Let me start off by saying that I am not a teacher or leader within the walls of my church. I have no formal college or university degree from any institution. What I do have is a history that drives my intent to write this article.
I was born and raised in a small town in northern Alberta, Canada where I still live today. As long as I can remember I have desired to know God. My mom tells me that I had received salvation on a family trip when I was four. When I was eight years old I started walking to the church that I still attend. Watching the ebb and flow of people in my community and the church has revealed a few things to me.
One of the things that rears its head no matter where you are, is that people can respond poorly to those in leadership. The sister issue to this is the desire of people to see the power removed from these positions or stated another way a push toward self rule.
Now by having lived in the same town my entire life it may seem that I could not be aware of the issues in other cities, towns, or churches. While that may have been true a few years ago, the advent of our connected generation has made it possible to interact with people in many different locations and with many different views (such as the group within Bold Cup of Coffee). What never ceases to amaze me is the similarity of problems that are within any group of people, whether they be Christian or secular, employees or volunteers.
As a person, with a history of being under the authority of leaders and teachers, at times I had misgivings or dislike for the character of the leader I was required to submit to. At other times I gave improper responses to those in authority over me. I also learned by watching how other people responded to their authorities, with all the varying degrees of success and failure.
How many times have we stood around the water cooler, sat at a coffee table, or ate in a work lunchroom, and listened to people tear apart any person that may have an ounce of authority or that may take charge in a situation? This shows the true colours of the human spirit. The disregard we have for ‘minor’ laws like speed limits, copyrights, seat belts, and the way we chafe at correction and instruction all speak to this truth. Ever since that fateful day when mankind willfully and knowingly rebelled against the command of God, we have been doing this to each other.
This attitude has been smuggled into the four walls of the church, and is unknowingly carried within the heart. This is just what Satan intended when he asked that pivotal question: “Did God REALLY say……?” Within the initial question that the serpent asked is the very groundwork for the lack of faith in authority that we see today.
In a society where rebels, anti-heroes, and villains are applauded and even idolized, authority and leadership are touchy subjects. Movies and TV shows reinforce this by casting authorities in a negative light and making all people that reject them heroes. The attitudes that are applauded in such films are disdain of parents, hatred of police, rejection of law, distrust of government, or rejection of rule, but If we travel those roads I fear we are in trouble.
This stands in stark contrast to the instruction given to the church in Hebrews 5:8 that Jesus learned obedience through the things that he suffered, and the example of the Bereans, who studied the scriptures to see that these things are so (Acts 17:10-11). They questioned, yes, but they were not rebellious, they searched for answers. The message of the world may be to question authority, but are we not told to weigh all things against the authority of scripture?
If this is true it doesn't mean that we are to blindly obey all edicts from our earthly authorities. We are to be aware of those that are over us and respect them highly for the work they do (1 Thess. 5:12-13). But the Apostles gave us this caveat in Acts 5:29: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Authorities on earth are all human and will have flaws. There are abuses by authority, but do we not also abuse our grace at times? Life is a balancing act, and the balance between total blind submission and complete rebellion is tricky to be sure. But I believe that we are better to err toward submission than rebellion, as there are blessings associated with obedience but we are warned about rebellion. None of us have this perfectly practiced, but do we not deceive ourselves when we think that disobedience is a Godly trait?
When we enter this battle between our natural rebellious nature and the submission to a loving God that we are called to in scripture, we find ourselves in a tangled web of emotions, traditions, teachings, deceptions, and opinions. With all of that against us, can we humble ourselves and ask for the light of scripture and power of God to free us from our desires, so that we will see authority the way God meant for us to see it?
Husband to Ana, the love of his life, and father to two awesome boys: Eliot and Josue, Robert is a Born Again, spirit filled, tongue talking, believer in Christ Jesus the Risen Lord and Saviour. A hands on worker, and lifelong learner, he is drawn to those that can challenge thinking and increase knowledge. Having an overly analytical mind, he tries to remain relevant on earth while thinking deeply on things of life and faith.
It’s a scene we’ve seen at countless church service, camps and concerts. The speaker tells everyone to close their eyes and raise their hands (or stand) if they want to accept Jesus. It’s a scene we’ve seen because it’s probably going to show up in promotional videos and newsletters to supporters (making a bit of a liar of the speaker who says “no one is watching except God”). It’s a moment we rejoice and celebrate over, and rightly so: young souls have begun a journey with God by responding to a gospel plea. It may even be a moment from your own life. I’ve been part of a team praying in the back in that moment. I’ve been a leader saying the words of a prayer line by line on stage for others to repeat. And I must confess, I’ve wondered if it’s all just manipulation. Before you dismiss my cynicism, let’s honestly consider a few factors for a moment: authority, peer pressure, and fear.
Before we start counting our numbers, we should think about what it really means for children to raise their hands when asked by an adult to do so. Children who are taught from a young age to listen to their elders and teachers, to be compliant with what the grownups say, and to be “good.” Are they really able to understand the significance of what they are being asked to do? And at what age? There are droves of books about this, to be sure, but is really important to consider the power differential in place. Are we inviting or commanding? Do children feel they truly have a choice? Or do they feel they might gain favor with you if they do raise their hand? Suddenly this simple action has gotten a lot more complicated.
To add to that, young people care a LOT about what others think, especially their peers. Sure, eyes are closed, but you can hear the movement around you as others stand. There may even be prompts, such as “Anyone else?” I’ve experienced this first-hand in scenarios of speaking in tongues, bible memorization, baptism and other Christian contexts too. You wouldn’t want to be the only one who raised your hand, or didn’t! As an adult, you may not be able to do much about the peer pressure factor, but it is something that could be activated depending on the words you choose. When a child sees others being praised by an adult, they may want to copy that behavior in order to get the same preferential treatment.
If you died tonight, do you know where you would go? Giving someone a choice between heaven and hell is kind of a no-brainer. But does framing the message in those terms really help bring people into relationship with God? It’s pretty hard to have a relationship with someone you’re terrified of. This is not a post about the existence of hell, but what we believe about heaven, hell, and the end times will certainly have a huge effect on how we present the gospel message. Is someone who says a prayer once automatically saved from hell, even if they never enter a church or give another thought to God for the rest of their life? Is there a discernable moment between unsaved and saved? Again, it really depends on what you believe, but I would love to see us presenting a God so good (because He IS) that the offer of knowing him and being known by him sends us running to his love and salvation rather than desperately praying to escape his judgment.
Does this mean we should stop? Some might say yes. But with all that I’ve written, I want to say that I believe children’s ministry is important work. I regularly pray for people to come to know God at an early age, because I truly believe it will transform them and give them strength for the trials of life to come. But I want that journey to be authentic. I think it does more harm than good when kids are pressured or guilted into an acceptance of God. However, many well-intentioned people have added factors of power, pressure and fear of punishment to their presentation of the gospel, maybe without even realizing the impact it can have. Finally, it’s disingenuous when we focus so much on numbers. Above all, I am aware that I have no business judging the salvation of another person. As Romans 10:9 reminds us, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” It is a privilege to be one who can give that invitation, but what happens in the heart of someone else has absolutely nothing to do with me.
Charlotte is on the Editorial team at boldcupofcoffee.com and currently works with a non-profit organization in Taiwan where she teaches, leads English Bible studies, writes educational materials, trains teachers, poses for pictures, and a bunch of other stuff too. She is originally from Canada, spending significant amounts of time in all three westernmost provinces and the idea of home has become quite fluid. She has learned that life overseas is not as exotic as people may think, but life with God is a daily adventure. Read more article by Charlotte.
I don't understand Christian vegetarians and vegans. That's not entirely true, I understand people who want to lead a healthy lifestyle and see vegetarianism and veganism as a pathway towards that. What I truly don't understand is how people who believe the Bible to be true can possibly have an ethical problem with the concept of eating meat.
Here's why: That cow/pig/chicken is dead. More than that, it has never been alive.
This isn't only livestock I'm talking about, but rather every member of the animal kingdom including man's best friend himself, your dog. Not only will your dog not go to heaven, I contend that it was never “alive” (at least for the purposes I’ll be making here) to begin with.
That's right, I'm that guy. I'm the guy who's going to tell his kids; no, our bearded dragon won't be waiting for you in heaven and neither will either of your fish or that butterfly we nursed from an egg. There are a couple reasons why I'm this kind of killjoy, this kind of spoilsport. The first is that it is the truth and I make it a policy not to lie to my kids. The second is a little more serious; believing that our pets will be in heaven devalues human life. But let's deal with the fun one first.
So why do I say these horrible things about our best friends? About our companions who never judge and only ever accept us? Besides, how can I say they're not alive when clearly, I mean, look at them...running around, jumping, eating, breathing! They “live” in the biological sense, yes, but I would argue that the “life” of a dog is closer to the “life” of a tree than a human. Let me explain.
In Genesis 1 God creates everything. He forms the world and then He fills it with stuff. He fills it with water, air, dirt, plants, animals, and, most importantly, with us. In Genesis 2, we get a bit of a closer look into that process. In the Genesis 2, we get an up close and personal description of the creation of Humans. Here's the interesting thing about that: God breathes life into humans and humanity. We get "the breath of life".
The breath of life was given to you and to me, we are the image bearers – the standard bearers of God. Your cat may believe it is a god, but that doesn’t make it so. We are 'alive' in a way that the rest of the animal kingdom is not. We possess the breath of life, the Imago Dei. That's worth something.
We live in a funny world now too. We live in a world that devalues the lives that it ought to protect and over-values lives that frankly do not have the same value as a human life. Life comes from God. He is the creator and sustainer of life. Shouldn't He also be the one to define it? God gives the breath of life to humans, and I'd argue that makes us special. It puts us above other created things (such as plants and animals) on an existential level. I am alive in a way that a dog, cow, or tree will never and can never be.
Now, none of this is ever to negate the responsibility we have to steward all of creation. It is wrong to mistreat or cause unnecessary suffering to an animal though not because of the outcome for the animal, rather because of what it says about the person. The person who takes pleasure in destruction—pleasure in causing pain is much more in need of rescue than the breath-of-life-less animal they are injuring.
But I'm biased. I'm a meat-eater. So I would love to have some dialogue with a Christian vegetarian or vegan. Help me to understand why you view life this way. Who knows? Unlikely as it is, you might convince me! Because as far as I understand life in the Bible, your dog is dead, and it always has been.
As a Biblical conservative, a cultural Liberal, a husband, a dad, and a pastor, I want to see the church act differently in the world. My big passion in ministry is to see how believers can bring the Gospel into the world around them while pursuing the lost art of winsomeness. It is what fuels me and drives me to write. Engaging culture with the truth of the Gospel in a way that is winsome, wise, and as Colossians 4:6 directs us: “seasoned with salt.” It’s my hope that what I say here helps you not only in your own faith, but helps you share it more effectively and fruitfully.
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