No, John MacArthur: Pandemic Church Restrictions are Not Persecution


California has experienced a huge surge of COVID-19 cases in the past month or so. In response they have placed further restrictions on gatherings and businesses, including restricting churches with capacity limits and no singing.

On Friday, California pastor John MacArthur, with his elders, posted this piece saying they “respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services.”

Positive Points

First, I want to commend MacArthur and his team. Not enough churches engage in civil disobedience against the government, oftentimes letting political interests tempt churches into compromising their core values and commitments.

It was refreshing to see a large, conservative church say once again that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, and to reclaim the sense that the Church is fundamentally opposed to the ways that government and politicians do things, especially when they will obviously receive the scorn of a watching world and local government for the sake of their convictions. However…

Good Faith, Bad Faith, Insecure Faith

I really want to avoid whataboutism throughout this piece; yet, one cannot look at MacArthur’s letter without some confusion. This is a church and denomination that has given themselves so totally to one party in our political system, they have little integrity in saying they are now following Christ, not Caesar.

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An Open Letter to Reformation21 on the Dismissal of Aimee Byrd


This blog is not usually a place for commentary on the niche politics, scandals, and squabbles in Christian subcultures. However, I wanted to post an email I wrote to Reformation21, a media outlet for those, like me, in the “Reformed” family of Christianity.

Recently, theologian Aimee Byrd, one of their contributors, wrote the book Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, in which she challenges the way women are viewed, treated, taught, and trained differently than men in conservative Christian circles.

For this, she has been the subject of mysogyny, online trolling, mischaracterizations of her work, gaslighting, charges from her denomination’s leaders that she should be disciplined, as well as other bad faith indignities.

Most recently, she was presented with a list of 9 questions from an anonymous group of men. Many of these questions are distorting and patronizing, come from an uncharitable reading of her text, or are more about ensuring she’s “in-bounds” to them than actually engaging her arguments.

What does one do with anonymous bad faith interrogators insisting you submit to their questioning? Aimee answered some of the questions and left others unanswered until such a time genuine and open debate could be held

So how did Reformation21 respond–this outlet for which she has written and podcasted for years? They removed her from contributing to their site. They did not defend her nor stand their ground. You can read Aimee’s account here.

In a statement they said this decision was not made by contributors, but by the board, and not because of outside pressure. Yet they said they dismiss people who cause “our audience to respond in a largely negative way”. Further, they said it was fundamentally about Aimee’s not answering these other questions from the anonymous group.

I wrote the below email to them in response. I have edited it for clarity. I’m open to being wrong with more information, but this is my evaluation best as I can see based on the public facts.


Ascension: Our Glory & the Bible’s Hinge


This is an excerpt. Read the full post here.

Today in the Christian Church Calendar is Ascension Day, where we celebrate Christ ascending into heaven after his resurrection and now sitting at “the right hand of God the Father.”

The Useless Ascension

“Ascension” doesn’t get a lot of attention nowadays in the Church. This, in spite of the fact that it’s an essential part of all the Church’s earliest doctrinal formulations. Additionally, the New Testament sees it as the primary proof of Jesus’ divinity and “lordship” and it’s the subject of the most-quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament: “The Lord says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’”

Maybe we neglect this because the Ascension isn’t really a “doctrine”–it’s an “event” and a “declaration”; and we western Christians love our systematic “doctrines” that we can pick apart ad nauseam and/or figure out how to “apply it to our lives” so we can feel like “good Christians.”

But honestly, the Ascension isn’t “useful” to us in that way. There’s not much we can “do” with it.

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This Easter just might be a lot like the first. [quote]


One of my church’s seminary interns, Tara (who did the Holy Tuesday video, by the way), wrote out this little reflection on our Slack channel and I thought it was a beautiful reminder during our social distanced Easter this year.

This is an unusual Holy Week–one that is perhaps not so far off from that first Easter. Anxious people huddled in their homes. Jesus mysteriously appearing not to crowds or synagogues or throngs of people–but to individuals like Mary, alone and grieving at the tomb, and to two disappointed disciples on the road to Emmaus, and to others in such small solitary groups. Jesus mysteriously appearing in their midst. Perhaps like us indeed this Easter.

Tara Ann Woodward

Holy Monday Prayer & Reflection: The Fig Tree


Here is the Holy Monday prayer and reflection from my church. Leaders from the church are doing videos for each day of Holy Week, going through our prayerbook liturgy for the day and offering some personal reflections. You can also find the audio version on our podcast.

Confess

We cannot come before God
unless we are first honest with ourselves
about who we are,
about the mistakes we make,
and about how well or poorly we care for others.
In this spirit, let us offer our prayers to God.

O God of peace,
I have built up walls to protect myself from my enemies,
but those walls also shut me off from receiving your love.
Break down those walls.
Help me to see that the way to your heart
is through the reconciliation of my own heart with my enemies.
Bless both them and me,
that we may both come to grow in love for each other and for you, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

~ Silent Confession & Reflection ~

Read

Selection from Mark 11.20 – 13.36

Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?”

When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.

Practice

Jesus was rejected and overlooked. Take a moment to have a conversation with someone who is often overlooked — perhaps an acquaintance you know is lonely, perhaps someone living on the street. After your conversation, spend some time praying for that person.

For Families: Ask your children if they have ever felt rejected or overlooked (explain these concepts if necessary). Ask them if you, as their parent, have ever been the cause of them feeling that way. If so, apologize and repent to them. Help them connect this feeling to Jesus’ experience and let them know that, whenever they may feel that way in their life, Jesus knows and never rejects or overlooks us.

Lent, the End of the World, & the Coming of the Son of Man


This meditation on Mark 13.1-27 is expanded from the Liberti Church 2020 Lent Prayerbook

__________

If you participated in Ash Wednesday a few weeks ago, you may have felt the shocking way Lent sneaks up on us. It refuses to ease us into its contours and instead hits us in the face with as much blunt force reality as it can: You are ash. You will die.

For those uncomfortable with these sorts of truths, the text  below does not let up. It is a scary and confusing one, speaking of death, torment, wars, and destruction–even among those most innocent in society. The confusion of this text led some Christian traditions (especially the 19th-century American Church) to separate these words from their original context and history and see them as terrifying images of the end of the world. Perhaps you grew up in such a tradition and read these words with that filter.

To the extent there is good news in this, it is that these words are not in fact talking about the end of the world. The bad news? Well, the truth of what it is saying is even scarier.

Jesus is not talking about an end-of-the-world Armageddon here. Instead, he is predicting the destruction of the Jewish Temple (which happened at the hands of the Romans 35 years later) and telling his people what to do when it happens. Just look at the verses immediately preceding the scary ones. Jesus says the Temple will be destroyed, his disciples ask when that’s going to happen and what will it be like, and then Jesus says all this stuff. When you start reading it that way, it’s pretty straightforward. But why does this matter?

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Lent: The Anointing & The Plot to Kill Jesus [guest post]



This meditation on Mark 14.1-11 is excerpted from the Liberti Church 2020 Lent Prayerbook, and is for the second week of Lent. It is by Tara Ann Woodward.

__________

Reflection: A Fragrant Offering

As Mark’s plot picks up speed toward Jesus’ death, the story pauses to show us a quiet interaction between Jesus, a woman, and Judas. In it, the woman anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume as a symbolic preparation of Jesus’ body for death. While Judas seeks to betray Jesus, she has a different sense of who Jesus is and his purpose on earth. Jesus is the only one to notice that “she has done a beautiful thing” by preparing Jesus’ body with perfume prior to his burial, and so this beautiful thing stops the story in its tracks. As the Lenten season unfolds, we don’t want to miss what God is doing in the midst of our hearts and lives. May her posture reshape how we purposefully engage the journey to the cross.
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“Tenth of December” by George Saunders [Book Review]


Tenth of December
George Saunders
Random House, 2014
(Amazon Link)

This was my first foray into the mind and writings of George Saunders and it was fantastic.

Yes, I am a little late to the Saunders bandwagon, as his writings have racked up awards, and the audiobook production of his first novel Lincoln in the Bardo had a 166-person cast including the voice work of the other short story writer I feel embodies a similar casual-yet-earnest linguistic style, David Sedaris.

Regardless, Tenth of December, was the collection that put Saunders on the map, and deservedly so; it ought to be everyone’s starting place for his work.

The book is a short story collection, but an odd one. The stories in both theme and at times setting bleed into one another fairly seamlessly, with a generally consistent narrative voice throughout. In lesser books, this would cause confusion and make the entire collection feel like a homogeneous blob; but here the distinctions come from plot and character. The stories are darkly hilarious. He’s never “cute” funny, but existentially so.
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