When orders started coming out to avoid groups larger than 250, then 50, then 10, many organizations were affected. The NBA season ended almost immediately, NCAA’s March Madness tournament was canceled, Major League Baseball has yet to have opening day, concerts have been canceled, and theaters have sat empty for a month. Churches are also place where regular meetings of more than 10 people occur, and they were affected as well. And, while sport and concert tickets can be refunded, and movie release dates pushed back, very few churches have chosen to go completely idle during this time.
Some people may just accept it. Others, though, may wonder why, and some people may completely not understand. If you can rewatch your favorite series on Netflix, why not rewatch or relisten to your favorite sermon? Nearly everyone owns at least one Bible, and even if not, Bible Gateway is free! Just read the Bible for yourself! In this installment, we’ll look at the concept of “church during a pandemic” from the Christian worldview, and see why its practitioners feel it is essential.
Scripture Commands and Exemplefies It
The best-known verse cited as a reason to gather regularly is Hebrews 10:25, presented here in context with verse 24:
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
We also see it in the example of the early church, meeting together every day!
46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
This is far from exhaustive (remember the “bite-sized” nature of these posts), but from these origins, believers have regularly met together. And, while I’m not aware of a church that has the full Sunday morning treatment every day of the week, there are churches that have activities nearly every day. These activities help believers obey this command and follow the example of those who came before us.
An interesting companion study of Scripture is to study times where Christians did not meet together, or where they adjusted their techniques due to government persecution. That would push this way longer than I’ve planned to write, but there are examples of people separating themselves for sickness, and of abandoning the temple for smaller gatherings in homes. I know of no orthodox Christians who have continued their normal services during these times.
Christians Need It
Notice that, in the above two passages, there was more than just a command or an example - there was a recognized or promised benefit. In Hebrews, believers meet together to stir up each other towards love and good works, and in Acts, they had glad and generous hearts. Meeting together with other believers was commanded because God knew that we, as Christians, would need those benefits. In one of his earliest recorded letters, Paul is discussing various spiritual gifts, and this is what he says as he concludes that discussion:
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
Christians can get these benefits virtually, and many have been. Prior to this, we would have scoffed at Zoom Sunday School classes; now, we are grateful for the tools that allow us to stay connected. I can’t remember who I first heard say “the Internet is a terrible place to go to church” (and they were right), but in a pinch, it’s been a great way to continue in fellowship with other believers. (Once this all goes away, these go back to being true; in-person is still preferable. There are many benefits these tools don’t provide.)
We All Need Hope
This is a dark time for many people. They have lost jobs and have no idea where money is coming from next week. They have lost loved ones, and weren’t even able to see them for the last weeks of their lives. They are depressed, the normal routine of a life they enjoyed exchanged for a house that feels like a jail. These are not people who need to “suck it up” and get over it – these are people with real, genuine hurts, and the world offers them very little in the way of comfort or hope.
Jesus, though, offers hope to hurting people. He spent His entire earthly ministry “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” We, as the church, carry on His ministry today; but how can we offer hope if all we have is a greatest hits playlist? Hurting people need acceptance, a listening ear, and kind words; these pre-recorded messages may have truth, but struggling people “don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Jesus offers salvation, which addresses the root of all of our problems, and He offers hope and peace between here and Heaven; we are the ambassadors He’s trusted to share that message.
Churches also need to meet to mobilze help where it may be needed. Most churches have several members who struggle to get out and get the things they need when nothing is wrong; under these conditions, they simply can’t do it. Most churches also have able-bodied, healthy members who can care for those who are struggling. We cannot build up the body (physically or spiritually) if we do not know the needs.
So, that is why you see churches live-streaming, driving CDs around, renting FM transmitters to let people park at the church and attend from their cars – it is that important. And, I’ll wrap up with a bit of afflicting the comfortable – shouldn’t our “salt and light” be so self-evident that no one wonders why we’re still meeting?
Earlier this evening, Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham had a debate over creation as a valid model for the origin of man. The recorded debate can be viewed online; the remainder of this assumes that you have seen it. I felt that, all in all, the debate went well. Nothing is perfect, though, and Monday-morning quarterbacking - well, that’s probably what a good portion of the Internet is for, so here we go.
(Full disclosure - I have rather strong beliefs on this topic, which will probably come out in these thoughts. I’m doing my best to be impartial, but that’s kind of how bias works; you don’t know you’re doing it.)
I was glad that the debate occurred at all. For a long time, mainstream science has marginalized or even ridiculed anyone who dares to disagree with Darwin. While, toward the end of the debate, I feel that both men missed opportunities to answer each other’s questions or assertions, the debate itself was a great first step towards understanding. Personally, I learned something from both men. I hope the model is repeated, maybe on stage again, but in the day-to-day lives of all those who love learning about our world and universe.
The question of the debate (I guess it can’t be called a resolution, as it wasn’t a declarative statement) was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” Were I scoring the debate the way we were scored back in high school, they’d both get a few dings for topicality, but they’d probably also get a pass on them, as most of their discussion was at least tangentially related. Also, the Ken Ham presentations of the gospel and Bill Nye’s appeals to voters and taxpayers seemed to balance out.
Building off my first thought - Bill Nye almost kept the snark turned off. Somehow, “creation” became “Ken Ham’s model” that was from “the Bible as it was translated into American English”; both these were repeated often, and are where the snark came through just a bit. Both of these are also distortions; the model being debated is the Biblical model, not the “Ken Ham Theory of the Origins of Species”, and I’m pretty sure that creationism (as opposed to evolution) was developed based on a Bible that had been translated to Shakespearean English. I completely get that Bill may not understand the whole “history as history, poetry as poetry, prophecy as prophecy” thing; a good number of Christians don’t understand that! Those two changes, though, struck me as unnecessary spin.
Ken Ham made a moderately convincing argument. Yes, the Bible is the source for the model whose viability was being debated, but for those who do not recognize it as absolute truth, I feel that a stronger scientific argument should have been made. He failed to address two key arguments made by Bill Nye, the main one being the predictive capabilities of creation science. There are arguments to be made here, the easiest of which is that creation as the origin of life does not contradict natural laws, so creation has no effect on the predictive nature of currently-observable science. Every time Bill asked for predictive science, Ken responded with confirmational science. It’s kinda cool, if you’ve ever studied it, but it doesn’t answer the question.
The age thing gets its own thought. One of Bill’s main arguments is that what we observe today couldn’t have come to be in 4,000 years, and Ken never really answered that either. This, too, has a pretty easy explanation (that requires no more faith than creation already requires); if God created Adam as an adult, does it not make sense that He would also create the earth with age? Created 6,000 years ago is not the same thing as 6,000 years old. And, several times Ken said that the dating process was flawed, but he never provided a specific example of one that he felt was better, and why that is. What reason do we have to believe that the atoms behaved differently then than they do now?
Presentation-wise, and particularly during the Q&A, I believe Bill had the edge. His responses were more directed at the actual questions. Ken gets dinged here for completely avoiding one question. He spent the first 1:30 of his two minutes dissecting the assumption behind the question, then stopped talking; what’s the answer? This was also where they started talking past each other, when I felt that they could have addressed the others’ assertions more directly.
Bill Nye’s explanation of science was pretty awesome, IMO. I loved his description of the search for knowledge, trying to fill in the gaps, eager to find something that contradicts what we thought. I hope the climate “scientists” were watching. (Disclosure - even I can tell that the preceding sentence contains a little bias.)
I understand the format, so I understand why some of the detail I was looking for wasn’t there. But, as I mentioned above, while Ken’s line “You know, there’s a Book…” was funny, mainstream science is not going to be convinced with “because God said so.”
(More disclosure - this is the part where I stop trying to be objective.)
A belief in Creation as the origin of the universe is not incompatible with science. Ken started to make this point, but didn’t really see it through, and if Bill had made the point, it would have contradicted his dire characterizations of what would happen if we teach people about it. There is a lot in our world that scientists of all beliefs have in common; theologically, we call this common grace. “The sun shines on the just and on the unjust.” I’ve said before that I do not have enough faith to believe in evolution as an answer for the origin of the universe. There are things for which we simply cannot find physical proof in this world; what mainstream science often cites as proof is extrapolation, which assumes facts not always in evidence. (I’m not against extrapolation as a technique; I’m against the belief that gives a 100% answer.) My praise for Bill’s description of science applies here as well. Yes, as Christians, we believe we know what’s coming at the end; but, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have the same curiosity about His creation that the rest of the world has.
To be sure, this is one of the big worldview issues, from which many other issues proceed. Take abortion as an example. If we are created by God as creatures in His image, and He makes laws for His people that state that anyone who causes a miscarriage through striking a woman should be killed (Exodus 21:22-24), we probably shouldn’t kill babies in the womb. If we evolved by chance from a big bang, though, abortion is just “survival of the fittest” (particularly as Bill described it, in a way I’d never heard it described before) - the baby didn’t fit.
As I said at the top, I’m glad the debate was held; I hope this is the first of many dialogues with people of faith around many issues. I’m convinced that neither “side” has an accurate idea of the arguments on the other “side,” and changing that is an important first step in turning back the polarization and coarsening we’ve been witnessing for decades.
This is the last (or first, depending on how you’re reading it) part of the series “2011 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.”
Evil’s Class of 2011
2011 was a good year for tyrants to breathe their last. Osama bin Laden, head of al-Qaeda and mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrors attacks, was killed in a daring raid on May 2nd. Muammar Gaddafi, the long-time leader of Lybia, was captured and killed October 20th. Then, a week before Christmas, Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean dictator, breathed his last. These three men did very little to soothe pain and suffering in this world, choosing rather to inflict it in an attempt to maintain their power and control. As of today, none of these three men control anything - in my book, that’s a very good thing. (Even better would be a change in direction, though that’s looking doubtful at this point, except possibly in Libya.)
Contrary to popular opinion, you can make value judgments about these nations (or, in al-Qaeda’s case, their organization). Man has a God-given yearning to be free, both physically and spiritually. God also made it plain in His Word that choosing Him is a personal decision - it must be made in one’s heart, not forced by government at the point of a gun. Regimes can try to control behavior, but they cannot change hearts. These leaders used violence and oppression to try to conquer the hearts of their citizens, rationalized in many cases via religion; the God of the Bible wants us to surrender our hearts to Him voluntarily. These leaders worked against Him, and they are gone.
While the Cain Train’s derailment made the “bad” list, one positive to come out of his campaign was his 9-9-9 plan. This plan scraps all existing tax code, and replaces it with a 9% income tax, a 9% national sales tax, and a 9% corporate income tax. This plan is the first time a poll-leading presidential candidate has proposed such a massive overhaul of the tax system, and the only plan apart from the FairTax (which Mr. Cain also supports) that eliminates the ridiculous spaghetti of our tax code - spaghetti with a compliance price tag in the millions. While there was the expected knee-jerk reaction from the usual sources (“What? You mean POOR PEOPLE would have to pay 9% on THEIR INCOME, TOO?!?!”), Cain’s analysis showed that this would bring in about the same amount of revenue. Combine that with the vast simplification of the tax code, thus eliminating much of the compliance and enforcement expense, and you’ve got something that just might work.
I realize Cain’s analysis is that of someone running for office, but it does mesh with the analysis done by those that espouse the FairTax. 9-9-9 provides the most level of playing grounds - if you make $10,000, you’d owe $900; if you make $100,000, you’d owe $9,000; if you make $10,000,000, you’d owe $900,000. Corporations, although merely voluntary associations of individuals, are taxed at this rate as well. The national sales tax, balanced with reduced compliance cost to the businesses that would be collecting it, is nearly break-even. This would encourage growth without punishing success.
I can’t remember where I read it, but it’s almost like some people are obsessed with making sure everyone has their “fair share” of the pie. Others see the pie and ask “Hey, why don’t we just get a few more of those?” 9-9-9 clearly falls into the latter camp. Basing economic policy on “It’s not fair that he has more than me” is poor; there’s a reason we teach children not to look at life that way. Instead, we should compare our poor to the poor of other nations, and realize that even the “poor” in this country are better off than the average citizen in many other nations.
I hope that, the next time an alternative tax is pitched, we can have a rational discussion about it. In fact, the FairTax is proposed nearly every year - if you read about it and like it, just let your Congress-critter know.
A Full Trip Through the Bible
Inspired by my Christmas gift from my family in 2010, I searched the web for reading plans and found this one, which looked very interesting. I started a Facebook group and asked if any of my friends would like to join me on this journey, and 22 others joined me; I even made a few new friends along the way. Each day I would post the reading for that particular day, and we could use the group to share, discuss, or encourage one another. There were times I got behind (it happens), and when I posted an encouragement to the group, others were there with me. We weren’t judging each other, we were simply encouraging one another - as Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”
The pace was quick, and although I enjoyed it and was blessed by it, I believe 2012 will see me taking it a bit slower. I did flag several verses as I was reading through, and those are the places I’ll start digging in and digesting what’s there.
So, there you have it. As in previous years, while I had to cut off the lists for the bad and the ridiculous, those all happened externally. I could have filled the list for this post with solely personal things. This tells me that I serve a God Who blesses me, no matter what sort of bad or ridiculous stuff goes on around me. I believe more good is on its way in 2012, and some of it might not even be just for me. :)
Only a month late (when I originally wrote the bulk of this - now it’s more like 8 months late), this is the 8th annual “Sanctity of Human Life” post. It’s going to be a long one; please don’t TL;DR it. There’s too much to this topic to do it justice in 5 paragraphs, and putting it out in parts would invite debate and assumptions about the parts I’d left out. This post is free of my typical snark, and also free of (atypical for me) hyperbole; I am completely serious, and have reviewed my words to ensure they are the ones I intended to use. The premise is simply this - abortion is morally wrong (which we now know, given advances in medical science), and as such, should not be legal nor easy to obtain.
Let’s start with the framework within which I view the issue. I believe that man was created by God and placed here on this planet to live for His glory, and that He has given us the earth for our pleasure and enjoyment. I believe that evil exists in this world, that bad things happen, and that actions have consequences. I generally believe (though not always) in erring on the side of caution. I believe that, as God’s creation, all life is sacred. I believe that God has enabled man to discover many beneficial things in the area of medicine and health care, and I believe that He expects us to use this knowledge within the framework and principles laid out in His Word.
(I fully realize that many of you reading this may not agree with that framework. Feel free to debate about what appears below, but the above paragraph contains things that, for me, are past debate. I’ve heard the arguments against it, and I’m simply unconvinced.)
In looking back through my archives, the post entitied “Abortion: A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Passed” was my 5th post on this blog. In this post from 2003, I mentioned (without citing) the medical advances that had happened since 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision. This page has a good description of what happens day-by-day. At 21 days (3 weeks), the heart begins beating. With ovulation occurring 14 days after menstruation starts, and another 14 until it’s due to start again, a woman would likely not even realize she’s late before her baby’s heart is beating. 9 days later, at 30 days, this heart is circulating its own blood supply, completely separate from the mother’s, thanks to the placenta. Day 35, we’ve got a 5-fingered hand, and on day 40, we have brain waves. By one and one-half menstrual cycles, we’ve gone from nothing to a beating heart and brain waves.
Let’s look at what happens up to 12 weeks, which is when pretty much anyone who approves of abortion thinks it’s OK. The liver starts making blood cells, and the brain is controlling the limbs in week 6. Week 7 brings the jaw, tooth buds, and eyelids. Week 8, and I quote, “the fetus has everything found in a fully developed adult,” including stomach acid and a complete nervous system. Fingerprints, fingernails, and hair appear in week 9. In week 10, “the fetus can bend, stretch, make fists, open hands, lift its head, squint, swallow and wrinkle its forehead.” Week 11 brings urination, and in week 12, the baby is breathing amniotic fluid, has sleep/awake cycles, and does exercises. All this knowledge has been gained due to ultrasound technology and other study.
Now, God, morality, and everything else aside - read those descriptions again. Does that sound like an unviable tissue mass? Sure, it’s dependent upon its mother for sustenance, but how is that different from a newborn baby? It isn’t - and that’s what we’ve learned. It’s not a blob of cells that represent an inconvenience, it’s a new creation that has been entrusted to the mother. Even without counting abortion, an estimated 25-33% of pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth (according to HopeXchange, an organization that help people cope with these types of losses). With numbers that high, it would seem to me that the tissue masses that are unviable are taking care of things themselves.
Respect for life is one of this country’s core principles; “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are inalienable rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. Laws against murder are nearly universal, even in countries that cannot claim the God-seeking history that ours can. It is simple human nature that reasonable humans understand - it is wrong to take the life of another without cause. (This is not to imply that I am anti-death penalty or anti-military; there are limited times when life-taking can happen in a moral way.) With science again backing up Scripture, we see that the developing fetus is simply a pre-born baby that is being knit together in its mother’s womb.
So now, let’s look at the whole “safe, legal, and rare” thing, a phrase used by many pro-choice supporters to describe their desired state of abortion. It’s a given that “safe” doesn’t apply to the unborn baby - they suffer near 100% fatalities. (Yes, near.) But is abortion as we know it today safe for the mother?
A recent study in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that abortion accounts one in ten of every adverse mental health issue women face as a whole, correlating to greater-than-double risks for alcohol abuse and suicide, and triple risks for marijuana use. Melissa Clouthier has a great summary of this study, as well as some commentary.
Recent medial studies have found that there is an increase in breast cancer risk for those who have had abortions, similar to those who have given birth prematurely (before 32 weeks). The reason is that the cells that the body produces during the early stages of pregnancy are immature, cancer-prone cells, which mature during the final two months of pregnancy.
There are many risks to the uterus as well. Risks of uterine perforation, cervical lacerations, and placenta previa all increase due to the trauma on the internal lining of the uterus.
Now, childbirth brings its own complications, to be sure; I don’t mean to imply that birth is completely safe. However, birth does have the advantage of being how our bodies are designed to work. Given the risks, I believe abortion is unsafe for both mother and baby.
We’ve established unsafe; how about legal? We know that Roe v. Wade “legalized” abortion, but there are still laws regarding its practice. Different states have different laws; nearly all states permit abortion through the first trimester, and some allow it through the second trimester. Few permit it in the third trimester, and there is now a Federal law against “partial-birth abortion,” a practice so abhorrent I’m not even going to describe it here. But, do its practitioners follow these laws? Some do; others, like Kermit Gosnell (link gone) do not, and Lila Rose has made a career exposing the unethical and often illegal practices at the nation’s #1 abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.
Hmm - we’re 0 for 2.
How about rare? Well, let’s look at the statistics. In 2008, there were 1.2M, down a little from the previous year; however, births were also down 2%, to 4.2M births. So, we prevented 22% of the pregnancies from resulting in births. I would not consider something that happens between a fifth and a quarter of the time rare, and I don’t think anyone else would define it that way either. What it comes down to is this: if it’s safe and legal (as we’ve been told, and those who question are ridiculed), it won’t be rare.
Now, let’s contrast this with the opening paragraphs. Abortion is not safe; it kills the baby, and causes health problems from the ex-mother. It’s not rare; it occurs in over 1 out of 5 conceptions. As a person with the beliefs I laid out above, this is an absolute no-brainer. God created our bodies to reproduce; it’s a natural consequence of the act that leads to conception. The easiest way to avoid conception is to avoid intercourse (also advocated in Scripture for those who are not married), and the fruits of that intercourse are, time and time again, referred to as gifts from God.
As an American, I see 20% of two generations now cut down before they breathed their first breath. I see counselors having a very easy time convincing people not to have abortions, simply by using ultrasound to show these ladies the life that is living inside them. I hear of post-abortion counseling groups with waiting lists. Have we aborted the person who was to find the cure for cancer? The scientist who was to determine how to produce food in desolate regions? The person who was to invent the flying car? Who can say what the long-term consequences have been for our folly of convenience.
It’s not safe. If it’s made illegal, only then can we hope to make it rare.
On the suggestion of a friend, I subscribed to the Daily Audio Bible (DAB) podcast. In this podcast, Brian Hardin reads the Bible through each year - 2010 is the fifth year. It’s been a blessing to me to listen to God’s Word, as well as enjoy some of his comments as well. (I’ll have to own up to skipping a good bit of the commentary, especially when I was trying to catch up a few days.) It was great to be able to listen while I did other things; however, this was a mixed blessing. I found that I would sometimes get distracted with the “other” thing that I was doing, and would mentally check out of the podcast. During one of these distracted times, I felt the Lord telling me that it was time to take the next step.
For this reason, beginning 2 Jan 10, I’ll be beginning a 52-week Bible reading plan, reading it the old-fashioned way, off words printed on paper. My main Christmas gift this year was an ESV Study Bible, and this will help put that to good use. One of the aspects of DAB that I liked was the community; I knew that, although I might be the only one listening to my computer, there were thousands others that were listening to Brian. Although my participation in that community could be described, at best, as a lurker, it encouraged me to have it there. To help encourage others, I’ve created a group on Facebook called Read the Bible in 2011. This group will function as a community where we’ll encourage each other along this journey. I’d like to invite you, my reader, to join me in this journey. The group is closed, but if you request access, just send me a separate message so I’ll know who you are.
While the goal is to read through the Bible in a year, we don’t want to go so quickly that we don’t have time to stop and listen to what God is trying to tell us in the passage of the day. So, the stated goal of reading through the Bible in 2011 is not really the goal; it is merely the means to the greater goal of allowing God to speak to us. I’m looking forward to it - won’t you join me?
Do you spend 28 minutes a day commuting? Doing housework? Reading e-mail? If so, you’ve got the time to listen to the Bible. Faith Comes by Hearing has created a dramatized reading of the New Testament, that can be completed in 40 days, 28 minutes each day. Starting February 11th, running through Good Friday on March 21st, Albuquerque is encouraged to listen - and you don’t have to be in Albuquerque to do it, either! They offer a free download on their website - I encourage each of you to join me in listening to the Bible over 40 days.
There will be a list on this blog of the chapters that make up each day - at the top of the page, just below the Verse of the Day, there will be an entry with that day’s chapters. Also, if you’re using Linux, I was not able to get the free download to work. However, I did get my paws on an actual CD, and you can download the ISO here. (Edit: This is no longer hosted here.) (Please try to get it from them first - only download this if you can’t.)