WHO WAS PELAGIUS?

Author’s Note: This post is meant to be educational and not controversial.  The only theological position taken in this post is the following: “multiple condemnations of Pelagianism also serve as a caution for those, who in their human state of hubris, would endeavor to do righteous works attributed to their own will.  Such endeavors are scripturally unsound.”  In consideration of that, I recommend that you consider with great caution any line of reasoning that has been labeled by its critics as “Pelagian” or “Semi-pelagian” There is a very real danger in attributing any good work to human merit when it is God alone to Whom glory is due.

WHO WAS PELAGIUS?

Pelagius (not to be confused with St. Pelagius of Cordova), was an influential theologian of the fourth and fifth centuries.  He is most remembered for his teachings and writings on the doctrines of free will, grace, and original sin.  During his theological career, he encountered the theology and made the acquaintance of his contemporary Augustine.  Like Pelagius, Augustine is also one of the most widely studied theologians in church history on the subjects of free will, grace, and original sin.  Although both Augustine and Pelagius are both widely studied on the same subject matter, both are not widely venerated.  Augustine was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church.  His books, City of God and Confessions are among the most widely read theological works in the world, among Protestants and Catholics alike.  The oldest city in the United States, Saint Augustine, is named in his honor. Conversely, there are no cities named after Pelagius.  His literary works have either been lost or left largely untranslated.  Pelagius was far removed from the honor of beatification; his views were condemned as heretical.  The theological beliefs attributed to him, known as Pelagianism, have been decried throughout church history.

It is certain that Pelagius was disparaged by leading church authorities both in his day and after his death.   However, Pelagianism has not been without followers.  In fact Pelagianism itself has its own offshoot, Semi-Pelagianism (though no group specifically claims to be “Semi-Pelagian”).  It is even possible that Pelagianism itself is modified offshoot of Pelagius’ own views.  Like many theologians before and after him, Pelagius’ personal views may have been exaggerated or changed by his followers.  Whatever Pelaguis’ exact views were and regardless of the general rejection of his teachings by his contemporaries, Pelagius has made a lasting impact on church history.  Ascertaining exactly what Pelagianism is and where Pelagius came from (if that can be done) is the first step to understanding that impact.

BACKGROUND AND MISSION

            Not much is known about the early life of Pelagius.  He is thought to have immigrated east to Rome from the British Isles.  He led and aesthetic life and was referred to as a monk, but history does not definitively identify him with any specific monastic order. It seems that Pelagius had both a classical Greek education as well as a formidable knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.  Aside from these things not much is known of Pelagius personally except that he was a man of great virtue.  Of his personal virtue, even his most vehement theological opponent Augustine, was complimentary going so far as to refer to Pelagius as a “saintly man.” [1]

Augustine (among other influential church leaders) was less complimentary of Pelagius’ views.  Pelagius rejected the doctrine of original sin.  Although there was no official accepted church orthodoxy on original sin in Pelagius’ day, the belief that all of mankind was condemned because of the sin of Adam and redeemed only through the unilateral grace of God was widely accepted.  Pelagius saw this pervading belief as a reason for moral laxity in society.  To him, the kind of doctrine that condemned humans as predisposed to a sinful lifestyle provided people with an excuse to live such a lifestyle.  If mankind did not have the inherent choice to live righteously, then mankind could not be expected to do so without the intervention of God.  Pelagius found this notion to be as disagreeable as the immoral lifestyle of many former pagans who had nominally converted to Christianity while substantially maintaining their former lifestyles.  Pelagius preferred to think that man had a choice to act morally; he said, “Yet we do not defend the good of nature to such an extent that we claim that it cannot do evil, since we undoubtedly declare also that it is capable of good and evil; we merely try to protect it from an unjust charge, so that we may not seem to be forced to do evil through a fault of our nature, when, in fact, we do neither good nor evil without the exercise of our will and always have the freedom to do one of the two, being always able to do either.[2]

Pelagius posited that mankind was not indeed condemned by Adam’s original sin and born into a fallen state.  Rather, mankind was born innocent with the free will to choose a righteous path or a sinful one; sin was an act of a man’s will.  Sin was not a part of a man’s nature; therefore, living within God’s conditional grace, man could do what was necessary for salvation without special election from God.  Furthermore, since mankind was not born into a condemned state of original sin already, infant baptism was not necessary for salvation.  In theology such as this, there is not room for a sinner to excuse himself based upon an inborn sin nature.

Due to the sacking of Rome by Alaric the Goth in 410, Pelagius was forced to leave the city.  Whilst residing there, he promulgated his ideas to the Christian Aristocracy relatively unmolested.  During his sojourn in Rome he composed several works: “De fide Trinitatis libri III”, now lost, but extolled by Gennadius as “indispensable reading matter for students”; “Eclogarum ex divinis Scripturis liber unus”, in the main collection of Bible passages based on Cyprian’s “Testimoniorum libri III”, of which St. Augustine has preserved a number of fragments; “Commentarii in epistolas S. Pauli”[3]  Pelagius and his partisan Caelestius eventually moved onto Carthage, the home of Augustine.

OBJECTIONS TO PELAGIANISM

It was in Carthage where Pelagius’ troubles with church authorities would begin.  There Caelestius began disseminating Pelagian thought to a much more controversial reaction than it was met with in Rome.  Pelagius himself moved onto Palestine where Pelagian controversy would continue as he aroused the ire of fellow aesthetic, Jerome.  During the year 415 in response to criticism in Palestine, Pelagius authored “De Natura”, in which he states of man, “He is not condemned; because the statement that all sinned in Adam, was not made because of the sin which is derived from one’s birth, but because of imitation of him.”[4]   This type of theology did not sit well with Augustine, Bishop of Hippo who would author many polemical writings objecting to Pelagian thought.  In fact Augustine stated that it was “De Natura” that first convinced him of the dangers of Pelagius’ teaching.[5]

In Carthage, Caelestius caused perhaps the greatest Pelagian controversy.   His views were so objected to that a council was called to refute them in 411.  At that council, the following “Pelagian” views propagated by Caelestius were condemned:  “Adam was created mortal so that he would die whether he sinned or not.” “The sin of Adam harmed him alone and not the human race.” “The law leads to the kingdom just as the gospel does.” “Before the coming of Christ there were human beings without sin.” “Newly born infants are in the same state Adam was before his transgression.” “The whole human race does not die through the death or transgression of Adam, nor does the whole human race rise through the resurrection of Christ.”[6]  So ended Caelstius’ career in Carthage.  Pelagius fared little better in Palestine and was eventually banished from it.  Church orthodoxy would become largely Augustinian, especially after the Council of Carthage of 418.  It is important to note that Pelagius and Caelestius were themselves never severely punished as heretics; it was rather Pelagianism that was deemed heretical.   That’s not to say that Pelagius did not face trouble; he had to defend himself against the potential condemnation of councils and popes many time.  Pelagius himself fell away from the theological scene around 418 and likely died among a small group of his supporters in Egypt after a life of flight from persecution.

WAS PELAGIUS A PELAGIAN?

There is some argument in historical scholarship as to how substantially Pelagian views should be attributed to Pelagius.  It is possible that after Pelagius parted company with Caelestius, that the latter took the ball and ran with it in his own direction, so to speak.  There are numerous accounts of Pelagius making statements that could be deemed as anit-Pelagian.  For example, Pelagius is quoted as refuting “Pelagian” doctrine by saying, “I anathematize the man who either thinks or says that the grace of God, whereby ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’ is not necessary not only for ever hour and for every moment, but also for every act of our lives: and those who endeavor to disannul it deserve everlasting punishment.”[7]  The case could the case be that Caelestius and other Pelagian disciples took the precepts of Pelagius further than Pelagius himself would have taken them.  The case could also be that Pelagius was trying to talk himself out of trouble when he spoke out against controversial ideals that were attributed to him.

Because so much Pelagian thought is preserved in the writings of Pelagian opponents rather than Pelagius himself, it may never be possible to formulate a truly Pelagian picture of Pelagianism.  In other words, Pelagianism may be Pelagian in name only.  As Augustine biographer Peter Brown puts it, “Indeed, Pelagianism as we know it, that consistent body of ideas of momentous consequences, had come into existence; but in the mind of Augustine, not of Pelagius.” [8]  Given Pelagius’ afore mentioned refutations of Pelagian principles, it is possible that Pelagius was more Semi-Pelagian than Pelagian.   Semi-Pelagianist thought suggests that a combination of God’s grace and human will work together to achieve salvation; this kind of thinking certainly fits within the framework of the above quote from Pelagius regarding Christ and the grace of God.  Given the ambiguous historical record of Pelagius’ actual personal beliefs, perhaps it is best to think of him not as a theologian or cleric, but as a social reformer who desired to see Christianity lived out in the daily lives of men rather than esoterically opined upon.

LEGACY OF PELAGIUS

Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism have been condemned by numerous ecumenical councils and confessions, both Catholic and Protestant, throughout history.  During Pelagius’ own life, Pelagiainism was condemned three times in Carthage alone. After Pelagius’ death, Pelagianism was subsequently condemned by the councils of Ephesus (421), Orange (529), and Trent (1546).  The Lutherans, French Reformed, and German Reformed denominations all deny Pelagian views in their confessions of faith.  Conversely, there have been no widespread confessions of faith or church councils that affirm Pelagianism.  Certainly there have been individuals throughout church history, especially during the lifetimes of Pelagius and Caelestius who held Pelagian views, but these individuals did not take their views far enough to cause serious schisms within the church.  For example, Bishop Julian of Eclanum is noted for leading the fight in support of Pelagianism after it was condemned in 418, but his efforts (and the efforts of other Pelagian leaders) did not lead to a serious separate church movement.   Pelagianism when compared to other heretical movements does not seem to leave a significant trial of deaths, persecutions, and denominational splitting.

That is not to say that Pelagian theology disappeared in the first century.  To this day, some Arminian denominations are accused of harboring Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian views.[9]   However, Pelagian ties within Ariminian denominations are tenuous at best.  Evangelist Charles Finney, an influential revivalist of the late 19th Century is perhaps the most notable religious leader to have harbored Pelagian views within the last century.  Finney, a major Force in the Second Great Awakening movement,[10] certainly harbored Pelagian viewpoints, but comes off as more staunchly Anti-Calvinist that Pro-Pelagian.   Finney wasn’t known as a scholarly theologian, he was even unaware of the tenets even of his own Presbyterian profession of faith when he first made it.   Given his apparent ignorance on the subject, he can hardly be claimed as a champion of Pelagianism.  So then, Charles Finney, like Pelagius comes off more as a social reformer than a theological revolutionary.  Given that Pelagianism doesn’t have any specific denominational offshoots or outspoken proponents within the modern church; it would seem that, for all the controversy it has caused since the 5th Century, Pelagiainism hasn’t made a concrete impact on church history from an institutional perspective.  However, it is safe to say that Pelagius inspired many in his day and throughout history to strive to live more righteous lives; lives focused more on experiential living rather than empty doctrinal observance.  At the same time, the multiple condemnations of Pelagianism also serve as a caution for those, who in their human state of hubris, would endeavor to do righteous works attributed to their own will.  Such endeavors are scripturally unsound. As the Apostle Paul put it in Romans, “There is no one righteous, not even one.[11]”  What the Apostle Paul doesn’t say is “There is none righteous, so don’t even try to live that way,” and perhaps that is the point Pelagius was trying to make all along.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

WORKS CITED

Brown, Peter. Augustine of Hippo. University of California Press, 2000.

Butler, Rex. Augustine of Hippo: A Giant of the Church.

Colline, William J.& John A. Mourant. Four Anti-Pelagian Writings . Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1992.

DeWaay, Bob. Charles Finney’s Influence on American Evangelicalism: Exposing Charles Finney’s Heretical Teachings . July/August 1999. http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue53.htm (accessed July 5th, 2010).

Hankins, Barry. The Second Great Awakening and the Transcendentalists. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004.

Holy Bible, New International Version. New York: International Bible Society, 1984.

Justo L. Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. HarperOne, 1984.

Jennings, Daniel R. Pelagius, on Nature. http://www.monachos.net/content/patristics/patristictexts/195-pelagius-on-nature (accessed July 4th, 2010).

Jennings, Daniel R. “Pie_Pelagius_Written_Anthema.” http://www.seanmultimedia.com/Pie_Pelagius_Written_Anathema.html (accessed July 4th, 2010).

Johnson, Phillp R. A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: How Charles Finney’s Theology Ravaged the Evangelical Movement. 1999. http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/finney.htm (accessed July 5 2010, 2010).

Ligon, Duncan. “Pelagian Origins.” February 10th, 1988. http://www.fpcjackson.org/resources/church_history/pelagianorig.htm (accessed July 4th, 2010).

Miller, Madeleine S. and J. Lane Miller, Boyce M. Bennett, David H. Scott. Harper’s Encyclopedia of Bible Life. Book Sales, 1996.

Ministry, Christian Apologetics and Research. Pelagianism . http://www.carm.org/pelagianism (accessed July 5th, 2010).

Olson, Roger E. Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities . Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2006.

Pelagius and Pelagianism: Encyclopeida of Philiosophy Summary. http://www.bookrags.com/research/pelagius-and-pelagianism-eoph/ (accessed July 5th, 2010).

Pelagius: Relgion Facts. 2004-2009. http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/people/pelagius.htm (accessed July 5th, 2010).

Pohle, Joseph. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.

Rees, B.R. The Letters of Pelagius and his Followers. Boydell & Brewer Inc, 1991.

Rees, B.R. Pelagius, a Reluctant Heretic. Boydell Press, 1988.

Rees, B.R. Pelagius: Life and Letters. Boydell Press, 2004.

[1]  (Pohle 1911)

[2]  (B. Rees 1991)

[3]  (Pohle 1911)

[4]  (Jennings n.d.)

[5]  (Colline 1992)

[6]  (Hill 1997)

[7]  (D. R. Jennings n.d.)

[8]  (Brown 2000)

[9]  (Olson 2006)

[10]  (DeWaay 1999)

[11]  (Holy Bible, New International Version 1984)

40 harmful effects of Christianity – #14

“..do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:8-10

This post is theoiourteenth in a series that addresses a list of “40 harmful effects of Christianity” that originated on the American Atheists Facebook page and has since made its way around the internet. In this post, I examine the following “harmful effect” from the list:

Harmful Effect #14: “Abstinence-only” sex education, resulting in five times the amount sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies – often leading to ill-fated “emergency” marriages.

The author(s) of this list didn’t do its readers the kindness of citing a source for this statistical claim. Thus, I cannot quickly determine whether or not it is veridical.  It’s just as well, since, from a biblical worldview, such statistics just aren’t relevant. What is relevant is what the bible teaches about sexual morality.  Its teaching is clear:

It’s not morally permissible to have sex with someone unless one is married to that person. 

I can remember a particular occasion when I was a teenager upon which an individual came to speak, about sex education, to the youth of the church which my family attended.  During the course of his talk, this individual claimed that condoms were not always effective.  He spoke about the size of sperm in relation to the integrity of the latex membrane of condoms in support of this claim.  I was perplexed and a little outraged.  I can remember thinking, “What does it matter if condoms work well or not?  The Bible says not to have sex outside of marriage.  Why isn’t this man just teaching everyone what the Bible says?”  This speaker was trading on statistics and a utilitarian ethic.  Such an ethic hasn’t much place inside the church of Jesus Christ.  This man was doing the youth of the church and their parents a disservice by putting stock in statistics instead of the sufficiency of God.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

It should be noted that this speaker was teaching the youth about the usage of condoms.  It was clear from his presentation (not that many in his audience didn’t already know) that condoms are useful in preventing sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy.  However, unlike abstinence, condoms are not 100% effective in preventing sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy.  Any responsible non-Christian sex education program teaches this as well.  Considering this, let’s analyze what “harmful effect #14” really says more closely:

“Abstinence-only” sex education programs which teach that condoms prevent sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy but not with 100% effectiveness result in five times the amount sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies than do non- “Abstinence-only” sex education programs which teach that condoms prevent sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy but not with 100% effectiveness.

What an absurd claim.   Further scrutiny should only make the claim appear more ridiculous.

We’ve not explored the implied assertion that formal “abstinence-only” sex education programs are biblically-prescribed endeavors.  We’ve not explored the assertion any marriages which result from teenage pregnancies are either “ill-fated” or prescribed by the bible.  Having proven the claim absurd, it’s not necessary to chase these rabbits.

In closing, I would like to challenge non-Christians to consider what society would look like if everyone faithfully followed a Christian sexual ethic.  This would be a society without STD epidemics, unwanted pregnancies, or the emotional turmoil caused by adultery and divorce.  Such a society may not be achievable before the return of Christ, but it would nonetheless be prudent to strive for one.  We are not, as Richard Dawkins claims, “machines for propagating DNA” (by the way, if Dr. Dawkins is correct, trying to prevent pregnancy seems counterintuitive and futile) but rather moral beings made in the image of God for the purpose of glorifying Him.

(Jesus) will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

In my next post in this series, I’ll address the following:

Harmful Effect #15: Women having septic abortions—or being forced to have unwanted children they resent—because religious organizations have gotten laws passed making abortion illegal or inaccessible.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

Sin: The Ultimate Mental Illness

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

Author’s Note: Please do not read too much into the title of this article. I am not arguing that sin should be considered a psychological disorder, nor am I declaring that anyone with a diagnosed psychological disorder is in sin merely by the nature of being so diagnosed. 

In the current environment of pervasively popular Osteen-style life-coach Christianity, it’s all too easy for Christians to confuse the aims of therapy with the effects of regeneration. It’s all too easy for Christians to forget that sin isn’t a problem, it’s the problem. This is a scriptural truth that many in the world, especially those in the secular mental health community, seem to ignore. The fall has alienated people from God and from each other. For any mental health counseling endeavor to be successful, this must be realized. A patient’s sin problem should not be ignored and the power of the Holy Spirit should not be discounted. Unfortunately, many secular mental health professionals do just that. Furthermore, the secular mental health profession is openly hostile to the Christian worldview. As such, Christians should think twice before endorsing or appealing to the authority of a non-Christian mental health professional. Like any other lost person, such blind guides suppress the truth about the horrible effects of sin in unrighteousness

The secular mental health profession’s prejudice against a biblical worldview is exemplified well by a statement released by the American Psychological Association in 1998 which states that it “opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder, or based upon a prior assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.” This statement led credence to initiatives in both California and New Jersey that have outlawed reparative therapy. In California it is illegal for a mental health professional to “engage in sexual orientation change efforts with minors”. Imagine a pastor who needed to refer a young paritioner who struggles with homosexual attraction to a mental health counselor. It California, it is illegal to do so. It’s not just that the secular mental health profession disagrees with a Christian worldview; it’s openly hostile to it.

Unfortunately, this can lead Christians to stigmatize those who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses. This can create an environment where those who struggle with mental illness are hesitant to approach their church’s elders for help and prayer. This should not be the case. Rather, Christians who struggle with mental illness should feel be encouraged to bring their needs before God and before His church for prayer. They should then, where necessary, be referred to by their shepherds to professional Christian counselors who recognize the role that the noetic effect of sin plays in the outbreak of mental illness. In no case, should Christians be referred to counselors who reject a Christian worldview…for what business does light have with darkness? The answer to that question is: “no business at all”. Nonbelievers are in no position to counsel Christians. It is they who need the counsel of believers. That counsel is simple: repent and believe the gospel. Until they do, such counselors can only implement the impotent solutions of fallen man.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.  Furthermore, I am not licensed in any state to diagnose or dispense mental health advice or treatment.

40 harmful effects of Christianity – #13

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-10

This post is the thirteenth in a series that addresses a list of “40 harmful effects of Christianity” that originated on the American Atheists Facebook page and has since made its way around the internet. In this post, I examine the following “harmful effect” from the list:

Harmful Effect #13: Friendships and romances severed or never started over religious differences.

I have friends who are not Christians. I would never think to exclude someone from my friendships only because he was not a Christian. Nowhere in scripture it such action prescribed. Where platonic friendships are concerned, this “harmful effect” is an objection to a commandment that the Bible doesn’t make.

Where romantic relationships are concerned, the bible very clearly forbids Christian believers to enter into marriages with nonbelievers. However, the authors of this list fail to make the case that this biblical proscription in harmful. They claim there is harm in the non-existence of relationships that never start. What’s the harm of something that never happened? The answer to this question doesn’t seem like anything anyone, except perhaps God, can know. Consider the following counter-factual:

If John had entered into a relationship with Suzy, they both would have had a happier life. However, John did not enter into a relationship with Suzy because he was a Christian and she was not.

It’s one thing to state a counter-factual such as this. It’s another thing to know that it’s true. Such a conclusion simply can’t be made given the limits of human knowledge. Atheists often demand proof of God’s existence. I’d like to see atheists try and prove such a counter-factual. When I analyze it, such a counter-factual seems unreasonable. People who disagree on something as fundamental as religious worldview are bound to clash over other important issues. It doesn’t seem wise that such persons should enter into a romantic entanglement. Romantic relationships that don’t work out often cause harm to the participants. Break-ups can be traumatic and depressing. Perhaps then, Christianity, prevents harmful romantic entanglements.

There is a counter-factual that can be proven true quite easily. Consider the following:

If there were no religions, religion would not be a hindrance to the formation of romantic relationships.

It’s made clear once again, this list item is not a polemic against Christianity, but against religion in general. Like other list items, it fails to demonstrate a harmful effect specific to Christianity. Like other items on this list, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. In fact, this item is so nebulous, it is difficult refute.

In my next post in this series, I’ll address the following:

Harmful Effect #14: “Abstinence-only” sex education, resulting in five times the amount sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies – often leading to ill-fated “emergency” marriages.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

Remembering That My Reedemer Lives: Reflections on Job 1:1-12

Reflections on Job 1:1-12

“Have you considered My servant Seth?”

I wonder if God will ever ask Satan this question about me. On the one hand, it would be an indicator that I was living a blameless and upright life before the Lord. On the other hand, it would be an indicator that Satan was about to be put me through the wringer.

Long ago, God asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant, Job.” Job, a very wealthy man, lost all his worldly possessions when God removed the hedge of protection He had placed around Job and allowed Satan to affect Job’s life. Job even lost his wife and children to the devices of the devil. Satan took everything from Job but his very life.

The Bible says, “Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.”

People have a tendency, when calamity befalls them, to blame God and even act out in a sinful manner. They also have a tendency to wonder if God is punishing them for some heinous sin they have committed. (John 9:2). But who among us ever affixes the blame for our misfortune to Satan?

As in the days of Job, Satan is roaming the earth seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8). Satan is on a clear mission to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10) Maybe he has already destroyed something in your life. But one thing he cannot destroy or devour, if you have placed your faith in God through his son Jesus Christ, is your life itself.

It is your life that Jesus came to save, not your possessions or positions. Find your value in serving God and not in the things that Satan can take away. Praise be to the name of the Lord

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

Islam Comes to the Cartersville School System

“Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Proverbs 22:6

It has come to my attention that a representative from the Atlanta Islamic Center is scheduled to speak at Cartersville Middle School this week.  I’m not exactly clear on the purpose of his visit, but I gather that he was invited as part of an educational initiative to teach students about different world religions.  There are a lot of local residents, I understand, who are not very happy about this Muslim leader’s coming.  Should they be upset with our school board?

No.

This Islamic man isn’t coming to indoctrinate our children nor is he coming to lop off our heads.  This man is coming to give a lecture on his religion.   This man is coming to educate.  I, for one, am glad he is coming.  He’ll be speaking about an important topic.

I learned about Islam in my 7th grade social studies class. My social studies teacher taught a unit on Islam every year.  She taught her students what the five pillars of Islam are, presented a short biography of Muhammad, and presented a history of his religion.  We learned that he was a strict monotheist and that he expanded his influence by the threat of violence.  We learned that there were millions and millions of Muslims out in the world and that Islam was an Abrahamic offshoot.  Because my teacher also taught about the United States and our country’s history, we learned that an Islamic worldview and an American worldview conflicted.

One year, a disgruntled parent came to my school and complained that my teacher was “teaching kids how to be Muslims.”  The principal laughed off this accusation.  He knew the teacher to be a Christian woman.  So did I.  That teacher was my own mother, a devout Christian who has never been shy about sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I am a better citizen of the world and a better apologist for Christ because I learned what Islam was at a young age.  I’m glad to have learned about this influential world religion in school.  My mom did her job as a social studies teacher and taught me and the rest of her students about the world.  She also did her job as a parent and taught me about Jesus.

If you’ve taught your children about Jesus, you don’t have to worry about Islamic leaders coming to Cartersville Middle School.  You can look forward to you children witnessing to that lost Muslim leader.  The fact is that Islam already has a presence in Cartersville.  There is an Islamic center near Wal-mart (You may have read in the newspaper about it being vandalized). Several Islamic families live here.  I imagine many of them came to this country for freedom and opportunity.

Don’t be like that ignorant man who complained about my mother.  I hope the citizens of this town won’t act like Islamic extremists and seek to suppress the voice of those of different religions in the public square.  Our government has done the Christians of this town a favor.  It is bringing in a lost person, a leader from the Islamic community that our children can interact with and to whom they can witness.

Parents, admonish them to do so.  Don’t admonish the school board for trying to educate your kids.  Let’s all pray for Jesus to be glorified and shared at Cartersville Middle School tomorrow.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

It Just Keeps Getting Worse: The Braxton Caner Memorial Fund for the Prevention of Suicide and Cyber-bullying

“Statisticians have long warned that correlation is not causation, but they have apparently warned in vain.” Thomas Sowell

AUTHOR’S NOTE: THIS IS A SENSITIVE COMMENTARY ON A SENSITIVE TOPIC.  IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE A COMMENTARY ON THIS SUBJECT CAN BE EDIFYING, YOU DON’T HAVE TO READ IT.

Every time I think that the Ergun Caner debacle can’t get any worse, it does.  Last week, Brewton-Parker trustee chairman and pastor of Vidalia First Baptist Church, Bucky Kennedy, announced the creation of the The Braxton Caner Memorial Fund for the Prevention of Suicide and Cyber-bullying.  This fund has been established in the wake of the tragic suicide of Ergun Caner’s 15-year old son, Braxton.   Although the departed Braxton left no suicide note, some have theorized that a short Twitter interaction between Braxton and one his father’s many critics (which they consider to be a case of “cyber-bullying”) caused the boy to take his own life.  According to a Brewton-Parker Press release, “While doubtful anyone can ‘prove’ cyber-bullying was the cause of the young Caner’s death, the impression nonetheless exists strongly enough to establish a memorial fund to raise awareness and prevent both teen suicide and internet crimes like cyber-harassment and cyber-bullying.”

I don’t know what caused Braxton to take his own life.  I never met him.  I did not know him.  It would be irresponsible for me to conclude on his particular motivation(s) for taking his own life.  Like others, I can only form impressions (Braxton’s short interaction with his father’s critic is not one of them). Here are some of them:

1. Braxton was a preacher’s kid.

Being a preacher’s kid or a preacher’s wife is difficult.  Such a person always feels like he or she is being watched and judged.  Lots of times, they are.

2. Braxton’s family moved a lot.

Moving around a lot isn’t easy. According to his own claims, Ergun Caner pastored churches in North Carolina and Colorado.  During Braxton’s lifetime, Ergun Caner began career in academia at the Criswell College in Texas.  From there he moved to Liberty University in Virginia.  After being dismissed from Liberty, he moved back to Texas for a short time to work at Arlington Baptist College.  From Arlington Baptist, Caner moved on to Brewton-Parker in Georgia.  This last job move was during Braxton’s teenage years.  When I was Braxton’s age, my family moved.  It was hard.  The prospect of moving from Texas to Georgia may have been hard on Braxton.

3. Braxton’s father traveled a lot.

Ergun Caner speaks at churches and youth camps all around the country.  For security reasons, Caner does not post his speaking schedule.   However, it’s safe to say that Ergun Caner is gone from home on a lot of weekends.  It’s hard for kids when their father isn’t around.  To my knowledge, Ergun Caner’s family was still living in Texas as he worked at Brewton-Parker in Georgia.

4. Braxton’s father spoke negatively about Islam and was threatened for so doing.

Ergun Caner once told the congregation of Decatur Baptist Church that he has moved three times and has changed his phone number eight times due to threats from Muslim extremists.  Emir Caner, Braxton’s uncle, has spoken to Roswell Street Baptist Church about the need to carry a gun for protection.  Threats to his family over the years, could have stressed the young Braxton over his lifetime.

5. Baxton’s father is a charlatan and it’s hard to be a charlatan’s son.

After becoming famous while claiming to be a trained jihadist turned Christian evangelist, it was discovered that many of Dr. Ergun Caner’s claims contradicted one another.  He subsequently lost his job at one of the country’s most respected Baptist colleges.   Ergun Caner has been less than contrite about his deception and continues to be the target of widespread criticism.  Being a kid is hard enough.   Being a kid whose dad is a charlatan is probably harder.  I don’t know if Braxton believed that his own father was a fraud, but many others (perhaps even some of Braxton’s peers) thought so.  Maybe those peers bullied him, in person and in cyberspace.  I don’t know, but I do know this.  I look up to my own father immensely.  If I ever found out that he was a fraud, I’d be absolutely crushed, even as an adult.

6. Braxton may have been mentally ill.

I speak with all the expertise of someone with six hours of undergraduate psychology credit and one course in pastoral counseling who didn’t know the deceased.  Bear that in mind.  I theorize, given what I perceive to a pattern of pervasive, bald-faced lies told by Braxton’s father, that Ergun Caner may be Bi-Polar. Perhaps Braxton was.  Who knows?  I don’t.  It’s just a theory.  I’m not psychology expert and have no personal interaction with Braxton Caner and very little such interaction with his father.

7. The harmful impact of spiritual forces

I’ll offer no commentary on this particular impression

In the case of Braxton Caner, we have a young man who grew up a preacher’s kid, moved around a lot, was a member of a family that was threatened by Muslim extremists, was often away from his father at a vulnerable age, was possibly afflicted with mental illness, and was son to one of the most reviled men in evangelical culture.  No fund has been established to recognize that…

One shouldn’t be.

We do not know what led young Braxton to do the unthinkable” Todd Starnes

The only human who knew why Braxton Caner did what he did was Braxton Caner.   Now, no one knows. It is irresponsible and unproductive to definitively claim otherwise.  Putting a fund together and naming it The Braxton Caner Memorial Fund for the Prevention of Suicide and Cyber-bullying does just that.  Correlation does not equal causation.

All the living can know about this suicide is that the situation is awful.  It’s sad.  It’s tragic.  The death of a child or a sibling is the worst earthly thing that could happen to a family member.  I feel sorry for Ergun Caner, his wife, and his remaining son.   I can’t imagine the weight of the loss which they bear.

I’m left remembering that the actions we take affect our families.  Our actions can affect our spouses even before we meet them.  Our actions can affect our children even before they are born.  What we say and do matters.  Furthermore, what we say and do to others affects them.  We never know what someone else could be going through when we talk to them.   When we interact with someone, we need to remember that he is someone’s child and a human person created in the image of God.  We shouldn’t pick on people, lie to them, or blame them unjustly.

In the wake of this horrible tragedy, we should follow the example of the penitent.  We should not politicize tragedy but rather mourn it.  We should throw ourselves upon the mercy and grace of God and show mercy and grace ourselves.  We should let the dead rest in peace and let the living live in peace.

Death and judgment will one day come for us all.  We need to be ready to give an account for how we treated God and our neighbor.  We should be honest with both.  Where we are ignorant, we should rely upon the perfect knowledge of God.  Where we are not ignorant, we should rely upon the perfect knowledge of God.

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.” Ecclesiastes 9:10

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.