Less than a month ago, Americans United for Separation of Church and State called for an end to all prayers at official events held at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The group, which maintains public prayers violate the U.S. Constitution, expect a reply to their request by next week. The group alleged some cadets complained about the inclusion of prayers at several events, including Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Barry Lynn, the group’s executive director, stated, “West Point cadets should be able to train for service in our nation’s military without having religion forced upon them.” He added, “Academy officials must respect the religious liberty rights of all cadets who should be free to make their own decisions about prayer without government coercion.” An Academy spokesman noted all prayers at West Point are voluntary.
Lieutenant General William “Jerry” Boykin (U.S. Army, retired) argued against the Americans United assertion, declaring, “Barry Lynn’s objective is to destroy Christianity in America – it has nothing to do with wanting to support the First Amendment under his understanding of it.” The retired general also remarked, “Prayer at West Point is a tradition. Because it is a tradition that derives from Christianity, Barry and others want to destroy that tradition because they are anti-Christian and want to erase any remnant of the influence of Christianity on our society.” Ron Crews of Chaplain Alliance noted his dismay over the letter, “Any form of religion is under attack in the military – from Nativity scenes on military chapels to prayers at events. We need to respect our plurality instead of trying to quash those who do have faith.” Crews further stated, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with official prayers at official events.”
Americans United and Barry Lynn are mistaken. Religion is not being forced upon cadets at West Point. Rather, invocations are offered as a matter of free exercise. Cadets may decline to participate without any repercussion whatsoever. The freedom of not only cadets of faith, but also service members of faith, is at great risk in this matter. If Americans United succeeds in having invocations removed from official events at West Point, then it will also triumph in removing public invocations from all U.S. Army posts. This would have ramifications for all service branches, affecting not only the religious liberties of military members of faith, but also the responsibilities of military chaplains. Removing invocations from public events would strip chaplains of the major portion of their ceremonial duties, thereby negating their participation. If this happens, then people of faith who serve our nation will be silenced. Their faith, which is protected by the U.S. Constitution, will be forced to become a strictly “private” issue with absolutely no public expression. The very thing which Americans United and Lynn say they are arguing for is, in fact, what they are acting against.
It has been hard not to notice that barely any posts have been published at 2 Worlds Collide for the past couple of months. There are several reasons for this, the chief being that work demands have been extremely taxing. There is only so much time per day to accomplish everything which needs to be done, and blogging is not a priority. The other major reason is that blogging has simply drained me emotionally. Having already slowed in the numbers of posts being produced, I edited the six-part series on “Calvinism & Civility” (published here several years ago), and chiseled it down to a manageable three-parts (1, 2, 3) for the Conservative Reformed Mafia. Detailing the theological/political struggle within Southern Baptist life over “Calvinism,” that series displays the heartache I have experienced personally through this conflict, and states my intention to choose an outside path of peace. Even in trying away to walk away irenically from the situation, I found that some are eager to spew invective towards those with whom they disagree. Nonetheless, I’m confident that the path I’ve chosen is the best decision for the sake of the Kingdom, my family, and myself. I’ve also decided to walk away from blogging for a season. Work is still demanding, and I’ve taken on other outside responsibilities with a military society which will demand a great deal of my time. 2WC will remain up and running in order that people may access previous posts, and I’m sure I’ll drop something here and there on the site. One of these days posts may very well be churned out on a regular basis, but for now, the sabbatical is official.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the cathedral door in Wittenberg. While the Augustinian monk was intending only to stir academic debate, the Theses ignited a theological and political firestorm now known as the Protestant Reformation. With fondness and gratitude, 2WC is recalling and emphasizing the Reformation during the month of October. Let’s begin with a brief look at the towering figure of the Reformation, Martin Luther.
Born the son of a middle-class silver miner on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Germany, Martin Luther studied law prior to entering an Augustinian monastery. In September 1511, the vicar of the order, Johann von Staupitz, urged Luther to prepare himself for the profession of preaching and become a Doctor of Theology. Having already earned the three prerequisite degrees for the doctorate, Luther consented and received a doctorate in theology on October 18, 1512. That winter, the Rev. Dr. Luther started preparing lectures on the Psalms. The lectures from Psalms continued until 1515, when he began studying and teaching Romans (1515-1516), Galatians (1516-1517), Hebrews (1517) and then returned to Psalms (1518-1519). The Reformer quipped later, “In the course of this teaching, the papacy slipped away from me.”
Luther never intended to break away from the Roman Catholic Church or establish a new sect. He viewed himself as a faithful servant of the Church, feeling deep regret at the “cult of personality” when Protestants began to be called “Lutherans.” He declared emphatically in 1522:
The first thing I ask is that all people should not make use of my name, and should not call themselves Lutherans but Christians. What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone. . . How did I, poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the children of Christ by my evil name?
As Luther declared, “The teaching is not mine.” What brought about the Reformation and its effects? The German stated:
“I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.”
At the heart of Luther’s theology is the conviction God has given Himself for us through Jesus Christ. Mere acknowledgement of God’s existence or mere belief in Christ’s death is not sufficient for salvation. A faith which is salvific comprehends Christ as given pro me and pro nobis. Luther put it this way:
“Read with great emphasis these words, ‘me,’ ‘for me,’ and accustom yourself to accept and to apply to yourself this ‘me’ with certain faith. The words OUR, US, FOR US, ought to be written in golden letters—the man who does not believe them is not a Christian.”
Luther, as an Augustinian monk, was well aware of the Church Father’s teaching on the nature of grace. Following Augustine in this area, Luther affirmed without hesitation that the matter of salvation being that of sola gratia. He maintained individuals are fallen in every area of their being, and apart from God’s grace, would not embrace Christ. He declared the “only infallible preparation for grace…is the eternal election and predestination of God.” In his response to Erasmus’ affirmation of human autonomy and attack on the doctrine of election, Luther noted:
“You alone have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. . . . You alone have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot. . . . Grace puts God in the place of everything it sees, and prefers him to itself, but nature puts itself in the place of everything, and even in the place of God, and seeks only its own and not what is God’s.”
Erasmus argued Luther needed to “Let God be good,” while Luther responded, “Let God be God.”
Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the reclusive icon of the Russian intelligentsia and chronicler of Communist oppression, passed from this life of heart failure yesterday at age 89. The writer lived long enough to return to his homeland in 1994. Denounced as a traitor, stripped of citizenship and exiled in 1974, Solzhenitsyn was distressed by the damage inflicted upon the national character by Communism when he returned two decades later. He deemed Russia a moral ruin after touring the nation for a month. The author was never hesitant to criticize his adopted nation, viewing the US as morally weak, cravenly materialistic and suffering from “the spiritual impotence that comes from living a life of ease.” Solzhenitsyn’s Russian citizenship was restored to him after the collapse of the Soviet Union. His fame as an author was granted respect in the nation as well, and he was considered Russia’s greatest living writer.
China – Chinese Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials evicted Pastor Bike Zhang, chairman of the Federation House Church, and his wife, Xie Fenglan, from their home in the Chaoyang district of Beijing on July 6. Pastor Zhang and his wife were sheltered by a friend, Niu Bei, until officials forced them to leave Bei’s home as well. The couple then moved into a hotel in Guo Xian, Tongzhou district, until July 14. At that time, local PSB officials threatened the hotel owner with incarceration if he failed to evict the couple. The two were searching for a residence in Changping, but were stopped by police during their travel and take to the town’s government office. There they were interrogated and tortured by police, then finally released. Since their release, PSB officials have hounded the pair and evicted them continually from all places they have sought shelter. They have been forced to live on the streets. When officials in Beijing were asked why the pastor and his wife were expelled from Beijing, they replied, “Because Bike Zhang met the Americans, and destroyed the harmony of the Beijing Olympic Games.”
Uzbekistan – The Religious Affairs Committee refused permission for a shipment of 11,000 Bibles and Bible-related books to go through customs on May 19. The shipment has been held in the capital, Tashkent, since then.
West Bank – Pastor David Ortiz and his family have requested Christians around the globe to continue praying for their son, Amiel. Amiel was injured severely when a bomb, delivered to the family’s home and hidden in a basket, exploded in his hands. Physicians have estimated it will take a year for Amiel’s physical recovery. The family has asked specifically for prayer for the healing to occur more rapidly and for Ariel to be relieved of the tremendous pain he is suffering.
The Olympics begin 8.8.08 and the world will be watching. Voice of the Martyrs is working to remind the Church that God continues to watch His children, especially when they suffer for their faith in Christ Jesus. Prayer has been requested by our Christian brothers and sisters who belong to house churches in China. They have asked their fellow believers in the free world to pray for them, especially during the Olympics. The Voice of the Martyrs, in partnership with the China Aid Association, has produced the Olympic Prayer Band. VOM invites you to request one so that you may wear it during the Olympics and remind you to pray for your fellow Christians in China. Similar prayer bands will also be distributed to Chinese Christians belonging to house churches. Chinese Christians have committed to praying for their brothers and sisters in the free world. The prayer bands are free to all who request them. You may also order them in multiple quantities to share with your entire church or Christian friends.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a body appointed jointly by the President and Congress, has identified eleven “countries of particular concern” with regard to religious freedom. These are, according to a news release from the commission, “countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations of the universal right to freedom of religion or belief.” These nations, in alphabetical order, are:
- Myanmar (Burma)
- North Korea
- Saudi Arabia
India – An anti-conversion law passed in 2003 in Gujarat State, India, intending to restrain religious conversions made by “force,” “fraud,” or “allurement,” became effective April 1 (2008). It dictates any person intending to convert must notify the government or else be declared a law-breaker to be punished under criminal laws. It also stipulates those convicted of “forcible conversion” may be imprisoned up to three years.
The law worries both human rights groups and Christians who are concerned about all religious conversions being obstructed and the harassment of Christians coming through a rise of false accusations by Hindu extremists. Past accusations by Hindu extremists have often been accompanied by violent action.
Anti-conversion laws are now enforced in five states in India: Gujarat, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh. They have been passed but have yet to be implemented in Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. Please pray for these Christians to face the present and impending persecution faithfully and boldly.
Kazakhstan – The government of Kazakhstan brought charges against Christians in the capital city of Atyrau, Atyrau Province, for holding “illegal” meetings under Article 374.1 of the Administrative Code. That article provides for the punishment of unregistered church activity. The charges were brought against the church on April 21 against members of the Salem Church, a group of Russian-speaking church members who were meeting regularly in a private home instead of the church’s registered address. The church’s leader declared the Administrative Code permitted church groups to meet in private homes as long as religious rites, such as weddings and baptisms, are not conducted.
Local authorities in Atyrau have also asked the New Life Church to register with the government since their old registration does not indicate a legal address. Re-registration will be difficult for the church because they do not possess a building, which the amended Religion Law in Kazakhstan requires. Church members are concerned the authorities will now classify all of their activities as “illegal.” Please pray for these Christians to have wisdom and boldness regarding their situation.
Leaders of many faith communities have expressed serious concerns about active proposals in Kazakhstan’s parliament to make the Religion Law (and a number of other laws) more restrictive and provide for harsher penalties. Lutheran Bishop Yuri Novgorodov complains, “If adopted, this would be a Law on Non-Freedom of Conscience.” Faith communities and human rights activists are especially concerned with broad restrictions on “missionary activity” by anyone; a state review of religious beliefs of registered communities; a ban and increased penalties for the activities of non-registered faith communities; compulsory re-registration for all faith communities; the inability to register faith communities working only in particular regions (e.g., Russian Orthodox or Roman Catholic diocese); severe restrictions on smaller faith groups; the need for government approval in building places of worship; a requirement that children have written permission to participate in any religious youth event; and compulsory censorship of all imported literature of a religious nature.
Bishop Novgorodov also stated the proposed Law “would destroy our whole [Lutheran Church] and our seminary, and the bishop would no longer be able to function as such.” Echoing his views are the members of the Council of Baptist Churches, maintaining the draft Law “puts believers in Kazakhstan outside the law. How can this be termed a law on freedom of conscience?” Franz Tissen, President of the Baptist Union of Kazakhstan, describes it as an “absolute intrusion into the inner life of believers.”
Indonesia – Pastor Abraham Bentar was released from prison this past Sunday (April 27). His wife received more than 10,000 letters and photographs from families around the world who were praying for them, which provided a great deal of encouragement for the Bentar Family. Please continue to pray for the family and for Pastor Bentar’s congregation.
China – The Chinese Communist government recently launched a strategic campaign against house churches in Xinjiang Autonomous Region. 46 Christians were arrested on April 13 by officials from the Public Security Bureau (PSB) during a worship service and Bible study in Kashi City. The study and service were being held in the home of Mr. Ding Zhichun. Forty of the Christians were released following a trial and a 50 Yuan deposit to the PSB by family members. Two of the Christians are still being detained. The Christians were made to confess to “illegal” Sunday worship activities and must now study the government’s handbooks on religious policy. They were made to return and recite the policy within one week.
Somalia – Four Christian teachers, two who were converts from Islam, were shot and killed during a midnight raid on the Hakab Private English School by Islamists in Beledweyne (south-central Somalia) on April 13. Two of the martyrs were British citizens of Somali origin, Mr. Daud Hassan Ali (64) and Ms. Rehana Ahmed (32). The other two teachers are unidentified Kenyans. Local citizens believe the teachers were singled out for their suspected evangelistic endeavors.
Uzbekistan – Pastor Bobur Aslamov was beaten and jailed on April 3 following a police raid on a house church meeting in Samarkand. Other church members were also beaten during the raid. Although no formal charges have been filed against Pastor Aslamov, he remains in detention in an unknown location.
“Martyr” comes from the Greek, μάρτυς, meaning “witness.” During the first few centuries following the Lord Jesus Christ’s ascension, the term acquired an extended meaning – that of a believer who endures suffering and death for his or her faith. Here is what some of the Church Fathers had to say about martyrs and martyrdom:
“The whole earth has been crimsoned by the blood of Martyrs; heaven is flowery with the crowns of Martyrs, the churches are adorned with the memorials of Martyrs, seasons distinguished by the birthdays of Martyrs….”
“You may kill us, but you can never hurt us.”
- Justin Martyr
“Fire and sword, beasts of prey, irons to rend flesh, are an indulgence rather than a terror to a Christian.”
- Gregory of Nazianzus
“Accustom your limbs rather to fetters than to bracelets of gold; on the neck of yours now encircled with chains of pearls and emeralds, leave a spot where the sword of the lictor can fall…. The robes which the angels are bringing you, remember, are the robes of martyrdom.”
“May I have the joy of the beasts that have been prepared for me; and I pray that I may find them prompt; nay I will entice them that they may devour me promptly, not as they have done to some….”
“I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, so that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.”
“I am assured that while I live I shall be the victor in my contest with you, and if you cause me to be put to death I shall be still more than a conqueror.”
- Felicitas (before her execution)
“The priest of God holding fast the Gospel and keeping Christ’s precepts may be slain; he cannot be conquered.”
“It is not martyrs that make the Gospel, but…martyrs are made by the Gospel.”
“It is the cause, not the punishment, that makes martyrs.”
Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters around the globe who suffer for Christ.
Iraq - Fr. Youssef Adel, 40, an Assyrian Orthodox priest, was driving to a church on April 5 when gunmen in another vehicle opened fire and killed him. The murder took place in the district of Karradah, Baghdad. Fr. Adel, who directed a high school attended by both Christians and Muslims, faced numerable threats meant to evacuate him from his position.
India – The pastors and members of the Manna Ministry in Krishnapuram, Andhra Pradesh, were beaten by Hindu extremists on April 2nd. The mob, numbering about 20, attacked their vehicle while they were returning from an evangelistic outreach. Pastor Gopal, one of the leaders, was seriously injured, and the group’s literature was destroyed.
A couple of weeks earlier, on March 17, Hindu extremists assaulted and threatened school children from the Toopran School in Telungana Village, Andhra Pradesh, while they were distributing Bible tracts. “A group of Hindu extremists stopped the school children from further distribution of tracts.
China - We thank the Lord for the release of well-known house church leader and Christian book store manager, Zhou Heng, on February 19. Heng was released when a court determined there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute him. Please pray for Heng’s physical and emotional healing as he recuperates at home from severe beatings he received from guards and inmates while imprisoned.
A dozen years ago Broadman & Holman re-published a series of books edited by Dr. Timothy George and his wife, Denise, about Baptists and their doctrines. One of the books in that series, authored by Jesse C. Fletcher in 1963, was a biography entitled, Bill Wallace of China. Bill Wallace served as a missionary doctor in China between 1935-1951. During that period he survived hunger, civil war, invasion, and the advance of Communism before being accused falsely of being a spy and dying as a martyr.
Wallace was born in 1908, the son of a physician. He had little interest in medicine as a boy, but at the age of seventeen, his life was altered when God called him to serve in missions. After completing medical school, he left his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, and traveled to Wuchow, China, as a medical missionary for the Foreign Mission Board (SBC). Despite laboring tirelessly for the Chinese people through the civil war and the Japanese invasion during World War II, the Communist regime which came to power in China viewed all foreigners, including Wallace, as a threat to their authority. Many missionaries evacuated China under the advice of their denominational mission boards, but Wallace couldn’t bring himself to leave those he had come to love. He remained in China only to be accused of espionage and forced to sign a confession which was untrue. He was beaten to death in his prison cell. After his murder, the Communists attempted to hide their action by burying his body in an unmarked grave. Chinese Christians found the grave and the body and performed a proper Christian burial for their martyred brother. They marked his grave in Wuchow with the words, “For Me to Live Is Christ.”
If you would like to watch the motion picture – Bill Wallace of China – which was released in 1967 and based upon the biography by Fletcher, you may do so courtesy of the Wallace Memorial Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.
A story of interest today…
The highly respected wildlife biologist Dr. Aprile Pazzo discovered a new species in Antartica: the Hotheaded Naked Ice Borer. These fascinating creatures had bony plates on their heads which, fueled by a multitude of blood vessels, could become burning hot. The heat produced from the blood vessels permitted the animals to bore through ice at high speeds. This uncanny ability was employed to hunt penguins as the Ice Borers would melt the ice beneath the penguins, causing them to sink into the resulting slush and then devouring them. Dr. Pazzo theorized the Ice Borers may have been responsible for the mysterious disappearance of noted Arctic explorer Philippe Poisson in 1837. Nothing has been theorized in regard to the current global warming crisis.
Today on msn.com there is an article by Amy Levin-Epstein entitled, “Feng Shui for Follicles: The secrets to gaining style while losing hair.” In it she writes:
“Do you find yourself getting a little too aggressive in your defense of Bruce Willis as the sexier alternative to Ashton Kutcher? You are not alone. Eighty-five percent of men have significant hair loss by age 50, and not all of us come to grips with it so well. The key to weathering this transition is the right haircut.”
One of the key tenets of Galyonism is this – “Hair is for the weak!” I think I’ve got the right haircut for “weathering this transition”, eh?!