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John Newton (1725 – 1807), a sailor and slave trader who was converted by the grace of Jesus Christ and became an Anglican clergyman and prominent abolitionist, also penned several hymns. His most well-known hymns include “Amazing Grace” and “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken.” As an orthodox Anglican minister, Newton affirmed the Thirty-Nine Articles and, therefore, Calvinism. When a fellow minister was prepared to author an article criticizing a fellow minister for his lack of Reformed orthodoxy, he wrote to Newton regarding his intention. Newton’s reply, found in his letter, “On Controversy” in The Works of John Newton, states:
As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail; so that a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations, which, if duly attended to, will do you the service of a great coat of mail; such armor, that you need not complain, as David did of Saul’s, that it will be more cumbersome than useful; for you will easily perceive it is taken from that great magazine provided for the Christian soldier, the Word of God. I take it for granted that you will not expect any apology for my freedom, and therefore I shall not offer one. For method’s sake, I may reduce my advice to three heads, respecting your opponent, the public, and yourself.
Consider Your Opponent
As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.
If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.” The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.
But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “He knows not what he does.” But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his.
Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at their obstinacy: but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose. “If peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.” If you write with a desire of being an instrument of correcting mistakes, you will of course be cautious of laying stumbling blocks in the way of the blind or of using any expressions that may exasperate their passions, confirm them in their principles, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable.
Consider the Public
By printing, you will appeal to the public; where your readers may be ranged under three divisions: First, such as differ from you in principle. Concerning these I may refer you to what I have already said. Though you have your eye upon one person chiefly, there are many like-minded with him; and the same reasoning will hold, whether as to one or to a million.
There will be likewise many who pay too little regard to religion, to have any settled system of their own, and yet are preengaged in favor of those sentiments which are at least repugnant to the good opinion men naturally have of themselves. These are very incompetent judges of doctrine; but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer’s spirit. They know that meekness, humility, and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper; and though they affect to treat the doctrines of grace as mere notions and speculations, which, supposing they adopted them, would have no salutary influence upon their conduct; yet from us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel. They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments. The scriptural maxim, that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God,” is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit. The weapons of our warfare, and which alone are powerful to break down the strongholds of error, are not carnal, but spiritual; arguments fairly drawn from Scripture and experience, and enforced by such a mild address, as may persuade our readers, that, whether we can convince them or not, we wish well to their souls, and contend only for the truth’s sake; if we can satisfy them that we act upon these motives, our point is half gained; they will be more disposed to consider calmly what we offer; and if they should still dissent from our opinions, they will be constrained to approve our intentions.
You will have a third class of readers, who, being of your own sentiments, will readily approve of what you advance, and may be further established and confirmed in their views of the Scripture doctrines, by a clear and masterly elucidation of your subject. You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.
I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from and are nourished by the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse were always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind. I think I have known some Arminians, that is, persons who for want of a clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace, who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord.
And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility, that they are willing in words to debase the creature and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.
Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.
This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers. If ever such defenses were seasonable and expedient they appear to be so in our own day, when errors abound on all sides and every truth of the gospel is either directly denied or grossly misrepresented.
And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value. This shows, that if the service is honorable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?
Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you; he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defense of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.
Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, “not rendering railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called.” The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the want of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savor and efficacy of our labors.
If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves. If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.
Ash Wednesday (also known as dies cinerum, ‘day of ashes’) is a moveable feast day, observed exactly 46 days before Paschal (Easter) Sunday (40 days, not including Sundays). It is a day of repentance, and marks the beginning of Lent (a period of fasting in preparation for Easter). Ash Wednesday gets its name from the ceremony where congregants come before a minister, who dips his thumb into ashes and marks their foreheads with the sign of the cross as a symbol of repentance. As he does this, he reminds them, “Remember, O man, that thou art but dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” He may also utter the phrases, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” or “Repent, and hear the Good News.” The ashes used in this ceremony are made by burning the remains of the palms blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year.
Holy Scripture indicates dusting oneself with ashes (and wearing sackcloth) was a way for penitents to express mourning over sin. Job, for example, said to the LORD, “I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). Other examples include laws for purification (Numbers 19:9, 17; Hebrews 9:13), the repentance of Nineveh (Jonah 3:6-8), and the Lord Jesus’ warning to Chorazin and Bethsaida (Matthew 11:20-21; Luke 10:13). Protestant/ Evangelical groups which observe Ash Wednesday include Anglicans/Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Methodists/Wesleyans, Nazarenes, the Church of God (Anderson), and some Baptists. Here are some thoughts from various Reformed Baptists regarding the observation of Ash Wednesday as noted by The Confessing Baptist.
Marriage was outlawed by Claudius II, Emperor of Rome, in the third century. The emperor thought married men, who were reluctant to be separated from their wives and children, made terrible soldiers. He believed outlawing marriage would strengthen his army. Individuals were either imprisoned or put to death. Claudius also outlawed Christianity, desiring to extinguish the one religion which repudiated the validity of worshiping the emperor as divine.
The Bishop (Pastor) of Interamna, Valentinus, believed individuals should be free to worship the true and living God and to follow God’s plan for union through marriage. Many young couples requested Pastor Valentinus to conduct their wedding ceremonies, which he did gladly, though in secret. He was arrested for this eventually and brought before Emperor Claudius. The Roman leader tried to persuade Valentinus to abandon his faith in Christ Jesus, promising full pardon if he would only serve Rome and its deities. The bishop refused to renounce Christ, further angering the emperor and resulting in the sentence of a three-part execution. Valentinus was to be beaten brutally, then stoned with rocks, and finally beheaded.
While imprisoned and awaiting his fate, he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, Asterius. Prior to his execution, which was carried out on February 14, AD 270, he sent her a final farewell note. It was signed, “From Your Valentine.” Now you know the rest of the story about St. Valentine’s Day.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, is concerned that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) showed disrespect for Christians and censored Christmas in its facilities. He contends that the VA medical facility in Augusta, Georgia, banned carolers from singing Christmas songs containing religious references in public areas of the hospital (and carolers declined the offer to sing songs on a list of government-approved songs); VA officials in Iowa City, Iowa, informed volunteers from the American Legion they were unable to give gifts to veterans if they were wrapped with decorative paper containing the words “Merry Christmas”; VA personnel in Montgomery, Alabama, prevented a woman from delivering gift bags to veterans because they contained the words “Merry Christmas”; and the Dallas, Texas, VA medical facility refused the delivery of handwritten Christmas cards from local school children because phrases such as “Merry Christmas” and “God Bless You” were written in them.
Daniel Dellinger, National Commander of the American Legion, stated in regard to the incident in Texas, “First of all, VA’s decision to prohibit the delivery of Christmas cards that mention Christmas is ludicrous. Second of all, VA has been down this road before, and recently. VA has been warned through a federal court decree to stop denying freedom of religious expression at its facilities. It’s pretty obvious the Dallas VA did not get that memo.” Dellinger added, “Christians are more and more often targeted for censorship and restriction at VA facilities.”
In a letter sent to Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Rep. Miller declared, “In taking it upon themselves to restrict Christmas cards, carols and gifts in certain locations, VA officials clearly ignored longstanding federal government traditions, basic common sense and possibly a 2011 federal consent decree that ordered VA not to ban religious speech.” He demanded that Shinseki hold personnel responsible for possible constitutional and civil rights violations. Rep. Miller set up an e-mail address in order for VA staff, patients, and volunteers to report acts of religious prohibition. It is: email@example.com
An Air Force video saluting first sergeants — produced by an Air Force Chaplain — was removed by order of the Pentagon because it mentions the word “God,” even though it was never intended as required viewing. The top brass fears the video may be offensive to atheists or Muslims, but they are unconcerned about whether or not Christians are offended by the censorship of exercising free speech and freedom of religion. The video, based on the “So God Made a Farmer” commentary written and narrated by the late Paul Harvey, was recently updated and used in a Dodge Ram Super Bowl ad. The first sergeant tribute was created by a Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst chaplain as a poem, and later turned into a video, “So God Created a First Sergeant.” Chaplain Corps leadership at the Army-Navy-Air Force installation approved the video prior to its publication. Shortly after it was posted on YouTube it was brought to the attention of the Pentagon.
The Chief of the Air Force News Service Division stated incorrectly in an email, “Proliferation of religion is not allowed in the Air Force or military. How would an Agnostic, Atheist or Muslim serving in the military take this video?” The chief added, ”I would not recommend using this video at all.” In addition to the objection against the video’s repeated use of the name “God,” the chief found the opening lines objectionable because they referenced the “eighth day.” He remarked, “The choice of ‘On the Eighth day’ verbiage to begin this video is highly suggestive from the book of Genesis in the Bible and has Christian overtones.” Of course, the chief failed to grasp the fact that Genesis is also a sacred text in Judaism and Islam.
Both the Pentagon and the Air Force News Service Division have gone beyond the Constitution, restricting both free speech and the right to the free exercise of religion. While proselytization is prohibited by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, there is no prohibition in discussing religion freely. Because the video was not mandated as part of any required program, the Air Force was not endorsing religion. The fact that it was produced by a chaplain, and approved by Chaplain Corps leadership, demonstrates that the Pentagon is restricting the rights of both chaplains and airmen. The decision to censor the video comes less than a week following an incident at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, where the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, led by Mikey Weinstein, demanded the removal of a picture it deemed “offensive.”
An Airman, who asked not to be identified because he feared being disciplined, spoke with Fox News about the removal of the video. He stated, “It’s extremely frustrating. The Air Force is living in fear of Mikey Weinstein. If our chaplains cannot speak the name of God, let alone Christ, why have them?” I’ve towed the company line for years but this has pushed me too far to sit quietly while personal liberties are trampled upon.” The Airman said in recent months they have been reminded that they cannot proselytize (which is true) and they cannot share their faith on the installation (which is false, but is being pushed as “true” by many within the Air Force structure).
The Air Force is facing a severe crisis. Americans need to defend the rights of Airmen who live to defend the rights of others since the brass apparently has no brass.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation reposted a Huffington Post article on its website with the title, “The Pentagon Most Certainly is Listening to Mikey Weinstein.” The atheistic group, which seems to have a particular axe to grind with evangelical Christianity, is led by Weinstein, an Air Force Academy graduate. Just this past April, Weinstein had a private meeting with Pentagon officials regarding religious proselytization in the military – a matter which he calls a “national security threat.” Weinstein likened religious dialogue to “spiritual rape,” a matter which he considers equivalent to “sedition and treason” that “should be punished.” He pushed for the Pentagon to court martial anyone guilty of religious proselytizing. His remarks generated national outrage, leading the military to downplay his influence, yet the recent episode at Mountain Home Air Force Base should cause Americans who cherish freedom of religion to question why Weinstein suddenly has so much influence in the military.
An inspirational painting that featured a crusader and referenced a Bible verse – Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” was removed from the dining hall at Mountain Home just fifty-six minutes after Weinstein called the Pentagon. Apparently, a non-commissioned officer (NCO) from Mountain Home acted as a spokesperson for a group of 22 Airmen (supposedly seventeen of whom are Christian – both Roman Catholic and Protestant) who wanted the artwork removed. None of the Airmen have been named. Completely disregarding the chain of command – an overly egregious matter which was heinously overlooked by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and other leaders in the Pentagon – the picture (which had been hanging in the facility for several years) was removed. The MRFF called the painting “repugnant.”
Colonel Christopher Short, Commander of the 366th Fighter Wing, informed Fox News that the painting was removed as soon as he was made aware of it. He received calls from both the Pentagon and Weinstein. Short added, “We make reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrate the religious diversity of our Airmen.” He remarked the picture was removed in order to comply with the Air Force’s position outlined in the Revised Interim Guidelines Concerning Free Exercise of Religion in the Air Force. “The document states that we will remain officially neutral regarding religious beliefs – neither officially endorsing nor disapproving any faith belief or absence of belief,” He noted.
The commander told Weinstein “that he will be ordering another inspection to rid his base of anything else like what had been hanging in the dining hall,” according to Chris Rodda, MRFF’s senior research director. Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (US Army, ret.), vice-president of the Family Research Council, stated that the removal of the picture raises serious questions about Weinstein’s influence within the military, and remarked that this incident also raises serious questions about the Pentagon’s attitude towards religious liberty.
The proper course of action for the NCO and other Airmen, in following the chain of command, would have been for them to contact their local Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) office. The primary objective of the MEO program is to improve mission effectiveness by promoting an environment free from personal, social, or institutional barriers that prevent Air Force members from rising to the highest level of responsibility possible. Air Force policy is to conduct its affairs free from unlawful discrimination against military members, family members, and retirees based on race, color, gender, national origin, or religion. The MEO office at Mountain Home would have then been able to investigate the matter with input from proper sources, such as the Chaplain Corps and Judge Advocate General, to determine the proper course of action. Instead, Weinstein – an individual – was essentially granted authority over the Air Force’s chain of command. That is frightening for not only people of faith, but also for Americans who cherish both the Constitution and military members who need the lawful structure of the military to keep matters from becoming chaotic. Structure exists not only for the well-being of military members, but for the retaining the framework necessary for dealing with matters of life and death in times of war. The influence granted to Weinstein and the MRFF pose a threat to Constitutional rights and to national security (by undermining the chain of command). All lovers of liberty should be alarmed at what transpired at Mountain Home AFB.
Atheists continue to attack the religious rights of U.S. military members, namely those wanting to freely exercise their observance of Christmas. Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain has held an annual Christmas Tree lighting for years. This event has included the singing of carols, the presence of St. Nicholas, and the consumption of cookies and cocoa. It has also featured a live nativity, composed of base children and local animals. The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers views “a Christmas tree, presents, some songs, and even Santa Claus as trappings of secular Christmas.” However, “Angels, nativity scenes, crosses, prayers, and carols focused explicitly on Christianity (e.g., Silent Night) cross the line into a religious devotion rather than a neutral, secular celebration.” The MAAF objected to the nativity program and filed an IG complaint. The complaint stated:
This [nativity] violates the Constitution and the mandates of the command to support all belief while privileging none. The event is billed as a ‘holiday’ event but it is nothing but a Christian activity…it is…clearly and exclusively biased toward Christianity. Also of concern is the likelihood that the predominantly Muslim local population will see the US military as a Christian force…This event threatens US security and violates the Constitution as well as command policy.
The Command Religious Program (CRP) – the Navy Chaplains – removed the living nativity program from the holiday festivities. Whether this was done under advisement from base leadership or if the Chaplains did so of their own volition is unclear. It does not appear an official order was given to remove the program.
If the U.S. Government – including a branch of the U.S. Military – took action against a group or event because of religious content, it would be a violation of policies guarding against discrimination based upon religion. The U.S. Constitution declares clearly, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” When Americans of faith are intimidated by atheists threatening lawsuits, they need to remember the rights they have as citizens and stand for the freedoms they are granted in this nation. If they don’t, then brave troops who are right now in harm’s way for those very freedoms will have their own liberties taken away. The aggressive political maneuvering by groups like the MAAF has a direct, measurable and negative impact on troops.
Blake Page claims religion is the reason he resigned this past week from being a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy. Five months prior to graduation, Page asserted he felt discriminated against for being “non-religious.” The president of the West Point Secular Student Alliance (an affiliate of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers) and the Director of Military Religious Freedom Foundation Affairs at West Point declared in a vitriolic blog post:
While there are certainly numerous problems with the developmental program at West Point and all service academies, the tipping point of my decision to resign was the realization that countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution. These men and women are criminals, complicit in light of day defiance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at times require sectarian religious participation. These transgressions are nearly always committed in the name of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity.
Page asserts the U.S. Military Academy makes prayers mandatory, that cadets participating in religious activities receive preferential treatment and that officers in general display open disrespect for non-religious cadets. He wrote in his resignation letter, “I do not wish to be in any way associated with an institution which willfully disregards the Constitution of the United States of America by enforcing policies which run counter to the same.” School officials confirmed Page’s resignation was accepted and that he is being discharged honorably. Spokesman Francis DeMaro, Jr., however, stated the former cadet’s claim that prayer is mandatory is untrue. He said, “The Academy holds both official and public ceremonies where an invocation and benediction may be conducted, but prayer is voluntary. As officers, cadets will be responsible for soldiers who represent America’s great diversity in faith and ethnic background. The Academy provides cadets the opportunity to foster an understanding regarding the fundamental dignity and worth of all.”
The founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Mikey Weinstein, called Page’s resignation an act of great courage. He claimed, “We have the Christian Taliban running amok unchecked in the technologically most lethal organization ever recorded in human kind. There’s no problem except that we have a small document called the Constitution that separates state and religion.” Weinstein, however, commended West Point for providing Page with an honorable discharge and not punishing him for his actions. Not everyone views Page’s resignation as an act of courage. Charles Clymer, a former 2013 classmate who was forced to separate from the Academy due to medical reasons, wrote an open letter on the Secular Student Alliance’s Facebook page. Describing himself both as a Christian and an “aggressive, outspoken liberal,” Clymer noted his outspokenness regarding the “injustice of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, the limited career options of women who serve our country in uniform, and…a very broken system of addressing sexual assault at the Academy and in the Armed Forces in general (among other things).” In his address to Page, he relayed:
I’m angry and disappointed with you over this article, and I say that as someone who very much supports the separation of Church and State. I believe religion belongs in one’s private life, and apart from certain, limited allowances for those who have a faith they practice, government employees should never be given preferential treatment and upon such instances, leaders who allow that to happen should be counseled and/or punished. . . . I never, not even once, witnessed, heard about, or even thought it implied that non-religious cadets face discrimination of any kind at the Academy. I saw widespread homophobia and sexism but never any negative sentiment towards those cadets who identified as Atheist or Agnostic. In fact, the closest thing I ever observed that looked like a pro-Christian bias were the few cadets who believed Islam is evil, and that was a very small fraction of our class. The vast majority of Christian cadets treated non-Christian cadets with respect insofar as their beliefs are concerned. And I should again point out that I spent the better part of two years calling out homophobia and sexism when I saw it, and it wasn’t as though I was “known” for being a Christian in our class. I didn’t exactly spend my free time in Christian-based organizations or attend church services, regularly. I did sing in Gospel Choir for a few semesters but never heard any sort of anti-Atheist remarks during my participation with them. They treated everyone with respect, regardless of faith, gender, or sexuality. My point is that, try as I might, with all my stereotypical, sensitive liberal feelers in tune, I can’t remember ever seeing or hearing about negative experiences of Atheists, Agnostics, or other Non-Christians at the Academy. . . . As a person who prides myself on maintaining honesty in regards to how minorities (of any kind, including spiritual) are treated, I can say with confidence that are you are either blatantly lying or, at the very least, being incredibly misleading with how you represent the Academy’s religious environment.
Clymer noted Page’s poor performance as a cadet, having failed in multiple leadership positions. Page was facing separation from the Academy for medical reasons related to mental health, which likely contributed to his poor performance. He struggled at West Point following his father’s suicide. Diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, he was disqualified from being commissioned as an officer. He asked to resign rather than face separation, a proposition accepted by Academy officials. According to Clymer, Page “went behind their backs and claimed the resignation was done to protest Christian Fundamentalists at the Academy, which is a whole lot of bull$h!#.” Page responded by saying he was unconcerned about the perception of others. “That’s really fine. I am not trying to talk about myself. I am trying to talk about church and state.”
It appears, nonetheless, that Page’s actions are actually more about himself than about the separation of church and state. Press reports regarding his resignation have generally failed to note he was facing separation from West Point due to mental health related issues. Weinstein and others will cite this as one of the “countless” instances of “discrimination” against non-theists. The truth of the matter is that this vocal and aggressive minority seeks to overthrow the rights of theists by removing the free exercise of religion in public. They believe essentially that any public demonstration of faith should be deemed illegal – viewing people of faith (particularly evangelical Christians) as “criminals” and extremists (i.e., “Christian Taliban running amok unchecked”). It is time for theists to actively and prolifically defend their rights, rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.
* * * * *
Blake Page, “Why I Don’t Want to be a West Point Graduate”
Charles Clymer, “The Truth about Cadet Blake Page and Why West Point is Not Anti-Atheist”
Michael Hill, The Huffington Post, “Blake Page, West Point Cadet, Quits Military Academy Over Religion”
Billy Hallowell, The Blaze, “Atheist West Point Cadet Quits the Academy, Citing ‘Christian Proselytizing’ & ‘Criminal’ Constitutional Violations”
Moni Basu, CNN, “West Point Cadet Quits Over Religion”
By the PRESIDENT of the United States Of America
WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”
NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;– for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;– for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;– and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;– to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.
(signed) G. Washington
Source: The Massachusetts Centinel, October 14, 1789
Tabletalk magazine, the monthly devotional produced by R. C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries, interviewed my friend Conrad Mbewe recently. Rev. Mbewe is the pastor of the Kabwata Reformed Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia (Africa). He also serves as the Principal of the Reformed Baptist Preachers College (Zambia), edits Reformation Zambia magazine, writes three columns in two weekly national newspapers, and blogs regularly at A Letter from Kabwata. He is the author of Foundations for the Flock: Truths about the Church for All the Saints.
Tabletalk: How did you come to faith in Christ, and when were you called to pastoral ministry?
Conrad Mbewe: I was brought up in a church-going family. Upon finishing high school at the end of 1978 (I was in boarding school), I found my elder sister converted to Christ. Watching her life convinced me that there was something she had that I did not have. A friend of mine, who had also recently been converted, sent me a letter in which he shared the gospel with me. For the first time, I realized that I needed to repent toward God and trust in Christ alone for salvation. I finally yielded my life to Christ on March 30, 1979. I was baptized exactly one year later, and soon after that I began to sense that God wanted me to serve Him in the pastoral ministry. I was already studying for a mining engineering degree, so I waited a good seven years before Kabwata Baptist Church called me to be their pastor.
TT: Tell us a little about Kabwata Baptist Church.
CM: Kabwata Baptist Church is a Reformed Baptist church based on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. It began as a church-planting effort of the Lusaka Baptist Church in 1981 and was finally constituted in January 1986. The church presently has more than four hundred members, with seven elders and six deacons. We emphasize membership involvement in various outreach ministries in the church and also church planting across Zambia and in neighboring countries. Hence, the church presently has about fourteen outreach ministries and more than twenty active church plants.
TT: How would you describe the overall state of the church in Zambia, Africa? Has the influx of aberrant forms of Pentecostalism impacted the health of the African church?
CM: The church in Zambia in particular, and Africa in general, has a great inheritance. The evangelical pioneer missionaries did what they could to give us New Testament Christianity. By now, most Africans south of the Sahara would consider themselves to be Christians, though most of them would be nominal Christians. Granted, low levels of education at that time led these missionaries to give us only the basics of the Christian faith—but the faith they preached was largely true to the Bible. Sadly, it left us vulnerable to Christian aberrations, which have come in like a flood. The health-and-wealth form of Pentecostalism has now taken center stage as the most widely known form of “evangelical” Christianity. The result of this has been a loss of the true gospel and the loss of servant leadership in the church. African traditional religions have come into the church through the back door in the name of “deliverance.”
TT: Why did you write the book Foundations for the Flock, and what is its main thesis?
CM: The book Foundations for the Flock is actually a compilation of photocopied booklets that I have been writing over a period of about twenty years. As a pastor of a church, I have been addressing various pertinent issues that I think are vital for the health of God’s people under my care and keeping them in printed form. Well, an American brother who visited Zambia came across these booklets (about forty of them) and offered to find a publisher to put them in a more permanent form. Foundations for the Flock is the fruit of that offer. The publisher took about ten of the booklets, which dealt with the subject of the church, and compiled them into one book. I must admit I am still amazed that the few loaves of bread that I offered to my own congregation can now be multiplied into food that is available across the globe.
TT: What are the goals and purposes of Reformation Zambia magazine?
CM: The Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia had grown from about six churches in 1990 to about thirty-five by the year 2000. At that time, the only national rallying point for these young churches was a conference that takes place every year in August. I was particularly burdened that we needed to expand this rallying point. I was convinced that our pastors had much to offer and, given a platform like a magazine, their ministry to the churches could continue throughout the year. So, we began Reformation Zambia magazine in 2004 to provide such a platform.
TT: What are three unique challenges facing men who want to enter pastoral ministry in Zambia? How are you working to meet these challenges?
CM: The first challenge is a lack of training facilities. We have a few good Bible colleges, but these are still in the Western mold, which demand a person to live there and to learn in lecture format. Very few can undertake such an expensive venture. The second challenge is a lack of good books. The price of good books here puts them far out of the reach of most of our pastors and Bible college students. The third challenge is a lack of good role models. The general attitude toward pastoral ministry here is that it is the first rung of the ladder and, as soon as you possibly can, you must move on to something else. Hence, most of our good men are not pastoring churches. They are denominational heads or leading religious non-governmental organizations. That is very sad. In a small way, we are encouraging churches to run part-time Bible colleges. We are also running a bookstore. A number of our churches with seasoned pastors are also running internship programs. However, all these are a drop in the ocean compared to the level of need in Zambia.
TT: What are two of the biggest misconceptions that Western Christians have about the church in Africa?
CM: Most Western Christians learn about Africa through the news items splashed on their television screens. The staple diet there comprises civil wars, poverty, corruption, AIDS, and so on. The second source is often those who come to Africa on mission trips. This also leads to lopsided news that tries to show how needy Africa is and, therefore, how the ministry of those missionaries is so vital. This news is not false, but because it emphasizes one side of the African story, it causes a lot of misconceptions on the part of those who are back home and have never come here. This has resulted in Western Christians viewing the church in Africa as being both ignorant and poor across the board. Therefore, the general thinking is that the African church is still in the phase where paternalism is justifiable rather than true partnership. While it is true that there is more poverty here than, say, in the USA, there are some churches that have running water and electricity, and whose pastors drive good cars. We also have church leaders who are knowledgeable and very godly, whose labors are impacting not only the church but also their society.
TT: What are two important lessons that Western Christians can learn from the African church?
CM: Western civilization has lost a lot of its interpersonal virtues. It has become overly individualized—if you see what I mean. Issues like hospitality, respect for authority and the elderly, being more people-conscious than time-conscious, and so on are largely lost. This has affected not only the society generally but Christians as well. Western Christians have filled their lives with too many things (toys?) that have robbed them of eternal perspectives. Electronic gadgets, holidays, sports, recreation, and so on have almost become idols. Even church must be about having fun. The church has little time in the lives of its members to prepare them for eternity. There is a greater consciousness of eternity here in Africa. Perhaps it is because we have fewer toys to dull our spiritual senses and death is all around us. A greater exposure of Western Christians to their African counterparts may help them regain some of these lost virtues, strengths, and perspectives.
TT: What are the best ways that the Western church can serve the church in Africa?
CM: I know that what I am about to say will sound like a broken record because you have probably heard this said over and over again. I think that the best way for the Western church to serve their brothers in Africa is by allowing true partnership to take the place of patronizing paternalism. That is a loaded statement. We are all sinners saved by grace and need to give God all that we have so that together we can fulfill God’s evangelistic and cultural mandate. I really think that it must begin with the Western church learning to listen humbly to their African counterparts, who are also filled with the Spirit. Up to now, the listening has been largely one way. Thankfully, there are blessed exceptions to this rule.
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