Sunday, May 15, 2005
The power of the courts is an ongoing topic of controversy and interest. All sides agree that great issues are at stake. Mark Levin’s recent book Men in Black is subtitled “How the Supreme Court is Destroying America.” Liberal Democrats, while not agreeing with Levin’s book, certainly see President Bush’s judicial nominees as threats to their vision of America. In fact, they are willing to shut down the government rather than bring these nominations to a vote. (Liberals willing to shut down the government?)There is much historical and constitutional debate over the power of the courts. But beyond the issue of power is the issue of influence. Even more important is the unintended influence of the courts. In the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, the Supreme Court overturned centuries of legal prohibitions against the abortion of infants. It may be that Roe v. Wade will mark the ending of the Protestant Reformation that began in 1517.For Protestant and Reformed Christians, the Reformation is a glorious time of Christian history. The boldness and convictions of Martin Luther continue to inspire the faithful. I love both the 1953 movie titled “Luther” and the more recent 2004 film version. Here I Stand by Roland Bainton remains one of my all time favorite books. Luther’s words, courage, and convictions continue to inspire many believers. And Luther was not alone. The age with brimming with theological geniuses, like John Calvin, Martin Bucer, John Knox, Hugh Latimer, and Thomas Cranmer. These men not only changed Europe in the 16th century, but they shaped the theology of both America’s early history and my own spiritual awakening.Roman Catholicism throughout the Middle Ages was rich and complex in its transformation of European culture. But by the 1500s, indulgences, relics, the sale of church offices, and the corruption of the clergy were wrecking the Faith. In spite of the great works and writings of theologians, poets, and scholars, the drift of much church practice by Luther’s time was sharply downward. Internal reforms were inadequate: Erasmus is the prime example of a brilliant man who pointed out the abuses, but was powerless to effect internal reformation. Luther initially sought to cleanse the church through academic debate and parish preaching. He hoped his talking points—posted on the church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517—would lead to productive debates within the scholarly community. From there, perhaps, the process of enlightenment and theological purification would seep throughout the church. But God used Luther as a catalyst that divided Christendom and put the Scriptural doctrines of grace at the forefront of the times. God turned an academician into a warrior.Calvin, even more than Luther, sought the quiet life of the scholar. From his studies of the ancient thinkers like Seneca, he turned to the study of theology. Instead of granting him a quiet nook in a library, God placed him right in the middle of a culture war in the thriving city of Geneva, Switzerland. The Catholic establishment had been overturned, but rival factions pitted a Biblical Christian commonwealth against a libertine ‘blue state’ mindset. Only the intellectual and spiritual force of Calvin was able to tilt the battle firmly toward the Christian side. In England, theologians and scholars grappled with having to weave reformational theology into the political pragmatism and marital roller coaster of Henry VIII. In Scotland, more political and theological issues converged in the efforts of John Knox and others to remove or control a despotic Catholic queen, Mary Stuart.In time, these issues continued to roil all of Europe, but especially in the northern countries. The theological upheavals of Europe during the 1500s provided much of the motivation for the new world migrations of the 1600s. Reformed Christians formed the bulk of the population that settled the shores of the English colonies in North America. Theological studies led to ecclesiastical and political convictions that were largely theoretical in the European setting. The newly cleared settlements in North America proved an ample proving ground for the ideas of the Reformation that animated and inspired the early colonists. David Hall’s magisterial book, The Genevan Reformation and the American Founding, amply documents this story.The city on a hill that became America was strongly Protestant and Calvinistic. In time, the vision broadened to allow for greater freedom for Catholics and others to practice their beliefs. Still, Protestant and Catholic hostilities and suspicions remained in the history of American. Governor Al Smith of New York not only lost the presidency in 1928, but also lost portions of the traditionally Democrat solid South in that election due to his Catholicism. In 1960, John F. Kennedy eased the concerns of Protestants only after he promised a gathering of Baptists in Texas that his Catholic faith would not intrude upon his political activities. (Unfortunately, this campaign promise was fulfilled completely.)Efforts have been made between Protestants and Catholics to mend or overlook differences. The ecumenical movement sought unity at the expense of doctrinal differences, but the movement cast aside all vital doctrines in favor of unity. Neither Protestants of conviction or devout Catholics could tolerate that. Every effort to say that there are no real differences between the Catholic and Protestant theology, worship, and worldviews betrays convictions on both sides. Attempts have been made to promise not to proselytize each other’s congregations, but again that expectation for people who believe that truth exists is unrealistic.Two things have become clear over time. The religious wars of the 1600s that convulsed Europe were not exactly the greatest witness to Christian virtues of love and longsuffering, and any theological latitudarianism that blurs or denies the Reformation impulses is unacceptable. And then out of nowhere, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in start ending the rift.Much of the conflict of the Reformation hinged on the importance of the body of Christ. The term, the body of Christ, can be used to mean the actual body of Christ or His church. The Reformation battled over both. Was the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper the literal body of Christ offered up again and again as signified in the Roman Mass? Or was it a memorial and means of grace pointing to the once-for-all-time complete work of Christ as emphasized by the Protestants? (This is an over-simplification, since Protestants began the process of infinite divisions over doctrine in their disputes over the sacraments.) Likewise, was the body of Christ, meaning the church, that organization represented by the pope as Christ’s representative on earth? Or was the body of Christ truly represented by assemblies of believers who faithfully ministered the Word, sacraments, and discipline?Books and pamphlets poured forth on all sides of the issues. Kings raised banners and called together armies to enforce conformity and ward off heretics. Parliaments debated theology. Merchants packed religious tracts in shipments of fish and beer. Bible verses were quoted; church fathers were cited; and swords were brandished. It was of such grandeur and strife of the Reformation that one can apply W.B. Yeats’ phrase “and a terrible beauty was born.” Nearly five hundred years later, it is hard for a Bible totin’ Calvinist to minimize the price paid for our theological heritage. But between 1517 and 1973, a lot of things changed.Catholics and Protestants believed the body of Christ was important—in whatever sense the term was used. Then in the 1800s, a secular humanist worldview emerged out of the darker forces of the Enlightenment and became manifest with the advent of Darwinian naturalism. Every ideology it spawned, whether nihilism, communism, or higher critical theology, shared a hatred and an antithesis toward historic Christianity. Modernity rejected the Protestant affirmation of the authority of Scripture, but it also rejected the Catholic affirmation of the authority of the church. Creedal Christianity, absolute truth, doctrinal standards, and the like were all rejected by the spirit of the modern age. God was, in the paradigms of the moderns, either dead or irrelevant or unknowable or as much a product of chance and change as we were. As has been frequently said, philosophers rejected belief in God in the 19th century and then rejected belief in man in the 20th. On both counts, the modern unbelieving mindset rejected the incarnate God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ. The formulations of Nicea and Chalcedon were the mythological equivalents of the rulings of Zeus and the pantheon of Greek gods on Mount Olympus.The modern age moved from rejecting belief in God to rejecting the historic Jesus to rejecting the infant in the womb. The old philosophical question of the meaning of life was suddenly answered: Life begins when the Supreme Court says it begins and it exists at the whim and fancy of the court. So the safety and inviolability of the womb was violated. A mother-to-be became an arbiter of life or death. Personal convenience replaced motherly obligations. “I’m going to be a mother” was replaced with “My freedom is threatened.” Less often noticed was the destruction of the father’s role. The traditional leader and defender of the family had no say in the destruction of his offspring before birth. In time, even grandparents were removed when parental notification of a girl’s abortion was denied.From fighting over the body of Christ to fighting for the bodies of infants, Catholics and Protestants have been reminded of common beliefs. The world changed when a baby was born in Bethlehem. If Jesus was both God and man, then issues of human life and of truth and morality must all be referenced around His revelation in Word and deed. If He were simply man, then our philosophy classes can resume the question of whether our lives have any meaning or not. But if He is God, then both Catholic and Protestant is obliged to hear and follow Him. Despite a host of differences on other issues, Catholics and Bible-believing Protestants stand together on the doctrine of the Incarnation. Hence, Jesus called upon His followers in 1973 to stand together for the truth.Already the Left is redefining the late Pope John Paul II, just as the Left redefined the late President Reagan. Liberals study history not to learn what happened in the past, but as a tool for promoting a future agenda. Dogmatism with a congenial personality and a winning smile may not win your enemies over while you are alive, but those characteristics will enable them to redefine you after you are gone. If only, we are told, Joseph Ratzinger could be as open to the times as was John Paul II; if only, President Bush could be a statesman like Reagan; if only Paul could echo the true spirit of Jesus.The humanists, the relativists, the merchants of death, the haters of tradition, and the enemies of Christ all have need to worry. Fragmentation has been the miserable hallmark of Protestantism. We Calvinists are often the worst promoters of ‘divide instead of conquer.’ Indifference and unbelief have captured vast segments of the Catholic Church. Revival in both camps is still needed and true reformation of both theologies is ever to prayed for. Real substantial doctrinal issues will divide us for the morning hours each Sunday. But the times seem to point to greater unity on common social issues. All this bodes ill for the city of man and revives hope for the City of God. We might have a bit of a cause for some cautious, long-term optimism.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Necessity of Honor
Text: Ephesians 6:1 – 3
The foundational principle of living a godly life is to honor your father and mother.
A. The apostle Paul quotes the 5th commandment and the first commandments of how we relate to one another given by the Lord to Moses.
Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
Paul uses the imperative verb form – this indicates that it is a command.
Singular – it is an individual requirement of life – it is not a corporate responsibility – a church is only corporately faithful when we are individually faithful to the word of God.
Oswald Chambers says of the passage "add to your faith virtue" (2 Peter 1:5). “Add” means there is something we have to do. We are in danger of forgetting that we cannot do what God does, and that God will not do what we can do. We cannot save ourselves nor sanctify ourselves, God does that; but God will not give us good habits, He will not give us character, He will not make us walk aright. We have to do all that ourselves, we have to work out the salvation God has worked in. “Add” means to get into the habit of doing things, and in the initial stages it is difficult. To take the initiative is to make a beginning, to instruct yourself in the way you have to go.
It is really critical that we take the initiative. No one else is going to do the work for us. We have been given life through Jesus Christ. We are to live that life out. That means getting up and getting after what needs to be done. The greatest danger we face is sloth (emptiness about life that leads to laziness). We are never to let life overwhelm us, but realizes that Christ lives in us and we are called to live out the life that He lives in us. It is time to get up and get after life by the power of God.
Monday, May 09, 2005
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The 5,200-pound slab of granite bearing a replica of the Ten Commandments rests in isolated splendor, set off by red and blue nylon sheets, on a flatbed truck parked on the front lawn of a church.
It's not just any church, either. Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is a signature evangelical congregation in southern Florida — its gleaming white, 303-foot steeple visible for miles around.
Justice Moore's monument is something of a piece de resistance in the renewed effort by Christians and others of faith to preserve the place of the Almighty in the public square.
On this February day, the Commandments in granite is a top attraction of the annual "Reclaiming America for Christ" conference that drew 942 faithful to Coral Ridge Presbyterian, also stop No. 130 on the monument's nationwide tour. During breaks, conferees surround the slab, taking pictures and admiring the Bible verses and patriotic quotes inscribed on all four sides.
They recall the federal court order in 2003 that the monument be removed because it violates the Constitution's prohibition "against the establishment of religion." They talk about how fellow justices had to sue to remove the defiant Justice Moore — whom they consider a godly man — from office.
Inside the palm tree-ringed church, Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, preaches on "A God-Blessed America: How It Could Happen and What It Could Look Like."
Loosed from its biblical moorings, Mr. Land tells the assembly that "a pagan America" can only become home to a legion of ills: harvests of fetal tissue and eggs from women's bodies, marriage redefined as any union with a variety of partners, single-parent families as the norm, a low age of consent for child-adult sex, hard-core porn on television.
Change will come when "a certain percentage of American Christians known only to God humble themselves and pray," Mr. Land says. "He will lean over from heaven and pour out a blessing, not only on Christians, but on non-Christian and Christian alike."
In such a "God-blessed America," he says, streets and schools would be safe, divorce and illegitimate children would be rare, and the elderly would live with their families and not in nursing homes.
"In an American society that preaches Judeo-Christian values, rooted in biblical theology, not all will be Christian, but they can at least live according to [shared] values," Mr. Land concludes.
The conference, designed to energize Christian activists, is the work of the Center for Reclaiming America (CRA), an eight-year-old public-policy group founded by Coral Ridge.
For two days, participants hear the words of rising stars in the politically active arm of American evangelicalism. One is the Rev. Rick Scarborough, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Pearland, Texas, and founder of Vision America, which seeks to involve pastors in public policy debates.
"All God is waiting for is for the church to show up," Mr. Scarborough says, in a message that earns him a standing ovation.
This series has examined the legal battles against religion in public life waged by a network of organizations that includes humanists, atheists and radical feminists as well as liberal or secular Jews and Christians.
The clashes highlight a growing determination of religious conservatives to stand firm for the Judeo-Christian principles of the nation's founding. People of faith are confronting the gathering tide of secularism and a coarser culture in a variety of ways.
A loose coalition of evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics worked for President Bush's re-election in 11 battleground states, helping to make "moral values" a front-burner topic. Such activism is an essential part of any campaign to "reclaim" America "from those who have used the courts primarily to divorce America from her moral heritage," CRA spokesman John Aman says.
"We won the White House on pro-family values," explains Gary Cass, the group's new executive director, "but we're losing in the courts" on those same values.
But, he adds: "Since the late 1980s, the conservative movement has become more organized, better funded and more sophisticated. We're not going away. There is too much at stake for our children and grandchildren."
Mr. Cass, 48, moved to Fort Lauderdale last summer to add some muscle to the Center for Reclaiming America after pastoring churches in the San Diego area, serving on a school board there and recruiting evangelical Christians to run for office.
His group's Web site, www.reclaimamerica.org, is loaded for action. A string of petitions ranges from "Defund Planned Parenthood" to "Free Our Churches." The latter refers to a bill before Congress that would allow religious organizations — including pastors — to support or oppose political candidates without losing their tax-exempt status. Elsewhere are pleas for donations, lists of rallies and details on reaching Congress.
Another feature of the Web site is "A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing," an expose of the American Civil Liberties Union illustrated by a photo of a snarling wolf. The copy describes ACLU-inspired lawsuits and the organization's "war against religion."
The center last summer formed a lobbying group, Liberty's Voice, to be based in Washington and go head to head with the ACLU in disputes over religious liberty.
The group hopes to put a policy activist in 12 regional offices across the country. Another goal is to field activists in every congressional district, beginning with the key Electoral College states of Florida and Ohio.
Mr. Cass says his goal this year is to raise $2 million, including $1.2 million to finance the lobbying group and three other initiatives: media outreach, an online campaign called National Grassroots Alliance and a think tank, the Strategic Institute.
The Strategic Institute, with a staff of five analysts, expects to enter the debate on pornography, homosexual activism, the creation-evolution divide and "life" issues such as abortion and stem-cell research. First to sign on is Kelly Hollowell, 40, a Virginia Beach patent attorney who taught bioethics at the University of Richmond and Regent University in Virginia Beach.
The National Grassroots Alliance began in 2001 as a lobby for Senate confirmation of John Ashcroft as President Bush's first attorney general. It now has an e-mail list of 400,000 names. Over two days in late February, 107,000 of them appeared on an online petition appealing for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to save the life of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who would die of starvation March 31 after her husband successfully sought to have her feeding tube removed.
R. Albert Mohler Jr. is doing his part from Louisville, Ky., as a leading American evangelical and president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In the past three years, Mr. Mohler dramatically increased his output of Internet and radio commentaries and newspaper op-ed pieces on topics such as stem-cell research, same-sex "marriage," human cloning and the definition of the family.
"There was an entire constellation of issues that demanded attention," Mr. Mohler, 45, says in an interview. "I wanted to mobilize Christians to become intellectually engaged and politically aware."
Across the country, evangelicals are forming a potent alliance, says Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a watchdog group in Washington that monitors the religious left.
"Not just evangelicals, but Catholics, too, have some political clout and are getting respect," Mrs. Knippers says. "Some people in the Democratic Party are having to pay attention to us. They've realized they've overlooked an important constituency. A lot of people think it's wrong to have an entirely secularized society, with no room for acknowledging God.
"There's a quiet determination to draw the line," she says. "The religious left is all smoke and mirrors. In terms of the religious landscape right now, the initiative is ours."
Christians in court
Modern Christian legal activism got its start in 1982, when a 36-year-old lawyer named John Whitehead founded the Rutherford Institute.
Mr. Whitehead's initial investment was $200; he now operates with a $2.5 million annual budget. He asks a network of more than 500 lawyers to work pro bono on one case a year involving religious liberties.
"When I first started Rutherford, there was no cohesive litigation strategy," Mr. Whitehead, now 58, says from his home in Charlottesville. "A lot of these Christian lawyers thought, 'Would Jesus go file a lawsuit?' and they were debating this issue constantly.
"My main emphasis was [that] even if you lose, litigation often has great education value."
The Rutherford Institute gained new prominence in 1997, when it helped Paula Jones file a sexual-harassment and discrimination lawsuit against President Clinton.
Its recent court victories include decisions allowing prayer and other religious expression at the Alamo in Texas and permitting an 11-year-old Muslim girl to wear a head covering to an Oklahoma public school.
Another Virginia lawyer, Jay Sekulow of Virginia Beach, started going to court in the mid-'80s on behalf of religious liberty and the rights of Christians.
Today Mr. Sekulow, 48, is chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a District-based constitutional law firm. The Rev. Pat Robertson, the religious broadcaster, founded the center in 1990 as a Christian answer to the ACLU.
Mr. Sekulow successfully argued several cases before the Supreme Court to protect the free speech of pro-life demonstrators and allow public school students to form Bible clubs on campus.
The pivotal shift in strategic momentum for the center, Mr. Sekulow says, came when he stopped arguing from the establishment clause of the First Amendment that he views as guaranteeing free exercise of religion. He began arguing instead on free speech grounds against religious discrimination.
Both lawyers say they are optimistic, though cautious, about the future of religious liberties.
The country is seeing a "growing, strong, serious movement" of Christians, Jews and Muslims who are open and uncompromising about their faith, Mr. Whitehead says, even if that could spark a "backlash" in the public square.
Mr. Sekulow says much rides on the outcome of the "constitutional showdown" in the Senate over Democratic filibustering of President Bush's judicial nominees.
"This is going to impact every cultural issue we have right now because of the increased role the courts are taking," Mr. Sekulow says. "The next month is going to be the key month."
Separating church and state is in the interest of American pluralism, ACLU President Nadine Strossen argues. "Many people with deeply held religious beliefs don't want the government to interfere by having government sponsorship," she says in an interview.
"I fear the removal of the Judeo-Christian foundation of our society," Dennis Prager, a conservative Jew, wrote in his syndicated column after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted last May to remove a tiny cross from the county seal because the Southern California ACLU threatened to sue. "This is the real battle of our time, indeed the civil war of our time. The left wants America to become secular like Western Europe, not remain the Judeo-Christian country it has always been."
Binyamin Jolkovsky, editor of the Web site JewishWorldReview.com, argues that the ACLU and other civil liberties groups act counter to Jewish principles in efforts they depict as protecting minority religions.
"Jews who take their Judaism seriously don't want God taken out of the public square," Mr. Jolkovsky says.
A loose network of conservative Protestant, Catholic and Jewish groups coalesced during the 2004 election season not only to send Mr. Bush back to the White House but to add Republican seats in both the House and Senate.
Shortly afterward, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority in 1979, announced that he would restart his pioneering organization to take on new challenges.
Mr. Falwell is re-entering the fray after a reawakening over the past decade of a theologically conservative movement in which religious groups quietly help, advise and emulate each other.
In early March, for instance, the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., a Catholic answer to the ACLU, sent out a fundraising letter that, with a few minor changes, could have come from the Center for Reclaiming America.
"America's greatness lies in our Christian roots," the letter reads. "To a great extent, the key to maintaining those Christian roots depends on the ability of the [Catholic] Church and our bishops to proclaim the truth on the great moral issues of our time. Our enemies at the ACLU and elsewhere know this as well."
The move to counter the secular left also has the attention of Christian leaders who are black. Some brokered first-time alliances during the recent election season with white evangelicals over the issue of same-sex "marriage."
The Rev. Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Lanham joined other black pastors in Los Angeles in February to announce a "Black Contract With America on Moral Values," with the goal of promoting socially conservative legislation.
"Some of us in the evangelical community have been painted as mean-spirited and inarticulate," Mr. Jackson told 153 evangelical leaders during a March 10 gathering at the Hart Senate Office Building. Disarming such perceptions is simple, he said, adding: "The black community, with its needs, would team with the white evangelical community, with its power. We can change the way America thinks about religion."
From his vantage point in Louisville, Ky., Mr. Mohler agrees that more Americans are mobilizing against secularism but also has a warning.
"Some on the left are negotiating a way to use Christian language while keeping their liberal commitments," he says. "Evangelicals need to be more sophisticated in terms of looking past the language to what proposals are being offered."
Mr. Mohler intends to alert his audiences to such hidden hazards.
"Whether it's too little or too late is yet to be seen," he says. "Millions of Americans are awakening to the fact that something significant has happened in American society and unless they do something, the very future of the American experiment is threatened."
• Staff writer Jon Ward and researcher John Sopko contributed to this report.