I Swear It!

In modern legal terms, speaking an untruth whilst under oath is perjury. Speaking an untruth in everyday conversation is bad manners to some, par for the course for others. Beyond the legal sense, why is one considered worse than the other? One may say that perjury is worse than simply lying because a perjurer has sworn to tell the truth. Yet what makes the act of swearing an oath any different than normal speech? If a man can lie in everyday speech then surely he can lie when swearing an oath to be truthful.

Jewish law had a similar provision. An oath sworn by the gold of the temple, the sacrifice, or by God Himself were considered binding oaths, and breaking one would result in prosecution. However, everyday speech as well as oaths sworn by the temple, the altar, or heaven were not binding. Our Lord had some harsh words for the Jewish leaders:

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it. (Matthew 23:16-22)

Earlier, Christ had spoken about oaths during the Sermon on the Mount:

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matthew 5:33-37)

Most commentaries I have read interpret this to mean that while official oaths (such as you would take before testifying in court) are fine, but you should not swear by God or His temple in everyday speech. Why not? Because if you do that, then you imply that your normal speech is inherently false. If you spoke the truth at all times, what need would you have to swear that you are being truthful? Adding an oath to your “yes” or to your “no” to lend your words gravitas only makes people think that you normally lie.

The message of Christ to the Jews, and to you and I, is that we must speak the truth always. If I am a man of my word, then I have no need to punctuate my statements with oaths or affirmations. Let your yes be yes and your no be no, that is all that is necessary.

Advertisements

Culture of Life

Dr. Grant:

In perhaps its most divisive and controversial decision since Dred Scott, the Supreme Court overturned the infanticide and homicide laws in abortion cases in all fifty states by legalizing abortion procedures from the moment of conception until just before the moment of birth.

Joe Carter:

We convince ourselves that they simply don’t realize what they’re doing. If only they could see the pictures. If only we could convince them that the “fetus” is a person. If only they knew it was a human life they were destroying. If they only knew, they wouldn’t — they couldn’t — go through with the abortion.

But they do know. And the abortions continue. Not because we live in a culture of death but because we live in a culture of me.

I have always held the belief that human life, even that of unborn children, is worth defending. Any possibility of debate ended for me when I realized that at the moment of conception, a new being is created. It may not have all the physical features of an adult. It may not survive on its own. It may not be able to cry out in pain or express emotion. However, it has its own unique DNA. At the genetic level, this fetus, this unborn child, is just as much a human being as you or I.

One would think that with the advances in science would enable us to show more compassion rather than less. Today we are able to display a live video feed of an unborn child only a few weeks into development. Yet along with scientific progress comes a massive human hubris. As Joe Carter points out above, today’s culture has become a culture of “me”.

I have bemoaned this fact before on this young weblog. Children are taught that they are their own gods, so to speak. They are taught that being themselves and living their dreams is the ultimate goal of living. Why should outdated morals prevent a woman from removing an inconvenient growth? Sexual promiscuity should be without consequence – after all, that is the very essence of freedom, right?

Society today has no concept of freedom combined with responsibility. Ask anyone about freedom and perhaps they will mention the Declaration of Independence. You know, Thomas Jefferson wrote that all men (and women) have an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.

What did the signers of the Declaration endure? Death, torture, and war. They understood freedom with responsibility. I have the freedom to say what I want to say, but I am aware that some statements can lead to a loss of my job, the alienation of my friends, or even lawsuits if they are extreme enough.

Men and women today are taught that they have a right to do whatever they want, consequences be damned. Ironic. Divine karma will win in the end. If murderers face no consequences in this life, I am sure they will in the next. For every woman and doctor who destroy a human life for the sake of convenience that think it is harmless, I am sure many more realize what they are doing and must try and rationalize it away.

47,282,923.

How many Nazi death camps is that? And that is just in the United States of America. Since 1973.

How is a person, a church, to respond? Marches and advocacy, politics and law, they have not stemmed the tide. Even if abortion were outlawed tomorrow, the culture would not change. We would still live in a culture of me. A culture where personal fulfillment is the highest ideal.

Tonight I began reading P.D. James’ Children of Men. Women all over the world become infertile all at once, and the human race begins to die out. An implication is made that after creating a culture of death, where children are sacrificed to the god of convenience, the real God takes away His gift of childbearing. Humankind is left to die.

Perhaps mankind deserves such a fate. We are already dying. Where is compassion? Where is holiness? Where is an awe and reverence for the Creator of the universe?

The Old Testament relates how the Ammonites and several other Canaanite tribes sacrificed babies and children in barbaric rituals to their heathen gods. The people of Israel were commanded to wipe them out, replacing their evil with the worship of the true God.

How is the United State of America any different from the Ammonites, in the eyes of God?

I titled this post “Culture of Life” because I thought that I could talk about a proper church response to the culture of death. Yet now I am discouraged. I see how the abortion holocaust is the worst symptom of the culture itself. So many churches are indistinguishable from the culture at large.

The most godly men and women will stand out like sore thumbs in this nation. Perhaps that is where Christianity lives best. The first Christians did not go to mega-churches and tackle social issues of the Roman Empire. No, they shared their possessions, prayed together, and preached the gospel.

The gospel. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and your house. Let your light so shine before men, that they see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

With apologies to Mr. Reagan, the United States of America is not a shining city on a hill. It is a nation steeped in the blood of its most helpless. Yet the command of our Lord is to preach His gospel, to live His gospel.

That is really all we can do in the end. The culture of life is not to be found on this earth, but have hope! Our Lord promises that He is preparing us a place, where there are no more tears, no more death.

47,282,923.

I wonder if they are in heaven now. I wonder what kind of people they are, what personalities. Will their mothers recognize them, should they meet in eternity?

Thank God for mercy, or else none of us have any hope at all. The culture of death is an outgrowth of a human nature shared by you and me. God is calling us out of that world and into a new creation. Let your light shine.

Real and Relevant

Mike Galli reacts to the decline of liturgy in Christian churches and the growing desire to reconfigure the church to fit modern culture.

A liturgical service is anything but relevant. It is the last place one expects to run into cool people, and it is hardly what our culture perceives as having an “enjoyable atmosphere” (as one church website promises visitors). The leaders wear medieval robes and guide the congregation through a ritual that is anything but spontaneous; they lead music that is hundreds of years old; the prayers are formal, the talk is based on a book written 2,000 years ago, and the high point of the service seems barbaric: one can hardly imagine a relevant church webpage inviting cool people to come and eat the flesh and drink the blood of a Rabbi executed in Israel a long, long time ago. All together, it doesn’t sound like a very enjoyable atomosphere. All it promises is that people will meet God.

Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, responds with his usual levity.

Some will always point out that liturgical churches have often gone liberal, while non liturgical churches have a more orthodox view of the Bible. That’s not cause and effect, however; that’s irony. Liberal leaders have hidden behind the liturgy and the Bible, all the while selling the store. Evangelicals have kept the store, but turned it into a Chuck E. Cheese’s.

My church experiences have been strictly evangelical all my life. Church is this: A hymn, announcements, prayer, hymns or “praise choruses”, a topical sermon, one more song, prayer. Then fellowship. The few times I have been to churches that are different it has seemed strange to me.

In the churches I have been to that emphasize the sermon, it sometimes feels like a seminar or a classroom. The preachers who hand out notes seem like my college professors, lecturing. On the other hand, churches that emphasize the music feel like rock concerts at times.

There is something about the idea of taking part in a form of worship that has gone on for hundreds of years that appeals to me, and is missing from the church services I have been a part of. Evangelical churches today seem to be all about innovation, trying to figure out how to adapt to the cutting edge of culture.

Christianity today is confronted with a culture that sees no need for God. Children are taught from preschool a certain selfish humanism, that the goal of life is to be happy, to be yourself. Young people today find apparent fulfillment in friends, music, and the internet. Life is fast and flashy.

The typical church response to the 21st Century culture is to try and adapt. People are going to movies? We’ll make Christian movies. Kids like rock music? How about some Christian rock?* Churches seem to be crying out to anyone who will listen that “Church can be just as exciting and fun as everything else in your life!”

The result, of course, is usually a pale imitation of the secular culture. Though the church has set out to make God relevant it has instead succeeded in making God more irrelevant than before to the people it is trying to reach.

Today’s culture is tomorrow’s has-beens. The dances, movies, and music of the 1950s were old and boring to the children of the ’60s. The crazy hair and outfits of the 70s and 80s are stupid to the youth of today. And sad to say, what is “cool” today will someday be yesterday’s news.

Why should Jesus Christ become yesterday’s news? If we adapt Christ and the gospel to the culture of today, then what happens when culture changes? Everything is thrown away to make room for the new. That is why churches need to hold on to something that does not go out of style – precisely because it was never “in style”.

I believe that today’s generation, myself included, is looking for something older than the latest fad or music video. Kids are not going to be drawn to a church that is a pale imitation of their culture, but rather to a church that offers an alternative to an empty and soulless society.

I don’t want to sing along to songs that were just on the radio. I don’t want to hear endless sermons on the latest evangelical fad, like the Prayer of Jabez or the Purpose-Driven Life. I grow tired of hearing about how God is like a coach or a boss – I want to learn to know God!

I want to draw closer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of David and Solomon. The God of Peter, James, and John. The God of Polycarp and Augustine, Thomas Becket and Erasmus, Martin Luther and John Calvin. The same God who has held the world in His hands from the beginning of time to today, and all the eras in between!

In seeking to make God real and relevant to the secular culture, Christianity dilutes the truth of God. God is God, and does not change. Why should we change the way we worship Him?

*I am listening to contemporary Christian music as I write this. I am not hostile to it at all, but much of Christian creativity these days seems to be aimed at trying to copy the culture. What happened to the days when Christian creativity led the world in art and music? Alas, another post for another day.

Note: Michael Spencer explains why he gravitated toward a liturgical type of church service. An excellent read.

Memories of a Bull Moose

Dr. Grant from King’s Meadow remembers our 26th president.

He had served as a New York State Legislator, the Under-Secretary of the Navy, Police Commissioner for the City of New York, US. Civil Service Commissioner, the Governor of the State of New York, the vice-president under William McKinley, a Colonel in the US. Army, and two terms as the President of the United States. In addition, he had run a cattle ranch in the Dakota Territories, served as a reporter and editor for several journals, newspapers, and magazines, and conducted scientific expeditions on four continents. During his career he was hailed by supporters and rivals alike as the greatest man of the age–perhaps one of the greatest of all ages.

Theodore Roosevelt was a great man and his life serves as an inspiration. Here was a man who was able to do whatever he wanted once he set his mind to it. He cannot be wrapped up in a box, either. As a recent History Channel episode pointed out, he was a man of contrasts. He was a warrior who won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was a hunter who ignited the conservation movement and set aside the first national park. He did everything possible to do in this life and still found time to write 35 books.

He could not be stopped. When running for a third term as president, Roosevelt was shot before a speech. The bullet passed through his eyeglass case and a copy of the speech itself, but Teddy still got up and spoke to the crowd. “I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose,” he said. Wow.

There are so many things to do in this life, and I want to do them all. I look back in awe at the life of Teddy Roosevelt. He managed government agencies, led a cavalry charge in war, hunted big game in Africa, explored the jungle, built a canal, and lived in the White House. Whatever he wanted to do, he did, and in doing so he changed the world.

I am not sure that I am ready and able to change the world, but I would like to experience all facets of this life. Here’s to TR.