. Is that rude or mean-spirited to say? Is it wrong to point out?

Do you believe anything that is false? “Well,” you may respond, “that’s a stupid question. Why would anyone knowingly believe something that is false?” That is exactly the point. No one thinks any of their beliefs are wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t believe them. But obviously, with all of the varying and contradictory beliefs out in the world, some people must be wrong. Now, I don’t know about you, but I do not want to base my life on false ideas and assumptions. I want, as much as humanly possible, to know and believe only that which is true. Therefore, I am constantly examining my ideas and beliefs in order to discern whether or not they are viable. When was the last time you questioned a firmly held belief? Whether the topic is political ideologies, sociological concerns, or religious beliefs, are you willing and able to assess what you have thought to be the truth? 

Now, obviously I am personally coming from a particular perspective and worldview and I am not shy about it. I am writing as a Bible-believing, Christ-following, local church pastor; however, I commend inquiry to all people, even those I shepherd in the local church. You see, if one believes they possess truth about any given subject, there should be no fear of examination. Truth remains truth even in the midst of intense scrutiny. 

Likewise, the Bible itself commends people to examine whatever is presented as truth. Contrary to commonly held assumptions, Biblical Christianity does not require nor demand blind faith. Rather, any idea put forth is to be scrutinized. The Apostle Paul writes, “Test everything; hold fast what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).” Christians are not simply to believe something because a leader or teacher asserts it as truth. 

In fact, the Bible praises the people of the ancient city of Berea because they did not simply believe Paul’s preaching; instead they examined his teaching, thought it through, and weighed his logic in order to come to a conclusion. “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17:11).” Similarly, as I present truth in my own local church, I constantly remind the congregation to not simply believe something because I say it, but to test what I say. Again, truth has nothing to fear.

On my bookshelf are a number of volumes with which I have enormous disagreements, authors ranging from Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens to Bart Ehrman and Rob Bell, each with its own slant and each trying to uproot historical Christianity in its own way. Why are these books be in my office? Why would I want to read through pages and pages of material that I believe to be false information? Because inquiry is important and truth has nothing to fear. I am willing to give these authors a fair hearing. I am willing to listen to their arguments and to try to understand where they are coming from. Finally, I then am able to make an educated, well thought-out response to that which I disagree with in their belief systems. This is what healthy dialogue looks like, listening and thinking before responding. 

Are there books or articles that you won’t read because they go against your worldview? Do you believe that the “other side” has nothing to say that will ever change your mind, so you will never give them a fair listen? Do you have religious leaders who warn you to stay away from “anti” material, content that goes against your organization, and to only consume material produced by your particular group? Surely, truth has nothing to fear, so why not do the research, read the books, have the conversation with a person who has opposing views? In the end, don’t we all just want to know what is true? Or does our pride and arrogance come before truth and inquiry? 

Over the next few weeks, I want to engage each reader with a number of arguments and propositions intended to get us all to examine what we think we know. If you consider yourself a Christian, an atheist, a spiritualist, or nothing at all, I encourage you to read and test what is presented. Let us humbly seek truth together.

Add your voice to the conversation. Questions, concerns, clarifications can be sent to AskPastorJones@gmail.com.   

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe

“Faith and Bloodletting”

“It’s all the same in the end… Just be a good person, help others, and we’ll all have one big party when we get to heaven. I mean, do you really believe in a god that would send people to hell for believing in a wrong religion?” Ever hear this type of sentiment? Perhaps you’ve spoken this type of sentiment. In fact, I think I have spoken something similar to this at a point in my life. However, upon closer examination does this type of logic hold up? Can we say that all belief systems are created equal and lead to truth, lead to God?

Perhaps an historical anecdote will help make my point. George Washington was a very brave and strong man. It seemed that nothing could kill him. As a boy, fighting small pox (a disease that killed many), and later as a solider fighting in many fierce battles, Washington always seemed to get through unscathed. That is until he met his deadliest foe… his doctors. On December 12th, 1799 Washington spent the day out in the blistering cold working around his plantation. He woke up the next morning with a severe sore throat that became increasingly worse throughout the day. When he began having trouble breathing and speaking the doctors were called.

Upon examination, the doctors agreed that the best treatment would be bloodletting. This common medical practice of the time involved bleeding a patient of “diseased” blood in order that the body would produce fresh blood. Blood was drained from Washington pint after pint. When this didn’t seem to be working the doctors also gave him laxatives to drain his bowels and vomit-inducing drugs to drain his stomach. At the same time the doctors were draining the life out of Washington. On the morning of December 14th, George Washington breathed his last.

What happened there? Washington was surrounded by 3 doctors! The problem was that the medical procedure that they chose to employ was not based on fact. The outcome being that the very procedure that was intended to save his life was what took his life. If this is what happens when ideas about our physical needs are false, even when preformed in ignorance and with sincerity, why should we think any less about the importance of our spiritual and eternal needs?

All medical ideas and practices past and present lead to healthy people, right? Wrong! In the same way, it is a lie to say that all religious systems or spiritual ideas lead to God. The popular culture espouses such thinking in order to be “kind” and “loving” to all people. I understand the desire to be kind, but is encouraging belief in a false god really loving? If someone stepped on a rusty nail and had the belief that a lucky rabbits foot would keep them from getting Tetanus would you encourage them to keep believing in that rabbits foot? Would that be a loving thing to do? No, it would be foolish, especially since we have reliable treatments for Tetanus. The loving thing to do would be to tell the person that no matter how sincere their belief in the rabbits foot is, they are wrong and should go to the hospital for a Tetanus shot.

Similarly, it is not loving to encourage false beliefs about God. True followers of Jesus Christ must be bold at pointing out error and pointing to truth as it has been revealed by God His word, the Bible. I recognize that many people believe things with great zeal and sincerity. However, this alone does not make it true. Jesus speaks of people who had all the outward appearances of being His followers and great zeal in doing so and yet, He identifies them as strangers. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Likewise, the doctors who attended to President Washington were sincere in their care for him. However, their sincerity did not equate with truth. In sharing truth and correcting error it is not the goal of the Christian to win an argument or make the other person look stupid, the goal is that people would come to the true knowledge of God and be saved. That is why we are called to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) The desire for truth is a means to knowing God, not to become puffed up with arrogance.

Are you ready and willing to accept bloodletting as a legitimate medical practice today? I don’t think so. So why should you be ready and willing to accept any old idea about the truth of God. Not all religions are created equal and many may claim to be the way to eternal life but in the end they lead to eternal death. Now, is that a statement from a mean and arrogant person, or is it words of love and concern? You tell me.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ
www.MBCGlobe.org
facebook.com/MBCGlobe