Friday, December 12, 2008

Our Deteriorating Moral Foundation

I just saw a story on the news that can only make you say, "What on earth is going on in this world?" The story was about an armed robbery at a Chinese take-out restaurant. Two men with bandannas over their faces came into the restaurant. They held a customer at gun point, robbed him, then shot him in the knee. Believe it or not, that isn't even the most appalling part.

You see, all of this was caught by the security camera. In the background, leaning against a wall, were two teenage girls. This crime was happening right in front of their eyes, no more than 7 or 8 feet away. I know what you're thinking. This must have been terrifying for them. What did they do? Were they screaming? Crying? Perhaps just paralyzed with fear? Maybe they ran out of the store to get help. Perhaps they even exhibited extraordinary bravery and tried to help the victim. Any one of these would have been an expectable reaction. If I were to tell you that any of these happened on that surveillance video, none of you would probably be surprised.

I am sorry to say, however, that I just made all of those potential reactions up. So how did these two teenage girls really react to the violence before them? What did they do?

They laughed.

That's right. They laughed. While this man had two firearms in his face, likely with his life flashing before his eyes, these two girls thought this was one of the most hilarious scenes they've ever witnessed. Not until he was shot in the knee did they finally leave the room.

What is wrong with the youth of our world when two teenage girls can become so desensitized to violence that they react as if they are watching the latest stand-up routine? We should properly have a sense of disgust when we see such images. Even when we see them on the television or movie screens, these acts should inspire emotions in us that (at a minimum) make us uncomfortable.

But today violence is depicted graphically and realistically in the media, all under the umbrella of purported entertainment. As a society, we add fuel to the fire by patronizing this type of programming, giving it a larger and larger audience. The result is that we reap what we sow. When Bing Crosby becomes Quentin Tarantino and tap shoes become hand guns, why are we surprised that revulsion turns to laughter?

Christianity teaches us that the human heart is fundamentally depraved. Modern society lives in denial of this truth. What is the result of our failure to acknowledge our degenerate cravings and continuing to feed our corrupt desires?

They laughed.

Amendment to the PCUSA Ordination Requirements

On July 3, 2008, I wrote a blog entry titled "PCUSA opts for human authority instead of Biblical authority." Part of that entry discussed my disagreement with the proposed changes to the PCUSA ordination requirements and how I feared they could open the door to relativism within the church. This amendment would remove the requirement that candidates for ordained office live within the covenant of marriage or in chastity in singleness. In its place the new standard would allow the ordination of a candidate if they sincerely believed that the scriptures led them to their theological conclusions. Missing, however, were any fundamental beliefs that defined Presbyterianism. In other words, if a candidate felt sincerely led to the conclusion that Christ was not divine, then he or she could still be ordained. The ordaining body is never called to evaluate whether or not those professed beliefs are actually true. See the earlier post for more details.

I mentioned at the time that the proposed amendment needed to be approved by a majority of the Presbyteries in order to take effect. I thought I would give you all a quick update on how the votes are going.

As of December 4, 2008, 13 out of the 173 Presbyteries have held their votes. Of those, 12 have voted against the amendment.

Presbyteries voting against the amendment have been:
Central Florida (48 to 164)
Central Washington (7 to 55)
Eastern Oklahoma (49 to 56)
Florida (41 to 46)
Los Ranchos (35 to 143)
Mississippi (2 to 49)
Palo Duro (29 to 47)
San Diego (17 to 74)
San Joaquin (8 to 74)
Stockton (11 to 39)
Upper Ohio Valley (12 to 72)
Western Kentucky (17 to 42)

The only Presbytery voting in favor of the amendment was Monmouth. It appears to have been simply a vocal vote (i.e., aye versus nay) because at least on the site I checked the precise vote county for and against was not available.

The early trend is promising, but there are still 160 Presbyteries that have yet to vote (including my own, Baltimore, but it is probably safe to assume that Baltimore will vote in favor of the amendment).

I will try to include more updates on this issue as more results come in.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Podcasts on Hebrews

Under the "Biblical/Discipleship podcasts" on our website, we have started an exciting new series on the book of Hebrews. We are taking our time, going topic by topic to get the most out of this incredibly intricate book of the Bible. The overall theme for the author of Hebrews is to respond to Jewish converts to Christianity who were feeling tempted to return to their old lives. But in the context of making that argument, the author intertwines so many powerful theological themes that this book simply must have received divine inspiration.

The first six podcasts in the series are up already. Feel free to visit the website (www.TenMinasMinistries.org) to download them to your computer for free. Of course, if you would like to join us live, the classes are held every Sunday morning at 9:15 am at Grove Presbyterian Church, 50 East Bel Air Avenue, Aberdeen, Maryland. The classes are in the Monroe Building (the large brick building separate from the main sanctuary bulding) on the second floor. We would love to see you.

By way of reminder, we also have podcasts on a wide variety of other topics including:

- An argument for Christianity
- Lessons from the book of Ephesians (including wives submitting to husbands)
- How God can order the genocide of entire societies in the Old Testament
- Postmodernism and its effect on society and the church
- And many more!

Please visit the "Podcasts/Other Resources" page on our site to find what you are looking for. God bless. Merry Christmas.

Ken

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What defines a Christian?

"Tabatha" raised a very intersting question recently under the post titled "Modern Day Jewish Atonement" (in the archives under June, 2007) that I found to be fascinating and worthy of discussion. It is a question that likely confuses many people outside the church as to what "Christianity" is all about. The question is:

"What are the core or essential Christian beliefs, the ones that if rejected, would render a person a NON Christian?"

I think the obvious answer to this is "faith in Jesus," but what does that mean exactly?

I propose as a starting point that belief that Jesus died on the cross for your sins is included in that faith.

I would also argue that if you truly believe it, then your belief will be accompanied by sincere repentance (i.e., if you truly understand your fate without Jesus compared to your fate with Him, you will recognize what brought you there and be so incredibly grateful for what He did that you will allow the Holy Spirit into your heart and be changed).

I will leave it there for now to see what others have to say. The specific beliefs that Tabatha asked about were:

- virgin birth
- resurrection
- Jesus as messiah
- Jesus as 'son of god' and/or 'god incarnate'
- the 'second coming'

Please feel free to chime in with your thoughts on this very intriguing question.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Please Vote

Today is Tuesday, November 4, election day. For those of us here in the United States (as well as other democracies around the world), God has given us the gift of living in a country that allows us a voice in choosing the people who will govern us. This is a privilege that many in our world do not share.

Don't waste the gift God has given you. There are many out there who are envious of the opportunity you have today. Give thanks to God that you live in such a country, then go out and take full advantage of the opportunity God has given to you.

I am not telling which way to vote. That is up to you. All I ask is that you pray, ask for God's guidance, then please go out and cast your ballot.

Thank you and God bless.

Ken

Monday, October 27, 2008

Postmodernism Podcasts

For those of you who cannot join us for the free 5-week lesson at Grove Church on Postmodernism and Contemporary Christianity, we are posting podcasts of the lessons on the website. The first two lessons are currently available with more to come as they take place. Visit the "Podcasts/Other Resources page" for more details. There is also a link to the latest podcast on the Home Page.

Keeping your eye on what is important

I am currently out of town on a business trip, and fortunately my hotel has free WiFi. I won't say exactly where I am so that I do not come across as "calling anyone out" and we can just keep our comments general.

As I was driving this morning, I passed a church with a sign out front, just like all those signs we use to announce when Sunday School and worship begin, or sometimes to put up cute little sayings designed to bring people through the front door. But this sign was different. This one said something to the effect of, "It is your Christian duty to vote against Sunday store hours." I may not have it exactly right. After all, I was driving at the time and couldn't write it down.

Now I assume that this locality still has some form of Sunday blue laws prohibiting at least some types of stores from being open on Sundays. I understand why Christians do not work on Sundays (I, for one, will not go into my office or do any office work at home on Sundays), and I certainly understand why an establishment like a Christian book store or even Chick-fil-a, many if not most of the employees of which are Christians, would not be open on Sundays. If your business chooses to do this, great.

But this sign appeared to be telling Christians that it was their "duty" to vote against allowing other, non-Christian businesses to be open on Sundays. Essentially, they are telling Christians that it is our duty to legally force others to observe our Sabbath.

I am not going to go any further into the merits of the position this church was advocating, but I am going to take issue with them telling Christians that they have a duty to vote a particular way on this issue. So now we will have some Christians saying we must vote this way, others saying we shouldn't, and before you know it we have divisions forming within the church. Are these divisions over the theology of salvation or over the true identity of Christ? No, they are divisions over blue laws.

We need to be careful where we draw the line when we are telling other Christians what they have to believe and what they don't if they call themselves Christian. Are Baptists going to tell Presbyterians that they are not Christians if they do not believe in full immersion or adult baptism only? Are we going to say a church is not Christian because it allows for Saturday evening services and Sunday, not Saturday is the Sabbath?

Be careful when you tell other Christians what they "must" believe, or what it is their "duty" to do. Our "duty" is to live as much like Christ as we can in this world, and to continue to grow more and more like Him. Part of that, as Paul tells us in Ephesians, is to live as one unified body, with Christ as the head. Let's not start down paths that could lead to division unless we are reasonably sure that whatever issue is involved really warrants it. I'd venture to say a Christian's position on blue laws doesn't rise to that level, so I will not be telling anyone what their "duty" is to vote one way or the other.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Free 5-Week Program on Postmodernism

"I'm glad Christianity works for you, but it really isn't what I'm looking for right now."

"We really shouldn't attach labels of 'right' or 'wrong' to other people's ideas. After all, everyone is right. It just depends upon your point of view."

"Truth is all relative."

Do any of these comments sound familiar? They are all examples of the "postmodern" thought that has seeped into our culture and even into the church itself. Are these statements consistent with what the Bible teaches about Christianity? Find out by coming to a FREE five-week program on "Postmodernism and Contemporary Christianity" every Sunday morning from 9:15am-10:15 am beginning October 20, 2008. Join us for these user-friendly lessons as we compare postmodern beliefs to the scriptures. Learn how to share your faith in today's society. No philosophy degree required!

The classes will be held at Grove Presbyterian Church, 50 East Bel Air Avenue, Aberdeen, Maryland, on the second floor of the Monroe Building. Click here for directions. No advance registration is required. Just show up ready to learn.

Each class will be approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour in length, followed by a 10:30 worship service in the church. Based upon a book Ten Minas President Ken Coughlan is currently authoring, "Postmodernism and Contemporary Christianity" is more than merely a Bible study. While the lessons will dive into the scriptures, they will also explore some cultural and philosophical issues. Unfortunately, while most of our churches today do an admirable job of teaching what Christians should believe, they give short shrift to why Christians should believe it. By better understanding what people around you believe about reality, you will be in a far better position to reach them with Christ's truth.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions. So bring your Bible and your willingness to learn and join us for these classes. We hope to see you there.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Please pray for my father

My posts here may be relatively limited for the time being. My father was in a pretty serious accident on Thursday. He fell 30 feet out of a tree. Believe it or not, none of his injuries appear to be life threatening, but he will be in the hospital, probably until Monday, then in a rehab facility for a few weeks regaining his ability to walk. Even after that he is in for a long, hard rehabilitation. Thank you for your prayers and your understanding.

Ken

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New Podcasts

Seven new podcasts are now available in the Biblical and Discipleship series on the Ten Minas website. There is a four part lesson titled "Chosen for a Purpose" and a three part lesson titled "The Mystery of Christ." Both are taken from the book of Ephesians, Paul's letter on unity within the church. More podcasts from Ephesians will be forthcoming in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Striving for Peace Through Antagonism

As I was driving to work this morning I pulled up behind a car, the back of which look more like a collage of bumper stickers than part of a vehicle. With the exception of the rear windshield there was not one square inch on this thing that wasn’t covered, and even the windshield had a few blockages.

One of the bumper stickers was sending what I believed to be a very noble message. It said, “We need a Department of Peace.” I’m all for promoting peace. I am not a total pacifist and believe that there are times when war is necessary, but at least as a general objective peace is a good thing.

On the same car was one of those Christian fish symbols with legs attached and the word “Darwin” written inside. I can’t imagine that there are too many of you out there who do not know what I am talking about, but for those of you who may not, picture this. In the early days of Christianity, fellow Christians devised a surreptitious system for identifying one another. One person would use a stick to draw a curved line (kind of like a frown) in the dirt. To anyone looking it would just look like they were doodling on the ground. If the person watching was a Christian, however, they would draw a mirror image of the curved line, making the two lines meet at a point on one side (i.e., the nose of the fish), then crossing over each other at the other end of the line making the tail of the fish. If you want a picture, see the “Christian Links” page on the Ten Minas site. We have a picture of this “Christian fish” there.

Nowadays, a number of Christians put these fish on the back of their cars to identify themselves as Christians. As I said, this is a symbol that Christians have long used to identify themselves to one another (it’s not like we all walk around with “Christian” emblazoned on our foreheads).

In the last few years, someone came up with the idea for Darwinists to express their views on the back of their cars by creating one of these fish, but putting legs on it and writing “Darwin” across the middle. This is the placard that was on the car in front of me. It also had something I had never seen before, a T-Rex eating one of the Christian fish symbols.

My point is actually quite simple. I firmly believe that the first step toward peace is to try not to antagonize your opponent. I have often encouraged Christians to follow 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Why use the Christian fish to identify yourself as a proponent of Darwinism? I understand that many people believe Darwinian evolution and Christianity are contradictory. But why use a symbol that obviously has deep meaning to Christian adherents and, in essence, mock it to make your point? Why is the T-Rex eating it? Why are you putting feet on it?

It seems to me that this type of behavior is essentially “thumbing your nose” at Christianity. It is the type of behavior that you should know could generate strong negative emotions in the person or class of people that you are targeting. It is behavior that is designed to antagonize. Why else use that particular symbol in such a way that you have to know would not be welcomed by those who were using it before you? The Christian fish did not in any way mock Darwinism. Christian believers were not ridiculing Darwinism by putting these fish on their cars (although please do not misunderstand me to think I am saying that many Christians do not unfortunately ridicule others). It just seems to me to be an unnecessary attack and I find it ironic that someone who advocates a quest for peace would get the first step toward that peace so horribly wrong.

Please do not get me wrong. I am not starting off some kind of a crusade to have all these placards removed. I don’t start screaming at the car in front of me every time I see one. I am only using this small example as a point of entry for something bigger. Namely, if we really want to work for peace, let us begin by trying to respect one another. This does not mean we have to agree with each other, or that you cannot tell someone that you disagree. But do this without mocking, without teasing, without ridicule, and in a manner that shows that you respect your opponent as a human being.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Secularization of America

I was reading an opinion article today from the L.A. Times (dated June 17, 2008) titled “Will Gay Rights Trample Religious Freedom?” (Here). If I can briefly summarize the author’s point (although I encourage you to read the article for yourself), he was skeptical of the California Supreme Court’s assurances that allowing same-sex marriages will not effect the ability of churches to practice their religion (allegedly because no clergy member would be forced to perform a same-sex marriage). The author, Marc D. Stern, then gave four examples which he believed justified his skepticism:

(1) A case currently before the California Supreme Court in which a San Diego County fertility doctor is being sued for refusing to perform artificial insemination on one partner in a lesbian couple because it would violate his religious convictions (the doctor had referred the patient to another colleague at no extra cost to the patient).

(2) Catholic Charities in Boston and San Francisco stopping adoption services altogether rather than being forced by anti-discrimination laws to place children with same-sex couples (at least in Boston they were willing to refer these clients to other providers who would accommodate them).

(3) A case currently on appeal in which a Lutheran School is being sued for expelling two students for engaging in a lesbian relationship contrary to the values of the school.

(4) A lawsuit in Poway, California involving a public school that is seeking to ban students from wearing T-Shirts expressing their opposition to homosexuality on campus.

In fairness, I should point out that Mr. Stern only gave a somewhat discreet mention of the fact that in the Lutheran School case the lawsuit was dismissed by the trial court. This is actually a pretty big deal, as anyone can sue for just about any reason. The key question is whether or not the courts will allow that suit to proceed, which in this case they have not (at least so far). I should also point out that a number of the comments following the article argue that any organization receiving public funding must abide by anti-discrimination laws. Judging by the fact that Mr. Stern described this as a “Lutheran” school, it is probably safe to assume that it is a private school and not receiving government funding (the government does not fund religious education), although the article does not say one way or another.

Mr. Stern cites the above instances as examples of times when legal civil liberties have clashed with religious freedom, and religious freedom is the one that had to give way. He appears unconvinced that clergy really will not be required to perform same-sex weddings, possibly under threat of being prohibited from performing legal marriages at all. In other words, clergy weddings may have full force and effect within the church, but those same weddings may not be legally effective unless those clergy also agree to perform same-sex marriages. Mr. Stern does not explicitly make this point, but it is at least the impression I received, especially from him citing the Catholic Charities example.

Dr. Ravi Zacharias defines the process of “secularization” as “the process by which religious ideas, institutions, and interpretations have lost their social significance.” (Here). He argues that this process is occurring in American culture today. I agree. I saw this process illustrated in a number of the comments that followed Mr. Stern’s article. The following comment serves as an example:

“This entire argument is based on a false definition of ‘religious freedom’. Religious freedom allows you to believe anything you want, and to worship with any group you like. Your article assumes that believers have the right to live in a society that mirrors their beliefs. All of the examples cited of religious persecution have nothing to do with what a person believes, and everything to do with how they behave in public. The doctor doesn't have to inseminate anyone, but if he chooses to be licensed by the state to practice medicine, he is responsible for following whatever legal guidelines exist.
Submitted by: Jason
3:59 PM PDT, June 17, 2008” (emphasis added)

According to Jason, there is (and should be) a disconnect between what a person believes in private and how they act in public. Religion should be confined to the sphere of private thought alone. You are free to believe whatever you want inside your head as long as you conform to the cultural norms outwardly. Religious notions have no place in the public discourse.

I wonder how the secularist would react if I was to reverse this definition? You are free to have all your secular thoughts in private as long as you outwardly act in conformity with my religious ideas. That certainly would be unacceptable because at least the postmodern secularist demands that all viewpoints be “tolerated”, especially their own. Unfortunately, this postmodern world has redefined “tolerance” to mean not just “respected and allowed equal opportunity to express their perspective,” but instead that all views must be affirmed as equally true. No longer are we even permitted to respectfully disagree, but instead we are called upon to celebrate and actively practice those perspectives with which we may passionately disagree because all views are allegedly equally “true.” Jason tells us that we are perfectly free to disagree with homosexual practices in private, but in public we must act as if they are a cause for celebration.

What postmodern secularists fail to realize, though, is that in expressing this viewpoint they are violating their own definition of tolerance as to the religious believer! In restricting the religious viewpoint to the private arena, the secularist is not affirming it to be equally true with other views. What they really mean to say is that all views must be tolerated except those views that disagree that all views should be tolerated.

Let me pose a simple question. Do you truly “believe” something if you do not act as if you believe it? How many of us have been told by our parents that “actions speak louder than words?” The notion that someone can believe something in private but not act upon that belief in public is completely contrary to the realities of our existence. This is not how we live our lives and really appears to be nothing more than the secularist’s attempt to suppress the non-secularist, even though such suppression should be against what they preach.

The examples given by Mr. Stern illustrate this suppression. Take the case of the insemination doctor that was cited by Jason. It is not like this lesbian couple was without options. The doctor referred them to a colleague who was willing to perform the insemination. There would have been no additional cost to them whatsoever. If what they really were after was an opportunity to conceive a child, everything was in place for them to do so. But that is not what they wanted. The fact that they filed this lawsuit proved that what they really wanted was to force THIS PARTICULAR doctor to perform the insemination, contrary to his religious beliefs? Why? Why is the lesbian couple’s belief that they are civilly entitled to insemination more worthy of respect than the doctor’s belief that he should not perform it? How can Jason (and others who made similar comments) possibly decry the alleged suppression of the couple’s “right” to child-bearing without also realizing that they are suppressing the doctor’s right to practice his religion, especially when the couple HAD ANOTHER OPTION? Even assuming that this couple had a right to insemination, what made them believe that they had a right to be inseminated by this specific physician? Their "right" to insemination was not being denied. At best some alleged "right" to be inseminated specifically by "Dr. X" was being violated. I fail to see how any such "right" exists.

I can understand when a religious practice in and of itself would cross a line that a society believes cannot be crossed (such as human sacrifice, etc.). But this was not one of those instances. Nobody else’s “rights” would have been affected in any way by this doctor’s decision. If that couple had really wanted artificial insemination, they would have been able to get it. This really appeared to be more of a crusade against this individual doctor to force him to act in conformity with the prevailing culture’s beliefs instead of his own.

Forced belief is never appropriate. The Christian Crusades were unacceptable. I would hope that even secularists would realize this and try to persuade people through the marketplace of ideas rather than through the power of legal coercion.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Upcoming Appearances

I will be making several appearances coming up if anyone would like to stop by.

I will be teaching a class on Ephesians starting this Sunday. The classes are from 9:15 to 10:15 am at Grove Presbyterian Church, 50 E. Bel Air Avenue, Aberdeen, MD. They will be held on the second floor of the Monroe Building (the large building adjacent to the church). I will be teaching on the following dates:

September 7
September 21
October 5
October 12

The class will also be taught on September 14 and 28 with another (and very qualified) elder of the church leading the group.

I will also be operating a table at the Havre de Grace Community Yard Sale, to be held at the Havre de Grace Activity Center, 351 Lewis Lane, Havre de Grace, Maryland 21078. This event will be on Saturday, September 27, 2008 from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm. We will be trying to raise money for our Disaster Relief Project to help people who have been the victims of natural disasters. See our website for more information.

I hope to see some of you at one or more of these events. God bless.

Ken Coughlan

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

God's Point of View

Occassionally when I've been teaching, or just in casual conversation, the topic of election comes up. No, not the type of election we'll be having in November. I'm referring to God electing the people to be saved. Some people look at this concept and say its not fair. After all, if God sat down at the beginning of time and chose who would be saved and who would be "destined" for Hell, then we all live our lives with our destiny pre-determined and no way to change it no matter what we do during our lives. Some people claim that God simply foresees how we will exercise our free will before we do it, and makes His choice based upon His foreknowledge. But many Christians find this concept equally unacceptable.

I have often explained my personal view that both of the above alternatives start with the same flawed starting assumption. Both of them try to analyze God in human terms. We live a linear existence, so we try to understand God linearly as well. But God exists outside time. He created time. So He is not confined to time. We live linearly. God does not. I have often used the example of a tapestry. The tapestry represents every moment in time laid out before God. God looks down at that tapestry and equally "sees" all moments in time simultaneously. He can still interact; pull a string here, tie one on there. So he can see all times, and also act on any one of them.

The punchline is that God neither decides "beforehand" what our destiny will be, nor does he "foresee" our "future" actions and base His decision on them. He just sees our lives (and whether or not we have faith in Christ) in His reality and bases His election upon that. He sees all people over all times right in front of Him, just as someone can see the entire tapestry all at once. This is why there is no difference between a sin we committed 20 years ago and one we committed yesterday. We may think that the 20 year old sin is so far removed that we should be given "credit" for improving our behavior for so long. But in reality, that 20 year old sin has the same presence to God as our recent behavior. We cannot escape our sin.

I am currently working my way through Norman Geisler's 4 volume "Systematic Theology" and I came across a paragraph where he explained the same concept as I have been trying to explain, but doing so in a far better way. So I wanted to share Dr. Geisler's words with the rest of you.

"...as an eternal Being God does not really fore-know anything. He is eternal and, as such, He simply knows in one eternal Now everything there is to know. God sees all time - past, present, and future - from His lofty perch of eternity; whereas human beings looking through the tunnel vision of time can only see the present."
Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: Volume 1, p. 583 (2002)

This is just another example in which humans try to define God in human terms. Yes, we are made in the image of God. But there are many instances in which we must be cognizant of the differences between the finite and the infinite, and avoid trying to bring God down to our level, making Him into a finite being. Always try to be aware that God is far more that we are. God bless.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

PCUSA opts for human authority instead of Biblical authority

My own denomination, the PCUSA, which I have blogged about many times before, recently held its 218th General Assembly. Think of it like a legislature that meets every two years. In theory, that legislature is supposed to follow two things: (1) the Bible, and (2) the PCUSA Constitution. The Constitution is actually comprised of two parts, a Book of Order (which is like a set of statutes dictating how the church operates) and the Book of Confessions (a collection of historic Christian confessions including the Westminster Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, among others).

The PCUSA has been pretty unstable lately, in large part over the issue of the ordination of homosexuals, but even more fundamentally on the authority to be accorded to scripture. At the latest General Assembly that was just completed, there were a few things approved that have gotten the attention of many.

The first is a proposal to amend the translation of the Heidleberg Catechism in the Book of Confessions. Question 87 of the Catechism reads, "Can those who do not turn to God from their ungrateful, impenitent life be saved?" Prior to the amendment, the answer read as follows: "A. Certainly not! Scripture says, 'Surely you know that the unjust will never come into possession of the kingdom of God. Make no mistake: no fornicator or idolater, none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, no thieves or grabbers or drunkards or slanderers or swindlers, will possess the kingdom of God.'"
Pursuant to the proposed amendment, it would read, "Certainly not; for as Scripture says no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, greedy person, drunkard, slanderer, robber or anyone like that shall inherit the kingdom of god."

Proponents of the amendment argue that the original version is simply a poor translation. And by the way, the correct translation just happens to exclude "homosexual perversion" from the list. Allegedly, though, this is simply a translation issue, not something motivated by the current political climate. They contend that the "homosexual perversion" language was inserted to discourage youth from the sexual revolution at the time the Catechism was written and really had nothing to do with divine mandate.

Opponents point out that the original answer is taken directly from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 which reads, "9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." According to this camp, the Biblical basis for this part of the catechism explictly includes a reference to homosexuality, therefore the translation should not be changed. This still requires further action at the next General Assembly in two years.

A bigger issue, though, comes from the amendment of the ordination standards. Currently, the Book of Order requires that any candidate for ordination live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness." Under the proposed amendment (which still needs to be approved by a majority of presbyteries over the next year), this language would be deleted and a new subsection would be substituted. The new section would read as follows:

"Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation, pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation establishes the candidate's sincere efforts to adhere to these standards."

The General Assembly also enacted new "authoritative interpretations" (bascially, rulings providing clarification of constitutional provisions) explicitly overturning several prior authoritative interpretations that came down against homosexual ordination and also explicitly providing that if a candidate for ordination raises a conscientious objection to something in the ordination standards, the ordaining body may decide to go ahead and ordain him or her anyway.

For those of you who think I am now going to rant and rave against homosexual ordination, I'm sorry to disappoint. I've said my peace on this issue, over and over again, and I really do not see the point to rehashing the same ground again. If you want to hear what I have to say about it, there are plenty of prior blog entries on the PCUSA you can find in the history as well as an article on the website on homosexual marriage.

The one point I am going to raise here, though, is the incredibly dangerous standard set by the new ordination language. Can someone please tell me, after reading the new language, what exactly the PCUSA believes? What is our ordination standard? Because it seems to me like "anything goes." A candidate promises that they really are trying to be faithful to the scriptures, regardless of what they actually believe, and as long as the ordaining body agrees with him or her, that's okay. So if someone believes that all the doctrines of Mormonism are taught by the Bible, that person can be ordained in the PCUSA. If someone believes that the Bible actually teaches Hinduism or Jainism, or any other "-ism" you can think of, that's okay! Everyone gets to define for themselves what the PCUSA stands for. If this new language passes, all I can say is that telling someone that you belong to the Prebyterian Church (USA) is now a completely empty and meaningless statement.

Even social clubs have some common ground to define who they are. But it now seems that the PCUSA, in its effort not to offend anyone and to include everyone, has thrown that bit of (what should be) common sense out the window. We are in for a log jam of conflict and contradiction down the road.

God bless.

Ken

Friday, May 30, 2008

Morality according to Sam Harris

I just finished reading Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation." The number of thoughts I could share is voluminous, but I decided to narrow it down to a few general impressions and one brief observation.

Overall, the book was one of the most vitriolic defenses of atheism I have ever seen. Mr. Harris' recurring theme throughout his book is that his point of view is intuitively obvious and anyone who disagrees with him is intellectually bankrupt. Very often he makes conclusory statements without even attempting to provide any evidence for his conclusion. Again, the theme is that his perspective should be obviously true to anyone with even a bare modicum of common sense. Ironically, at one point in the book Mr. Harris calls Christians "arrogant" when the entirety of his book could the the poster child for intellectual arrogance. Mr. Harris makes no attempt to respect those who disagree with him. He makes no attempt to engage in a polite, respectful discussion of the issues. If you agree with him, you are a genius. If you disagree with him, your opinions do not even belong in the marketplace of ideas.

The one point I want to address here, though, deals with Harris' conception of morality. Without explicitly saying so, Harris firmly establishes himself as a utilitarian. He argues that all morality stems from concepts of suffering and pleasure. He then goes on to Christian morality, claiming that it disregards a large degree of suffering that its moral views cause.

Obviously, I disagree with Harris' description of Christian moral theory, but I will confine the remainder of this post to one simple point, and it is a criticism that could come from proponents of both Christian and other non-utilitarian moral theories. Mr. Harris ... if all morality is solely derived from suffering and pleasure, this would mean that an act that causes no suffering should be morally acceptable. So if you could painlessly euthanize a homeless person who has no family or friends to speak of to even notice he or she is gone, is that OK?

If Mr. Harris is correct and there is no God, no afterlife, simply our material world, then that homeless person will experience nothing after death, so there is no post-mortem suffering. The act of death itself is without suffering, and there is no one remaining behind who is suffering as a result of the death. So this should be perfectly permissible under Harris' formulation of morality.

I believe that it is reasonable to state that most people believe that cold-blooded murder is never morally acceptable, no matter who your victim may be. The morality of murder does not depend upon whether it can be carried out painlessly, or how big the victim's circle of friends may be. But these factors do weigh into Mr. Harris' moral theory.

At some point respect for human life must enter the picture, and not because of some imprecise concept of suffering, but because of the inherent value that life holds. An acceptable moral theory cannot hinge on suffering. Suffering can be one component (as I believe it is in Christian moral theory), but it cannot be the "be all and end all" of your theory. Without taking into account human dignity any moral theory, including Mr. Harris', will collapse.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Ken Coughlan speaking appearances

There are two dates coming up when you can come here me speak if you like, both at Grove Presbyterian Church, 50 East Bel Air Avenue, Aberdeen, Maryland:

Sunday, June 1, 2008 10:30 am
I will be delivering the children's message during the worship service.

Sunday, June 15, 2008 10:30 am
I will be in the pulpit leading worship and giving a special Father's Day sermon on sanctification.

After the worship service on June 15 we will also be holding a fund raising plea for the Ten Minas Disaster Relief Project. I hope to see some of you there. If you are able to make it, please come up and introduce yourself during coffee hour. God bless.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Miley Cyrus photos

WARNING: This post discusses some adult themes and is NOT for children.

Back in February I wrote a post that was somewhat complimentary of Miley Cyrus. I felt that in order to do my “due diligence” I should also, therefore, comment on the latest news item about Ms. Cyrus that I just saw on the Today Show this morning.

Apparently, a number of moderately suggestive photos have surfaced of Ms. Cyrus. Most of them are on the internet. Of those they showed on the Today Show, they seemed to be depicting her laying across a boy her age, fully clothed but bearing her midriff, along with various other pictures of her in close proximity with this boy, and one in particular which the Today Show described as her kissing another girl (in all honesty, to me it looked like they were both eating something like a Twizzler, one on each end, a la “Lady and the Tramp”, but I admittedly only got a quick glimpse of it and the overall tone did seem to be suggestive in nature).

But the picture that is getting the most attention is in the latest issue of “Vanity Fair.” There, a photo appears of Ms. Cyrus sitting down. The picture is taken from behind her, but she appears to be topless, holding a blanket or sheet up to cover her front. She is wearing very bold lipstick and you see her full bare back. Ms. Cyrus is 15 years old.

Aside from the fact that Annie Liebowitz, who took the photo, did so (I believe) in exceedingly poor taste, Ms. Cyrus obviously went along with it. According to one source her parents were present the whole time. According to another they left 10 minutes early (I do not know if this particular photo was taken during that 10 minute span).

Ms. Cyrus has apologized. Apparently she initially believed the photo was “artistic,” but now acknowledges that it never should have been taken. Time will tell if she really means what she says.

The biggest thing that struck me about this whole story, though, was a comment on the Today Show by Donny Deutsch, host of MSNBC’s “The Big Idea.” Mr. Deutsch said that this is a “win-win” situation for everyone, including Ms. Cyrus. He claimed that the Vanity Fair photo will be good for her because it begins her transition from girl to woman. She needs to show a little sexuality in order for people to accept her as a woman. If she continues to keep her squeaky clean little girl image, then her career will be over when she turns 18.

I can accept the general principle that you need to be seen as an adult in order to have an adult career. But here is my issue with Mr. Deutsh. Why must being viewed as a “woman” be equated with sexuality? Don’t get me wrong. I am not na├»ve, and I am well aware that this is a viewpoint that is pervasive throughout our culture. I am admittedly simply choosing Mr. Deutsch’s remarks to illustrate a point that could have been made in any number of other contexts.

I am also admittedly not a woman. But I would think that this type of thinking would be offensive to most women. If not, maybe it should be. Basically, what Mr. Deutsch is saying is that if you want the public to view you as an adult woman, you must portray yourself as a sex object. Why can’t we come to view her as a woman by her exemplifying maturity, or the ability to make the correct decisions on her own without her parents’ involvement? Frankly, I believe she would have shown herself to be more of an adult if, assuming her parents were not there at the time, she showed the maturity to tell Ms. Liebowitz “no” to this particular pose. That would show that she can make her own decisions, and would demonstrate a level of maturity that we expect from adults.

Please do not misunderstand me. I do not want to seem like I am coming down too hard on Ms. Cyrus. She is, after all, only 15 years old, and is likely still learning how to be an adult. It is somewhat unfair how we place these young people in the enormous spotlight and expect so much from them. They are, after all, people like everyone else. And like all other teenagers they will go through their struggles as they make the transition from children to adults.

I only bring up the other possible decisions Ms. Cyrus could have made to illustrate what I believe is wrong with Mr. Deutsch’s viewpoint. He basically equates “womanhood” with “sexuality”, and ignores the plethora of other qualities that should properly define what it means to be a “woman.” Women, like men, were made in the image of God. But if you look at them as nothing more than an object designed to satisfy your personal selfish sexual desires, how are you treating them any different than any other consumable commodity; i.e., food satisfies my biological urge for sustenance, television satisfies my urge for entertainment, women satisfy my urge for sex? If that is all they are, how are you treating them any differently than food or your television set?

Women are human beings. They have far more value than consumable commodities. But when we define women in purely sexual terms, we devalue them as persons. They become “things”, not “people.” People have personalities, feelings and souls. Objects do not. I personally find this type of thinking to be highly offensive.

I also do not mean to say that this type of thinking only applies to women. Any time men are objectified I find it offensive as well (while I believe it is far more common in our culture to objectify women, any number of examples of treating men the same way can also be seen).

This is one of the reasons I am opposed to recreational sex. If the only reason you are engaging in the activity is to satisfy your sexual desires, each party is treating the other as no more than an object. When any of us are treated this way, we should be screaming out, “NO! I am more than that!” We should try as best we can to avoid looking at others that way and we certainly should not allow ourselves to be treated like that.

This is why, I believe, the Bible describes sexuality as two becoming one. It is an expression of intimacy, of recognition of the bond between the two of you. It shows in a very real, physical way, that you are bound to each other as if you shared one body, for the rest of your life. The two, quite literally, become one. Your partner is one and the same with you, not simply some object to satisfy your selfish desires. In the act of intercourse, you are quite literally equating your partner with yourself. When sex occurs properly, you are explicitly elevating your partner above “object” status to the same “personhood” status you recognize for yourself.

So I encourage Ms. Cyrus and anyone else who reads this (whether you be woman or man) to refuse to surrender to this cultural norm. You do not need to show your skin to be seen as an adult. In fact, if that is how you choose to express your adulthood, you run the risk of starting down a dangerous path in which you define your identity based solely on your sexuality, and all the entailments that may lead to. So please, when someone tries to get you to define yourself in that way, boldly assert, “No! I am more that that!”

God bless.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Being a Christian

This is probably one of the most difficult posts I've ever had to write, for reasons that are all to apparent to me, and yet unfortunately will have to remain somewhat of a mystery for the rest of you. Suffice it to say it is a difficult time right now, but through the difficulty, God has inspired me to write some more general comments that I simply must share.

You see, I have a pretty serious failing (actually, I have quite a few, but one in particular that is relevant for this discussion). Most of you know that I am a lawyer (no, that's not the failing). As with many lawyers, I am very logically-minded. My approach to Christianity, on the Ten Minas website and elsewhere, is often to break down the logical arguments and show step by step why Christianity is true, or how beautifully Christian theology builds on itself. I can illustrate why we all need a savior and how Jesus satisfied that need. All we need to do is to come to Him in faith.

My failing is that this is often where the conversation ends. This is common in many churches too. The focus is on salvation, and we seem to have this belief that Christianity is somewhat like a sprint with salvation as the finish line. We cheer ourselves or our friends on until we or they cross the finish line. Once there we breath a sigh of relief and relax. The race is over. The prize is won. Nothing else to be done here.

But through recent events I have come to understand how much more Christianity really is. Don't get me wrong. I have "understood" what I am about to say on an intellectual level for some time. But something is different now. Something I don't think that I can put into words adequately.

I titled this post "Being a Christian" rather than simply "Christianity" for a reason. I believe that "Being a Christian" describes what begins after salvation. Being a Christian involves the process of developing spiritual friendships with your Christian bretheren. Being a Christian means that you will get hurt, and when that happens it means we must be willing to forgive. We get together with others in our congregation to study the Bible or worship together on Sunday mornings. But being a Christian means we should be getting to know each other on a personal level. A risky proposition to be sure, and one that inevitably will lead to disappointment eventually. After all, we all are sinful humans and we will fail somehow someday.

But it is precisely because we will all fail that we need to get closer to each other. We all need someone to hold us accountable. It is precisely when we believe that no one is looking that we are more likely to slip into sin. For that reason I believe it is important for us all to have a Christian circle that is looking in on the most secret corners of our lives. This group will know "our business", and nip sin in the bud when it first blossoms before it grows out of control and ruins very promising careers, personal lives or spirituality.

There is a type of spiritual friendship that can arise between a Christian and a non-Christian which is elegantly described by Brian D. McLaren in his book "More Ready Than You Realize." That is not the kind of spiritual friendship I am talking about though. Here I am speaking of the relationships that develop between fellow Christians. The point of these relationships is not the same as many people think of as part of secular friendships today. In many modern relationships, people seem to be more concerned with pleasing others so that they "make friends." Honesty often falls by the wayside. We want to avoid confrontation so we try not to say anything that might make someone else upset. We focus on fun and leave it at that.

But for Christians we are not simply talking about social gatherings for recreational purposes. We certainly can have fun with our spiritual friends. But the priority for these relationships must be honesty, accountability and mutual strengthening. This is part of being a Christian. Forget all of the elaborate theological and philosophical arguments. Every Christian should know that being a Christian is not just about theology. It is also about community.

As I said before, entering into this type of Christian community means that you will get disappointed. You will get hurt. And when that happens, you have to be willing to forgive. That is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Remember, you have allowed yourself to get close to someone. You have trusted them with you innermost being and they have violated your trust. That is the type of thing you are going to face if you are truly placing yourself into one of these spiritual friendships. I cannot sugarcoat this. Understand that it WILL happen.

But if sincere repentance is there our role as spiritual friends means we have to hold our friend accountable, condemn the sin, but then forgive, love, and help to build them up again. Please, under no circumstances should you underestimate how hard this can be.

So I apologize for not focusing on the role of Christian community enough in my teaching, and I will try to do better in the future. Ultimately, Christianity is not about making logical arguments. It is about building relationships. And that is something that doesn't stop when you make a sinner's prayer.

For now, ask yourself if you have true spiritual friendships; people you can trust to confront you with what you do not want to hear and who can help bring you back after you repent. I admit to having far too few of these types of relationships. But despite my recent disappointments, I have come out with a commitment to seek out even more of these relationships, with the full knowledge of the additional heartache I may be setting myself up for. I firmly believe, though, that this is what we are all called to do.

If the person who inspired this blog happens to read it, I am confident that they will know exactly what this long rant is all about. If that happens, I would just like to say that I am your spiritual friend. I know you have others, probably many that you are even closer to than you are to me. I obviously cannot condone the sin. But I will always be here to help build you up again. I know you are in for some hard times in the near and possibly even the distant future. If you feel the need for a spiritual friend, please remember that you have my number. I, for one, do not want to lose you as a spiritual friend.

God bless.

Ken

Friday, April 11, 2008

Postmodernism and Contemporary Christianity

I'm working on a short book right now that is designed to help non-philosophy people gain a basic understanding of postmodernism, how it differs from Biblical Christianity, how it has infiltrated the church, and what to do about it. The title of this post is, at least for now, the working title of the book. One chapter in this book is going to address how vastly different theologies can emerge from what seem to be relatively small shifts in our foundation. In other words, every logical progression has a starting point. When you make small changes in that starting point, then follow the logical trail where it leads you, you may just find that the paths start to diverge more and more the further you go. The particular context I will be addressing is the inerrancy verses non-inerrancy on the Bible and how this seemingly small change, when followed through to its logical conclusion, leads to drastically different theologies. But the general point certainly holds true in other contexts as well.

I thought I would give you a bit of a preview of the example I was thinking of using to illustrate this point, and invite anyone to comment if they think they have a better one (with the understanding that you would be giving me permission to use it in the book if I agree it is a better example). I was looking for something not too complex and that would be familiar to people who don’t spend every moment of every day discussing deep philosophical issues. Remember, this is supposed to be a book for laypeople.

The thought that occurred to me was the movie “Back to the Future.” Marty McFly’s parents, George and Lorraine, are not exactly the parents every child would dream of. George is extremely timid and allows himself to be bullied by his boss, Biff Tannen, who also happened to be the old high school bully. Lorraine lacks the passion to do much of anything and is hooked on alcohol. But at least they got married and had three kids.

Marty winds up traveling back in time and inadvertently prevents his parents from ever meeting. When Marty sees George about to get hit by a car in the street he pushes him out of the way. Unfortunately, it was Lorraine’s father driving the car. In the old timeline he hit George, George met Lorraine, they kissed each other at the school dance and fell in love. Now Lorraine’s father hit Marty instead, and that one small change made all the difference. Marty’s very existence was in jeopardy because his parents never met and Lorraine was falling for him! It may seem like a small change at first, but when one consequence builds on another, the end result down the line is drastically different.

Marty does end up getting his parents to kiss each other at the dance and get things “back on track”, but George had to stand up to Biff in the process. Even that small change has vast consequences down the line. Now, back in present day, George is much more authoritative, and Biff is the timid one. Lorraine has taken much better care of herself and has her own self-confidence.

What was true for Marty McFly is true for any logical argument as well. When we make a small shift in our starting point, our two positions may not seem too far apart. But when you start following the logical outworkings of those positions we get further and further away from each other.

If anyone feels like sharing how they would illustrate this point, please feel free to chime in. God bless.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

On this date in history...

1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

8So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

11While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13telling them, "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' 14If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." 15So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

Matthew 28:1-15

And on a little later date (but I couldn't leave it out)...

16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Matthew 28:16-20

God bless everyone. Happy Easter!

Ken

Saturday, March 22, 2008

On this date in history...

62The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63"Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' 64So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first."

65"Take a guard," Pilate answered. "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how." 66So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

Matthew 27: 62-66

Friday, March 21, 2008

On this date in history...

57Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. 58But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome.
59The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.

Finally two came forward 61and declared, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.' "

62Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" 63But Jesus remained silent.
The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."

64"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."

65Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66What do you think?"
"He is worthy of death," they answered.

67Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him 68and said, "Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?"

69Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. "You also were with Jesus of Galilee," she said.
70But he denied it before them all. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said.

71Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth."

72He denied it again, with an oath: "I don't know the man!"

73After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away."

74Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!"

Immediately a rooster crowed. 75Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.

1Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. 2They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.
3When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. 4"I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood."
"What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility."

5So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

6The chief priests picked up the coins and said, "It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money." 7So they decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners. 8That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10and they used them to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."

11Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?"
"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.
12When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13Then Pilate asked him, "Don't you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?" 14But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.

15Now it was the governor's custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" 18For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.

19While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him."

20But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

21"Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" asked the governor.
"Barabbas," they answered.

22"What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?" Pilate asked.
They all answered, "Crucify him!"

23"Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!"

24When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!"

25All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!"

26Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

27Then the governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. "Hail, king of the Jews!" they said. 30They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

32As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). 34There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 38Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!"
41In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42"He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! He's the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, 'I am the Son of God.' " 44In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

45From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
47When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling Elijah."

48Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49The rest said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him."

50And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

54When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!"

55Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.

57As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

Matthew 26:57 - 27:61

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On this date in history...

17On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?"

18He replied, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 'The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.' " 19So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

20When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21And while they were eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me."

22They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, "Surely not I, Lord?"

23Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."

25Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?"
Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you."

26While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."

27Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. 28This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."

30When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

31Then Jesus told them, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
" 'I will strike the shepherd,and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' 32But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee."

33Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will."

34"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times."

35But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same.

36Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." 37He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."

39Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

40Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. 41"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."

42He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."

43When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

45Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"

47While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him." 49Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him.

50Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for."

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51With that, one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

52"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"

55At that time Jesus said to the crowd, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Matthew 26:17-56

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Josephine

As most of you probably know, I have a 5 year old daughter and an infant son. My daughter is in kindergarten and is enrolled in something they call the “Patriot Program” at her school. Basically, it is an extra-curricular activity in which the kids learn all sorts of things about their country. One of the things they are required to do is to come up with and do some type of a service project.

My wife is a member of the Soroptomist Club, and they were going to be helping out at a local nursing home here in Havre de Grace around Valentine’s Day. So my daughter (with some help from my wife) came up with the idea of making homemade Valentine’s Day cards for the residents. They also used some of my son’s old baby food containers (after they washed them out), painted them, and used them as flower pots, making “flowers” out of pipe cleaners.

The plan was to give these gifts out when the Soroptomists were at the nursing home. But wouldn’t you know it, it snowed on the date they were supposed to go and the trip was postponed. They rescheduled it for one week later, but sure enough it snowed again and the whole activity was cancelled.

So my wife had to make arrangements to go to the nursing home on our own so that my little girl could hand out her presents. We finally got this scheduled for this past Saturday (closer to St. Patrick’s Day than Valentine’s Day, but nobody seemed to mind once the explanation was given).

Everything was going pretty predictably until we met a lady named Josephine. Josephine was sitting in a wheelchair, stationed in the hallway just opposite the nurses’ station and outside what appeared to be a small activity room. My daughter handed Josephine her presents, but Josephine immediately started crying profusely and tried to give them back.

At this point we were terrified that we somehow did something horribly wrong. Somehow we must have offended Josephine and seriously hurt her feelings. A lady who was standing next to her (who I assume was a nurse, but definitely staff), leaned over to Josephine’s ear and told her that the presents were for her. My poor daughter just stood there, somewhat awestruck, not knowing what to do. The concept of someone giving BACK a present surely does not exist in the mind of a 5 year old.

Josephine was crying out something that I couldn’t understand for a while, and the kind lady next to her just kept explaining that my little girl was giving the card and the gift to her. Josephine, though, just kept on crying.

Then something came through crystal clear. Josephine looked at my daughter and said through her tears, “You love me!” She repeated this over and over. “You love me! You love me!” They weren’t tears of sadness. They were tears of joy. This lady probably did not have many visitors. I don’t know who put her in that home, or whether she still had any family to care for her. All I know is she was starving for love and it came in the form of a little 5 year old girl she had never met before. That simple act of love meant the world to her, and she couldn’t stop herself from breaking down.

Sometimes I get so caught up in all the logical arguments for Christianity that I tend to forget that one of the greatest gifts Christ gives us is His love. No amount of argumentation is ever going to make someone feel it. Love is something that is shared, not by intellectual debate, but through acts of kindness. So for all of you out there who, like me, thrive on discussing ontology versus epistemology, the Big Bang, the Euthyphro dilemma or the law of non-contradiction, I encourage you to take a step back and go out to perform some act of Christian love. After all, sometimes love is the best apologetic in the world.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More News on the PCUSA

In the never-ending story of the comings and goings within the PCUSA, there is a new development on the whole "scruple" issue. For those of you who have not followed the earlier posts on this topic (or followed the story elsewhere), in 2006 the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church issued an "authoritative interpretation", adopted by the General Assembly, finding that a candidate for ordination within the PCUSA could declare a "scruple" to matters contained in the PCUSA Constitution. Basically, this means that the candidate can disagree with something in the Constitution.

Once a candidate expresses a "scruple", it is up to the ordaining body to decide whether the provision being "scrupled" is one of the "essential tenets of the reformed faith." If not, the candidate is allowed to be ordained in spite of his or her disagreement with that particular provision of the Constitution.

Some people have used this "authoritative interpretation" to express scruples to one of the ordination requirements. After all, the ordination requirements are part of the Constitution.

The specific requirement at issue is the one that requires an officer within the denomination to live either in fidelity within marriage or in chastity in singleness (i.e., if married, be loyal to your spouse; if single, live in chastity). The specific context in which this arose has been people who are openly practicing homosexuals seeking ordained office. In the eyes of the church they are not married to their partners. But they also do not want to live in chastity. At least two Presbyteries have allowed people to express scruples to this provision and permitted them to be ordained as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

On February 11, 2008, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (the closest parallel for explanation purposes would be the Supreme Court) decided three cases interpreting the "authoritative interpretation."

In those cases the Commission unanimously stated as follows:

"The constitutional process for amending ordination standards (or any other provision of the Constitution) is defined in Chapter 18 of the Form of Government. While the General Assembly and the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission may interpret these standards, the authoritative interpretation did not (and constitutionally could not) change any ordination standard, including the requirements set forth in G-6.0106b. Similarly, no lower governing body can constitutionally define, diminish, augment or modify standards for ordination and installation of church officers."

"G-6.0108a defines the limits of this freedom of conscience for ordained church officers. It first states the requirement that all church officers adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity as expressed in the Book of Confessions and the Form of Government. It next assures freedom of conscience, but only with respect to the interpretation of Scripture. Even then, freedom of conscience is permitted only to the extent that it (a) is not a serious departure from the essential standards of Reformed faith and polity, (b) does not infringe on the rights and views of others, and (c) does not obstruct the constitutional governance of the church."

"G-6.0108a sets forth standards that apply to the whole church. These standards are binding on and must be followed by all governing bodies, church officers and candidates for church office. Adopting statements about mandatory provisions of the Book of Order for ordination and installation of officers falsely implies that other governing bodies might not be similarly bound; that is, that they might choose to restate or interpret the provisions differently, fail to adopt such statements, or possess some flexibility with respect to such provisions."

My personal take of the "punchline" of these decisions is that while a candidate is free to have a difference of opinion on some theological or Biblical interpretation issue (as long as it is not one of the essential tenets of the reformed faith), that does not mean that he or she can refuse to comply with the ordination standards, in this case requiring a certain kind of behavior. In other words, you are free to say, "I do not believe that the Bible requires me to live in fidelity in marriage or in chastity in singleness," but if you want to serve in ordained office of the PCUSA, you need to actually live that way regardless of what you personally believe.

Evangelicals within the denomination (myself included) were obviously pleased with the decisions. However, there are a few overtures to the General Assembly (meeting later this year) that will seek to overturn these decisions (an "overture" is basically a request from a Presbytery asking the General Assembly to take some type of action).

The first is an overture from the Baltimore Presbytery that seeks a Constitutional amendment to remove the fidelity and chastity requirement from the Constitution altogether. This has been tried in the past and failed.

The other is an overture from John Knox Presbytery asking for a new authoritative interpretation that would in essence state that candidates can scruple anything in the ordination requirements, including issues of both belief and behavior.

It remains to be seen whether these overtures will reach the floor of the General Assembly or whether they will pass. All I can say at this point is to stay tuned and to ask for your prayers that the Holy Spirit will accurately guide the denomination in this time of potential serious division.

God bless.

Ken

Monday, February 25, 2008

Miley Cyrus / Hannah Montana

My 5 year old daughter is (as most little girls are nowadays) a huge Hannah Montana / Miley Cyrus fan. We couldn't afford tickets to the concert when it came here to Baltimore (at least not at the scalpers' prices), but she did recently get to see the 3D concert movie.

Anyway, Miley Cyrus was interviewed last night on the Barbara Walters special, and Barbara Walters asked her a very good question. She asked her whether she worried about going down the destructive path that so many other teen sensations have of late, including many who were Disney Channel stars (for those of you who don't know, Miley Cyrus' TV show, "Hannah Montana" airs on the Disney Channel). In answering the question she expressed deep sympathy for people who have gone down that path (apparently she knows Jamie Lynn Spears), but also talked about her Christian faith.

Many people have asked me if I worry about Miley Cyrus having the same downfall other teen sensations have had, and the example that may set for my daughter. Yes, of course I worry. But I can't stop her from looking up to people, and so far at least, Miley Cyrus seems to be setting a good standard.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lesson 12 is available

I have successfully posted podcast Lesson 12: The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Part 4) on the Ten Minas site. That's everything that has been recorded to date. Hopefully I'll manage to get the next few lessons out soon. God bless.

Ken

New Podcasts

Two new podcasts in the "Argument for Christianity" series are now available on the Ten Minas site:

Lesson 10: The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Part 2)
Lesson 11: The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Part 3)

I hope to get Lesson 12: The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Part 4) (the last podcast on this subject) posted later on tonight. It is already recorded, I just need to upload it. Unfortunately I will be in a meeting this evening, so it just depends on how late it goes.

Either way, I will write another post here to let you know when it is available.

By the way, I obviously survived my procedure yesterday. :)

Ken

Monday, February 18, 2008

Prayer Request

Those of you who have followed this blog long enough may know that I have a condition called "spondylolisthesis" in my back. Basically one vertebrae is slipping off the one beneath it. Anyway, I go in for an outpatient procedure today at 4:00. It should be relatively routine, but any prayers would be greatly appreciated.

If you don't hear from me for a while, you'll know it didn't go well. :)

Just kidding.

Ken

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Many lessons in life can be learned from children. My daughter is in Kindergarten, and they had their Valentine's Day party today. It seems that Valentine's Day today is synonymous with romantic love. But obviously in a Kindergarten class, there is no romance involved (I haven't heard my daughter actually complain about "cooties" yet, but it can't be too far away).

But despite this, they still celebrate Valentine's Day. Every single child in that class gives a Valentine to every other child. Boy, girl, it doesn't matter, because there are no romantic implications.

God wants us to love our fellow people. After all, when we look at others, we should be seeing the image of God. This isn't a romantic love, but it is love nonetheless. We should genuinely care about the well-being of other people, both for this life and the next.

So on this Valentine's Day, I want to encourage you to follow the lead of those children in my daughter's Kindergarten class and show love to everyone around you, not just your immediate family or those you are romantically involved with. After all, the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God, and second to that is to love your neighbor as yourself. Valentine's Day can serve as an excellent reminder to us, and have us looking for opprtunities to show this love.

God bless.

Ken

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

New look

Don't be alarmed. You have not arrived at the wrong place. I decided to re-vamp the look of the Ten Minas blog. I wanted to include the logo and a more obvious link to the main ministry website, but once I got going I just couldn't stop. I hope you like it. God bless.

Ken

Another interesting blog discussion

Just letting anyone here know about an interesting little discussion I have been participating in on someone else's blog. It deals with the relationship between what we see here in our physical world and metaphysical truth. It also talks about the whole "first cause" issue, and whether God, as creator of the universe, would require a cause for Himself.

If you are interested, the name of the post is "There is no God - Proving the negative" and it is on the following blog:

http://akakiwibear.blogspot.com/

Please feel free to check it out. God bless.

Ken

Friday, February 08, 2008

Martyrdom of the Apostles

One of the strongest arguments for Christianity comes from the martyrdom of the apostles. It doesn't prove the "whole case", but it does establish a very important link in the chain. The basic premise is this:

Christian tradition holds that eleven out of the twelve apostles (Judas Iscariot killed himself, but he was replaced by Matthias, bringing the number back up to twelve) died a martyr's death for their faith. John is the one exception. We all know of people who have died for things that turned out to be a lie. Any number of cult followers die because they sincerely believe some piece of propaganda that their leader has fed them. But the position of the original Christian apostles is critically different. These apostles claimed that they personally saw the risen Jesus. They were not told this and just gullibly believed it. They claimed to be eye witnesses.

The claim that is sometimes lodged against Christianity is quite simply that these early church leaders made it up. In order to form this new church, they came up with a joint story and started spreading it around the world. Christians, though, respond that this is nonsense. What motive did these men have for making this story up? Would they get power? Honor? Prestige?

No. Instead they were ostracized, shunned from society, imprisoned, tortured, and killed. All these men had to do to avoid this fate would be to fess up; admit that the story wasn't true and renounce this new religion they were attempting to found. But in spite of the horrible fate that awaited them, they never changed their story. At a minimum, we can conclude that these men honestly believed that they had seen Jesus die, then come back to life three days later.

One objection lodged against this Christian argument is that there is supposedly no evidence that the early Christian fathers ever actually died for their faith. There is supposedly no evidence of anyone who ever claims to have seen the risen Christ who was then executed for preaching their beliefs.

So is there any evidence to support the Christian martyrdom claims? That is the point of this post. I will admit for starters that we do not have contemporaneous documentary evidence of the martyrdom of all the apostles. But I will argue that the evidence we do have makes it truly ridiculous to claim that these men did not suffer greatly and in all likelihood die for their beliefs.

Let's start with James, the brother of John. James was one of the first apostles to join Jesus. The two brothers were fishing with their father Zebedee when Jesus called to them and they followed Him (Matthew 4:21-22). It certainly appears that James was with the rest of the disciples when Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection because the only disciple mentioned who was not there was Thomas (John 20:19-31). Plus, the Bible references many other appearances to the disciples as a group.

Acts 12:1-2 records the following:

"It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword."

Keep in mind that the Bible is a collection of books written during the same generation when these events took place. You can't exactly go around spreading rumors that James was executed by Herod when there are still people around to say, "No, he didn't, he fell off a cliff." Or worse yet, "He's not dead, I just had lunch with him last week!"

So there's one of the early church fathers. How about others?

What about James, the brother of Jesus? He was not one of the twelve. In fact, when Jesus was alive James did not believe He was the Christ. But he became a believer after Jesus was resurrected and was soon the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem. In 1 Corinthians 15:7, Paul records that Jesus "appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also." Because Paul records that Jesus appeared to James in addition to "all the apostles", he cannot be referring to either James the brother of John or James son of Alphaeus, as both of these men were among the apostles. The only other James intricately involved in the early church who would be worth mentioning was James, the brother of Jesus. So he clearly saw the resurrected Christ.

Did he die for his faith? Yes he did. And this time his death is recorded by someone who was no friend to Christianity.

Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived from 37-101 A.D. He was not a Christian. But he was writing during the time that Christianity was first spreading around the Roman Empire.

In his work "Antiquities", Book XX, Chapter 9, Part 1, Josephus made the following entry:

"Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned."

This isn't the only record of James' martyrdom. Hegesippus was a Christian historian who lived from 110-180 A.D., within a generation of the church fathers (some estimates have John the apostle living until approximately 90 A.D.). Hegesippus' works are unfortunately lost, but they were not lost yet at the time another Christian historian was writing. Eusebius lived from 275 - 339 A.D., and he quoted several passages from Hegesippus in his works. One quote comes from the fifth book of Hegesippus' "Memoirs", and it says:


"12. The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees therefore placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and cried out to him and said: 'You just one, in whom we ought all to have confidence, forasmuch as the people are led astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.'

13. And he answered with a loud voice, 'Why do you ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sits in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.'

14. And when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, 'Hosanna to the Son of David,' these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another, 'We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, in order that they may be afraid to believe him.'

15. And they cried out, saying, 'Oh! oh! the just man is also in error.' And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah, 'Let us take away the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings.'

16. So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other, 'Let us stone James the Just.' And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, 'I entreat you, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'"
Eusebius, Book II, Chapter 23, Parts 12-16.

There is certainly more detail in Hegesippus' version, but both end up with James being stoned.

So contrary to some assertions, we do have documentary evidence of the martyrdom of both James the brother of John and James the brother of Jesus. And understand that this treatment of Christian leaders was perfectly consistent with what we know about how Christians as a whole were being treated at the time.

Take, for example, this passage from Tacitus, a Roman (non-Christian) historian who lived from 55 - 117 A.D.:

"But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace."

The "conflagration" Tacitus is referring to is the burning of Rome, for which Emperor Nero blamed the Christians and inflicted "the most exquisite tortures" upon them.

Nero was Emperor from 54-68 A.D., the same time period when the early church fathers were spreading the Christian gospel. So it is during the lives of the early apostles that these "exquisite tortures" are taking place.

Considering the violent hatred that was spreading against Christianity, it defies reason to believe that the early apostles were not, at a minimum, heavily persecuted for their beliefs, and in all likelihood killed just like church tradition says they were (For all the persecutions that Paul faced even before he was martyred see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

The point of the argument holds true. Even if these apostles somehow escaped personal execution (a proposition that seems extremely unlikely considering the evidence), they clearly saw Christians being tortured and killed all around them. They must have lived every single day of their lives in fear that they would be next. They had every incentive to recant this "lie" if that is really what it was. But they didn't. All records we have show them continuing to preaching the gospel without even one record of any of them backing down.

People sometimes die for something that is untrue. But it is extremely unlikely that such a large group of people would be willing to be imprisoned, tortured, and killed over something they KNEW to be a lie. That's because they didn't make it up. After Jesus' death, these men clearly saw someone who, at a mimimum, we can conclude they believed to be the same man they had followed around and learned from for three years during Jesus' earthly ministry.

God bless.