Can Christians Be Christian at School?

Bernie Diaz, January 21, 2020

The battles over school choice and whether or not Christians should be part of the government sponsored monopoly over education – K to college, have been ratcheted up recently to the extent that Christian schools are now being questioned as to whether or not they can be Christian at all.

A headline in The Washington Post last week and echoed in a CBS News TV report, read: “Christian school expels teen after she posed with rainbow birthday cake, mother says.”

The article went on to document that a teenager turning 15 yrs-old in  Louisville, KY, celebrated a birthday party organized by her mother at one of her daughter’s favorite restaurants. According to the story, “Ahead of the party, the mother instructed a bakery to decorate a cake with colors that pop, she recalled. It just so happened that the cake’s rainbow motif mirrored the design on her daughter’s sweater, and she took a picture of her daughter smiling next to it to commemorate the December 30th party.”

Sounds innocuous enough. Moreover, in the next paragraph, that photo posted on social media, allegedly caused the student to be expelled from Whitefield Academy, a private Christian school in Louisville, where her daughter was a freshman. In an email to the family on January 6,” says The Post, “the academy’s head of school, wrote that the teen’s enrollment was terminated effective immediately because of a social media post.”

If all of the above were true and reported as fact, that Christian school could legitimately be accused of an over-reaction and an extreme action in expelling this student. The Washington Post article read that although the mother of the student was aware that the rainbow striped flag is a symbol of the LGBTQ community, she emphasized that, “her daughter’s matching rainbow cake and sweater were simply a coincidental aesthetic and not intended to mean anything more.”

However, if truth be known, a conveniently missing ingredient from many mainstream news media outlets today, the Christian school in Louisville expelled the student only after the most recent post culminated a two-year process in which the school had worked with the student and the student’s parents to have her submit to the school’s standard code of conduct, which they had agreed upon and signed at the time of her enrollment, and which she had violated on several occasions.

According to a series of social media postings found over the last several months, the teenager in question posed as a girl dressing as a boy, taking another girl to a social event in a public high school. In other social media postings, she identified herself with the words, “Me, finally coming out,” and “Me, finally getting a girlfriend,” or “GF.” According to columnist Rod Dreher, in yet another post, she identified herself as putting a Bible into a dryer.

Thus, what is this Christian school guilty of in enforcing its student code of conduct in expelling this student? Being evangelically Christian of course.

The school’s administration released a more than revealing statement in response to the Washington Post’s report and the resulting hub-bub, documenting its core convictions which, “ask the students to adhere to a lifestyle informed by our Christian beliefs.”

The school like many if not most private Christian schools, require all families enrolling children to sign a statement of agreement that included these words at Whitefield Academy, “…The mission of the teachers and administration… is to inspire every student to become a mature follower of Jesus Christ. I agree,” the statement requires, “to support the standards of the school in every area of its philosophy and policies including academic, behavioral, spiritual, dress, moral, and disciplinary policies.”

If that weren’t clear enough, in its official documentation released not only to students but available to the public under the statement “Role with the Christian School,” we find this, “Whitefield Academy’s biblical role is to work in conjunction with the home to mold students to be Christ-like on occasion the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home may be counter or in opposition to the biblical lifestyle the school teaches. This includes but is not limited to sexual immorality, homosexual orientation, or the inability to support biblical standards of right and wrong.”

Once again, we have compelling evidence that the advocates of the sexual revolution, plan to utilize every means necessary to take as many prisoners as possible captive to its agenda, even manipulating news media to make its case, as Dreher said in his column at The American Conservative, “This is just another example of the media seizing upon a story that they think will make Christians look either stupid and out of step or in this case downright evil and mean-spirited. Stupid Christians doing stupid Christian things.”

“We Told You So”

Just what did Biblically minded Christians and other socially conservative citizens expect after same-sex marriage became a de facto law of the land as the result of a controversial Supreme Court decision made just five years ago?

There was a day when gay marriage advocates would often say things like, “How does gay marriage hurt your (heterosexual) marriage?” On the surface, the proponents of gay marriage proposed a “live and let live” arrangement. It went something like: “Give us gay marriage, you have your  marriage, and we’ll all co-exist.” Did we really think we would all come together and sing Kumbaya?

In 2013, Dreher began warning of the “law of merited impossibility” when it came to gay marriage. He warned that the “live and let live” thing was a fiction. Gay marriage activists were actually advancing a law of merited impossibility, which says, “No one is going to mistreat or persecute you Christians for your views on marriage. Stop being paranoid. But when we do mistreat and persecute you, you are going to deserve it.” The assurances of peaceful coexistence were a scam from the start.

Dreher turned out to be prophetic. Christians find themselves in a new day and age where their beliefs are openly reviled in the public square and marketplace of ideas. Indeed, we are reviled as the apostle Peter has been warning Christians to expect for the better part of two millennia (1 Pet. 2:19-23; 3:8-9, 13-17).  

Therefore, how are disciples of Christ to react or respond to this latest threat to the religious freedom of Christians to do business, including the institution of education?

Fortunately, Christians may still have some options. One is to support elected officials and legislators who strive to defend religious liberty, one of the major issues Christian voters must think hard and long about in 2020.

The Trump administration just announced it is updating federal guidance for prayer in public schools and other initiatives aimed at protecting religious freedom, which White House officials said are aimed at reducing discrimination against people and groups of faith.

“This afternoon we’re proudly announcing historic steps to protect the First Amendment right to pray in public schools. … There’s nothing more important than that, I would say,” embattled President Donald Trump said on National Religious Freedom Day, and on the eve of the Senate Impeachment trial hearings intent on removing him from office.

He added, “While I’m President … we will not let anyone push God from the public square. We will uphold religious liberty for all.” Further his administration has supported plaintiffs in a major religious rights case that will be argued before the Supreme Court, where three mothers of students at Stillwater Christian School in Montana, are appealing a lower court ruling that struck down that state’s tax credit that could help students pay to attend private schools including religious ones.

Kendra Espinoza one of those plaintiffs in the tax credit case, has worked hard to keep her two daughters in their small, private evangelical school.  A news report documents her life as a single mother and a full-time office manager, who has worked nights as a janitor in an office building to help pay for tuition, taking her daughters along to instill in them a strong work ethic.

If you want something enough in life, Espinoza said, you have to fight for it.

“The way I try to raise my girls, of course I want them to be able to read the Bible and be taught how to pray, taught from that faith-based perspective,” Espinoza said in an interview. “At the public school, there’s a lot of disrespect and not enough of those values that I wanted them to learn.”

Is Ms. Espinoza, already mandated by local and state law to contribute taxes towards a secular, public school system she finds to be anti-God and pro-LGBTQ as per the Louisville case above, among countless others, wrong?

Would Ms. Espinoza be wrong for doing all she can to biblically disciple her daughters in large measure by anchoring their full educational program in a biblically Christian environment, with its principals and curriculum?

Have we arrived at a watershed moment in time, where Christian parents like her, convicted of the Biblical call to raise their children in “the fear and admonition of the Lord”, and who acknowledge as scripture does, that “the fear of God is the beginning of all knowledge”, continue the growing exodus from the public school system to private schools and homeschooling?

If that continues, what are we to make of Christian teachers and administrators laboring faithfully, to be salt and light in these spiritually dark institutions of learning? Have they no role and calling to be missionaries in those mission fields, ‘ripe and ready for harvest?’  

Personally, our church is blessed by having the opportunity to minister in such mission fields by virtue of having an after-school school gospel and Bible club. Can we not take advantage of those to advance the kingdom and cause of Christ? Can we agree to support fellow believers in both callings?

The questions regarding the culture war’s latest skirmishes over the Christian worldview and education are vast and critical for the health of this generation and the one to come. May the Lord grant wisdom to his church to navigate this war well.

Shining Light on Darkness

Bernie Diaz, January 17, 2020

Another news headline decries the fall from religion plaguing America today: Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back.

The latest slam on faith and its influence on our nation was spotlighted by the findings of the Pew Research Center, which found that, “Four in ten millennials now say they are religiously unaffiliated.” In fact, millennials (those between the ages of 23 and 38) are now almost as likely to say they have no religion at all, as they are to identify as Christian. So what?

Books like UnChristian by David Kinnaman among a number of other published reports have been sounding the alarm for some time now, that the United States is no longer a “Christian nation” and that the church of Jesus Christ is in freefall and on the way to extinction if not irrelevance.

Whereas, I have spent some time pounding my keyboard and posting blogs in response, to simply argue that the church of Jesus Christ- a historic majority influence and force for good and redemption around the world for two millennia, is not slowing down or dying, but it’s American manifestation and image has simply changed.

As my study of the apostle John’s first letter is revealing to me (and hopefully to my church), in the launch of a new Sunday series, (Basic Christianity), there is a massive contrast between that which is said and that which is done. Or in the context of Christendom today, there is a big distinction between the perception of the church and its reality.

While true, that within God’s sovereign providence, Christianity as an institution no longer holds today the sway in cultural influence in the U.S. as it did for most of its first two centuries, Biblical Christianity has always survived and thrived as a counter-cultural minority kingdom. It’s citizens according to its pioneers (Phil. 4; 1 Pet. 1-2), belong to another country (Heaven) and are merely ‘legal aliens’ or foreigners and pilgrims passing through.

Nonetheless, much of the Pew report seems to indicate that millennial adults have lost their attachment to traditional and organized religion, even when they choose to have children, as few as they do today.

What was illuminating to me however, was the pattern found from a similarly themed survey by the more conservative leaning American Enterprise Institute, and their reasons why so many millennials are rejecting the faith of their mothers and fathers to perhaps never return, in a poll of 2,500 Americans. Among the findings that caught my attention were:

  • Many millennials never had strong ties to religion to begin with. That result seems to say something about a lapse in religious instruction and influence from the prior generation of their home.
  • Young adults are also increasingly likely to have a spouse who is nonreligious. That sociological finding, which will lead to a great influence of secular moral ethics in a home, is negatively impacting Christian marriages and families at a seemingly greater rate, despite The Bible’s admonitions to followers of Jesus to not become “unequally yoked.”
  • Changing views about the relationship between morality and religion. This finding of course, speaks to the moral relativism today which has infected not only many of our nation’s institutions for more than a generation, but the confessing church itself, which is so preoccupied with relevancy that its factions (see the impending split of the United Methodist Church) are hurrying to embrace the sexual revolution, obscuring the light of the gospel itself to a lost and dying society.

Fathers Know Best

The most interesting finding of another Pew poll from 2016 though, was the unconsciously Biblical linkage found between how a parents’ religious identity does much to shape their children’s religious habits and beliefs later in life.

For instance, according to Pew, “84 percent of people raised by Protestant parents are still Protestant as adults. Similarly, people raised without religion are less apt to look for it as they grow older.” That same Pew study found that 63 percent of people who grew up with two religiously unaffiliated parents were still nonreligious as adults.

Indeed, the apple doesn’t seem to fall that far from the tree. Today’s generation of adult, millennial parents are stepping away from faith in a way which will likely influence their children to do the same, in contrast again to Baby Boomer parents, their predecessors. Pew found that, “45 percent of millennial parents say they take them (children) to religious services and 39 percent say they send them to Sunday school or a religious education program. Baby Boomers, by contrast, were significantly more likely to send their children to Sunday school (61 percent) and to take them to church regularly (58 percent).”

What does a Biblically-based and worldview sound Christian do with this information? Well, regardless of where America is headed, Christian parents need to know where their children need to be headed: church services where God is glorified, Christ is exalted, the Word of God is explained and permeates the worship and congregation, and where the Spirit of God is evident in a community of believers.

As we posted in this space just before Christmas (‘The Other Church Segregation Movement’) and as highlighted by the deficiencies of the above, headline-grabbing surveys, parents are called to be the primary disciplers of their children and families, as God intended (Gen. 18:19; Deut. 6:6-9; Psa. 78; Pro. 1:8-9, 2:1-5; Eph. 6:1-4; Col. 3:20-21).

Discipleship and worldview training is taking place in the hearts and minds of our children every day – make no mistake about that. What matters most, is whether or not we as disciple makers of Christ will accept that responsibility to do so for our children on behalf of the kingdom of Christ and the light, or whether as four to five out of every ten families are doing today, we will let discipleship be done on behalf of the kingdom of Satan and darkness.

20/20 Vision for 2020

Bernie Diaz, January 8, 2020

When some cultural observers referred to the new year as the start of this generation’s “roaring 20’s”, little did they and Christians living from a Biblical worldview, imagine that 2020 and the beginning of a new decade, would usher in the kind of news and events that we have seen over the last week alone – the first of the year:  

  • The United States and the nation of Iran began the year on high alert in military tensions, after President Trump ordered a successful drone attack and assassination of Iran’s top General and terrorist mastermind, Qassem Soleimani, which precipitated thankfully, a non-lethal missile response from Tehran to an Iraqi and American base there.
  • The already beleaguered American common-wealth of Puerto Rico, still reeling from a disastrous 2017 hurricane, suffered a broad-ranging earthquake that has further debilitated that state’s resources and infrastructure, leaving thousands without power and running water.
  • As if life itself hadn’t been devalued enough already over the last generation and decade, Jewish places of worship in the United States are also on high alert after another mass shooting and Planned Parenthood reported its role in the deaths of over 860,000 preborn children via abortion last year, in its most recent annual report – 40% of those now coming in the form of the insidious “morning-after” abortion pill, as the war continues between the proponents of the sexual revolution and the pro-life movement.
  • This same, unprecedented sexual revolution on behalf of LGTBQ advocates, has continued to impact evangelical Christianity and the church, as United Methodist Church leaders from around the world revealed plans to resolve disagreements over same-sex marriage and homosexual clergy by splitting the church and forming a new denomination.   

It’s plain to see in my view (pun intended) that the common denominator in the new year’s events are manifestations of our world’s continuing and ever-increasing blindness or propensity for life in the dark.

Indeed, 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ ushered in his new kingdom of life and truth pictured by light, by declaring the contrast that the unredeemed world “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19-20)”.

The world today, beginning in our own American backyard, is in desperate need of a visit to the divine optometrist and a vision check-up. Beginning with the church itself, we need a fresh vision, fresh only to our society in this new decade. America needs a renewed vision to see what is happening in our sin-cursed world that can only be found from the scriptures as the pathway to the light- an Acts 20:20 vision for 2020.

Acts 2020 for 2020

“… I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house…” (Acts 20:20, ESV)

The apostle Paul according to Luke, the human author of the book of Acts, while traveling through the city of Ephesus (then located in what was known as Asia Minor or modern-day Turkey) while on a missionary journey, was planting churches and working day and night to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ in places that were both receptive to his message and others which posed danger to his own life, in an equally if not in some ways more troubled world than ours, as he worked his way back to Jerusalem.

This chapter of scripture tells us that Paul testified, “both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).” In other words, Paul’s vision was to grant gospel vision to the world, one community and one city at a time as it must be ours- now as much as ever.

Paul did not “shrink from” or according to the original Greek language, “drawback or withdraw” as a timid person might, from his Great Commission mission to share the vision of Christ.

Most evangelical Christians understand the command to make disciples and to evangelize, and many of us will pray towards that end. We’re pretty good at following the idea of talking to God first about someone, before talking to someone about God. Unfortunately for many of us, that’s as  far as it goes, because we’re more comfortable speaking to our Father God about others, than telling others about our Father in heaven.

I’ve noticed over the years of pastoral ministry, that many if not most Christians have never actually shared the Gospel with their family members even. Sure, they’ve had a lot of spiritual conversations here and there, but never actually sat their family member down to walk through the entire Gospel, the Biblical way in which God saves repentant sinners by faith in Jesus Christ.  

I find that many times we think that we have shared the good news that is the Gospel with someone when we’ve actually just talked about peripheral issues or about “God,” without ever getting to the Gospel – especially the part when you have to mention J_ _ _ S.

Is there a price to pay for talking Jesus and the cross, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles?” Of course there is. We have to count the cost of potentially losing relationships, and making ourselves and holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas more awkward than usual, versus the cost of willing to sacrifice comfort for the sake of a loved one’s soul and eternity.

My hope and prayer is that the members of the local church I pastor in South Florida and Christians all over this nation and abroad, will dedicate themselves in 2020 to project a clear Acts 20:20 vision of what Paul declared from church to church and house to house in the first century, meaning the road to redemption, the way in which people can escape the devil and his darkness and find Christ as the light of truth and real freedom (1 John 1). How do we do that?

How Do We Shine the Light of Christ?

Have we come to know that God saves and ultimately is the source of the light in the flesh, and only he can remove the scales from the eyes of the lost?

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4).

Have you actually explained to your loved one that the Holy God of eternity created them and owns them? (Psalm 24:1)

Have you sat down with your loved one and explained to them that they are currently under the wrath of a holy, perfect and just God? (John 3:36)

Have you warned them that they stand condemned by this holy God and having sinned will receive the just payment or penalty for your sin through an eternity in hell if they continue on the wrong end of the ‘Romans road’? (Ro. 3:23, Ro. 6:23)

Have you alerted them that they cannot possibly save themselves by doing good works; that if they think they are religious or good people, then they are arrogant and stealing from the glory of God? (Eph. 2:8-9)

Have you conveyed the news to them that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man? (Col. 2:9) And that He, after being born of a virgin, lived a perfect life culminating with His death on the cross in their place? (2 Cor. 5:21) And He did not stay dead, but arose from the grave and is now alive and can grant them new life? (1 Cor. 15:4)

And have you genuinely called them to repent and believe in Jesus Christ? (Rom. 10:9-10)

If you haven’t done that, please don’t wait for another new year. The decadence and excess of the ‘roaring 20’s’ in the 20th century led to the great economic depression of the 30’s. I know for a fact I would not rather  spend another minute, much less a year or decade in misery without the hope and anchor of Christ in the storm.

The old baseball adage, “There’s always next year” doesn’t work when it comes to something as important as eternal salvation and trying to find it on our own through the darkness, when we’re not guaranteed our next breath, let alone another year.

People are right in asking for prayer. That is the way to begin casting the Acts 20:20 vision, since we’ve said that it is God alone, who can give life to the spiritually blind and dead.

The fact of the matter is, though, that although he has ordained the ways of salvation he has also ordained the means, and that is through His Word and your lips! He uses the Bible spoken out loud by people like Paul, me and you. That’s how He saves souls. He doesn’t use other means.

So, when you pray, know what you are praying for. You are asking the Lord of the universe to ‘not shrink from declaring anything that was profitable’ concerning Christ and his gospel, and to use the words that you will say to the blind to open their eyes to the light and the truth, so their, “joy may be complete” (1 John 1:4) in seeing the glory of Christ.

Christmas Thoughts on Impeachment

Bernie Diaz, 12/24/19

As most of this planet is aware by now, the U.S. House of Representatives passed two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump last week, making him only the third president in the nation’s history to face a Senate trial on the charges of having committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” As expected, the votes fell almost exclusively along partisan, party lines, following hours-long debates.

Christians that hold to and attempt to live by a Biblical worldview, should be wise and refrain from jumping onto either side exclusively, when thinking about this political fray, fraught with mischaracterizations and misrepresentations.

What do I mean by that? On the one hand, liberal democratic officials and congressmen have been hell-bent on impeaching this President from the evening of which the 2016 election results were announced, until now.  That much is clearly evident.

The hierarchy of this country’s Democratic party seemingly hates this President and the fact that he won the last election – shockingly so, by a decisive margin over their heir apparent to the Obama administration, the “favorite,” former First Lady Hillary Clinton.

A considerable portion of the left or “blue” population of this country sees President Trump as an arrogant, bastion of culturally backward conservatism, who will jail any immigrant on site, perpetuate global warming, reward the rich and worse, slow the rampage of the current sexual revolution, which aims to endow every person and letter imaginable of the LGBTQ+ community with special and new constitutional rights, including the preservation of the right to kill preborn babies.

Since the last election results cannot be undone and many Democrat leaning pundits and elites fear the incumbent’s re-election next year, what other choice do they have other than to impeach or remove him from office with whatever ‘trumped’ up charges (pun-intended) they might drum up?

This is evident by the fact that the House case against Trump, is as weak or questionable as it is according to most objective legal experts, affirmed by House Majority Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hesitancy to submit the articles to the Senate for a “fair trial” in which the President could defend himself. The political backlash this impeachment could cause the Democratic party is both incalculable and potentially devasting for them.

The left may feel a bit energized this week however, by an editorial published by Christianity Today magazine Editor Mark Galli, who called on evangelical Christians to reject President Trump and his re-election bid by supporting his impeachment on the grounds of the President’s lack of Biblical character and moral failings, in light of the allegations made by the House’s impeachment articles.

It is there, that Trump is accused of having bribed Ukraine’s President, by threatening to withhold federal aid from that nation if they did not investigate lead Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, who served on the Board of a large Ukrainian energy company. The charge is that the quid pro quo of foreign aid tied to a Biden investigation could have swung the 2020 elections in Trump’s favor and was not only unethical but illegal and worthy of impeachment.

While I find CT’s editorial calling for a Trump resignation or impeachment based on the proof of the articles lacking, and basically without merit on what we know today, he does bring up on the other hand, a perplexing if not troubling question for evangelicals…

Does Character Count?

It has long been held by Americans including those that would tell their children they could aspire to “grow up and become President,” that the leader of the free-world occupying the Oval Office of the White House should be a man of virtue and high standards of moral ethics, likely a God-fearing man to boot.

Does our President fit that description? Moms, dads and fellow disciples of Jesus Christ, would you want your children to grow up and emulate President Trump? And furthermore, is he deserving of blind faith and unswerving voter support of Christians, regardless of whether or not he is impeached- as unlikely as that will be (the Senate is held by a Republican majority)?

If today, character doesn’t count in a Presidential candidate or incumbent, then many evangelicals have to apologize right now to former President Bill Clinton, who was the last chief executive of this country to be impeached by one-half of Congress, twenty years ago. You might remember he perjured himself on the witness stand while attempting to deny his adulterous history, sexual sin  and its cover-up while in public office.

The religious right and ‘Moral Majority’ neo-evangelical movement of that time, led by leaders Robertson and Falwell, declared that Christians could not support, much less vote for a man who had behaved so immorally in and out of the White House. Would not the same moral standard apply to President Donald Trump, whose well and self-documented record of infidelity, sleaze, business dealings, inappropriate, sometimes coarse language and attitudes (Twitter) are common knowledge?

Admittedly this question is not an easy one to answer for a thinking, discerning, born-again believer of Christ, and is one which we will continue wrestle with in the upcoming election season.

Christian voters are often faced with undesirable choices in elections of every sort, such as was the case in 2016, when the Presidential candidates from both parties had been long known to have exhibited more than questionable character in their pasts.

Impeachment hearings and findings notwithstanding, going forward with possible apologies to our friends and family on the left, Christians will have to artfully explain why the office of the Commander-in-Chief is not the Pastor-in-Chief and that character does not always count- so much. Godly character in a President is a precious commodity – when you can find it. When you have a choice.

What I have learned over the past election cycle is that there comes a time throughout world and even American history, where God providentially ordains (Ro.13) that less than morally desirable leaders serve as authorities over nations to do his good will and pleasure, ultimately resulting in his glory, as was the case when God put a certain Chaldean (Nebuchadnezzar) and Persian (Cyrus) king into office as part of Israel’s Babylonian captivity and exile.  

As we have explained more than once in this space, disciples of Christ must consider themselves to be exiles, aliens and foreigners in America, as the apostle Peter described early church Christians in his first letter, and to live as the best, holiest, God-glorifying citizens (1 Pet. 2:11-12) they can be, taking advantage of every opportunity to make our voices count at the ballot box and in the public marketplace of ideas.

President Trump, our Nebuchadnezzar if you will, warts and all- and they are too numerous to mention, while not being my particular character preference as the occupant of his office, is worthy of my support in so far as he: (1) is found not guilty of the impeachment charges levied against him (2) continues to align himself closest to the Bible’s position on public policy (i.e. religious liberty, national security, life, family) than his opponents which has been decidedly the case for the last three years.

Therefore, my charge to Christians in this post would be to not only pray for the Lord’s common grace of wisdom and knowledge to fall upon this President and members of congress guiding this nation going into this new year (1 Tim. 2:1-2), but also in keeping with the ministry of the prophet Daniel and the opportunity and awareness presented by this Christmas, to pray that our Chaldean type President and members of Congress would come as necessary to know and be saved by the reason for this season, the Son of God who is still making repentant men and women, sons and daughters of God (1 Tim. 2:3-6).

The Other Church ‘Segregation’ Movement

Bernie Diaz, December 18, 2019

Hey Christian, how about a work-out on Sunday? I don’t mean skipping your church service to do CrossFit or having to sacrifice something resembling a church service for a gym workout. Why do that, when at ‘Warrior’ church, you can have both?!

A recent Christianity Today article leads with this report: “Before the workout starts, Sean Steele, founder of Warrior Church, kicks off the hour with a 15-minute prayer and discussion from a lectionary. Founded in 2017, Warrior Church is one of four—soon to be six—communities aimed at military veterans and others experiencing trauma that help compose the network of St. Isidore Episcopal Church in and around Spring, Texas.”

But wait…. There’s more…. “The St. Isidore network also includes—along with a few house churches—’Taco Church’, where men gather for prayer at Taco Bell, and ‘Coloring Church’, dedicated to ‘dialogue and artistic expression.’ But if you’re hoping to visit St. Isidore’s main building to attend their gathered Sunday service, you will be disappointed. These gatherings aren’t just small groups and outreach programs; they are the church’s primary venues. According to its website, St. Isidore is ‘a church without walls.”   

Although much ink has been spilled and rhetoric aimed at reversing racial discrimination and segregation in evangelical Christianity, as part of the recent social justice movement, a subtle segregation movement that began about a century ago in splitting families apart in church, has now moved to broader segments of the church and society in what missiologists are terming, “micro-congregations.”

These mini-churches or congregations ‘without walls’ are targeted at micro or specific, niche segments of society that according to the adherents of the movement, are meant to fill the outreach void that the more historical and traditional institution of church cannot fill.

According to the CT (Christianity Today) article, “Other denominations have similar niche communities. A number of ‘dementia-friendly’ churches have sprung up from Methodist groups. Southern Baptists have cowboy church and congregations designed to reach US Marines.”

The report adds; “These communities go by different names—fresh expressions, missional communities, micro-churches—but they bear many similarities. You might think of them as parallel streams flowing in the same direction. Some of these communities consider themselves local churches reaching very specific populations, while others view themselves as ‘expressions’ of church—not yet mature churches but still manifestations of the universal church.

Though well-intended and missionally minded, like the neo-traditional movement that birthed American church youth programs and children’s ministries in the early to mid-20th century, more harm than good may come from an ecclesiology which seeks to scratch every modern, consumer-driven, custom-made itch of what church should be.

In our age of social and moral revolutions and redefinitions of age-old standards of sexuality, life, faith and yes, church (i.e. LGTBQ+, gender roles), the local body of Jesus Christ must apparently follow suit once again.  

Reggie McNeal, an author and missional leadership specialist for Leadership Network, views these contextualized communities above, as a “harbinger that something really big is underfoot” that will undo the Western church’s “single modality church expression” in the congregational model.

“We’re going to see an expansion of the bandwidth of how the church is expressing itself,” McNeal predicted. “We are entering and are already in a phase of church as movement. That requires multiple expressions. God’s not behind on this; he’s ahead of us.”

In contrast, I amongst other biblically worldview minded pastors and theologians think otherwise in that this latest church fad may be leaping ahead of God and his specific revelation to his people, which according to it (2 Tim. 3:16-17), is sufficient and authoritative enough to guide church planters and leaders as to how to do God’s business (disciple-making and reproduction) – God’s way.

This micro-congregational method of disciple-making (read for some, ‘church growth’), means custom-making a certain and rather incomplete form of church life to fit certain, segmented communities.

It has been long established in scripture that legitimately planted and ordered local bodies, are led by a head of elders or pastors, which conduct the ordinances of believer’s baptism and observance of the Lord’s Supper, in conjunction with their authority to exercise church discipline over its members. Those realities of a historic local church, do not seem to matter to the advocates of the independent, micro-congregational movement.

CT adds, “One cross-denominational driver of this targeted approach is Fresh Expressions, a movement that encourages Christians to develop new forms of church specifically crafted for post-Christian culture. According to its website, ‘Each fresh expression of church is unique, and designed for their particular context.”

Interestingly enough, the apostle Paul’s idea of gospel contextualization seems to be more about removing certain, non-essential barriers (e.g. circumcision and food laws) towards reaching individuals for Christ, rather than redefining and rebuilding the institution of church, such as with micro, segmented communities (1 Cor. 9:19-23).  

What is telling is that the very nature of Christianity and the church of its founder and Cornerstone, is to reject tribalism, segregation, cultural and potentially divisive ethnic distinctions in favor of moving towards an integrated and unified community of faith (Eph. 2:11-22).

In Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, he sought to unify a diverse community of Jewish and Gentile believers into one integrated body when he wrote:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, (Eph. 2:11-14,19, ESV).

All of the above points to a primary reason why our church plant (Christ Community Church in South Florida) ‘went back for the future,’ in intentionally and strategically becoming a ‘Family-Integrated Church,’ which has identified and grown over the past two decades into a reformation movement aimed at reintegrating the local church, by foregoing children’s and youth segregated services and programs.

Macro Church Integration and the Sufficiency of Scripture

FIC’s strive to unify parents and their children in worship and fellowship, as noted historically by the pattern and practices of congregational integration in worship in both Israel (Deut. 29:10-13; Jos. 8:35) and the early church.

To paraphrase Scott Brown, a church elder and Director of the NCFIC (National Center for Family-Integrated Churches) and his provocative book, A Weed in the Church, If one only had a Bible in hand rather than a typical, contemporary church-growth manual (e.g. Purpose-Driven Church), we would find that both God’s chosen nation and redeemed people- the true church, understood that parents are called to be the primary disciplers of their children and families, as God intended (Gen. 18:19; Deut. 6:6-9; Psa. 78; Pro. 1:8-9, 2:1-5; Eph. 6:1-4; Col. 3:20-21).

Therefore, it seems logical that the biblically directed local church would encourage and support, rather than usurp that parental responsibility and authority no matter how noble the latter intention might be.

In summary, my educated ‘guess,’ is that the scriptures and the historic and orthodox understanding of what church is, would not justify the ‘micro’-movements idea of ‘poetry’ groups, ‘yoga’ groups and according to the CT report, the “group that reaches out to hikers on the Appalachian Trail” as fairly representing the local body that Jesus and Paul had in mind.

It is indeed ironic that while today’s secular culture stresses social integration as almost the greatest good, contemporary Christianity continues to seek new ways in which to segregate its local communities of faith to meet the needs of the one, as opposed to the greater good of its many.

Well, as Scott Brown implies in his book, one cannot begin to pull out the bad weeds, without first diagnosing the weed problem itself.  May Christian church leadership be bold and discerning enough tomorrow, to know a bad weed when it sees one.

Kanye and Crist- the Dangers of Christian Celebrity

Image result for kanye west and john crist in same picture
Bernie Diaz, December 3, 2019

Is it possible to go in one fell swoop from singing, “I Am a God’ to ‘Jesus Is King?”

No other story of Christian celebrity status has so gripped conversations, chat rooms, social media and the blogosphere in evangelicalism in recent memory, than the “conversion” or professed faith in Christ of Pop and hip-hop music star Kanye West.

No stranger to unpredictability, celebrity and controversy over the last 20 years, in part due to his marriage to reality TV show diva, Kim Kardashian, West says he’s become a born-again Christian. His concerts have been a series of gospel-infused “Sunday Services” over the past year with and without accompanying preachers and his new and already blockbuster selling album is titled Jesus Is King.

What is a Christian to make of Kanye’s spiritual journey? Is this latest turn for him legitimate or a marketing scheme? Or is Kanye an exhausted soul authentically desperate to find a savior beyond himself?   

Questions such as these are difficult to answer without some equivocation, for at least two reasons: one, the list of professing believers from the sports, pop-music, movie and television world who have made “shipwreck of their faith” (i.e. Justin Bieber and John Crist) is too long to mention. Second, West’s life, as one of his biographers has observed, exemplifies the “cross pressures” of living in a secular age, where some celebrities are “buffered” from transcendence and yet perpetually haunted by it.

Kanye West has seen, experienced and reveled in the best of what this world or secular age has to offer: popularity, power and prosperity. All his studio albums have gone platinum. He’s created a high-end fashion line. Aside from his marriage to American entertainment royalty (Kardashian), Kanye hasn’t shied away from boasting in his worldly success. His 2013 album Yeezus featured the track called “I Am a God.”

In spite of his self-proclaimed “god” status, however, Kanye struggled to find peace. His Yeezus follow up, The Life of Pablo (2016), opened with a track, “Ultralight Beam,” where he states: “But I’m looking for more / Somewhere to feel safe, and end my holy war.” Has that happened at last for Kanye West by virtue of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ? Has Mr. West submitted to the king that rules over his life and everyone else’s?

The Journey from Yeezus to Jesus

The Kanye West traveling show of Sunday ‘worship’ services, has featured everything from a somewhat traditional gospel choir and message, to part hip-hop concert with full production numbers. Most of the reviews and feedback from even secular media has been positive, affirming that West’s gospel talk, album and intentions seem genuine enough.

A Fox TV News reporter who covered one of the Sunday services in Los Angeles wrote “ This Kanye West Sunday Service couldn’t have been more different than what I was used to as a priest living near the Vatican for nine years, or even than the early morning mass I attended earlier that day just a few miles from The Forum.

While I won’t be exchanging my Catholic faith for West’s experiment, I left Los Angeles with these takeaways:

I believe Kanye is sincere both in his faith and in this effort to spread the Gospel

— Based on the many interviews I did with congregants, before and after the event, I believe these Sunday services will serve to bring young people to an encounter with God. These Sunday Services by West, …. may serve as a providential spiritual catalyst for the more than 25 percent of Americans who say they are unaffiliated with any religion.

— Kanye deserves immense credit for being fearless in the face of massive criticism from the entertainment world and others for doing what he is doing.  He says and does what he believes even when this goes against the liberal beliefs of most people in his world.

Never having been politically correct, as per some of his public comments from his past and public support of President Trump, West is weary of evangelical skepticism of his profession of faith, as he raps on “Hands On”: Said I’m finna do a Gospel album / ‘What have you been hearing from the Christians?’ / They’ll be the first ones to judge me, make it feel like nobody love me.”

Does he have a point? Indeed, the tax collector of Luke 18 and the apostle Paul’s Damascus Road conversion (Acts 9), give evidence of dramatic and seemingly sudden instances of true, Christian saving faith and life transformation from scripture. This is one reason why disciples of Christ must be hesitant to let their skepticism become cynicism as to discerning his spiritual status.

West though he may be a regenerate believer already has and may continue over time to give skeptics some reasons to doubt however. Named one of the world’s wealthiest hip-hop artists by Forbes magazine, with the publication estimating his net worth at $240 million, West, wanted readers to know he’s not a millionaire — he’s a billionaire. The rapper floated the idea of legally changing his name to “Christian Genius Billionaire Kanye West,” for those that didn’t already know it.

“When people say it’s crass to call yourself a billionaire, I say I might legally change my name to ‘Christian Genius Billionaire Kanye West’ for a year until y’all understand exactly what it is… It will be on the license plate,” West said in another article.

Some have remarked that should West stick with the name change, we could be seeing “Christian Genius Billionaire Kanye West” on the 2024 presidential ballot. The Chicago native also addressed that prospect during the Fast Company online talk he recently gave. “When I run for president in 2024 —” he started, before laughter from the audience interrupted him. “What y’all laughing at? We would create so many jobs!”

Celebrity status and possible pride- buoyed by millions, do not usually make for the best of biblical evangelists and Christian spokesmen. West’s endorsement of and comments regarding health and wealth at Joel Osteen’s side at Lakewood church in Houston, Texas recently, certainly caused pause for concern among biblically conservative Christians.

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”

The Bible gives more than ample warning about the consequences and dangers of celebrity and pride (Pro. 16:18, 8:13, 11:2, 17:19, 18:12); “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, ESV).

Image result for kanye west and john crist in same picture

Christian comedian John Crist’s revelation last month of sexual harassment and manipulation accusations coming against him, and his confession to engaging in what he terms as reckless behavior that “violated [his] own Christian beliefs, convictions and values”, give credence to the warning of the falls from grace which befall many celebrities who profess Christ.

As church analyst and author Ed Stetzer wrote in the aftermath of the Crist story, “Apparently, there is no end to the public failures of Christian leaders and influencers.”

Whether they be mega-church and/or best-selling authors and pastors, or pop singers, actors, jocks or comedians, run of the mil believers in Christ must sometimes expect the worse and hope and pray for the best, when listening to the salvation testimonies of such influencers with close examination of their lifestyles.

Crist’s self-admitted past of sin and temptation in a life spent on the road as an entertainer, didn’t help his sanctification. C.S. Lewis’ masterful piece of satire, The Screwtape Letters, features a senior demon Screwtape, who teaches his apprentice and nephew Wormwood, how to use Christians to lead people away from God. In it, Screwtape writes,

It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

May Kanye West, be aware of the signposts that signal danger, which John Crist among so many others seem to have missed.

As for Christians who don’t know whether or not to call Kanye West a brother yet in Christ, be prayerful and hopeful, carrying a biblically sound skepticism or ‘wait and see’ attitude as we would with any new, professing believer in Christ- particularly one who is routinely idolized. A true gospel believing faith, bearing fruit with enduring fortitude during trials, are the best biblical signposts we have for examining and affirming saving faith in Christ.  

Although celebrities like Kanye West, face an extra measure of temptation due to the adulation they receive, the same tragedies that beset them can also happen every day in the lives of “ordinary” people like you and me.   

Thanksgiving Thoughts on the Church

Bernie Diaz, November 26, 2019

This would usually be the time for the obligatory post during Thanksgiving week, where I – a disciple of Jesus, would give thanks for my salvation in Christ, for my family and the gospel’s work there, for my relatively good health and freedom to still worship and practice our faith as we do in this country, which was founded upon a gospel mission of Puritan influenced Pilgrims, four centuries ago. I do thank God for that.

What may be of some surprise due to the bad wrap that the church gets, is that I am giving thanks here as a church member and Pastor, to God for his glorious New Testament institution, built by and upon the cornerstone of the Christian faith itself, Jesus Christ.

I’m most always amused and fascinated when I hear comments from professing Christians like, “I am into Jesus, but not the church.” Or, when we get the supposed ‘stump the pastor’ question, “Do I have to belong to a church to become and remain a Christian?”

Interestingly enough, many Christians as well as observers of the faith are surprised to find that Christianity is inextricably linked to the local church. In fact, the local church congregation is the New Covenant’s expression of Christianity. The Christian or believer in Christ and the local church together, are linked like hand in glove in the only institution left that Jesus is still in the midst of building (Matt. 16:18), has married (Eph. 5:23-27,32) and is anxiously awaiting to celebrate his wedding reception with (Rev. 19:6-10).

Christ loved, lived and died- literally shed his blood for his church (Acts  20:28; Ro. 3:25; 5:10; Rev. 5:9-10), and yet too many Christians fail to join their Lord and Savior in his love for her as well, much less likely to give thanks for her.

I should add that I am not without sympathy for those who have been jaded by prior church hurts and disappointments. God’s people, which is the church- not its buildings and budgets, are made up of errant and fallible human beings who are spiritually sick patients entering into and at times infecting other sick patients, in what are local, spiritual hospitals.    

As a ‘Doctor’ in one of those hospitals, I know what that looks and feels like.

Nonetheless, as described in action by the Acts of the Apostles and elaborated upon in the epistles or letters of the New Testament, the local church is a family and community of faith worth thanking God for. Here on the eve of our national Thanksgiving holiday, I give five of what could be a myriad of reasons I’m thankful for the church…

  1. For the Universal Church

Consisting of all the redeemed in the history of the world – from all peoples, times and places, the church universal is often called the “invisible church,” because we ultimately aren’t able to know who or how many comprise it.

Yet as we know from scripture, it is a powerful and heartening fact to understand that Christians have family all around us – here and abroad, brothers and sisters in the faith everywhere from Hialeah to Haiti and beyond. We are connected in close, Konia fellowship, by Jesus which was brought home to me so clearly by our church’s mission trip to Cuba last week.

It was there that I was once again surrounded by a church that has loved and welcomed (Ro. 15:1-7) our church and its ministry for the past few years, in an almost indescribable way, exhibiting an inspiring, soul-satisfying and Spirit-filled mission and heart that could only be manifest as it is, in a nation which offers and possesses so little materially.

Your church and mine may sing, All I have is Christ, where the church that we ministered alongside there, outside of Havana, Cuba, actually lives that song, in total dependence on the author and finisher of their faith.

2. For Real Worship

If I want to be entertained and have my ears tickled by clever and self-centered talk and performance, I can stay home and worship the world and my ‘king-mattress’, sing, ‘Lord I Lift My Name on High’ and never grace the doors of, much less commit to the fellowship of a local church.

However, I’m thankful, that I can be part of a God-glorifying and biblically-saturated church, pictured in some contemporary and contextualized ways from the early pages of Acts (Acts 2:42-47), where we see the picture of a worshipping church. Centered around the Word of God, we are a congregation of people responding to God in a life that reverberates with the rhythm of worship (Ro. 12:1-2), rather than a mere rhythm of catchy tunes.

I’m thankful that my church gathers to worship the sovereign God who spoke the universe into existence from nothing and rescued his people through the blood of Christ, that leads us to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with our hearts, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:19-20).” 

3. For Spiritual Growth

The apostle Paul explains the calling of the church is to live holy and God exalting lives (1 Thess. 3:12-4:12). That command requires the church to labor together in an effort to sharpen one another (Pro. 27:17) and to hold one another accountable, from among a bevy of relational “one anothers” we are to do, which help Christians to be more Christlike as they mature and multiply more Christ-followers (2 Tim. 2:2). I’m thankful for that.

4. For Christ-Centered Fellowship and Friendship

As time has passed through more than a quarter-century of walking with Jesus, I find that my closest friends are and will always be Christians, because we think alike – assuming we’re biblical, we have the same someone in common that we adore and obey, and we speak the same language. I’m thankful to God we share “one Lord, one faith and one baptism.” We are ‘equally yoked’ in life and ministry.

Christians are not called to be ‘Lone Rangers,’ but thrive on meeting together to love, serve, encourage and exhort one-another to good-works (Heb. 10:24-25). Church is a family that Jesus taught and modeled to prioritize even above our own blood family, when push comes to shove, or when that later family comes into conflict with our faith in Christ and the practice of it (Matt. 12:46-50; Lu. 14:26).

5. For Local Shepherding

I’m thankful and glad as the founding pastor of a local church plant, that I am part of a polity- a plurality of church elder-pastors, that help me carry the load of pastoral ministry, of teaching the word of God, of doing soul-care in a way that complements one another’s strengths and weaknesses and protects the flock against authoritarianism in the church, providing an example to the church of love, cooperation, and unity.

The Bottom Line

When Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, he didn’t say, “Why are you persecuting my church?” He said, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Jesus so identified with his church that an attack on his people was an attack on him.

Could Jesus be saying to the unchurched, not only, “Why are you avoiding my church?” but also, “Why are you avoiding me?”

It would be biblical and right to say, the church is not an option for some Christians, it’s a mandate for all Christians. To be a true, born-again Christian necessarily involves participation in the local church. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Nobody can do as much damage to the church of God as the man who is within its walls, but not within its life.”

That said, my desire is to show in this post why I’m grateful for the church of Jesus Christ- not to legalistically coerce anyone to fellowship in one. If church fellowship does not come from a heart-felt commitment, then heart-felt thanks for it will never follow.

Rather, I hope and pray the Lord will awaken those missing out on church and its blessings- warts and all, to long for a richer relationship with him as experienced through a vibrant connection with his body.

The local church was founded by God for the purposes of God and the glory of God. Our task is not to define it according to our own desires or to custom-make our own, or shop and date local churches until you find the perfect one for you.

We should learn how God defines his church, find out why Christ loves it the way he does, then follow him in obedience to it. If you are committed today to a church whose leaders feed and lead you from the Bible and is grounded and fixated upon the exaltation of Christ, be thankful this week and every week for it.

Get connected to the church, serve in it, make a difference and be part of Jesus’s building plan which will be finished soon and enjoyed forever with him in paradise.