The Heart of Christ
Consider chapter three of Hebrews. In verse 12, the preacher has to say some hard things to some in the congregation. He must warn them of having an “unbelieving heart” which could lead them to “fall away from the living God.” But notice how he begins the verse. He writes, “Take care, brothers…” Brothers. He is charitable toward these people who are poised to desert the Faith. He has not prejudged them but instead stands ready to minister to them. But how is he able to do such a thing?
The book of Hebrews is an incredibly valuable book. It is a superb theological text. Of course, it’s not a complete theology, but the theology in the book is impeccable. For example, in the first three verses of the first chapter, we learn that the Son of God shares in the effulgence of God’s glory because He too is God but, as Son, He is the exact representation of the Father and is therefore a different person. A wonderful and foundational text for building a Trinitarian theology. What is more, Hebrews teaches us about the priesthood of Christ and all that means for our salvation. It is theologically rich. But this sermon is also packed full of pastoral lessons.
Before I mention one of those lessons, allow me to remind you of the problem. The context may deepen the impact of the lesson. Put bluntly, people were leaving the church at Rome. I don’t mean that they were leaving the First Reformed Church of Rome and going to the Second Reformed Church of Rome. No, these people were thinking seriously about leaving the Faith. They were poised to return to Judaism. That statement almost rolls off the proverbial tongue, but it shouldn’t. These people were flirting, even dating, apostasy. Some had ceased attending worship (Hebrews 10:25). The people who remained were dull of hearing and spiritually sluggish (Hebrews 5:11; 6:12). By now, these people should have been teachers but instead they were getting more out of their first grader’s church school material!
As a minister, it would be easy to think the worst of these people and act in a way unbecoming of the Lord’s Servant, who ought to be gentle, not quarrelsome, and patient to the point of enduring evil while correcting opponents. It would be far simpler to declare these spiritual vagrants as a lost cause and to invest the remainder of one’s spiritual capital in the remnant of the congregation.
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The Biggest Disruption to Human Life We Have Ever SeenBy Gene Veith — 1 year ago
Investors see a whole realm of business possibilities. Lots of hardware, including all those 3-D virtual reality helmets, will be needed. Also lots of software. And lots of programming of the different worlds. Some are saying that the metaverse will be the future of fashion, with people spending lots of money to buy impressive clothes for their avatars. And though American manufacturing of actual products has been outsourced to China, corporations are seeing a future in producing “virtual goods.”
We’ve blogged about the Metaverse–which promises to let us live our lives inside shared virtual worlds–concluding that turning ourselves into video-game avatars for work, school, and social life is not an attractive idea. But the corporate world is going all-in on the idea.
Not only has FaceBook changed its corporate name to “Meta,” as it seeks to turn social media into an immersive 3-D environment that can replace even more of your life, Wall Street investors are pouring money into the technology to make that happen.
I was struck by the rhapsodic way that the huge multi-national investment firm the Jefferies Group recommends its clients invest in the metaverse, going beyond money talk to claim that the technology will change life as we know it. From Markets Insider:
Jefferies has said the metaverse will be the biggest disruption to how we live ever seen, as Wall Street bankers warm to the idea of virtual worlds and economies.
Investors need to be thinking about the metaverse as akin to the internet in its early days, according to the firm’s analysts.
“A single metaverse could be more than a decade away, but as it evolves, it has the potential to disrupt almost everything in human life,” the analysts, led by equity strategist Simon Powell, wrote in a Monday note.
“Everything in human life”! Not just work, school, and social life, but entertainment, politics, and religion! Already, in these early stages, a couple has gotten married in the Metaverse, with avatars of themselves taking their vows, avatar children serving as ring bearers and flower girls, and an avatar best man giving a toast before all the avatar guests. (Click the link to see the happy avatar couple.)
Investors see a whole realm of business possibilities. Lots of hardware, including all those 3-D virtual reality helmets, will be needed.
To Whom Will You Liken Me? The Biblical Prohibition of Images (Part 1)By Ben Stahl — 1 month ago
God attaches to the second commandment is His sovereignty over us. This is affirmed in Exodus 20:5, “For I, the LORD….” He is the Mighty King, the Creator of all things both visible and invisible. All things were created through Him and for Him. He holds all things together by the word of His power. Because He is sovereign, He is free to speak, govern, and ordain as He pleases. He has commanded that we should not make any graven images or bow down to them.
The history of the visible church is fraught with temptation to know God through images made by human hands. During the Reformation and for most of the 500 years following, the use of images would be an obvious differentiator between Reformed Protestants and Roman Catholics. In recent decades, images “of all or of any of the three persons” have been introduced to Reformed churches. This two part series of articles first lays out the positive Biblical view of the second commandment in the Old and New Testament. Relying heavily on the 1981 Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod (RPCES) report “On Images of Christ” the second article proceeds to lay out three arguments commonly used in favor of images. Responding to the modern arguments, these articles find that the Bible rejects images “of all or of any of the three persons,” and calls all people to worship God in Spirit and in Truth.
The Return of Images
The history of the visible church is filled with examples of image making and idolatry. The Israelites had not left Sinai before they made a golden calf and called it their God who delivered them from Egypt (Exodus 32). From the time of the judges through the exile, idol worship was a regular sin among the people of the God. The New Testament church was susceptible to idolatry through the superstitions of the Jews and the idolatry of the nations surrounding them.
God did not leave men to wonder concerning images, idolatry, and worship but rather revealed His will by speaking in His Word. God gave the second commandment at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20 to direct the pure worship of God and forbid all idolatry. God asked questions concerning images to which no one could respond. As John concluded his first epistle he did so with this positive command, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”
Nevertheless, 500 years after the Reformation, images of the second person of the Trinity have found resurgence in Reformed churches and homes. For example, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Florida displays a stone statue of Jesus in front of the church building with the words, “Come Unto Me.” Sunday School materials are filled with images of Christ and Christians now widely accept their use. The Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) position report “On Images of Christ” gave encouragement to the use of images of Christ in certain contexts. Many professing Christians give little thought to movies and popular tv shows with actors pretending to be Jesus.
Should images of Christ be used in any context? Prior to addressing some contemporary arguments for images of Christ from the Reformed tradition, it is helpful to consider the second commandment from Scripture.
Biblical Overview of the Second Commandment
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
What Is Required?
The second commandment builds on the first by addressing the manner of God’s worship. In the first commandment God gives instruction concerning the object of men’s worship. In the second commandment, God gives instruction concerning the practice of men’s worship.
Whereas God gives the second commandment in a negative form, “thou shalt not make… thou shalt not bow,” a positive duty is required. The Psalmist cries out, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker (Psalm 95:6). Jesus said, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
God requires all His worship and ordinances to be pure and complete as instituted in His Word alone.
Southern Baptists’ #MeToo MomentBy Megan Basham — 11 months ago
In a recent op-ed for the U.K. Sunday Times, Douglas Murray observed that the reason the wheels have come off the #MeToo movement is that it discredited itself by overstating its case and conflating unmistakable instances of abuse with messy adult entanglements. “The MeToo movement had some cases that were very clear-cut. Others were not,” he wrote. “And the insistence that a historic reckoning was occurring made the line between the two uncomfortably easy to breach.”
The same line-blurring could describe what is happening in the second-largest religious denomination in the U.S. (and the largest Protestant denomination). Known for its theological conservatism that includes reserving the pastorate for men, the nearly 15-million-member Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is currently undergoing what many major media outlets are characterizing as a reckoning over sexual abuse.
Indeed, some go further, with ex-SBC leader Russell Moore calling it an “apocalypse” and evangelical pundit David French calling it a “horror,” proof the denomination does not merely contain some bad apples, but is, in fact, a “diseased” orchard.
While purple prose has been flowing freely in regards to the SBC, little of it has bothered to detail what the apocalypse looks like in hard statistical terms. That’s likely because, according to the recently released report generating all the coverage, a total of 409 accused abusers were found over the course of 21 years in approximately 47,000 SBC churches.
Lyman Stone, demographer at the Institute for Family Studies, told me the actual data contained in the abuse report, the result of an eight-month investigation by Guidepost Solutions, does not come close to meriting the hyperbolic terms that are peppering coverage in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and CNN.
“Statistically speaking,” he said, “there were not that many cases. This is not actually that common of a problem in this church body.”
Stone went on to estimate that there are about 100,000 to 150,000 staffers in SBC churches, but many thousands more volunteer in their ministries. Of all the allegations that Guidepost investigators reviewed, they found only two that appear to involve current SBC workers.
“If you wanted to argue that based on this report, executives of the SBC mismanaged the cases that were brought to them, then fine,” Stone said. “But if you want to say this shows that [the SBC] is corrupt, hypocritical, and rife with sexual abuse — the report doesn’t demonstrate that.”
Stone added that he was shocked that Guidepost investigators only found two current cases, given how many exist in the general population. “I mean, if I had been betting beforehand, I would have bet for a couple of hundred,” he said. “Because if you’re talking about 100,000 to 150,000 people who are disproportionately men, just your baseline rate of sex offenders tells you, you should have gotten a couple thousand sex offenders in there just by random chance.”
He concluded that while the report may show the need for reforms in responding to allegations, it does not show an endemic problem of sexual abuse, adding, “It is important to distinguish these.”
Advocates like attorney and Larry Nassar victim Rachael Denhollander have argued that misconduct within the SBC isn’t just a question of numbers. They also take issue with the executive committee’s resistance to creating a public database of the “credibly accused,” assembled by third-party investigators like Guidepost. But a deep dive into how Guidepost handled the most prominent allegation of abuse in its SBC report should set off alarm bells for anyone interested in maintaining a biblical standard of justice.
From the broad outlines of Jennifer Lyell’s story, it’s easy to understand why the members of the executive committee might have felt some hesitation to unquestioningly label her as a victim of abuse.
In 2004, Lyell was a 26-year-old master of divinity student when she met cultural anthropology professor David Sills, who is 23 years her senior, on the Louisville campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Shortly after, she became close with the entire Sills family, including David’s wife, Mary, as well as his college-age son and teenage daughter. She alleges that it was on a mission trip with Sills and his daughter that Sills first “sexually acted” against her.
That incident, she says, began a pattern of abuse that lasted 12 years until she was 38, continuing even as she moved to Chicago in 2006 and, later, Nashville, to further her career in publishing. During the time that Lyell was a publishing executive, she often worked with Sills, contracting with him for books, and, arguably, holding more power over his career than he did over hers.
In essence, Lyell was claiming that Sills was able to continue committing acts of sexual abuse against her even after she’d left the state because she would return to visit the family.
In 2018, at the height of the #MeToo movement and two years after her contact with Sills had ended, Lyell told her boss, Eric Geiger, at the Christian publisher Lifeway of the allegedly abusive relationship. Geiger, in turn, arranged a meeting with Southern Seminary’s president, Dr. Albert Mohler. In short order, Sills’ employment was terminated. A year then passed before Lyell provided her account to the Baptist Press for an article she hoped would present her as Sills’ victim.
As the house media organ of the SBC, the Baptist Press (BP) falls under the authority of the executive committee. When committee members read Lyell’s account, which did not contain any concrete description of violent behavior, in a March 2019 BP draft, they had doubts about framing it as she wanted, in part because they feared Sills might sue. They asked BP editors to replace the word “abuse” with “morally inappropriate relationship,” though the story retained a quote wherein Lyell accuses Sills of “grooming and taking advantage” of her. The editors informed Lyell of the change shortly before going to print.
Once the story was published, commenters on BP’s Facebook page criticized the fact that Sills had lost his job while Lyell had not, prompting her to demand BP restore the term “abuse” to the article or link to a statement from her rebutting their word choice.
Months of sporadic back-and-forth communications followed, in which committee members weighed options for coming to terms with Lyell. Then, at an October 2019 SBC conference on sexual abuse, Denhollander recounted Lyell’s story from the stage, identifying Sills by name and calling Lyell a “survivor of horrific predatory abuse” who was “cast away” by BP editors and the executive committee. Almost immediately after, Denhollander threatened the executive committee with a defamation suit on Lyell’s behalf.
Executive committee sources who agreed to speak with me anonymously say that the SBC’s insurance agency did not want to settle with Lyell, believing she did not have a strong case. But already facing bad press over Denhollander’s conference comments, committee members feared further fallout from dragging the issue out. In May 2020, the same sources say the committee paid Lyell just over $1 million, thinking that would be the end of the matter. It wasn’t.
When Guidepost issued its report on May 22, Lyell was by far the foremost accuser in it.
Again and again in the 35-plus pages that feature her case, Guidepost investigators claim Lyell’s version of events is “corroborated.” What that would mean in a police investigation is that witnesses offered other evidence against Sills. What it appears to have meant to Guidepost is that Lyell told her story to Geiger and Mohler, and both men said they believed it, according to the Baptist Press. In fact, Geiger, the first person to whom Lyell revealed the alleged abuse, told me Guidepost never even asked him to provide statements or evidence.
The report does briefly mention testimony from unnamed employees at Sills’ missions agency and his former pastor — referring to Dr. Bill Cook — but both Guidepost and the task force refused numerous requests to provide me with the agency staffers’ specific comments. And Dr. Cook told me that in his case, once again, all “corroborate” means is that he found Lyell’s story credible, not that he had any additional evidence to offer.
Guidepost defends its choice to refer to Sills as an “abuser” rather than an “alleged abuser” by noting that they didn’t find any evidence that “indicated that the interactions between Ms. Lyell and Professor Sills was anything but sexual abuse.”
Perhaps that’s because they weren’t looking very hard.