Sunday, April 28, 2013

Compassionate Pastors and Divine Truth: Believe Belong and Behave

Lord renew thy church beginning with me.
Lord renew the church, that the church may renew the nations(s)

The need for this  prayer which under-girds this Internet Ministry, took on even  greater significance for me this week.

So too the quote which reminds me of what I do every  Sunday night : "I read my newspapers to see what men are doing, and read my Bible to see what men ought to do". - John Newton

The big news item for me this week was the report carried in the Daily Gleaner, our oldest and the more widely National newspaper, that a local pastor, Rev. Eniola Davis of the United church, was advocating the use of the  ' morning after pill'. This suggestion, reportedly was advanced as one of several methods - along with the increased use of condoms -  aimed at reducing the number of mothers having children who they cannot care for;  a very serious problem in  Jamaica. Later that week I heard him on radio discussing the matter with one of our top journalists, who also happens to be a member of the Anglican Church.

Internationally, the continued revelations about  the surviving Boston Bomber - the Russians are now saying that they wire-tapped the mother's conversation with the slain son, and they was a reference, though vague, to Jihad - and the terrible and still unfolding tragedy in Dakar in Bangladesh, where 377 people died in a collapsed building, dominated the news. And even now tonight there are reports that the building is on fire and threatening the lives of survivors.

Of course, sports will always be a big ticket item, with the " hard hitting" phenomenal Jamaican and West Indies cricketer Chris Gayle, rearranging the record books this week with his score of 175 not out in a Twenty 20 innings in the Indian premier league. And Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce anchoring the Jamaican women's 4 x 100 to a famous victory over the USA at the recently concluded Penn relays in the USA.

And so in the midst of this turmoil and celebration, what was the message from the Lord?

First up, a inspired note to the talk show host who had Rev. Davis on her programme.

            I know that you are a Christian of my tradition, and thus  I write to you in that context as a Christian journalist and lawyer. I heard you speaking emphatically yesterday about the morning after pill. That, according to the scientists with whom you had consulted, you were assured that the mode of action of the pill is to prevent pregnancy and not to abort. That is not my understanding as a family physician. And just to be sure I checked with an eminent gynecologist, who was unwilling to enter the debate, but admitted that one of the  actions of  morning after pill,  is to  prevent implantation. And this is why he was being cautious about the discussion, as some believe that abortion begins with interfering with implantation. But that's not, as far as I understand it, the point of departure for Christian ethical teaching. Once fertilization has taken place, and not implantation, anything willingly and knowingly  done to interfere, constitutes an abortion. And although he suggested that he was going to check on the research done by one of his colleagues in the USA, and get back to me, he admitted that the morning after pill could " wash out" a fertilized egg. Which is my understanding and why I, as a Christian doctor, I  do not prescribe it  to anyone. 

I suppose the debate will continue, but I thought the pastor was on shaky ground on this issue, as I don't understand what he meant by, when you quite correctly pressed him,  " the theological mind might disagree with him".  At best, to be fair, the statement seemed a bit disingenuous, as  theology  is the understanding of God, as revealed through Holy Scripture, and which revelation finds it's ultimate manifestation in the Living Word, Christ Himself. An appreciation of which ought to be the basis on which one becomes a pastor. I must confess that I was a bit disappointed with the position he adopted, even though the social issue about which he was concerned is very real, and deserves attention by the church. But I was in fact  also quite surprised, as ultimately as Christians, as the Word encourages, "we do not wage war as the world does". That's the only was we can remain "salt" and "light".

Sent from my iPad

Comment: This matter has disturbed my soul all week, as this issue brings into very sharp focus how Christians are called to establish God's kingdom  here on earth. So this is no simple matter! To that end, establishing  God's Kingdom, I searched and searched the Scriptures, looking for any reference to how the early fathers of the church, and indeed Jesus himself treated unbelievers and unbelievers. As this is the crux of the problem.  Separate and apart from the obvious  question of whether or not the morning after pill, can cause an abortion, which is my understanding. Does the christian faith hold a  different standard for the non-christian,and for  the unbeliever than  for believers? In the sense that, since fornication, sex outside of marriage is a sin, how do we as Christians, whether doctors, pastors, or journalists, offer advise on birth control to unbelievers? Do we hold the position, that the worse thing that can happen to a woman, and her family in this world, is  to have more children than she can manage. Similarly, the question may very well be posed, if the worse thing that can happen to any person is for them to contract HIV/AIDS or any other serious STD? Or is it to die without repentance and therefore to perish?
How did Jesus treat with Sin? Did He ever once tell people to " hug up sin", that it was ok to fornicate until you believe that He died for you? Did he not tell the woman who was hypocritically accused of fornicating by those who were involved in the very same thing...." Go ye and sin no more"!  Or to the invalid at the pool at Bethesda after he had miraculously healed him.." stop sinning or something worse will happen to you" - John 5: 14 . Didn't He die on a cross, to demonstrate to the  entire human race that sin is a terrible thing, and that the wrath of God awaits anyone who has not repented of his or her sins? Did not Jesus die on a old wooden cross so that all -  and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God-  who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life? So how should we who represent Christ on earth respond to the tribulations we see around us, and even within our own church? Should we attempt to be "more compassionate than God", and  and ignore the fornication and concentrate on relieving the 'wretched of the earth', the poor and the vulnerable, from the  trials of having too many children, and of being exposed to HIV/AIDS? Should we bring the good news of the gospel to everyone first, that since Jesus died and was raised again to new life, anyone who believes in Him , and repents of his or her sin, can, in Christ,  live a new life. And with the power of the Holy Spirit, resist any temptation?  Whether it be to indulge in sex before marriage, to retaliate when insulted or injured or persecuted, to keep malice, to spread gossip, to steal, to watch pornography, to lie, to use foul language! Do we " try the gospel first", and if they do not believe, do we then accept that,
 " this abstinence thing" is just not going to " cut it", and move right along and give out the condom. Thus having cleared our consciences, because we tried, we feel that there is no other option but to " save them ' from themselves and from the threat of unwanted pregnancies and HIV/AIDS? And in any case, why are we being s hypocritical and uncaring, as weren't we, sinners just like them too, and perhaps even now, before we came to repentance and accepted the salvation which comes only by believing that Christ died for our sins? And if we do not help, are we guilty of " condemning" people, and maybe the wider society, of exposure to HIV/AIDS and the dangers of too many children in a society?

Of course by now, we realize that this is how the world, and not insignificantly, how Satan would have the children of God, think or stand accused, and even be persecuted,  as  being uncaring, and living in the dark ages.

One of the passages that stuck in my mind as I searched the Scriptures for answers, and the Lord validated it by leading me to the same kind of passage again at another time is the kind of explicit message for the Lord as found in the following :

" And if anyone causes one of these little ones  who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with tow hands go onto hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where
' the work does not die,
and the fire is not quenched'.
Everyone will be salted with fire.
Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."   Mark 9: 42-50.

It is not that I  am accusing anyone of being less than faithful to Christ, as this reflection has profound implications for me as a Family Physician practicing for nearly thirty five years. And I have been 'guilty' of giving out condoms, prescribing birth control pills, to unbelievers, with and without counseling and sharing the gospel. In fact in my early years, I would be complicit in abortions, in the sense of writing letters referring patients, until the Lord brought me to my senses. And since then I have had many challenging times with patients insisting, colleagues disagreeing, and even at an international forum on Reproductive Health, was questioned about the " sense of" my being there, since I was opposed to any kind of abortion - defined in my mind as interfering with a fertilized egg.  But the question still remains, do we try to be "more compassionate",than God,  reinterpret His Word,  and find some way to justify our actions in the light of this serious social issue. I am convinced that this is another " Damascus" road experience for me. And not just for me but for those who would respond to Jesus' invitation; " If anyone.....let him deny self, take up his cross and follow me". As our Lord does not force anyone to walk as He walked,and therefore there is to be  no taking up the sword to cut off anyone's ear, as Peter did.
Our role is to preach, and live, the  gospel of the One who loved so much, and  had so much compassion for the ' wretched of the earth', those kept captive by the devil, that He suffered and died, as prophesied, for the sins of the entire human race.

The other message came from the writer of one of the great hymns of the church and which word I quoted last week - coincidence?...., I think not.    " Here O my Lord I see thee face to face.


Horatius Bonar

Verse : 2 Kings 18:1-7

Against evil, divine truth is quick and powerful. It acts like some chemical ingredient that precipitates all impurities and leaves the water clear. It works like a spell of disenchantment against the evil one, casting him out, and casting him down. It is  " the sword of the Spirit", with whose keen edge we cut our way through hostile thousands. It is the rod of Moses, by which we divide the red Sea, and defeat Amalek, and bring water from the desert rock ( see Exodus 14: 16; 17:6). What evil, what enemy, within and without, is there that can withstand this unconquered and unconquerable Word?
Satan's object at present is to undermine that Word and to disparage its perfection. Let us the more magnify it, and the more make constant use of it. it is indeed only a fragment of man's language, made up of human letters and syllables; but it is furnished with superhuman virtue,
The rod in the hand of Moses, what was it? A piece of common wood. Yet it cut the Red Sea in two. That serpent on the pole, what was it? A bit of brass. Yet it healed thousands ( see Numbers 21:9) Why all of this?
because that wood and that brass were connected with omnipotence, conductors of heavenly electricity.

Final Comment: The Christian life and its involvement in society, has as its foundation the love of Christ which found its ultimate manifestation on the cross of Calvary. And the supernatural power of the Almighty God! The kind of  power  which was manifested in Christ's Resurrection from the dead, on that first Easter. If that love and that power is missing in the Christian community; if people are not responding to the good news of salvation of the Gospel; if persons are opting not to take up Christ's invitation to follow Him: then the answer is not to resort to the " common sense approach" of our former life, but rather, by obedience, to seek to reconnect to the supernatural power of divine truth. As what God has done He certainly can and will do again, for His own glory and power. And He who raised Jesus from the dead, He who parted the Red Sea, can, in and through an obedient church, rescue our people from having too many children, from HIV/AIDS and from all manner of evil.

But the first step is to repent and believe. Then, belong and then behave, as a friend told us in Bible study this week.
I pray God that as we  continue to celebrate the achievements of our sportsmen and women,  we will  even more so celebrate Christ, whose supernatural power is available to  rid the world of terrorists, irresponsible factory owners - the one in Bangladesh was caught fleeing near to the Indian border and brought back to face charges  - STD's and too many children.
But we must commit to  waging war with weapons of divine power and not our very fertile, and even compassionate imaginations.