Carousing | The Voice 10:38: September 20, 2020

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The Voice

Works of the Flesh: Carousing

The Apostle Paul reminded the Galatian Christians regarding the conflict between the desires of the flesh and the ways of God in the Spirit, and exhorted the Galatian Christians to manifest the fruit of the Spirit and resist the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-24). These “works of the flesh” are delineated in Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Many of the first “works of the flesh” centered on challenges and temptations which would prove especially acute for Christians who had recently come out of the Greco-Roman pagan milieu: sexual temptations like sexually deviant behavior, uncleanness, and lasciviousness; idolatry; and sorcery. Paul then established the “works of the flesh” which prove especially pernicious in relationships: enmities, strife, jealousy, wrath, rivalries, divisions, sects, and envy. Paul concluded the “works of the flesh” with sins of excess: drunkenness and carousing.

The Greek word translated as revellings, orgies, or carousing is the Greek word komos, defined by Thayer as:

a revel, carousal; a nocturnal and riotous procession of half drunken and frolicsome fellows who after supper parade through the streets with torches and music in honour of Bacchus or some other deity, and sing and play before houses of male and female friends; hence used generally of feasts and drinking parties that are protracted till late at night and indulge in revelry.

The komos was a particular and specific kind of Greek “observance” of which we know only a little based on what is attested in paintings on vases and in glimpses in Greek literature. The most famous komos is only known from its aftereffects: Alcibiades crashes the Symposium narrated by Plato after he participated in a komos. The komos certainly involved drunkenness; those participating in it, the komoi, would also engage in a kind of procession in the town in an immodest and indecent way. Weddings seemed to feature a komos, as would certain city festivals. Masks seem to be worn for at least some observances of the komos; there might well have been competitive speeches or songs involved. The Greek term for comedy, komoidia, quite likely derives from the word komos and ode, song: it is not hard to imagine the mirth and vulgarity of drunken song leading to what would become the tropes of what is now deemed comedy.

We thus can understand why both Paul and Peter will condemn the komos as a behavior of the Gentiles (using the term with its pejorative connotation), the rites of the darkness which are not suitable for Christians who live and walk as if it is daytime (Romans 13:13, 1 Peter 4:3-4).

Many cultures have a komos-type ritual, or at least provide some opportunity for its members to participate in a similar form of revelry and carousing. What Paul and Peter condemn in the Greek komos is easily found in eerily similar modern contexts: the drunken wedding party, the drunken feasts celebrating an important day for a given nation or people, the orgy of revelry and even violent destruction of property when a city’s sports team wins a championship (or, in some instances, loses one). The spirit of revelry can often be found in a bar or tavern. Not a few songs have been composed in a drunken haze among friends; what passes for comedy continues to rely on the vulgar tropes of what was likely discussed among the komoi in the ancient Greek world.

Perhaps the fullest modern embodiment of the komos is the stereotypical college frat party. Excessive amounts of alcohol are drunk; hazing rituals often feature stupid behaviors harming the one being hazed, innocent people, and property; young women are invited, plied with plenty of alcohol, and sexual behaviors with varying levels of consent and awareness naturally follow. This is all seen as “good fun,” and many who participate in it yearn to do so again soon. The prevalence of this trope in the modern psyche betrays the strong desire among many who should have outgrown such things to be able to return to them.

Let none be deceived: nothing good can come from revelry and carousing. It is one thing to celebrate important rituals in a person’s life and in the collective life of a nation or a culture in modest and sober ways. It is quite another to commemorate such things with revelry and carousing; such behavior is haunted by the drunkenness, sexual immorality, and violence that define the experience. How many high quality decisions have been made while drunk? How many unwise sexual liaisons have begun while drunk in a context of revelry which have led to pain and frustration long afterward? And that presumes such sexual liaisons are consensual, however one can define “consensual” in a drunken revelrous context; how many cases of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and/or rape have taken place during such parties? How many awake the day after such revelry with a splitting headache and deep regret? Why would people yearn to participate in such things again, and consider such behaviors as part of the “joys” of youth?

A hedonistically minded culture which normalizes and encourages such bouts of revelry is demonic in inspiration, casting a strong delusion over its people. As Christians we must set aside such delusions and turn away from the “party lifestyle.” Christians ought to be sober-minded, not enraptured by alcohol and sexual desire. Christians understand why revelry takes place at night: it is a work of darkness exposed as shameful in the light of day. Christians do well to be of the daytime, cognizant of the dangers of revelry, avoiding the works of the flesh, glorifying God in Christ in all they think, feel, say, and do. The shared love of Christians in Christ provides far greater connection and camaraderie than any drinking party can offer; the relational unity Christians ought to experience in God and with one another makes a mockery of the pretenses of a bacchanal. May we find joy and celebration in God in Christ, and obtain eternal life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Abortion | The Voice 10.37: September 13, 2020

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The Voice

Abortion

Abortion has become the “issue of all issues” in the “culture wars” in America today; it is one of the most polarizing and contentious matters in modern political and cultural discourse. Over the past fifty years abortion has been a major battleground regarding views of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, in terms of both the child in the womb as well as its mother. The issue of abortion, by its very nature, attracts powerful emotions and energy on all sides; a dispassionate examination of the subject is nearly impossible. In truth the matter of abortion, how it is viewed, how it is justified or condemned, and how the women in the middle are treated, indict our culture as a culture of death, with very few truly interested in cultivating a true culture of life which honors God and all of His children. Let us explore the matter of abortion according to God’s purposes made known in Christ and in the Scriptures.

What Is Abortion?

Since so much rhetoric regarding abortion is layered with euphemism, we do well to forthrightly set forth what abortion is and what it involves. Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by the removal of an embryo or fetus from a woman’s uterus. In many situations an abortion is unintentional; we consider these situations to be miscarriages. Any time a woman intentionally has an embryo or fetus removed is called an induced abortion. Induced abortions themselves can be delineated between “therapeutic,” on account of health conditions of the woman or the child, or “elective,” when chosen by the woman for other reasons. In modern discourse, elective induced abortions prove most contentious and are generally what people refer to when speaking about abortion, although many aspects of therapeutic induced abortions prove controversial as well.

Abortion can be induced by different methods. Medical abortion involves taking pills increasing levels of hormones which produce a hostile environment for the child, leading to the death of the child and the woman expelling the child and related tissue. Surgical abortion might involve suction or vacuum aspiration, which involves sucking the child out of the uterus; dilation and curettage (D&C), involving the opening of the cervix and scraping out of everything along the walls of the uterus with a curette; dilation and evacuation (D&E), which involves opening the cervix and cutting out or vacuuming out the child and the related tissue matter; or intact dilation and extraction (IDX), which involves opening the cervix and physically removing the child from the uterus (IDX is banned in the United States). Sometimes labor is induced and the child is killed; this method is very rarely used in the United States but is more prevalent in some European countries.

We can see that a range of actions and methods are in view when we discuss abortion.

Primary Arguments Regarding Abortion

Arguments regarding abortion fall primarily into two camps: those against abortion speak of themselves as “pro-life”; those who wish for abortion to remain legal speak of themselves as “pro-choice.”

Arguments against abortion focus on the life of the child. Most people who are against abortion believe that life begins at conception or implantation; therefore, any elective choice to end a pregnancy after conception or implantation is the act of taking the life of the child, and thus equated with murder. In the pro-life view, since the child is a living being, the government should consider its right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and therefore has a compelling interest to defend the life of the child through legislation making elective induced abortion illegal. Some would go further and make illegal many forms of therapeutic induced abortion.

Arguments for the legality of abortion focus on the choice of the mother. Some people who advance a pro-choice view are truly pro-abortion and have few if any qualms about the procedure; in such a view the life of the child is entirely in the control of the mother, and the mother’s right to decide whether to carry the baby to term or not is absolute. Others who have a pro-choice view do maintain qualms about abortion to some degree or another, wishing it did not have to be, or even being personally pro-life, but do not wish for the government to impose legislation against the procedure, instead relying on individual conscience on the matter.

The Scriptures on Abortion

In the Old Testament the Law made provision in one specific case of abortion:

And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow; he shall be surely fined, according as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (Exodus 21:22-25).

We would generally classify any such abortion as a miscarriage since it was not at all the woman’s desire or intent to end the pregnancy. We do see that the Law considers the offender guilty of harming life, and ought to pay at least a financial penalty, and perhaps even death.

This is the only passage which explicitly and directly relates to any kind of abortion.

Murder is condemned as sinful in both Old and New Testaments:

Thou shalt not kill (Exodus 20:13).

And because they had not the mind to keep God in their knowledge, God gave them up to an evil mind, to do those things which are not right; Being full of all wrongdoing, evil, desire for the goods of others, hate, envy, putting to death, fighting, deceit, cruel ways, evil talk, and false statements about others; Hated by God, full of pride, without respect, full of loud talk, given to evil inventions, not honouring father or mother, Without knowledge, not true to their undertakings, unkind, having no mercy (Romans 1:28-31).

The word translated “unkind” in Romans 1:31, astorgos, has the meaning of “without natural affection,” and a good argument can be made to relate it, at least in part, to Roman birth customs in which any child who was not accepted by the head of the household (paterfamilias) for whatever reason was taken out and exposed to die.

Furthermore, the logic behind the commandment against murder is based on life as being a gift of God, and something which is not to be taken lightly:

Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man (Genesis 9:6).

Anyone who has hate for his brother is a taker of life, and you may be certain that no taker of life has eternal life in him (1 John 3:15).

Early Christians did explicitly condemn abortion and infanticide, and did so under condemnation of murder:

“Thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not commit adultery”; thou shalt not commit sodomy; thou shalt not commit fornication; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not use magic; thou shalt not use philtres; thou shalt not procure abortion, nor commit infanticide; “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods” (The Didache, 2.2).

Whereas no passage in the Bible explicitly identifies the moment at which life begins, many passages in the Old and New Testaments speak of life beginning in the womb:

For thou didst form my inward parts / Thou didst cover me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks unto thee / for I am fearfully and wonderfully made / Wonderful are thy works; And that my soul knoweth right well.
My frame was not hidden from thee / When I was made in secret / and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Thine eyes did see mine unformed substance / and in thy book they were all written / even the days that were ordained for me / when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:13-16).

Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations (Jeremiah 1:5).

And it came to pass, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit…For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy (Luke 1:41, 44).

Therefore, it must be recognized that the Scriptures do not have much to say explicitly about abortion. Nevertheless, there is nothing within the pages of Scripture which give any reason to conclude that elective induced abortion is acceptable to God, and much to cast aspersions against it. Early Christians recognized elective induced abortions to be a form of murder, and we do well as Christians today to maintain the same conclusion.

The Challenges of “Choice”

In light of the Scriptures it is impossible to Biblically sustain the full-throated argument of the pro-choice movement regarding the absolute right of choice of the mother. God has made the mother and has given life to the mother, and the life of the mother is to be valued and respected as equal to the life of any other human being (Genesis 9:6, Galatians 3:28, 1 Timothy 2:4). Yet, as David proclaimed, God is also giving life to the child in her womb, and the life of that child is to be valued and respected as equal to the life of its mother and to the life of any other human being (Psalm 139:13-16).

The moral force of this argument is strong, and recognized as much by its opponents, who seek to dehumanize the child as an “embryo” or “fetus,” “protoplasm” entirely dependent on its mother for life, and therefore hers to decide whether it ought to continue or not. Furthermore, throughout time, the argument has hinged upon when life begins: it is recognized that if it is not yet life, no fault can be found in terms of what happens to it.

It is recognized that the life of the child in the womb is dependent on its mother; such is why abortion remains a special case with distinctions which are not maintained for those who take lives outside of the womb. And yet the child is more than just protoplasm or a bunch of dependent cells; by implantation the child has everything it needs within itself to be alive, and with continued maternal sustenance will grow and flourish. It is increasingly difficult to argue against life starting at any point after implantation.

Attitudes toward children in the womb often manifest the culture of death in which we live. Life ought to be worth more than money or time. Even in the heartbreaking cases of impregnation from rape, should not life have some value? The woman will be traumatized by the abortion or by having the child; is the means of conception at all the fault of the child, and yet, in abortion, who would bear the brunt of the suffering?

Our culture of death is also manifest in the valuation of life according to utilitarian measures. Untold thousands of children are being aborted because they are female, and therefore considered of less value to the family than a male child would be. We are beginning to see selective abortions of children who are found to be at risk of Down syndrome and many other genetic conditions, with parents choosing to end those lives because they will not be fully “normal”. In such decisions life is not being honored as a gift; it is being seen as a burden.

The absolute right to choice is a very American and modern individualist idea, but it is not a Biblical one. In Christ life is about glorifying God through whatever we experience, for God has given us life and all things. In all things we ought to uphold and honor the value of life, even at the expense of choice.

Pro-Life or Just Anti-Abortion?

As Christians we do well to uphold a consistently pro-life outlook, for God has given life as a gift, and we ought to hesitate to take it or devalue it. The temptation to devalue life is not restricted to the pro-choice movement.

We must be careful about how thoroughly we identify abortion as murder. As noted above, the definition of abortion is expansive. It technically contains every form of miscarriage. Therefore, unintentional abortions, known as miscarriages, are not only not sinful, but extremely traumatic experiences for women who ought never be shamed or condemned for what they have suffered.

Some aspects of therapeutic induced abortions prove problematic, as noted above, since “therapeutic” is now including selective abortions for “genetic abnormalities.” And yet there remain instances, such as with ectopic pregnancies, in which the child will never successfully be brought to term and the life of the mother is in great peril. Other similar conditions may come about. If we are truly pro-life, then the life of the mother is as valuable as the life of the child, and it is not for us or the government or any other institution to impose upon that mother the demand for her to sacrifice her life on account of the child.

Thus there will be times when abortion will have to be induced in order to preserve life. Women who undergo such experiences ought not be shamed or condemned but fully supported, encouraged, and comforted on account of the traumatic experiences they have endured.

Great care ought to be exercised in regards to the legislative goals of the pro-life movement. If abortion were outlawed in America, it would not end abortion; it would be made illegal. Making abortion illegal would most likely reduce the number of abortions that take place; this is a worthy goal. Yet how will abortion be made illegal? Will the women who search out abortions be the ones punished, or just the providers? Will there be a blanket condemnation, which may lead to the death of women who need therapeutic induced abortion to survive, and if so, is that really honoring life? In some countries in which abortion is banned many women who miscarry are accused of abortion and forced to suffer further humiliation and punishment, adding trauma on top of trauma. And, ultimately, will there still be concern about abortion and the lives of women and children if abortion is made illegal? There is not unanimous agreement on these matters among the various parts of the pro-life constituency. We must never forget that it is the Gospel, not legislation, which provides salvation (Romans 1:16); life will not be honored merely because it is illegal to do otherwise, and our government does not have the greatest track record when it comes to respecting life anyway.

If Christians would not be hypocrites they must give some thought to the condition of women and their children. Many women who consider abortion do so out of desperation; they need support and care, and we ought to search them out and provide it (Galatians 6:10). If the concerns are economic, we ought to meet them. If the concern is an inability to raise the child, we ought to adopt them, or better yet, empower and encourage the women to be able to raise their own children (James 1:27). If the child is born with medical conditions, we must rally around the family and comfort, strengthen, and sustain them through the trials they endure, and celebrate their sacrifices to honor life.

We must also give consideration for how we speak of and treat those who are guilty of sexually deviant behavior, especially those who practice sex before marriage. Many who profess Christ have undergone abortions so as to eliminate the source of shame which would come upon them from the disapprobation and shaming they would experience from fellow professors of Christ. Such does not excuse adding sin upon sin; nevertheless, if we truly wish to honor life and reduce abortions, we must avoid shaming or marginalizing women who are pregnant out of wedlock and find ways to encourage them to choose life and incorporate them into the community of the people of God.

Conclusion

Abortion is a complex and contentious topic, and has bearing on many others; we have only begun to scratch the surface on these matters, and have left many more aside.

As we have seen, God gives life and loves life, and as people made in the image of God, we ought to honor life. Elective induced abortions disregard the honor of life, valuing choice, personal autonomy, economic conditions, etc., over the value of life. Elective induced abortions are more like murder than they are akin to anything else.

Yet, to truly honor life, we must recognize the equal value of the life of the mother, and be careful lest opposition to abortion trump our concern for the lives of women. Women suffer terribly from miscarriages; some will have to endure therapeutically induced abortions to survive. For that matter, many women who have undergone elective induced abortions live with great trauma and guilt over their decision and come to regret it and repent of it. As Christians we must value and honor women as we value and honor children.

As of now, abortion is legal in America. We must be careful in our rhetoric against abortion lest we are found to have misrepresented the situation. There is a difference between abortion being an option but not mandated, and mandated abortion, such as in China’s previous one child policy. If the government mandates abortion, it has blood on its hands; if a government allows abortion, it may be guilty of upholding a culture of death, but the blood is on the hands of those who shed it.

As Christians we must honor the government and its rulers despite disagreement with its policies (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-18). We ought to uphold a culture of life and thus condemn elective induced abortion, and forms of therapeutic induced abortions which do not honor life. We can, and should, make good, strong arguments upholding a culture of life; it would be even better if we modeled and embodied those arguments. Yet, in all things, we must manifest the fruit of the Spirit, not the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:17-24). The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20); righteous indignation about the fate of so many aborted children must be tempered with this wisdom from the Lord’s brother. We must remember that the Devil and the powers and principalities over this present darkness are our true foes; those who advocate for abortion are deceived by these forces (Ephesians 6:12). And we must never forget those who find themselves in the middle of this great controversy: the women who contemplate abortion. We do well to find them, encourage them, and show them the value of life in a community which honors life, and all to the end of encouraging all such people to find what is truly life in Jesus (John 10:10, 1 Timothy 6:19). May we uphold the Gospel and its culture of life, and obtain the resurrection of life in Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

American Gospel | The Voice 10.36: September 06, 2020

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The Voice

The American Gospel

In a world darkened by superstition a bright light began to shine across the seas: men motivated by faith and freedom sought to build a republic based on human rights and Christian faith. This republic would be sanctified by the blood of many brave patriots who freely gave up their lives for the cause of faith and freedom. To this end the United States of America is an exceptional Christian nation, blessed and favored by God. God helps those who help themselves: Americans who accomplish the American Dream manifest the favor of God and maintain their confidence in that favor for salvation. Those who do not obtain those benefits clearly have not sufficiently trusted in (white) Jesus and the American way; they are prone to turn to godless socialism and seek to destroy America because they did not work hard enough to obtain its blessings.

The above is the American Gospel. It sounds just enough like the Gospel of Jesus to be taken seriously; and yet it is another gospel, compromises the witness of the true Kingdom of God, and cannot save.

The Puritans crossed the Atlantic in the seventeenth century in order to set up a theocratic community so as to embody the purity of what they imagined the Christian faith to be: the “city set on a hill” of which John Winthrop spoke. Enlightenment thinking would pervade secular and religious thinking in late eighteenth century America; many a religious authority proved willing to use Christian themes and language in the cause of the rebellion and to find ways to justify their position in the Scriptures. By the middle of the nineteenth century various forms of Christianity pervaded the United States of America, and its adherents celebrated and exalted in their nation and its ideology. Not a few believed in American postmillennialism: through the American project God was establishing the Kingdom of Jesus on earth. To this end many proved willing to justify and commend whatever America did as the will of God: the subjugation of the land and the dispossession of Native Americans; white supremacy and the oppression of people of color; participation within the government as service; sanctification of America’s military endeavors as service and the sacrifice of some to secure the freedom of many.

And yet much of what is put forth as the “American Gospel” is a product of the twentieth century. The federal government enforced draconian measures to stifle dissent during World War I, casting aspersions on the loyalty and integrity of anyone who would profess Christ and not take up arms to defend the United States (e.g. Sergeant York). During the Great Depression representatives of American business interests and some in conservative Christendom worked together to promote the “gospel” of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, free speech, and free enterprise; during the early days of the Cold War this coalition would prove ascendant, promoting attendance at the church of your choice as part of the obligation of being a good American resisting the godless communist cause, and of course exalting the virtues of capitalist free enterprise. As American culture has grown more secular, many within conservative Christendom sought to emphasize the “Judeo-Christian” heritage of America and have sought to baptize America’s founding and government as a profoundly Christian polity.

Let none be deceived: the American Gospel is not a harmless celebration of both faith and country. In New Testament times and immediately after the powers and principalities strongly persecuted the people of God through the coercive power of the nation-states. Yet for the past 1700 years the powers and principalities have proven just as willing to try to co-opt the faith: as opposed to resisting the faith, they have tried to embrace it, but only inasmuch as it will advance the purposes of the powers and principalities over the nation-state. If a Christianish form of civic religion will create patriotic, nationalistic, obedient, and compliant citizens to advance the purposes of the nation-state, well and good; but if any practice the true faith in Christ, and seek to advance the purposes of the Kingdom of Jesus even when those purposes deviate from the goal of the nation-state, such are reckoned as unpatriotic, with suspect loyalty, and a “fifth column” who can be excoriated as an enemy or supporting the enemy.

This challenge is manifest whenever American Christianish civic religion is questioned. For the purposes of the state, religious participation is good without regard to many religious specifics; notice how effectively “attend the church of your choice” has been promoted and advanced in our society, and how challenging it can be to reorient people toward the unity of the faith in Christ and the importance of proclaiming the Gospel in its purity (1 Corinthians 1:10ff, Galatians 1:6-9). What happens if a Christian would dare to question the purity and holiness of the heritage of the United States or challenge the presumption that its military members make sacrifices for their freedom? They are denounced as disloyal, unthankful, and might well be sympathizers with ideas deemed “un-American.” How well have conscientious objectors been treated in the military and society? How many arrests and beatings awaited, and continue to await, those who raise up their voices against the injustices and oppression prevalent in American society?

Americans can most assuredly become Christians and serve Jesus in His Kingdom; but the United States of America cannot be a “Christian nation” as commonly construed. The interests of the United States as a nation-state diverge frequently from the interests of the Kingdom of Jesus. The Kingdom of Jesus transcends worldly divisions and reckons everyone as equally valuable in the sight of God and equally worthy of hearing the word of life in Christ (Acts 10:34-35, Romans 2:11, Galatians 3:28); thus God loves Americans, but no more or less than He loves everyone else. The Scriptures never teach that “God helps those who help themselves”: American emphasis on self-reliance is contrary to the goal of relational unity in God and among one another as Christians (John 17:20-23, Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). Accomplishing the American Dream can be a good thing but it is not evidence of salvation: many faithful servants of Jesus never enjoyed material wealth or stability, and many who enjoy material comfort and stability have done so in ways which dishonor God in Christ (cf. 1 Timothy 6:3-10, 17-19). Every attempt to realize the ideals of equality in America have been resisted by many who profess Jesus as the Christ; at the same time, the pursuit of those ideals has led to intense suffering by those who have worked to call out against the injustice, and many such people were inspired by their commitment to the Kingdom of Jesus to do so.

There are ways in which God has very likely used the United States to accomplish His purposes in the world. Yet the United States is not a pure angelic state in the world. Christians must be wary of the American Gospel and the baptism of patriotic nationalism to advance the purposes of the nation-state to the detriment of the Kingdom of Jesus. No soldier could die for the freedom which God has secured for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus His Son; Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, not the American way. It is not enough to be a good American to be saved; we must submit to the Lordship of Jesus in all things and seek to advance His Kingdom, His righteousness and justice, and all to His honor and glory, not that of the United States. One day the United States will fall like any other nation-state; the Kingdom of Jesus will endure forever. May we prioritize what God has done in Christ and seek His Kingdom and righteousness to obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Babylon | The Voice 10.35: August 30, 2020

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The Voice

Babylon

From its beginning Babylon represented human arrogance and rebellion; it would enjoy fleeting moments of glamour and glory on a global stage. Babylon the city, on the Great River Euphrates in Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq, would fade into oblivion, fulfilling the prophecies of the prophets. Babylon as metaphor endures.

In Genesis 10:10-11 Babel is reckoned as the beginning of Nimrod’s kingdom. Its better known origin story can be found in Genesis 11:1-9: the Tower of Babel, built by all humanity on the Plain of Shinar to stay together and to make a name for themselves in direct rebellion against God’s commands. The place is named “Babel,” Hebrew for confusion, because God confused human language there. In Akkadian the city was known as Babilim, the meaning of which is highly contested; it was rendered as Babulon in Greek, from which we derive “Babylon”; in the Hebrew Bible, the city is called “Babel” throughout.

Both archaeology and written texts attest to Babylon’s relatively late beginnings in Mesopotamia, established sometime in the 2300s to 2200s BCE, allegedly by Sargon of Akkad himself. The Hebrew Bible did well at speaking of Egyptians and Assyrians but not “Babylonians,” for Babylon was at least ruled over if not also inhabited by a series of different groups of people over its two thousand years in existence. Its original inhabitants were likely Akkadians; by the 1800s BCE the Amorites of the northwestern Levant had invaded and occupied much of southern Mesopotamia and inaugurated the Amorite, or Old Babylonian, period (ca. 1800s-1500s BCE; in Israel, the days of Egyptian sojourn). Babylon remained smaller and more obscure until Hammurabi built an empire dominating southern Mesopotamia and the Euphrates region northwest to Mari (ca. 1792-1750 BCE). Hammurabi became famous for the law code established in his name; it has served as a helpful tool as both to contextualize the Law of Moses and to prove a foil for it. After Hammurabi all of southern Mesopotamia would become known as “Babylonia,” just as northern Mesopotamia had become known as “Assyria.”

Amorite Babylon was overthrown by the Hittites around 1595 BCE; soon afterward it was overrun by a group of people known as the Kassites, likely from the Zagros Mountains area of Iran, inaugurating the Kassite, or Middle Babylonian, period (ca. 1595-1155 BCE; in Israel, the time of the Exodus and the Judges). Toward the end of this period the Assyrians and Elamites dominated the city. More “native” Akkadians overthrew the Kassites in 1155 and ruled for a short time before the city was overrun by Arameans from the west.

From 911 to 609 BCE Babylon was continually under Assyrian control. In the 700s BCE the Chaldeans, people who lived in the marshes of southern Mesopotamia, began to continually harass the Assyrian authorities, taking over in Babylon when Assyria was otherwise distracted and fleeing into the safety of the marshlands when the Assyrians returned with an army. So it went with Merodach-Baladan (Marduk-apla-iddina II) who sent envoys to Hezekiah king of Judah (722-710, 703-702 BCE; 2 Kings 20:12-19, Isaiah 39:1-8). In response Sennacherib king of Assyria leveled Babylon to the ground; and yet his son Esarhaddon would dedicate many resources to rebuilding the city.

In the period of 612-605 BCE Nabopolassar (Nabû-apla-uṣur), a Chaldean Babylonian ruler, allied with the Medes, overthrew the Assyrian yoke, and destroyed the cities and empire of the Assyrians. It would fall to his son Nebuchadnezzar II (Nabû-kudurri-uṣur; ca. 634-562 BCE) to fill the void in Mesopotamia and establish what is now known as the Neo-Babylonian Empire (605-539 BCE). Nebuchadnezzar defeated Pharaoh Neko of Egypt (cf. 2 Kings 23:28-30); he would besiege Jerusalem and exile Jehoiachin and the upper class of Judah in 597 BCE, and after another rebellion in the days of Zedekiah, again besiege and then completely destroy Jerusalem, ending the Kingdom of Judah as a going concern in 586 BCE (2 Kings 24:1-25:21). Nebuchadnezzar would besiege Tyre unsuccessfully for 13 years; attack Egypt; and also exile the Philistines (Ezekiel 29:17-21). Babylon reached the peak of its prominence and power in the days of Nebuchadnezzar (cf. Daniel 4:1-37).

We make much of the Neo-Babylonian Empire because of its role in destroying Jerusalem and exiling the Judahites to Babylon; in historical terms it was short-lived, a quick transition between the days of the Assyrians and the Persians. The genius of the Babylonian Empire died with Nebuchadnezzar; a few short-lived kings reigned after him, including Evil-Merodach (Amēl-Marduk), who elevated Jehoiachin according to 2 Kings 27:27-30). The longest reigning king was Nabonidus (Nabû-naʾid), the last official king of the Chaldeans, along with his son Belshazzar, famously condemned in Daniel 5:1-31 (ca. 556-539 BCE). In their day Cyrus king of Persia conquered Babylon at the Battle of Opis and established the Achaemenid Persian Empire.

Despite a couple of insurrections the Persians maintained generally and strong consistent rule over Babylon until the defeat of Darius III by Alexander, king of Macedon, at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BCE. Babylon flourished under Alexander; under the continual conflict of his successors Babylon began to depopulate. In 275 BCE its inhabitants and the Esagila temple were moved to Seleucia on the Tigris, which itself would later be swallowed up by Ctesiphon, which was made the metropolis of southern Mesopotamia throughout the Roman/Parthian/Sassanian period (ca. 120 BCE-700s CE). In the 700s Ctesiphon faded after the establishment of Baghdad by the Abbasid Muslims, which remains the prominent city to this day. By the time of Jesus Babylon was a small village; Christianity spread in the area, but by the second millennium CE Babylon was a ruin.

The Bible well recognizes the prominence of Babylon in Mesopotamian civilization. The city and its gates were most impressive; its wealth was immense; its temples were legendary, exemplified in the story of the Tower of Babel. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon was reckoned as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Their astrological and astronomical observations formed the basis of many scientific endeavors. Many of the mythological stories which were excavated in Mesopotamia are told in their Babylonian versions, especially the highly influential creation narrative known as Enuma elish.

And yet the words of the prophets were fulfilled (cf. Isaiah 13:1-14:23, 40:1-55:13, Jeremiah 50:1-51:64): Babylon, master of a mighty empire, vaunting over defeated Israel, tempting exiled Israelites to turn away from YHWH their God to Marduk and the Mesopotamian pantheon, faded into oblivion. Its location would be lost, rediscovered in modern times by western archaeologists confessing the God of Israel and looking to illuminate the narratives of the Hebrew Scriptures. The story remains poignant for all who have ears to hear.

Even as Babylon in Mesopotamia faded, what Babylon represented for Israelites, the pagan human earthly power arrogating itself against God and His people, would endure. Peter and John both spoke regarding Rome and its Empire in terms of Babylon (1 Peter 5:13, Revelation 17:1-18:24). If Babylon’s heritage could be seen in Rome, we can see similar evidence of its heritage in every major human power since. Civilization may have developed along the shores of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and magnified itself in the form of Babylon; God’s people have been called at times to seek the welfare of Babylon and to flee Babylon and its idolatry. To this day the people of God ought to live in unease in the “Babylon” of its day, seeking to embody the Christ to the lost and dying while not falling prey to the temptations “Babylon” would offer. May we faithfully serve God in Christ and obtain eternal life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Political Conservatism | The Voice 10.34: August 23, 2020

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Political Conservatism

It is said that the two subjects which ought to be avoided in polite conversation are religion and politics. Furthermore, within Christianity, there is often an understandable desire to transcend the politics of the day: politics, by the very nature of the craft, involves compromise and gets very dirty in deal making; furthermore, no political platform fully embodies God’s purposes in Christ, and politicians invariably fall short of upholding what God would have upheld in Christ in every respect. At the same time, Christians in America will invariably be called upon to engage with all sorts of ideas, philosophies, plans, and policies prevalent in American political discourse as members of this representative republic; thus, however Christians engage with politics, they ought to do so in ways which bring the lordship of Jesus to bear, and Jesus ought to be glorified and manifest in how they speak of politics and politicians (Ephesians 4:29, Philippians 1:27, Colossians 3:17). We thus do well to consider the broad trends in political discourse and how they relate to what God has made known in Jesus.

The vast majority of modern American political discourse takes place within the general confines of philosophical liberalism: a commitment to free speech, freedom of individuals, the fundamental equality of everyone, a commitment to the rule of law, free markets and free trade, freedom of religion, and a primarily secular posture from the government. Within this commitment to philosophical liberalism we presently see three major political postures: progressivism, conservatism, and libertarianism.

The core concept of political conservatism involves the goal of advocating for and protecting, and thus conserving, civilization as expressed in society and culture: tradition, authority, property rights, religious practice, and the family are thus emphasized and promoted. Conservatism as such arose in Europe as a result of the seismic changes caused by the French Revolution. In its moderate form conservatism attempts to work within a commitment to philosophical liberalism to preserve freedoms while upholding what is deemed proper authorities and traditional culture; in its more extreme reactionary form conservatism seeks to disrupt or even overthrow modernism, crying out to stop everything in the relentless pace of change. In its American form political conservatism may be understood as upholding republicanism, a “Judeo-Christian” moral framework, American exceptionalism, individual liberty, a pro-business laissez-faire philosophy of economics, a skepticism toward government and its effectiveness, and great resistance to anything perceived as Marxist/communist/socialist.

Political conservatism in America remains fractured among three emphases often held in tension: fiscal conservatism, social conservatism, and religious conservatism. Fiscal conservatives have been strongly influenced by libertarianism and the Chicago and Austrian schools of economics and thus emphasize the importance of free markets and resist many forms of government oversight of economic markets; they endorse policies which will advance the economic interests of American businesses. Social conservatives emphasize the dangers they perceive to social and cultural values of the past: they endorse policies which would preserve the integrity of social and cultural values of the past and to resist the policies endorsed by political progressives. Religious conservatives emphasize the “Judeo-Christian” religious heritage of America and endorse policies which would reinforce American Christian civic religious practices and values. Some political conservatives identify across all three emphases; many others maintain a primary loyalty to one or two emphases over the others. Many other divisions and differences in ideology among political conservatives could be added; for our purposes, we do well to note how a need to bridge the various emphases and ideologies can help explain some of the internal contradictions which often manifest themselves in political conservatism, and how commitments in political conservatism may inform the postures maintained by many in their faith.

There is much to commend political conservatism for the Christian. At their best political conservatives work to preserve the religious liberties of Christians and others so Christians can live out lives in peace and dignity (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-2). Political conservatives wish to uphold the integrity of the family and the life of the unborn and to maintain space for the traditions of culture and society. The truly politically conservative impulse remains very necessary and an important check on the impulse toward progressivism from the other side: not everything ought to be changed or challenged. Many aspects of the society and culture we have received from our ancestors are praiseworthy and ought to be imitated and maintained. Major policy changes should be subjected to great scrutiny so as to limit the difficulties which might arise from the law of unintended consequences.

And yet political conservatism is not without its difficulties. Many challenges arise from the inherent tension among economic, social, and religious conservatism as practiced in America today. While one can certainly glorify God as a Christian and believe in the value of laissez-faire capitalism, laissez-faire capitalism is not mandated or inherently commended in the pages of Scripture. The shareholder value-driven impetus of what is deemed “late capitalism” has proven extremely harmful for the integrity of the environment, the family, and work, and thus in tension with what ought to be the goals of social conservatism. The move toward libertarianism among many political conservatives has led to greater emphasis on freedom than responsibility. Since the 1930s economic and political conservatives have worked with many faith leaders to promote an American Christianish civic religion, encouraging attending a church or a synagogue of one’s choice and a commitment to free markets and free enterprise, and this effort has proven very successful in conservative Christendom. Any Gospel-based critique of modern American practices of free markets or free enterprise have been deemed by many religious conservatives as Marxist or socialist and dismissed entirely. Not a few Christians seeking to restore the ancient order have fallen prey to the siren song of American Christianish civic religion: many find few, if any, points of disconnect between their faith in Christ and their patriotism and political commitments, and some prove more than willing to condemn as heretical and anathema any Christian who would not share those political commitments.

Unfortunately, Frank Wilhoit’s proposition regarding conservatism has yet to be refuted: “there must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.” Since political conservatives strongly value loyalty, the strong temptation remains to find reasons to commend and justify themselves and stifle critique and dissent and use the law as an instrument to benefit themselves at the expense of those with whom they politically disagree. Such offends the premise of equal standing before the law, the punishment of wrongdoing, and the commendation of the good in Isaiah 1:16-17 and Romans 13:1-7.

Even the core strength of political conservatism, the drive to commend and defend the cultural and social order, is not without difficulty. Christians can find many aspects and elements to modern American culture which are praiseworthy and ought to be maintained; yet not all aspects of American culture should be preserved. It is very tempting for political conservatives to commend and defend the indefensible if the indefensible remains part of their cultural heritage, as seen most clearly in the long term embrace of white supremacy and resistance to the dismantling of racist systems among many political conservatives. Modern political conservatism has a strong contrarian streak, and a few political conservatives back themselves into reactionary postures and white nationalism in their attempts to “own the libs.”

Politics and society work best when a healthy conservatism proves willing and able to make spirited defenses for the present polity, to work to conserve the culture and the environment, and to uphold the dignity and honor of life and work. Christians can find much to commend in political conservatism. Nevertheless, not everything in society is worth preserving; many aspects of society are oppressive and unjust, and to defend and support such things would be contrary to God’s purposes in Christ. Christians must take care lest they become too comfortable in the atmosphere of political conservatism so as to go beyond what glorifies God in Christ and compromise the faith, judge hypocritically, and justify the indefensible. May we all seek to glorify God in Christ in our political views, postures, and behaviors, and magnify the Lordship of Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Drunkenness | The Voice 10.33: August 16, 2020

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Works of the Flesh: Drunkenness

The Apostle Paul understood the conflict between the desires of the flesh and the ways of God in the Spirit, and exhorted the Galatian Christians to manifest the fruit of the Spirit and resist the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-24). He listed these “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Many of the first “works of the flesh” centered on challenges and temptations which would prove especially acute for Christians who had recently come out of the Greco-Roman pagan milieu: sexual temptations like sexually deviant behavior, uncleanness, and lasciviousness; idolatry; and sorcery. Paul then established the “works of the flesh” which prove especially pernicious in relationships: enmities, strife, jealousy, wrath, rivalries, divisions, sects, and envy. Paul concluded the “works of the flesh” with sins of excess, beginning with drunkenness.

The word here translated as “drunkenness” is the Greek word methe, defined by Thayer as “intoxication, drunkenness.” In theory, a person can become intoxicated or made drunk by all sorts of substances and desires; to this end John is told the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk by the “wine” of the “sexually deviant behavior” of “whore Babylon” in Revelation 17:1-2, an indictment of the idolatry of the age. Yet we notice how the drunkenness is spoken of in terms of “wine,” for the core concept of drunkenness remains “to be made intoxicated by alcoholic substances.” Thus Jesus warned His disciples to not be overcharged with drunkenness and to be found unprepared for the day of His return (Luke 21:34); Paul likewise warned the Roman Christians to walk as if in the day, not in drunkenness in Romans 13:12-13, since those who get drunk tend to do so at night (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:7).

Wine and beer were very common beverages in the Greco-Roman world. Most sources of water were polluted and infested with parasites, and the alcoholic content in wine would help reduce some of these challenges; wine and beer were also a means by which to obtain some calories for survival. Knowledge of distillation was unknown in the ancient world; “strong drink” (Hebrew shekar) in the Old Testament referred to “beer,” not the distilled spirits of much higher alcoholic content now known to man. By the time of the New Testament it was considered barbaric and uncultured to drink “unmixed” wine which maintained its full ~12% alcoholic strength (thus the indictment and the strength of judgment found in the unmixed cup of the wrath of God in Revelation 14:10); wine was cut with water, three or four parts water to one part wine, reducing alcoholic content to around 3-4%. Paul commended such wine for Timothy on account of his stomach ailments (1 Timothy 5:23). Almost everyone in the ancient world, the poor or enslaved as well as the rich, would drink some kind of this mixed wine with their meals.

And yet Paul’s warning against drunkenness remained appropriate: many would drink themselves to drunkenness, even with unmixed wine. In this way human nature has changed little over the centuries: then, as now, many consumed a lot of alcohol at parties or in other social settings as a “social lubricant,” to loosen inhibitions and revel with one’s fellow man: to “make merry,” according to the Hebrew idiom (e.g. Ruth 3:7, 1 Samuel 25:36, 2 Kings 4:20, Ecclesiastes 9:7, Isaiah 24:7, Jeremiah 15:17). Drunkenness, then as now, would often lead to unwise sexual liaisons or arguments and fights (cf. Proverbs 20:1, 23:31-35). For many drunkenness represented a coping mechanism for the distress and pain of life, a tranquilizer to numb from the misery of life (cf. Proverbs 31:6-7). Drunkenness, therefore, represents the attempt to escape from reality to pursue greater social acceptance, the loosening of inhibitions, the warmth and the “buzz,” and/or the numbness from pain. Christians are called upon to clearly recognize reality and to find hope and confidence in Jesus, giving no quarter to the passions of the flesh but in sober-mindedness fully devoted to the purposes of God in Christ until He returns (cf. Colossians 3:1-10). Thus, any who would profess Jesus yet prove to be an unrepentant drunkard must be cast out from among the people of God, for no drunkard will inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 5:11, 6:10).

The culture of alcohol in America today gravitates toward the extremes: excessive consumption of alcohol in revelry and/or addiction, or teetotaling abstinence. Christians do well to condemn the culture of excessive consumption of alcohol and to resist any form of participation in it. Few sins prove as self-defeating as drunkenness: much of it is consumed without regard to taste; all kinds of bad decisions are made while drunk; excessive consumption all too easily leads to a hangover; and despite it all people will return and do it over and over again. Such is the definition of folly, and we do well to observe the lessons of Proverbs 23:31-35. In truth no one is at their best or healthiest while drinking unto drunkenness. Nothing good comes from it.

We can see that Christians must condemn the excessive consumption of alcohol and firmly resist participation in drunkenness and revelry. Yet we must also make sure we do not go beyond what is written in our condemnations and denunciations. There are some who would suggest any kind of alcoholic consumption is sinful and condemned. Many such persons attempt to argue for a “non-alcoholic” definition of Greek oinos as used in the New Testament; some suggest the condemnation of drunkenness in Ephesians 5:18 is not just the end result but the entire process based upon the form of the verb (methuskesthe, argued to be an inchoate/inceptive form), and thus to drink one alcoholic drink is in the process of getting drunk, and thus is as drunkenness. Neither argument can be sustained in light of what is made known in the New Testament. Greek oinos, by definition, is alcoholic wine; contextual evidence would be necessary to suggest anything to the contrary. It would be odd for the Jewish people to condemn Jesus as one who drank a lot of grape juice in Matthew 11:19; Paul’s exhortation for deacons to “not be given to much wine” makes no sense if the “wine” involved was really only grape juice (1 Timothy 3:8). In terms of Ephesians 5:18, not every verb with the inchoate/inceptive form -sk- is necessarily inchoate/inceptive; by the first century, methuskesthe just meant to get drunk, not the whole process. One could argue that the sin of drunkenness includes drinking with the intent to get drunk, and thus with the very first drink; yet even then, if there were no intention to get drunk, and one did not get drunk, there is no means by which to condemn such a one as a drunkard.

What shall we say to such things? No excuse or quarter is to be given for drunkenness: all Christians must condemn excessive consumption of alcohol as dangerous and sinful, a “work of the flesh” (1 Corinthians 5:11, 6:10, Galatians 5:22). The Bible does not condemn all forms of alcoholic consumption, however: the condemnation is in excess consumption, and the Scriptures testify to the people of God drinking wine and beer in Old and New Testament times (Deuteronomy 7:3, 14:26, Proverbs 31:6, Ecclesiastes 9:7, 10:19, Matthew 11:19, 1 Timothy 5:23). The Apostle Paul declared it was good to not drink wine if it caused a fellow Christian to stumble, and that remains excellent counsel (Romans 14:21). And yet the Kingdom is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit according to Romans 14:17: there is no ground to condemn consumption of alcohol that does not lead to excess. Thus, Christians do well to avoid sin in terms of alcohol and drinking: none should get drunk. Those who elect to avoid all alcoholic beverages ought to be respected for that decision, and none should seek to cause them to stumble. Yet those who abstain have no ground or right to judge or condemn those who would consume alcohol but not to excess (Romans 14:3-22). May we glorify God in all we do, avoid drunkenness, and strive to live in peace to edify one another in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Freedom | The Voice 10.32: August 09, 2020

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Freedom in Christ Jesus

For ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another (Galatians 5:13).

Few principles receive greater esteem and worship in America than freedom or liberty. Many believe the emphasis and value of freedom is what makes America distinct and exceptional among the nations. Freedom is often viewed as an essential right, if not the essential right, of all Americans: the armed forces are hallowed as those who have sacrificed much in order to maintain freedom and liberty, and so all are expected to highly esteem it. One of the quickest and most effective ways of demonizing a given idea or practice is to say it would inhibit and suppress the freedom of Americans to live as they desire.

In modern America, however, freedom is generally understood in its most libertarian sense: freedom demands license, or “freedom to”: I am free to do as I wish. You do not have the right to tell me what to do or to demand anything of me, because I have freedom and liberty by right as an American citizen, and I will do what I want to do. In America far more sensitivity is shown to the prospect of what is deemed tyranny, the restriction of liberty, than towards a concern for the consequences of disobedience toward or active rebellion against authority, or even on many of the restrictions on individual conduct which work toward the common good; not a few lives have been sacrificed on the altar to preserving the “freedom” of others, and many terrible and unjust policies have been defended as having preserved “freedom” or “liberty.”

Christians indeed have freedom in Christ: the Apostle Paul insisted that Christ set Christians free for freedom (Galatians 5:1). Yet the Apostles envisioned the freedom Christians enjoy in Christ very differently from the libertarian cast of freedom imagined in modern America. In Christ freedom is primarily liberation: “freedom from.”

According to Paul all people are caught up under sin: death entered the world because of sin, and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23, 5:12-21). The Hebrews author proposed how all people are enslaved by their fear of death to do the will of the Evil One who has the power of death (Hebrews 2:14-15); Paul spoke similarly of people living under the power of the Evil One, of “sin” in terms of a “power” to which people find themselves enslaved to do what they would not and to not do what they would desire to do, and of “powers and principalities” who maintain control over the world in its present darkness (Romans 7:7-23, Ephesians 2:1-3, 6:12). On their own humans find themselves thus lost in condemnation: their good works cannot undo their evil deeds, having been judged by law as transgressors deserving due penalty (Romans 3:20-28, James 2:8-13). Indeed, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

By dying to atone for sin, Jesus defeated the forces of sin and the powers and principalities over this present darkness (Romans 8:1-3, Colossians 2:15). In His resurrection from the dead, Jesus overcame the power and sting of death (Romans 6:1-11, 1 Corinthians 15:1-28). This is the freedom Christians have in Christ: liberation from enslavement to sin and death. In Christ Christians are set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). Christians are no longer in debt to live according to the ways of the world in its vanity and lusts, for they have received the Spirit of adoption into the household of God (Romans 8:12-15). The powers and principalities of the world have been soundly defeated; Christians can look to Jesus and trust in Him and do not have to give their power over to the forces which would enslave them to sin and death (cf. Colossians 2:11-15).

Freedom as liberation from the forces of sin and death is far greater and more powerful than any freedom which the United States of America might presume to bestow upon its citizens. Yet to what end are Christians expected to exercise their freedom and liberty in Christ?

So many in America and the world might look at “freedom to” as license, to do as they wish; Paul and Peter warn Christians against such a definition. According to Paul, liberation in Christ means to put to death the works of the flesh which enslaved us unto death so we can walk in newness of life in righteousness according to the way of Jesus (Romans 6:1-14, Galatians 5:13, 17-24). Peter stated the matter succinctly in 1 Peter 2:15-16:

For so is the will of God, that by well-doing ye should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God.

The Apostles provide this consistent witness throughout the New Testament: Christians are set free in Christ from enslavement to sin and death in order to freely submit to the will of God in Christ Jesus. In a figure Paul spoke of Christian conversion as having been set free from enslavement to sin to become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:14-23). The Galatian Christians were in danger of submitting themselves to the yoke of the Law of Moses; Paul insisted how Jesus had called them to freedom from that Law, not to pursue the selfish passions of the flesh, but to serve one another (Galatians 5:1, 13).

Freedom and liberty therefore mean very different things for Christians than they do for Americans. For Americans, freedom is a fundamental right for which many have died so we can maintain and obtain it; to Christians, freedom is the gift of God which comes from Jesus willingly sacrificing Himself for us and for sin. To Americans, freedom is a given, a part of what it means to be an American; Christians understand they have never deserved or merited the freedom they have obtained in Christ, for it was given freely by grace (Ephesians 2:1-10). Far too many Americans presume freedom means they can do whatever they want; Christians must use their freedom to submit themselves to the will of God in Christ, or their “freedom” is merely a cloak and a pretext for evil, and has been emptied of its power. Americans will die for liberty; in Christ, liberty is the first thing to be renounced in order to live in the unity of the Spirit (cf. Romans 14:1-23, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13). Americans constantly fret about the danger of someone infringing on their liberty; Christians maintain confidence in the inability of any external agent to separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus their Lord yet expect to suffer harassment, loss, and/or persecution for their confession that Jesus is Lord (Romans 8:31-39, 1 Peter 4:12-19).

As Christians we can appreciate the benefits and blessings that come from being citizens of the United States of America; we can celebrate our freedom of religion and freedom of assembly, and even remain in the right to exhort and remind governing authorities regarding these values which the nation-state would presume to uphold (cf. Acts 16:35-40). For Christians, however, freedom looks like a cross. If we allow American conceptions of freedom and liberty to inform our faith in Christ, we will invariably insist on our own ways to the detriment and harm of others, cast aspersions and perhaps even prove rebellious against lawful authorities, and be condemned for having used our freedom as a cloak for wickedness. We cannot follow in humiliation, degradation, and suffering according to the way of the Christ while doggedly insisting on our freedoms and rights. We cannot demand our way or the highway and yet share in relational unity with God and with His people as God shares relational unity within Himself (John 17:20-23, Ephesians 4:1-4). Instead, as Christians, we must continually resist understanding freedom in Christ Jesus as so many understand freedom in America; we must root and ground ourselves in Jesus as Lord, confess Him in word and deed, and use the freedom we have obtained in Christ to submit to Him in all things and serve one another. May we find what is truly life in Christ and confess Jesus, not American ideals, as Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Prosperity Gospel | The Voice 10.31: August 02, 2020

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The Prosperity Gospel

The Apostles bore witness regarding one of the most pernicious dangers and difficulties Christians in successive generations would face: the desire to hear a message amenable to human nature and lust, and those who would be more than eager to preach such a message (1 Timothy 4:1-3, 6:3-10, 2 Timothy 4:1-5, Jude 1:3-23). The prosperity gospel manifests these tendencies fully.

The prosperity gospel is also known as prosperity theology, the seed gospel, or the health and wealth gospel. Its fundamental premise is the expectation that those who fully trust in God are blessed with health, wealth, and overall prosperity. According to this message Jesus died in order to eliminate poverty and sickness from among His people. The means by which such prosperity can be accessed is almost invariably through providing consistent monetary donations to those who proclaim this message: it is often claimed these are seed donations, and God will provide those who give them with far more material wealth when they are given. Those who proclaim this message emphasize personal empowerment, self-help, and positivity. Those few adherents who may find healing or prosperity are celebrated and lionized as the norm; the many who do not receive healing or prosperity are made to feel as if they did not have enough faith and did not work hard enough to obtain the benefits.

The prosperity gospel relies on a pastiche of various decontextualized Bible verses to advance its thesis. Much is made of Jesus’ promise that He would give anything which His servants would ask for in His name, and emphasis is made on “anything” (cf. Matthew 7:7, 21:22, Mark 11:24, Luke 11:9, John 14:13-14, 15:7, 16, 16:23, 26). Constant appeals are made to the Apostles’ power to heal people of their illnesses (e.g. Acts 3:1-13, 5:12-16, 9:32-43). Malachi 3:10 is another promise to which many will make appeal; much also can be made of 2 Corinthians 9:6-13 in the same line of thinking: those who give much to God will receive even more from Him. Passages like John 10:10, promising abundant life, are easily warped to suggest material prosperity. The greeting of 3 John 1:2, hoping for prosperity and health along with soul prosperity, is made absolute.

We can understand the appeal of the prosperity gospel: who among us wants to be poor and sick? In modern society, as has been true in most societies throughout time, health and wealth have been seen as signs of divine blessing and favor, and people would like to emulate those who enjoy such things. Indeed, under the old covenant, the blessings of God were defined in terms of health and material wealth, and those who would lose such things or who never obtained them were deemed cursed by God (e.g. Leviticus 26:1-46, Proverbs). Those who advocate the prosperity gospel can find antecedents for many of their teachings in the Christian tradition; many of its strands are not novel. The prosperity gospel has been proclaimed so as to align well with the “American Dream” of self-sufficiency and wealth; its preachers skillfully exploit and manipulate the laws regarding religious non-profits to maximize wealth from the donations they have received, often to the point of fraud. Thus we should not be surprised to find prosperity gospel advocates proclaiming their messages on every form of common media and receiving fantastic sums of money from donations, having persuaded untold thousands of the aged, ill, poor, and marginalized in America and around the world of their message.

In truth the prosperity gospel is a false gospel, one designed to appeal to the lusts and vanities of people and away from the difficult aspects of the self-emptying and sacrificial message of Christ crucified. Even under the old covenant the conceit of the view that all suffering came from sin and a lack of faith was questioned and refuted, as can be seen in Psalm 44, Job, and Ecclesiastes; Job and Ecclesiastes, as well as the prophets, affirmed that many become wealthy based on exploitation and fraud, not faithfulness toward God. Yet the fundamental error of the prosperity gospel is made plain in the cross: the Scriptures do not attest that Jesus died on the cross to eliminate poverty and sickness from among His people. Jesus lived and died in poverty; the Apostles did the same (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:9-13, 2 Corinthians 8:9). Most of those who heard and obeyed the Gospel were among the poor, and most of them remained in that condition throughout their lives (1 Corinthians 1:26-27). For all those whom God healed to bear witness to the truth of the message of the Apostles we can find other instances in which Christians became ill and were not thus miraculously healed: Epaphroditus of Philippi, Trophimus (Philippians 2:25-27, 2 Timothy 4:20). If Jesus died to eliminate poverty and sickness among His people, the witness of history has proven Him an abject failure.

Jesus did not die to eliminate poverty and sickness; Jesus died to liberate humanity from slavery to sin, death, and the powers and principalities of this present darkness (Romans 8:1-18, Colossians 2:15, Hebrews 2:8-14). Furthermore, it was not expected that Jesus would suffer so that no one else would ever have to suffer; quite the contrary! Jesus was the Pioneer of the Way of Life (Hebrews 2:9-10): all who would follow Him would have to take up their cross, that is, the object of their humiliation, suffering, and shame, and come after Jesus (Matthew 10:38, 16:24-25). Only those who have suffered with Jesus will be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17). Paul exhorted Christians to imitate him as he imitated Christ, glorying not in material standing or wealth but in humiliation and weakness (1 Corinthians 11:1, 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10, Philippians 3:1-15). John understood how God is love, and that love was manifest in what God accomplished in Jesus (1 John 4:7-21); thus, for Christians to love as God has loved them required them to suffer loss for one another (1 John 3:16-18). Jesus thus did not suffer with the expectation that His followers would not have to suffer; instead, His suffering proved paradigmatic for the believer, who would only enter the Kingdom through tribulation (cf. Acts 14:21-22).

Health and wealth are not inherently problematic; we can certainly hope and pray for health and wealth, just like John did for Gaius in 3 John 1:2. Yet we must recognize that health and wealth can become idols and temptations away from God’s purposes in Christ (1 Timothy 6:3-10). Those who have health and wealth must use them to glorify God in Christ, to provide for those in need, and to be rich in good works, putting no trust in that health or wealth but in everything giving the glory to God (1 Timothy 6:17-19). We indeed can ask anything of God according to His will and purpose and expect to receive it if we ask in faith; yet, as James the Lord’s brother warns us, if we ask to spend on our passions, we should not expect to receive anything (James 4:1-5). The gospel of health and wealth is a distraction, for having health and wealth does not guarantee or require good standing before God. Many who have been materially poor and sick have been rich in love, faith, patience, good works, and kindness; they will receive their reward in Christ.

The prosperity gospel works for those who preach it; less so for those exploited by it. The best the prosperity gospel can offer you is material prosperity for the moment; but what will happen to you and your wealth when you stand before the Lord Jesus without having carried the cross assigned to you (Romans 14:10-12)? The Gospel of Christ promises a far greater wealth than anything which we can presently find on earth: receiving the glory of God (Romans 8:17-18, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Compared to that glory anything we suffer on earth is reckoned as “light momentary affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)! Thus we should direct all of our efforts, and endure whatever is necessary, to receive that glory in the resurrection of life. We know the way, for Jesus is that Way and that Truth and that Life (John 14:6); we must suffer with Him if we wish to be glorified in Him. May we resist the siren song of the prosperity gospel, and take up our cross and follow after Jesus to obtain true glory and life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Political Progressivism | The Voice 10.30: July 26, 2020

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The Voice

Political Progressivism

It is said that the two subjects which ought to be avoided in polite conversation are religion and politics. Furthermore, within Christianity, there is often an understandable desire to transcend the politics of the day: politics, by the very nature of the craft, involves compromise and gets very dirty in deal making; furthermore, no political platform fully embodies God’s purposes in Christ, and politicians invariably fall short of upholding what God would have upheld in Christ in every respect. At the same time, Christians in America will invariably be called upon to engage with all sorts of ideas, philosophies, plans, and policies prevalent in American political discourse as members of this representative republic; thus, however Christians engage with politics, they ought to do so in ways which bring the lordship of Jesus to bear, and Jesus ought to be glorified and manifest in how they speak of politics and politicians (Ephesians 4:29, Philippians 1:27, Colossians 3:17). We thus do well to consider the broad trends in political discourse and how they relate to what God has made known in Jesus.

The vast majority of modern American political discourse takes place within the general confines of philosophical liberalism: a commitment to free speech, freedom of individuals, the fundamental equality of everyone, a commitment to the rule of law, free markets and free trade, freedom of religion, and a primarily secular posture from the government. Within this commitment to philosophical liberalism we presently see three major political postures: progressivism, conservatism, and libertarianism.

Those most often deemed as “liberals” in twenty-first century American political discourse come from the “social liberal” position and are now more likely to be deemed as “progressive.” As the name would denote, political progressives maintain great confidence in the ability of society to accomplish change to enhance the integrity and quality of life for its citizens through political means. To this end, political progressives have few qualms with using the coercive power of the government to reduce discrimination and inequality, to limit corporate power, to empower labor, and to provide for a social safety net for the disabled, elderly, and poor. Political progressives remain very skeptical of and resistant to government involvement in the realm of sexuality, desiring for the government to take a “hands off” posture in terms of regulations regarding sexual conduct and contraception (save for imperatives regarding the funding for contraception). The vast majority of political progressives maintain a pro-choice position on abortion; many who used to advocate for abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare” are beginning to exalt more in abortion, and are less morally bothered by the practice. Political progressives often prove suspicious of military endeavors and the modern police state; they are developing a more robust antiracist posture, and tend to emphasize the weaknesses, limitations, and failures of the past with a view to correcting them for the future. Dissent and critique remain potent aspects of patriotism among political progressives. Many political progressives are wary of religion in general, and of Christianity in particular, associating Christianity with the establishment and maintenance of white supremacy and patriarchy of the past few hundred years; members of less popular religions, such as Judaism, Islam, and eastern beliefs, tend to not be so strongly subjected to critique. Marxist critique of capitalism is taken as given among most progressives; a few have more confidence in Marx’s solutions than is warranted. Confidence that all such things will lead to a betterment of society holds together all of these views.

Many Christians today believe progressivism is entirely contrary to the purposes of God in Christ. Such goes beyond what is written and represents a partisan posture more than a godly one. In terms of policy many aspects of political progressivism can run afoul of what Christians must hold firmly to in Jesus: Christians cannot endorse elective abortion as good or honoring God’s purposes for life, and same-sex sexual behavior remains condemned in Christ (Psalm 139, Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). On the other hand, God does expect the government to reward good conduct and punish evil conduct, and political progressives are right to point out how oppressed and marginalized groups have often been denied justice, and some among more privileged groups have not been punished for the evil they have done (cf. Isaiah 1:10-17, Romans 13:1-7, James 5:1-6). The equality of each person before God ought to mean equality of each person before the government and the law of the land, and these are premises for which it is right to stand (Galatians 3:28). The impulse to provide for the poor and ill historically has found its origin in the imperatives of the Gospel in Matthew 25:31-46.

The recent antipathy among political progressives toward those who practice the Christian faith is a tragic irony considering the very religious origins of progressivism. The drive to reform society for the better is a continual trend in Western Christendom for the better part of the last millennium; the Progressive Era in American history came as the fruit from the efforts of those advocating the social gospel and others whose faith motivated them toward societal change; the Civil Rights Movement of the middle of the last century was explicitly rooted in the Christian witness of the equality of all in the sight of God, and sustained by Black Christians. Even though modern political progressivism is extremely secular, its energy comes from this heritage and very religious motivations and inclinations.

The main challenge of political progressivism, however, is in its fundamental conceit: the belief that society can progress or improve. As Christians we must continue to confess the presence of ancestral sin and the continued corruption of the creation, the cyclical nature of history, and human limitations and weaknesses: some things might change for the better, but other things will change for the worse (Ecclesiastes 1:9, Romans 5:12-21, 8:17-23). Not everything hailed as “progress” has made things better for humanity: as we have improved in our technology, health, and quality of life, we have also become more alienated from one another and less communal in outlook. Progressives themselves would see the changes in our climate as an unfortunate result of the technological progress we have made. Everything comes at a cost; “progress” in one area might lead to “regression” in another area, and the law of unintended consequences remains live and active. It proves all too easily to question everything and go beyond what is right, appropriate, or sensible in what one would like to change. Furthermore, it is one thing to see the problems and difficulties in society, and even to propose some possible solutions; it is quite another to invest the energy necessary to fully address the problems, and additional government bureaucracy can make things worse as much as it may provide some assistance. We cannot assume or expect that various changes will ultimately lead to “progress”: we can advocate for changes while recognizing that they will make life in the world different, perhaps better in some ways, but also possibly worse in others. In this way the aspirations of progressivism are continually frustrated, and ever will be until the Lord Jesus returns.

At the same time, how many of us have benefited greatly from the various changes made in society over the past century in the name of such reform and progress? The impulse to change is not always wrong; many things do need to be changed in society so it might be made healthier. Jesus is glorified when changes are made which allow for greater human flourishing in justice and righteousness. But not all changes are good; changes which devalue life, alienate people from one another, and deny the glory and majesty of God dishonor our Creator and malign His righteousness and justice, and His judgment will not be idle. As Christians, let us affirm what is good and advocate for it while resisting that which is evil, and honor God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Envy | The Voice 10.29: July 19, 2020

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The Voice

Works of the Flesh: Envy

The Apostle Paul had spent much time warning the Galatian Christians regarding the dangers of falling away from grace in Christ through accepting a false gospel (Galatians 1:1-5:16); he now wanted to make sure they did not become disinherited from the Kingdom of God by participating in the “works of the flesh,” and instead wanted them to display the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17-24). He listed these “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Many of the first “works of the flesh” centered on challenges and temptations which would prove especially acute for Christians who had recently come out of the Greco-Roman pagan milieu: sexual temptations like sexually deviant behavior, uncleanness, and lasciviousness; idolatry; and sorcery. Paul has now turned to discuss “works of the flesh” which prove especially pernicious in relationships: enmities, strife, jealousy, wrath, rivalries, divisions, and sects. The last “relational” work of the flesh listed is envy (“envyings” as in ASV above).

The word here translated as “envy” is the Greek word phthonos, defined by Thayer as, “envy; for envy, i.e. prompted by envy.” But what is envy? Webster defines the English term:

1. To feel uneasiness, mortification or discontent, at the sight of superior excellence, reputation or happiness enjoyed by another; to repine at another’s prosperity; to fret or grieve one’s self at the real or supposed superiority of another, and to hate him on that account.
2. To grudge; to withhold maliciously.
n. Pain, uneasiness, mortification or discontent excited by the sight of another’s superiority or success, accompanied with some degree of hatred or malignity, and often or usually with a desire or an effort to depreciate the person, and with pleasure in seeing him depressed. Envy springs from pride, ambition or love, mortified that another has obtained what one has a strong desire to possess.

Therefore, we see that the term refers to the negative feelings produced when another has something which we desire. The term is closely related to jealousy, as we have seen in Works of the Flesh: Jealousy. We may use an example to explain the difference. Let us say that you own a precious diamond, and you fear that your friend or your co-worker desires your diamond, even if they truly do not. That is jealousy. But if your friend or your co-worker owned the diamond, and you desired it greatly, to the point of desiring malice or misfortune to the person so that you could in some way acquire that diamond, then you are envious of that person.

In the New Testament, Pilate perceived that envy was a strong motivator for why the Jewish authorities delivered Jesus to him: the people were listening to Him more than they (Matthew 27:18, Mark 15:10). Paul established that some preached Christ out of envy in Philippians 1:15: they thought it would increase Paul’s danger and distress, but he rejoiced inasmuch Christ was preached. Envy is a characteristic which marked Gentiles, false teachers, and even Christians in their former lives (Romans 1:29, 1 Timothy 6:4, Titus 3:3). James warned early Christians against worldliness in their faith, asking if the spirit God made in us longs to envy (James 4:5; cf. James 4:1-5); thus Peter would have Christians put envy away in 1 Peter 2:1.

Envy, therefore, can certainly refer to strongly desiring things which your neighbor might own, but can also refer to strongly desiring more intangible qualities of your neighbor: his standing, his reputation, his influence. Envy might be provoked when a person has gone without what the neighbor has, but as we can see with the religious authorities, envy is also provoked when one’s neighbor begins to obtain the standing, reputation, influence, or goods a person already maintains, especially if the neighbor’s success might well come at the person’s expense: we see this exemplified by the Jewish religious authorities who perceived Jesus to be a strong threat to their standing and the status quo, and thus had Him killed. Envy can be a personal, individual matter, with one person proving envious of another person; yet envy can also exist among groups of people, with one group becoming envious of what another group enjoys. Indeed, fear of loss of power, standing, or privilege powerfully motivates to ugly and unjust behaviors; it could be said that hell hath no fury like a dominant group whose power and dominance is threatened.

We can thus perceive how envy remains a major challenge for humanity even in a prosperous age. Those who may be more poor materially must always be on guard against envy, yet those who have some wealth are not exempt, as can be demonstrated from the example of King Ahab of Israel. As king of Israel he enjoyed the best of the land and influence and standing among the people. It came to pass that he yearned for the vineyard of Naboth since it was near to his own property, and would have paid him handsomely for it; but Naboth would not give up his ancestral lands (1 Kings 21:1-3). Ahab responded like a petulant child, laying in bed and refusing to eat (1 Kings 21:4). His wife Jezebel would conspire against Naboth, leading to Naboth’s unjust death (1 Kings 21:5-15). Thus Ahab was encouraged to arise and seize the land of Naboth for himself (1 Kings 21:15-16). It was for this great sin that Ahab and Jezebel were condemned and the promise of the extirpation of their lineage established (1 Kings 21:17-24).

No one, therefore, is exempt from the temptation toward envy. Any time we desire something another might have to the point of wishing that person ill fate or harm, we prove envious. What we might envy as a poor person might change if we become wealthy; what we envy while healthy may be different than when afflicted with illness; that on which we might feast our eyes at 20 may change significantly by the time we become 80.

We can thus understand how difficult it would be to maintain healthy relationships with those whom we envy. Envy corrodes relationships: it is very hard to desire the best for those who have things we greatly desire. Even if we prove strong enough to be civil and even kindly affectionate toward those who have things we desire, could we really suffer loss for their advantage and benefit without experiencing bitterness and resentment? Hardly! If we envy, we cannot love as God has loved us in Christ.

To this end, as Christians, we do well to emphasize, focus on, and prioritize the antidote to envy: contentment (1 Timothy 6:6-8). We have brought nothing into this world; we have not deserved a single moment, experience, object, or relationship we have ever enjoyed, but have gained them all through the grace and provision of God. If God has blessed others, may we prove thankful for His beneficence toward them; when we are tempted to desire more than what we have, to regain what we have lost, or to reinforce and protect what others might obtain, let us remember how utterly dependent we are on God, pray in thankfulness, and reorient ourselves toward the appreciation of what God has given us. Then we can truly love others, even if they have things we might like, for it is no longer really about us, but glorifying God in Christ. May we prove content in all circumstances, prove thankful to God, and obtain eternal life in the Lord Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry