SermonCast: “Who Ya Gonna Trust?” Part 2: Isaiah 7:10-25

Our sermon from Sunday Octorber 25th looked at the second part of Isaiah 7 as we continued our series entitled “Who Ya Gonna Trust?” Last week we saw that we should not fear man but should fear God. This week we saw that we should not put our trust in man, but in God.
 
Watch the Full Service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-ph9zC0SEc.
 
We apologize for the frozen video.

Our Worship IS a Protest:

The Idea of a “Worship Protest” seems a bit um…I do not know, since to the Ancient Christians, these words meant the same thing.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Before you come after me or the by-line, I know what Sean Feuchts and Bethel Worship is doing is supposed to be political activism. Bethel is not allowed to meet in person in CA and I know that, like most churches, they want to. I also want to set aside the very obvious theological problems, errors and heresies that have defined Bethel, some of the same accesses and enthusiasms were the reason Count Nicolas Ludwig Von Zinzendorf cited Munster in his entreaty to the second Moravian town against them. I have weighed in that I feel some governors have overstepped their bounds, but I think many pastors have as well resulting in dueling nastiness and fighting that is neither good for Christian Witness or Christianity in general. It belies common sense to demand we meet in person because we must have “faith over fear” especially when the bible tells us that we should never put God to the test. If it can be done safely, meet in person, if you are going to put image bearers at risk, then do not. Human Life is the ultimate Holy Thing on this planet, violating it on any level, whether it be in the womb or at the end, or anywhere in between, will draw a sharp rebuke on judgment day.

But let us be clear, Christian Worship is not to be used in Protest, it is, in and of itself a protest. It is not a tool to be used in protest, but a protest in and of itself and it can be done no matter the location of the Saints. Whether they are in a group or by themselves. Christian Worship is a protest because it says that we will not bow our knees to man and the governments of man but to God and God alone. It says that the people and gods of this world are not worthy of worship, but God alone is. Christian Worship exists all over the world in this manner, in the underground Churches in China and North Korea, in the beautiful cathedrals of Europe, the hills of Appalachia. It existed under Communism and still exists under it in some place, it exists under democracy, under autocratic regimes and socialist countries. It exists everywhere and it is the ultimate shunning of the earthly powers and principalities for the ultimate Kingdom of God that will one day be established over all the nations.

The Early Christians understood that, as they stood by at a Roman Entrails reading ceremony praying to God against the Romans, frustrating the emperor Nero and ultimately leading to their persecution. Then it happened in the Catacombs as the people of God gathered and sang praises to YHWH the God of the universe. It continued as the Martyrs sang songs of praise as they waited for the lion’s teeth and the gladiator’s sword. It was even on the lips of Polycarp as he was burned alive for not renouncing his Faith. The point was clear, do to me what you want you powerless rulers of this world, you cannot take away the faith that I have. You can drive me underground, you can throw me to the lions, you can burn me alive, but my death will be one seed of many that will take Christ around the world. You cannot silence or stop me.

The question is, do we have this same defiance today, not to go out and hold massive worship rallies as “protests” but to protest the Governments actions where we are. Revivalism has made us believe that we must have large gatherings, that we must have a glamorous teacher and preacher, bigger lights, more fire. But to those who have gone before, to the Martyrs all this would seem like a silly show, faux worship that focuses on the self and the desires of self, not the worship of the magnificent God who is over all things. We cannot stop the refining that is coming to the Church by the hand of God, the only option before us is to learn to worship as they did, around dinner tables and in prison cells. Both visibly and privately, making worship again our protest the tyrants of this world who demand our allegiance.

You see, like the Church, worship is not a tool, it is a way and means of life, it puts the God of the universe at the center and so literally everything we do, everything we are about is to bring glory to God and draw others to worship Him. Someone sees you feeding the homeless, or walking into the shelter to volunteer and they glorify God and you walk in their glorifying God and walking with Him and Proclaiming His name, you are worshiping Him and causing others to Worship Him.

I knew a guy like this when I worked at Christ’s Body in Denver, one of the cooks, I did not know a day there when Christ was not on his lips. He sang and worshiped and ministered and gave testimony. His Worship was against the injustices life had dealt him, life on the streets, poverty, drug addiction and so on, all things God had brought him out of and now in Worship, he was helping others out. I never heard him talk about how great he is, I always heard him talk about how great God was.

Christians, if we are going into cultural exile, then perhaps worship as a protest is our best way forward, not protesting through worldly means, but through the means given us by God, worship of the King of the Kingdom of Heaven. May our brothers and sisters abroad teach us how to endure the cultural exile they have lived with for a millennium, it may be that the testimony of Jesus requires us to sit at the lowest point of the table so that we can once again one day be asked to sit at the place of honor. One thing is for sure, our current way of trying to get that seat back is only hastening our path into exile, may we turn and repent and again turn our worship into a protest against the rulers and powers of this world until the whole world hears that Christ is Lord.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

SermonCast: “Who Ya Gonna Trust?” Part 2: Isaiah 7:1-9

Our sermon from Sunday, October 18th 2020. This week we started a new series looking at our politics in our present times through the lens of the Prophet Isaiah as he approached the Kings of Judah. We talked about how we do not need to fear man because GOD is trustworthy, He is who he says He is and will do what He said He will do. So in this fractious political season where everyone is telling you to trust or fear man, there is one option, Jesus Christ our Lord. You can watch the Full Service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtCxYFnCV3k

Civil Discourse and the Critique of Ideas

“There are no normal people, you have never met a mere mortal.” C.S Lewis.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Cults will often launch cyber attacks against you when you write about them, I know because both myself and the ministry that birthed Godsheartforthose.com have been target by them. These attacks can come in the form of cyber bullying or an attack on the website itself. When public theologians first responded to Joshua Feuerstien, a group that included this site, it was cyber bullying that was carried out through comments on post (some of which were allowed by moderators) or through direct attacks in videos and by his followers in comment sections. With 10:31 it was an attack of the website itself the day that one of our writers wrote a piece about Westboro Baptist, which if you have never stood toe to toe with, trust me, you do not want to. The cyber attack took the site down for a few hours and that was about it.

But it was that incident that sparked something in me and led to 10:31’s policy that if we address certain groups, we address those groups ideas with an eye towards the dignity of the people we were responding too. I cannot remember the specific policy, but it served us well in the last two years we operated afterward and I hope that those who served at 10:31 during that time have taken that policy forward into their lives, some have. That was, of course, the beginning of an idea for God’s Heart, since the policies at 10:31 dictated much of the context guidelines for this site, even if I am the only one writing. I did not want to hold my writers to a standard I want not willing to maintain and I do not want to slide back into bad habits that have led to sin in the past. I had not perfected the technique with Feuerstien and wish I could have handled that situation much differently. I was a young pastor in his first church, not yet ordained, with a Facebook Presence and website and lots of experience dealing with abusive and totalitarian leaders in Church Leadership but little tact in addressing those people who reminded me of my spiritual abuser, I had not healed enough to address them outside of a place of trauma, and so my responses to Josh failed to achieve the standard I had set for myself. I will still bear the insult Sissy Preacher as a badge of pride though, especially if it means I can maintain a clear conscious before God and bear fruit in keeping with righteousness that comes from God.

The goal then, in the last 10 years, has been to 1) heal from my past experiences with the church 2) learn how to live up to the ideals I aspire to myself, especially when publicly responding to error, heretical or anti-biblical ideas. The goal has not been to gain some kind of power or influence for myself, but to not make the corner of the internet I inhabit worse than it already is and to maybe offer an example of what we can be again. If you believe that Lewis was correct when he spoke the words above, then you have to approach the people you are responding to with regard to their sanctity that comes from being made in the image of God. I have seen when theologians, ethicists and church historians do not do this, and the result can be little more than slander of the worst kind. This destruction of ones opponent, not a critiquing of ideas, is to sin against God and them because it rejects what God has said about humanity, that is, that we are made in the image of God. I may not have particularly cared for Westboro Baptist or Joshua Feuerstien’s theology and treatment of others, but if I dehumanize them in response to their dehumanization of others, I am no better than them. Sin is, for lack of a better word, self-destruction, their own dehumanization of others is dehumanizing enough to themselves without me reinforcing their own dehumanization. It seems strange to say, but that is the reality. Sin in the life of the Christian should not have ever invoked condemnation from other Christians, but instead concern, care and loving rebuke, something different than the condemnation we often heap on the perceived “other.” As I said after our encounter with Westboro, if we stoop to their level, we are no better than them. Paul tells us that if we condemn them for their sins by or while partaking of the same sins as them, we are heaping up wrath for ourselves (Roman 2:1-11) something I tend to think we should take seriously. Dehumanizing someone is a sin against God and against the individual created in the image of God (Genesis 1-3), but if I dehumanize them for dehumanizing someone else, I am no better and indeed likely receive the greater condemnation because I should know better as a Christian.

Imagine too if Christ has taken this same approach to us, we had sinned and fallen short of his glory and he just said: “Sorry, not gonna die for you, you twits, how dare you think you can be saved.” Since this could not have happened with the perfect Son of God playing his role in the Trinity, why do we think it is alright for Christians to do this in the modern world? I said this back when I wrote a defense of Rob Bell, who I have deep disagreements with, but who we Christians treated shamefully when he diverged from orthodoxy. Hate mail is not the way to win someone back to orthodox Christian teaching on any subject, quite the opposite happens in fact, it drives them further and further away from it. Angry rebukes or self-righteous tirades against a perceived opponent, especially when that opponent is a brother or sister in Christ, only pushes them further into heterodoxy, accomplishing the exact opposite of what we set out to do in the first place. In my now 10 years in ministry, I have seen both approaches and I their fruits, and I know which one I prefer.

Believe it or not, there is a audience for the civil discourse that is so locking in our society. I have watched, for the last few years, The Bulwark do this most of the time in the secular political arena. God’s Heart has had its readership explode this year in-part because of this approach to dealing with controversial topics, and saw a piece published in a major primary source piece. I have received messages and comment from readers thanking me for this approach, calling it “refreshing.”

This approach is also why I have not joined in the throngs attacking the President of the United States. Do not get me wrong, I am on record as a #NeverTrump conservative, I find his obvious moral failings and lack of genuine repentance to be a turn off. But if launched the insults at him I have seen some Christians launch on Facebook it would be no better than him. I feel the same way about Joe Biden and the Democrats, I have deep disagreements with them on their character, voting history and politics, but if I attack them or dehumanize them, I am not doing any good for the kingdom. Joining the world is a vice, not a virtue, and I refuse to do it. I have also largely quit commenting on Facebook posts for this very reason. I prefer face-to-face communication when possible, or private messaging.

The responses that have come out this year, responses to articles by Carl Trueman, R.R. Reno and Dr. Scott Sunquist, even a response to comments the president have made, have hopefully, or seemed to have, met the criterion I set for myself. I may disagree with them, and I do in the pieces above, but I have a clear conscious that, this time at least, I have managed to maintain their humanity, not returning sin for sin. We need to recapture the art of critiquing ideas, not people.

Let’s face the truth that we have a major problem within Christianity with the way we treat one another, especially with those who disagree with us. And as one who studied the Internecine debates of the 19th and 20th century and wrote my thesis on one of them, I can tell you we have had this problem for a long time and that the secular world learned it from us. Whether we like it or not. Restoring Civil Discourse in the public square may need to start then, with the restoration of the heart of Christianity that only comes through Jesus Christ. We cannot hold the secular world to a standard we ourselves are not willing to hold, that is called being double-minded and it leads to our condemnation, not eternal life.

The art of attacking ideas is a long practiced one, it is what drove the church father’s to define orthodoxy and orthopraxy. They did not attack the people, well…Nicholas did punch Arias, and they did write against certain people but that was because of their ideas, not the people themselves. Most of the fathers went high when their opponents went low. When the Christians were accused of pagainism for not worshiping the Roman gods, they embraced it, when they were given the name “Christian” as an insult and then legal accusation, they embraced it. They did not fight back and say: “Stop calling me that you idiot” because as Jesus knew and taught, they would be mocked for His name, and when they were they embraced that and still kept on loving their neighbor. The reason Christianity spread so virulently is not because the Christians had political power and used force to spread their faith, that came much later, no, it was because they did what God had put before them to do and they did not attack or condescend or berate the Romans because they believed the Apostle Paul’s warning that acting like the world by those called out from the world would lead to condemnation.

We need to learn how to have civil discourse again, you may find, as I have, that this is a refreshing and helpful approach. Instead of shouting down those you disagree with, embrace them, try to figure out why they might think differently then you and then evaluate those ideas and separate the person from those ideas. Doing so the other way, the way the world does it, has only driven people further into dangerous ideas with dangerous, evil actions. By trying to shut people down, we are only creating worse monsters.

All of this is because human beings are made in the image of God, full stop. Ideas can be taken apart, people made in the image of God should not.

Lord help us all!

Turning to Egypt, when God Will Do.

I am sure by turning to Egypt the people of Judah were hoping to save their way of life, but in doing so, it cost them everything.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Let’s start with some candor, Politics, in the United States of America, has become an idol, but not just politics, political parties and their platforms have been idolized as well. It has come to the point where it does not matter if the person or party delivers on their promises, we will vote for them regardless because we want so badly the carrots they are dangling in front of us. Do not believe me? Consider the phrases you are likely hearing from people on both sides of the isle about the upcoming elections (yes, I have heard these from people on both the left and the right). “This is the most important election of our lifetime,” “They are trying to destroy democracy” (again, heard on both left and right) “You are not a Christian if you do not vote for…insert whichever party you are a member of here.” And so on and so forth ad-nausea. Both sides are screaming at their people to “WAKE UP” about the evils of the other, again, it is exhausting. Of course, these are signs that these things have become idols of the people, there is hardly even an effort to look to God on these issues, God has been replaced by gods who we think hear us but do not. For the Christian, it seems too that “religious Liberty” has become more important to us than doing what Jesus told us to do. Another Idol.

Here is the thing, some of these things are good things, religious liberty, working towards ending abortion even lowering the cost of healthcare so people can get it who cannot typically afford it. But when these things become idols, when we fight for them at the expense of human beings, which requires us to ignore Jesus the Son of God, we are asking for trouble as the people of God. Christianity itself may even make the category of Idol as we seek to “preserve” Christian freedom, again, at the expense of the people we are to be serving and loving. Christian Nationalism, as it was with the Nazi’s and is so today, is idolatrous because it quates the nation in which one lives with the kingdom of heaven when the Bible is explicitly clear about the Kingdom of God transcending every single kingdom of the earth. This Idolatry is something to be repented of when you consider that if we do not, it will lead to our destruction.

Judah can be an example to us, in the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah, both in the time of Hezekiah and in the days leading up to the Exile their were attempts by the people to save themselves from the destruction prophesied to them by reaching out, not to God, who had promised to stay his hand of punishment if they repented, but the governments of man. Just like Christians today have turned to governments and men to secure for themselves what they think will save them from the rising tide of secularism, the Judeans thought Egypt would save them from the destruction wrought by the Babylonians. As if their neighbors to the North were not an example to them for what happens when you rebel against a powerful empire. King Hoseha’s revolt against the Assyrian Empire brought about the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Zedekiah apparently was not aware of Hoshea’s treachery and its outcome, or he thought something different might happen by pursuing the same means. Sennacharib was right, Egypt would ultimately fail to save the Judeans, only God could do that, and He had. He had also sent prophets and priests to warn them of what would happen if they continued to rebel against God. This sort of rebellion was nothing new, it started at the base of Mount Sinai with the Golden Calf who Aaron claimed was the god led the people out of Egypt and it continued to the time of the Exile and even after it. For Specific references to the end of Israel and Judah see the end of 1st and 2nd Kings, Jeremiah 52, Isaiah 36-39 and so on. These things should stand as warnings to us in how we live as the people of God in the kingdoms of man.

Now, I am sure someone will raise the objection: “But the New Covenant?” Yes, the New Covenant is a Covenant of Grace, but that does not mean that God allows us to do what we want, when we want, or tolerates idolatry. It also does not mean we are immune to judgment because we claim Christ’s name while acting contrary to how he told us to live. Jesus said to his Disciples that if they do not repent of their sins they would perish (Luke 13:1-9). At the same time though, he acknowledges that God is patient and Christ has stepped in on our behalf to offer us more time to repent and bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Those trees that do not bear fruit, be they people or church, get torn down and used for firewood and a new tree will be planted in their place. The Northern Kingdom of Israel should have been wiped out 200 years before it was, yet God waited, sent prophet after prophet to get them to repent. Jesus then comes as the son, the final sign that we should repent, if w do not repent because of Christ, we will never repent at all. God then comes as a judge, it is God that separates the sheep from the goats, the true believers from the pretenders. The Apostle John’s final words to his community were “Little Children, keep yourself from Idols” 1 John 5:21 because he knew that idolatry would lead to their destruction. To be Christian in Name Only is to be sent away into eternal damnation, Matthew 7 and 24 make it abundantly clear that God requires something of us, fruit that we have genuinely repented of our sins, a relationship with Him and love towards others.

The bible is clear that there is never anything good about idolatry, it should never be utilized to save oneself because it will always lead to the same result, destruction. In fact, in Judah’s case it only sped up the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, their refusal to repent meant they were carried away long before Judah which did have two major periods of religious renewal, one under Hezekiah and one under King Josiah. The Christians in Nazi Germany also gave themselves over to Idolatry in an effort to save their way of life, their wholesale sell out to the Nazi Party sped up the secularization of Europe and the Church in Germany is only now starting to recover over 70 years later.

Idolatry is covenant breaking, even of the New Covenant in which Jesus upholds the law (Matthew 5) and makes it a matter of the heart. Love God, the first table of the Covenant means you Love God first and foremost, you do not put anything in His place and in loving Him and experiencing His love for you, in turn, you love other people. IF you put something, anything in front of the Lord God, you are blaspheming Him which carries the penalty of eternal death. Human King Making, as God tells Samuel in 2nd Samuel 1, is a rejection of God’s rule. Governments are here to keep us from our worst inclinations and God uses them to either refine His people or judge us, they should never be confused with His means of spreading His Kingdom, or worse, for his Kingdom.

Philip Schaff wrote that things like “Religious Freedom” are aberrations, they only exist in a liberal democracy because man granted them. They are not the norm in the world, and they can be easily taken away when not stewarded well. God does not mandate religious liberty, man did that, and again, if not stewarded well, it can be taken away. The only “right” the Bible expressly says we are given by God is the “right to become Children of God” John 1:12. That is literally the only thing that the Bible says is your “right” to receive, everything else is given by man, and man can and does take it away.

Now, this does not undermine the reality that human beings are made in the image of God and worthy of respect and dignity. That is also God given, but it is inherent in our make up and not a “right” it is something that should just happen because we are following God our Savior. That is, you do not have the “right’ to chose to treat someone any which way you want. The Image of God is intrinsic and created. I do not get to decide that someone is or is not made in the image of God and I do not get to decide if I do or do not treat them There is a difference between a man made right, and something that is gifted by way of creation.

The point is this, by seeking the favor and power of man, and idol of this world’s, by looking for salvation by another way, looking for it in Egypt, we are turning our backs on the God who saved us from Egypt in the first place. Further, by placing our hope in man for salvation, in man’s political parties and partisan’s we are only speeding up our demise and the rate at which our culture secularizes and speeding our way into exile in which we will face all the persecutions we have claimed have been happening all along. It is not a matter of if, but when and instead of scrambling for power and position, we should be preparing ourselves for the reality before us, because we have made things worse for ourselves as believers, not better. We may have bought time so the current senior saints can die in peace, but the generations behind them, in buying that time, are being fed to the wolves of this world. There is no thought to the situation the older generation is leaving the younger generation in, and that is concerning. God may not visit the sins of the father on the children, but the world does not hesitate to.

There are some positives to this post-Christian culture we have created for ourselves, the younger generation, people like myself and more so my daughter Erin, will, if they become Christians, once again going against the grain of society and find themselves with no choice but to follow God. It will not be a matter of cultural Christianity verses authentic Christian Faith, nominal Christians will be choked by the secularism that they are inundated with. Only the realy, deeply rooted Christians will survive.

So let me put this is the starkest and plainest terms possible, Donald J. Trump cannot save Christianity, Joseph R. Biden cannot save Christianity, Republicans cannot save us, Democrats cannot save us. Democracy cannot save Christianity, Religious Liberty is a man given right no matter how much we claim it was given by God. To put our hope in any of these men or these political parties or to put religious liberty before loving our neighbor is idolatry and contrary to the word of God. The only hope for Christianity is the same hope it was for Israel, turning to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. There is no one or nothing that can save us and if we keep turning to the world, we may find ourselves speeding up our own demise.

Absolute Absurdity

What on Earth? How can man save God or His people?

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

Authors Note: I woke up this morning, like many of you, to the headline that the son of the President of the United States, Eric Trump, had made the claim that his father had: “Literally saved Christianity” in an interview with a radio station in Utah. In keeping with this websites code of conduct, I will not address Eric directly, but will address this idea that Christianity needs man to save it.

Eric Trump Says His Father Literally Saved Christianity was one of the first things that popped up in my newsfeed when I logged into Facebook this morning. Of course, I had to fact check this because it is the internet, but you can find the audio clip here. My first reaction is to sit back and wonder what on earth is going on here, but as a Historian and Theologian that is a question that answers itself. Ideas can be many things, good or productive, bad or destructive. But the idea that a man, any man, with any political party, can “save Christianity” is not just bad and destructive, it is heresy, as is the idea that God would “disappear” if the Democrats would win or that we should fix our eyes anywhere but on Christ to get through the trying times our nation is facing.

There are several reasons for this: 1. It uses Christianity as a utility, 2. It makes religion dependent on government and government officials and 3. It denies the Word of God and even twists it to make it say what it does not. Let us address all three of these problems.

Before we do though, I want to make my “Political Positioning” clear. I was a member of the Republican Party until 2016 and contributed to campaigns during the 2016 Primaries. I was a supporter of then Ohio Governor John Kasich. Raised by Fiscal, Small Government Conservatives, I believe in a small central government and strong state and local government. I do not believe someone living in Washington understands what I am dealing with in Buffalo Center. I was disillusioned with Republicans during the massive bailouts in the mid 2000’s. I disagreed with much of Obama’s policies and positions. I consider myself a hard-line centrist who leans right on some issues and left on others. I have seen how “universal healthcare” can work when done right after living in Massachusetts, an acknowledge the reality that the personal stimulus of the CARES act was extremely helpful to the economy. I also think the Department of Ed should be abolished, as well as the FED because they are imposing rules that ignore the people living in the areas, they are making rules for. I will very likely vote Republican down ballot, but am a member of the Libertarian Party because they’re the only party left that seems to support small government and individual freedoms. As a disabled American I cannot support the Pro-Abortion Platform of the Democrats. I also think we can respect and honor our police officers, military and first responders while hearing the cries of the Black Community and working to reform the system so that it works towards the flourishing of both the communities and the Police that keep them safe. I studied Burke, the father of conservativism and agree that a society conserves the people by conserving the institutions, but status quo change is required, that is reforms are required, to ensure the flourishing of everyone involved. As a Church Historian I think that care for the poor and homeless, reconciliation between Ethnic groups and even medical care should be the purview and priority of the Church and recognize that when we abandoned those responsibilities to fight foolish culture wars was the beginning of the substantial rise of secularism in this country. I am also willing to hold in tension seemingly contradictory views, that is okay with me.

But now to the problems listed above:

It uses Christianity as a Utility: My Faith is not for sale, nor is it an object to be used for the gain of the people in power. I know we have played this game since Constantine, but Church History has proven repeatedly that every time Christianity is wielded as a sword by government officials it has not ended well for the Christians. I have noted that here, and here, and here and here. There is here, a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Christian Religion is. We are, the adopted people of God, making up the body of Christ here on Earth, “the continued presence of God” on Earth, as Philip Schaff noted. We are not a faith, so much as a people of faith that carry with us Organic Unity created by the Holy Spirit. A Kingdom, within Kingdoms, spanning the entire globe. I was reminded of this during a Rend Collective Concert at Gordon College where they respectfully asked us to consider that Evangelicalism is not a strictly American Phenomenon and what American Evangelicals do effects evangelicals around the world.

Christians do not believe in Christianity; Christianity is a socio-religious category that comes down to us via an insult by our Roman persecutors in the 1st and 2nd century. The term “Christian” was first used as a sneering insult to the members of the Church at Antioch in Acts 13. Later, to be a “Christian” was a legal charge of sedition that carried the penalty of death under Nero, Domitian and most other Roman Emperors through Constantine. Christianity is not something to be used then, but something to be lived out based on our Holy Scriptures, the Word of God made up of Old and New Testament. We believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, lived our life, experienced our pain and hurts and temptations but did not sin, died on the cross for our sins, was dead, buried and rose again, being seen to prove that he was alive he then ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father and will one day come again to judge the living and the dead. He was put to death by the governments of his day, both the Jewish and the Roman, and his followers were persecuted, hunted, killed and maligned, but persisted until this faith had spread throughout the entire world, despite the governments attempts to stop it.

The power in Christianity is not in the name of the religion, but in Jesus Christ out Lord. N.T Wright has said that we do not know what true power is, that God’s power defies the conventional wisdom of the world and is stronger than the powers of governments. Christianity was never meant to be an instrument, but a lifestyle rooted in and reflective of the person and work of Jesus Christ. For the Christian, power and influence come first and foremost through service and love, especially to those we do not like. Christianity did not spread because of the Roman Government, it spread despite it, and it will again, which brings me to my second point.

It makes Religion dependent upon government and government officials: With all due respect to the opponents of Christianity Joe Biden is not threat to God or Christianity. The left may be hostile to Christians and their policies hostile towards Christians, but the idea that Joe Biden or the Democrats are a threat to God or even Christianity is absurd, and fearmongering. Since Christianity, by its nature, has nothing to do with geographical boundaries and God himself is not limited to the United States of America there is little use in even making this claim. This is to make Christianity little better than the Pagan Religions of Antiquity, where the gods of the people were determined by the geographical location, the leaders of the city-states and the temperament of the people. Can the left enact persecution against us? Can we be stripped of religious liberties? Yes, but religious liberty is not the norm worldwide and not the norm in Church History, it was granted by man, and man can take it away. By constantly claiming that Christianity will suffer if “so and so” isn’t elected president is to make it a religion of the state. Jesus tells us clearly that we are not to fear man, but God because God can destroy both body and soul in hell. What our overactive religious imaginations are doing is leading to what could become a “self-fulfilling prophesy” where we cry wolf as Christians have been doing for 100 years and when the wolf actually comes he does all the things we claimed he was doing beforehand because we gave him the ideas and no one wants to listen because we spent 100 years crying wolf.

Government and Government leaders are appointed by God, not to protect Christianity, but to keep us from our worst depravities that come out when Anarchy is imposed. Government can also be used as a judge of Christians or a refiner of Christian faith through judgment and persecution of the Church. Keep in mind that Paul wrote Romans 13:14 before Nero was beginning to breathe his threats against the Christians. Christianity would be refined in the coming decades by the persecutions that Jesus promised us. Since Jesus promised us these things would happen, it is abnormal then to live in a society where Christianity is not persecuted, as many of our siblings around the world live under today. If Christianity could not be snuffed out under Nero in the first century or Communism in China today, what makes us think our survival depends on an elected man? Christ tells us to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar, and God what is God’s” (Matt 22:21) precisely because Christians don’t belong to the governments we live under, but to God because we bear the image of God. Christians can be protected or persecuted by governments, but faith can be wiped out by governments. We may need to evaluate our idea of “Religious Liberty” in the United States, to make suer we are not holding it as an idol. As Brad Stine once said: “you’ve been given the right, and it can be taken away.”

It denies the word of God and even twists it: This is a broader critique of Christian Nationalism in general. I am alarmed, but not surprised, when I hear passages like Hebrews 12:1-3 or Revelation 13:1-10 used and twisted to fit a Christian Nationalist agenda. The Vice President is on record from August 27th saying: “let us run the race marked out for us, let us fix our eyes on Old Glory…and let us fix our eyes on the author and perfector of our faith and our freedom.” This is, of course, is idolatry, heresy and blaspheme, it violates Jesus injunction against changing scripture in Rev 22 and if you follow the grammar rules for the original text, it makes “old glory” the “author and perfector of our faith and freedom.” Jesus is the only one who our eyes should be fixed on, “Old Glory” is an object, a piece of clothe that represents our nation. I have not problem singing the National Anthem, but when you start placing American symbols where Jesus should be, when you take your eyes off Jesus and onto the nation, when you look for the nation to save you, you are expressly denying the word of God that tells us the nations cannot save us, they can only uplift or judge us. You are also blaspheming the Holy Spirit which in Mark 8:28-30 Jesus tells us is an “unforgivable sin.”

Other believers are also guilty of such heresy and blaspheme, a popular Christian writer and radio hosts tweet about the president leaving the hospital which evoked the words: “Who can fight against him” from Revelation 13 to the president’s claim of defeating COVID-19 is to make the claim that is made of the first beast. “Who can war against it” is exactly what the people of the earth say about the first Beast which Blasphemes the name of God and persecutes His followers. This is not something I would even want said about me and proves that we should be much more careful when applying biblical passages to real world situations. What was said about the Roman Empire and Nero eventually leads to destruction (14:1-11) for those who follow them.

Isaiah’s Sign: In Isaiah 7:8 the prophet has a problem. Ahaz is troubled and worried about an alliance between Rameliah of Syria and Rezin of Israel. In fact, they had even come to attack Jerusalem and were having very little luck doing so and so in hear he wonders how to save Judah. Isaiah, of course, knows that this fear is foolishness and essentially asks the King who he is going to trust. The options before him are God, the father of creation and Abraham, the one who has called the people out and consecrated them to himself. Or letting that fear cause him to pursue other means such as Egypt, their former enslaver and Assyria’s nightmare, something Hezekiah would eventually do. Isaiah even tells Ahaz that the Lord would send a sign that he was with Ahaz and would protect him, a woman would conceive and give birth to a son, not long after Isaiah’s wife conceived and gave birth to their second son: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, meaning that God would be swift to plunder and quick to destroy Damascus and Syria. Before the boy was weaned, Syria and Israel would be desolations, which they were thanks to Assyria. One of the continuous themes of the book of Isaiah is how trust in and obedience to God leads to life, and trust in the world and disobedience to God brings death to His sanctified people. He wants genuine repentance and faith, not religious devotion.

It is fitting we find ourselves looking towards Advent because that sign, a virgin becoming pregnant and giving birth to a son who will be called “Emmanuel, King of Kings and Lord of Lords” is precisely what we reflect on, and Christ’s return as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” is something we look forward too. The question is the same to us today, who are we going to trust? God who has never failed us through persecution and regime change. Who has not let his People be destroyed for 17,000 years, or are we going to trust man who is fickle and fallen and who uses our faith as a utility, tries to make us depend upon him and twists scripture to meet their goals, who use fear of man, not fear of God, to make you act a certain way. I know who I am going to trust, and it is not man.

A Remnant Will Remain: For those who are not comforted by the above thoughts, or who still think fear of man is appropriate, Isaiah has another lesson for us. No matter how bad things get, God always keeps a faithful remnant of His people. He does not leave or abandon us. Cultural Christians, or Cultural religionists, always fall away when things get hard, but God always keeps for himself a faithful remnant who He then works through to reach the people around them. This is true of Israel in the Old Testament and it is true in Church History. Europe is currently a good example of this, Europe is now thoroughly “pre-Christian” even though it was once the global center of Christianity. When Christianity became unpopular in Europe, many Christians started seeking power, such as the Lutherans in Nazi Germany, thinking this would restore Christianity’s influence and prestige. The opposite happened, and the church in Germany is just now beginning to grow again. In the Czech Republic 95% of the population identifies as Atheist and yet, the Church there is vibrant and growing.

We can also take a lesson from the New England Churches, even though in New England the secularization pattern is to the left of the political spectrum, the New England Churches have retained their Orthodoxy and are, in fact, thriving despite only 3% of the population attends a church of any kind. The only place in the country where less people attend Church is the region in which I grew up, Appalachia where only 1.5% of the population attends Church. Appalachia is still considered part of the “bible belt” even so. In New England, as in Europe, a remnant remains, and that remnant faces persecution, soft in New England and hard in some European States. The governments in those states have sometimes even taken hostile tones and enacted policies that contradict Biblical Doctrine and belief, but the New England Churches continue to thrive. The same can be true of the Midwest where Secularization patterns are mostly to the right of the political spectrum (The Blue Wall MI, WI and MN the exceptions) where the remnant is only starting to form (though the Pandemic is speeding up that process). We had a Church Planter from the Anglican Communion of North America (ACNA) with us in August and they were excited to go an plant a church in Spokane because Spokane is “Post-Christian” everyone knows the terms and people, but only the aberrations of them the secular world gives them.

Church do not be afraid of what is going on in our world, Jesus told us we should expect such things and then reminds us that these are not yet the end. God is still with us, no politician can shut him down or save Christianity. Only Christ can do that, and we need him to renew and transform our minds and hearts after His image. You want to see Christianity begin to grow again? Put Christ back at the center, reject the idols of this world and the people who claim to be able to save us, but who can only hasten our demise. The heart of Christianity can only be restored through Christ Jesus, the true author and perfecter of our faith, to him to be all glory and honor forever and ever, amen.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

Music and Its Influence; how one CCM band shaped my faith.

Music and its Influence; How one CCM band shaped my faith.

Often here we have joined the throngs of those who are disillusioned with CCM, but there is one band whose influence on my faith has been profound, and for good reason.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

It is strange to think, but I am certain I can recall the first time I heard a Downhere song on the radio. The station was 92.7 Joy FM coming out of Zanesville Ohio and the song was their first hit “free me Up.” I can also remember my dad complaining because while it climbed the top 20 for awhile it eventually stalled and then dropped like a rock while some songs that one struggled to define as “Christian” stayed at number 1 for weeks. The song was extremely relevant given the extreme worldliness that would mark some of my time in Christians Music which at the time of the peak of Third Day’s rise to fame in the early 2000’s was the highest paying part of the music industry across the board. This likely was the reason for the sharp decline in CCM after 90’s and early 00’s. It became a “get rich quick” scheme where anyone could get airplay so long as it was what the people thought they wanted to listen to. The result was a lot of CCM that failed to speak to the needs of the people but bloated them on sugar spirituality which does not help one when life takes a turn for the worse. There were a few exceptions to this, Casting Crowns, MercyMe in their early days, The Newsboys, DC Talk, Jars of Clay and of course, Donwhere. My parents often wondered why I preferred CR (Christian Rock) and CM (Christian Metal) over the sugary CCM world. I could identify with the themes in Disciples, Demon Hunter and Thousand Foot Krutch in the same way a lot of kids who grew up during the opiate crisis today identify with NF.

Downhere was one of the earliest bands I ever remember listening to on a regular basis. My first album I owned by them was No Room for Substitutes and my first favorite song of there’s was not “Free Me Up” but “Starspin” and then “In America.” From there it was onto Ending is Beginning and before I knew it, I was hooked. Wide Eyed and Mystified was the album though, that really got me listening in depth. The hit was “A Better Way” which was probably their biggest and of course the song “Stir” came out just in time to motivate me enough to get me in trouble with the abusive pastor at our church and the Gospel centered message of the song has now become a central part of my ministry, as has “1000 Miles Apart” in recent years. Of course, it was their last studio album that may have been their absolute best, and which took the number 1 spot on last years top 20 Christians albums of the last decade. I recently played it in the car for my wife and have created a permanent Downhere fan (I am not sure she has played much else in the car). On the Alter of Love has not only had the greatest influence on my ministry outside of Holy Scripture and Seminary than anything else, it also has become a family pastime to listen to. I did eventually buy their self-titled freshmen debut, after it was hard to get and expensive. I do not regret that purchase.

Downhere occupies a rare Subgenre in Christian Music that is shared with greats such as Petra, 2nd Chapter of Axe, Degarmo and Key. Though unlike these other bands, they perfected this and did not branch out into worship or social commentaries. That subgenre is called “ministry music,” Music specifically designed to minister to the felt needs of a group and encourage them specifically with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, you may be thinking that all CCM fills into this category, and that is true to an extent, but worship is almost completely vertically focused and CCM that is not worship tends to be horizontally focused, Ministry Music combines both vertical and horizontal aspects in a unique form to not only encourage the believer in whatever they are facing, but also point them towards the God of the universe. Even their worship music has the effect of ministering to the soul of the listener while inspiring them to worship God above. It is a whole person worship experience not often offered by protestant churches with deep, theological poetry not found in Hillsong or Bethel.

And that is what God has used Downhere to do in my life from about 2010 onward. As I went from casual listener to almost-super-fan (I have not seen them in concert or met them). Like Kyros, who I covered during my time at ARL, their music and ministry were practical and helped me focus on a way to minister. I have used their song “Forgive Yourself” in pastoral counseling sessions, “Stir” when talking about the life of a Christian, “1000 Miles Apart” when discussing Ethnic Reconciliation, “A Better Way” when sharing the Gospel, “I Will Follow Your Voice” when helping someone in their devotional life, or dealing with all the different influences in the world, “Little is Much” when addressing the idea that “Bigger is better” in the church, “The Real Jesus” when addressing cultural depictions of Jesus, and that is just from Wide Eyed and Mystified. I could go on, but you get the point, the music is deeply biblical, theological, and practical and can be used as a model for fusing those three disciplines in our churches.

 

It is this aspect that has made them relevant to my life and ministry in almost every aspect. Believe it or not, they have even given good advice on parenting. It is also this sort of relevance that Matt Bronlewee and Charlie Peacock have said is missing in modern CCM, both men are perfectly situated to evaluate the landscape, Matt is one of the founding members of another band whose played an important role in my spiritual life and ministry, Jars of Clay. Peacock has even written a book called: “Christian Music at the Crossroads” in which he discusses much of this. The fact is that the big label execs and the radio execs are in control of what you hear and what you think you want to listen to. The result has been, to use Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter’s terminology: “a lot of artificial light,” meaning it sounds good and may inspire you, but it does little to encourage Christian faith and maturity. The really challenging stuff, the stuff that hardly ever got any airplay, was intentionally downplayed, Rich Mullins gave way to Jason Grey, 2nd Chapter of Acts gave way to Hillsong. CCM become complacent, and when it did, its message suffered. There are a few exceptions to this, everyone remembers when “Word of God Speak” was No. 1 for almost a year, but no one has come anywhere close to the message of that song in the fifteen years since its release. Even Michael W. Smith has largely abandoned what made him famous in favor of canned Christian Worship Music. By the way, I said this when I worked at ARL that Christian Worship should not be a genre and should not be for sale, that aspect of the Christian Music Industry has troubled me for years, especially because much of what is being written and passed off as “Christian” is in fact heretical doctrinally and theologically.

The point here is not to pine for some by-gone era of Christian Music that may or may not exist, Christian Rock/Metal and Hip-Hop have produced its duds (do not ask me about the Reform the Resistance record on my shelf) and had their theologically questionable moments, but for the most part they have been steered well by their leaders like Lecrae Moore of Lecrea/116 Clique, Toby Mac of DC Talk/The Diversity Band, Toby Morrell of Emery, KB and Tedashi veterans of Christian Rap, Kevin Young of Disciple, Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter, Trevor McNevan of Thousand Foot Krutch and many others. The consistency in these genres and sub genres of Christian Music proves that CCM could have consistently been relevant and life-giving and not canned and irrelevant. It was possible to present a specific, biblical message that avoided cultural war topics (a trap DC Talk, Audio Adrenaline and Petra all fell into) and helped the flock grow in their faith and maturity in Christ. There was a blueprint for Christian Music that addressed real life scenarios and addressed them well, even in CCM as we have seen in Downhere, but the label execs and the radio execs wanted nothing to do with it because they thought: “it wouldn’t sell.” Yet, I remember the lead singer of Kyros telling me during an impromptu interview after REDvolution, while he was standing in the entry way holding up a box of CD’s that read: “Help feed Kyros’ buses gas addiction, buy a CD,” that they were outselling triple platinum artists at their concerts because of how they interacted with fans (between Philmont and Kyros, I am unsure who played more practical jokes on me during a Children 18:3 show in Hutchinson Kansas), and how their message related to fans. I have not chatted with Jason Germain or Marc Mattel, but I wonder if they would say the same.

Again, the point is not to pine for a bygone era in Christian Music that I do not remember, but to say that there is a blueprint for doing better than CCM has. We can learn again to address felt needs with practical, biblical, theological response that do not just sugar coat the hearer, but actually inspire them to a real and lasting, mature, faith in God the Father by trusting God the Son and receiving the God the Spirit. It is a hard one to follow, but the best products often come from the hardest paths, some of the best songs I have written have come from the hardest struggles. Coincidently, those have also been some of my most popular, many of you know the story behind “Voice of the Children” which was also my most requested song when I was playing on a regular basis and which has made just about every live show since 2011. “River Song” has been the same since I wrote it and started playing it in 2015.

Downhere has given us a blueprint to follow, perhaps we can take back Christian Music from the hands of those who want to sugar coat the gospel for the sake of financial gain. Maybe we can de-commercialize worship in such a way that it becomes actual worship again, and not just self-aggrandizement. I can hope, I can pray and maybe, by the grace of God we can get there together.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

Momento Mori: In Loving Memory of Scott A. Whitson

“You are God, You are Good, and I’m running home, into your arms.” – S. Whitson, J. Faulkner

Rev. Jonathan Faulkner

We wrote those words together, playing guitars at the living room table. It was 2012 and I had come up to visit my grandparents, and Uncle Scott and Aunt Kathie, and my cousin Wes on a break from school the fall of my senior year. I was writing rather prolifically at the time and I believe my Aunt was not really excited about me joining because he had not been. Still, Uncle Scott insisted that it was okay for me to work with him on the song. This is just one of the many, many memories I have with my uncle.

He may have been the family member I am closest too outside my younger brother, and since moving to Iowa we had had he and my Aunt up to the house and had plans to go see them when things finally settled down. We shared in music together, not just in our love for creating it, writing lyrics, finding chords that worked together, but in our love for listening as well. Particularly important to us were the bands Jars of Clay and Third Day. When he was here last January we played “Amazing Grace” and “Faith Like a Child Together” (if I am recalling correctly), two songs which would eventually find their way into one of Rachel and I’s livestreams. We also shared a love of Star Trek and would watch what he had taped on occasion whenever we would visit. This was, before Netflix and CBS All Access and so we had much to talk about and discuss and in common when we were together. He stood up with me at my wedding as a Groomsmen while my cousin Wes, his son, was deployed. We even picked him up and did the “Michael to David” finger pose pictured below.

Most importantly were the discussion about faith, being a diabetic who had suffered the worst of the disease, he had an interesting insight in faith in the hard times. He was not stoic, he walked with joy and dignity, especially after a point in his life where God really got through to him 10-15 years ago. A wake-up call, if you will, from the Lord that drew him closer, it was from this that the song quoted above partially came from. He knew the scriptures; he knew the Lord and I could often gain guidance and wisdom and insight from both him and my Aunt on how to navigate the often-tumultuous waters of life. He was not perfect, he struggled at times with the circumstances he suffered with, Diabetes, transplants, Kidney Dialysis, but I learned form him in how to walk through my own struggles. I could call him and knew I was going to be with love, but also with truth and in that truth, grace.

I loved my uncle, still love my uncle. I am glad I got to see him in January and wish this pandemic was over so I could have seen him last month. This is likely going to be the hardest family death to date for me for these reasons. I feel like I have lost one of the bulwarks of my faith that God provided here on Earth, I wish I could talk to him about how to overcome this grief as well, but I cannot. My Uncle loved God and he loved people and taught me to do the same.

It is very hard to sing with Jars of Clay: “When I go don’t cry for me, in my father’s arms I’ll be, wounds this world left on my soul, will all be healed and I’ll be home, sun and moon will be replaced, with the light of Jesus face, and I will not be ashamed, for my savior knows my name, it don’t matter, where you bury me, I’ll be home and I’ll be free, It don’t matter, where I lay, all my tears be washed away.”

Rest in Peace, Uncle Scott.