Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Misleading Hope : A Critique of Reuters' Theology of Prayer

I have received a forwarded email today. It contains an article of Fr.James Reuters with a specific plea. This entry is my personal response to that article. You are free to disagree.


Reuters Words in this format.

My Response in this format.

My Quotes in this format.

by Father James Reuter, S.J.

The signs are clear. Our nation is headed towards an irreversible path of economic decline and moral decadence. It is not for lack of effort.

We can label the above description as: The Second Law of Thermodynamics. To understand this law better, here's a definition of it.

Second Law of Thermodynamics
Heat can never pass spontaneously from a colder to a hotter body. As a result of this fact, natural processes that involve energy transfer must have one direction, and all natural processes are irreversible. This law also predicts that the entropy of an isolated system always increases with time. Entropy is the measure of the disorder or randomness of energy and matter in a system. Because of the second law of thermodynamics both energy and matter in the Universe are becoming less useful as time goes on. Perfect order in the Universe occurred the instance after the Big Bang when energy and matter and all of the forces of the Universe were unified.[1]

In layman's terms, this universe is spiraling down to destruction. I believe that this law is applicable not only to the physical realm but even to intangible realms like morality. The Apostle Paul described this tendency of men for the worse in his letter to the Romans chapter 1. Peter even declared to the churches that

But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.[2]

He understood the temporality of this world. The question "what will happen to the ungodly?" that we raise today might have been raised in the first century. Peter responded,

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.[3]

The circumstances that we experience at present is normal and is to be expected. This however, does not mean that we resort to apathy. What it does mean is that a Christian who knows his Lord and reads his Bible can recognize the signs of the times.

We've seen many men and women of integrity in and out of government,NGOs, church groups & people's organization devote themselves to the task of nation-building, often times against insurmountable odds. But not even two people's revolutions,bloodless as they may be, have made a dent in reversing this trend. At best, we have moved one step forward, but three steps backward.

Another precise description of the situation here.

We need a force far greater than our collective efforts, as a people, can ever hope to muster. It is time to move the battle to the spiritual realm.

Here is where we can find agreement. The physical efforts we exert are just not enough. The battle is beyond what we see and feel.

It's time to claim GOD's promise of healing of the land for His people.

Here is where we start to part ways. Reuter has a different assumption on Who God is and What he does; albeit a confused one. We who are familiar with our Scripture know that he is alluding to 2 Chronicles 7:14. Reuter is quick to equate several contemporary things with that verse without qualifying the equivalence he put up.

First he equated the ancient Israelites (i.e., God's people) with today's God's people as if there's no problem with that. His argument is that since the promise is to God's people, then it must follow that today's God's people can claim that same promise. But who are God's people?

Reuter did not elaborate on the composition of God's people. Being a Catholic himself, I believe he means Catholics all over the world. I am not sure if he includes evangelicals or muslims to that category. Born-again Christians would raise protests regarding this categorization. God's people for today is the Church (not the Catholic Church) composed of regenerate believers around the world.

Second, he equated "the Land" (i.e., Israel) with "our nation" (the Philippines). This is quite a stretch. This same argument is used by the Iglesia ni Cristo to prove that the sugo will come from the Philippines.

If we take that text out of its context, then we can do with it whatever we want.

Reuter needs to be careful in his exegesis of the text.

It's time to gather GOD's people on its knees to pray for the economic recovery and moral reformation of our nation.

This is a noble deed, i.e., praying for economic recovery and moral reformation. However, is it really our number one obligation as God's people? Or is it tangential to the mandate of the church? I am not advocating the neglect of such. Jesus was also concerned with the physical state of the people he was ministering to. He ministered to the people of his time holistically. The apostle James spoke in practical terms when he encouraged believers to practice the right kind of religion. So there is nothing wrong about this. However, we need to always remember our commission from the Lord Jesus

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."[4]

Is prayer really the answer?

We can turn around and ask the question "Answer to what?" From the context of this article, Reuter is positing that prayer is the answer towards economic and moral recovery. If we think that God's hand would move this nation towards greatness because we prayed, then we have to stop and think about its implications.In the following sections, he would show several "proofs" of this theology.

Before you dismiss this as just another rambling of a religious fanatic, I'd like you to consider some lessons we can glean from history.

England's ascendancy to world power was preceded by the Reformation, a spiritual revival fuelled by intense prayers. The early American settlers built the foundation that would make it the most powerful nation today - a strong faith in GOD and a disciplined prayer life. Throughout its history, and especially at its major turning points, waves of revival and prayer movement swept across the land.

In recent times, we see Korea as a nation experiencing revival and in the process producing the largest Christian church in the world today, led by Rev. Paul Yongi Cho. No wonder it has emerged as a strong nation when other economies around it are faltering.

These proofs are to be expected. Although we can agree with Reuter about the historicity of the events, we cannot fully agree with his interpretation of it. Reuter equates God's answer to prayer the ascendancy of England to world [political] power and the United States' being the most [politically] powerful nation in the world today. Then in the case of Korea, the revival (whatever the area, he did not mention) brought about economic prosperity. Again, there is nothing wrong for a nation to seek economic revival. But the church seeking prosperity is a questionable one.

If we again examine Reuter's examples, we will wonder about the spiritual condition of the two world powers right now. Let us just take England for example.

Many of the churches in England are closing their doors. This is due primarily to the fact that fewer people are attending church each year. According to a recent survey, only about 7% of the population of the UK attend church on a given Sunday. Pictured below is what is left of a church in the city of Birmingham. It is now abandoned and boarded up. The picture below this one shows the "Danger Keep Out" sign that is placed on the church. Right next door is a fairly new Sikh Gurdwara (temple) that continues to attract people.[5]

Even from a purely secular viewpoint, it makes a lot of sense. For here there is genuine humbling & seeking of GOD through prayer, moral reformation necessarily follows. And this, in turn, will lead to general prosperity.

The logic is flowing that there seem to be no seams joining them. And that is,

  1. Genuine humbling and seeking in prayer results in,

  2. Moral reformation which in turn will lead to,

  3. General prosperity.

I don't disagree with number one and two. I have a problem with number three. Reuter is bold enough to use the words "will lead to ..." as if it is always the case. In my entire Christian life, I have practiced both number one and two. I have yet to experience number three. Yes I am blessed immensely by the Lord. But I am not that prosperous as Reuter defines prosperity.

We need to be careful with this kind of thinking that Reuter espouses and is trying to promote.

I was just wondering why the Lord Jesus missed this item when he prayed for the saints in John 17. And I think, you should be, too.

YES, we believe prayer can make a difference.

Prayer to the Father by the true believers in Christ, who does the will of the Father, done through the Spirit, in Jesus' name MAKES the difference. Reuter is dangerously assuming that all people, especially Filipinos who would receive his email-article, are Catholics just like himself.

I don't think that it will be an exaggeration if we quote the apostle Paul at this juncture

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?[6]

It's our only hope.

Hope to Economic prosperity I presume. Christians have a different hope.

Today, we launch this email brigade, to inform Filipinos from all over the world to pray, as a people, for the economic recovery and moral reformation of our nation. We do not ask for much.

Here goes Reuter's appeal.

We only ask for 5 minutes of your time in a day, to foward this email to your close friends and relatives.

I thought he was to ask 5 minutes of prayer from each one. He is asking that you sit for 5 minutes in front of a computer and start forwarding his article to close friends and relatives. Reuter here sounds like one big Spammer to me.

This is the kind of unity which can make a big difference. Of course, if you feel strongly, as I do, about the power of prayer, you can be more involved by starting your own prayer group or prayer center.

We have tried people power twice; in both cases, it fell short. Maybe it's time to try prayer power. GOD never fails. Is there hope? YES! We can rely on GOD's promise, but we have to do our part. If we humble ourselves and pray as a people, GOD will heal our land.

See discussion above about Reuter's mishandling of the Biblical Text.

By GOD's grace,we may yet see a better future for our children. GOD bless and GOD save our country (from stupid and corrupt politicians)!

Reuter has just exposed the kind of salvation that he is hoping for.

[1] http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/6e.html
[2] 2 Peter 3:7 NASB
[3] 2 Peter 3: NASB
[4] Matthew 28:19-20 NASB
[5] http://www.peopleteams.org/englandnow/birmingham.htm
[6] 2 Corinthians 6:14-16

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Silent Invasion?

I was in SM Baguio last Sunday when my eyes were drawn to a headline in a magazine:
Korean Exodus
and the subtitle that reads:
Are we ready for them?

I stopped and pondered on that for a while. I asked myself 'Are we' ?

On Saturday last week, my friends and I were discussing about the sudden influx of Korean nationals to the Philippines -- especially in Baguio. We were in a Swimming Resort that day. At about 9AM, a large group of Koreans came and invaded the place. Well, not really... :) That arrival triggered our discussion. According to one, there are about 5,000 Korean nationals in Baguio City. THAT is a big chunk of the local residents. We are not talking about tourists here. These are people who have settled down for good.

As to why they have settled here leads us to just speculations. No one has ever dared to directly asked them to date. One of these speculations is that many of the Koreans here live very luxuriously. The exchange rate is unbelievably on their side. A Korean with an average income in their country would be a millionare here already. Imagine a US$5,000 monthly income. With that large sum of money, they can do a lot of things in the Philippines -- including the establishment of several businesses.

The revolutionist and activist in me started to revolt about the idea of having them here as capitalists. What would happen then to local entrepreneurs? I know of someone who has established a school using a Filipina as a dummy owner. Is it not revolting? Again I know of someone who established an English Tutorial (who by the way stole materials to teach) as a competitor against the locals. THAT is injustice isn't it?

However, the dollar they bring is a boost to economy. We need to strengthen our dollar reserves if we want to be a competitor in the world economy. With these Koreans choosing the Philippines as a place to invest their money, it is not surprising for the government to accept them with open arms -- sadly to the detriment of local financiers.

As a Christian (and as a Pastor at that), how should I respond to this? I believe we should turn to the Bible for answers. I have found two verses that directly answers the question that we are positing.

33 "'When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. 34 The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:33-34

29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." Mark 12:29-31

The first one is from the Old Testament, taken straight from the "Torah" or Book of the Law. The God of Israel instructs his people to be compassionate as himself. A rough search on the word 'alien' in the Old Testament will take you to passages where the alien is cared for.

The second verse is from the Lord Jesus himself. He was asked, 'of all the laws and commandments which is the greatest?' Again, the focal point of the verse is how we treat others (and that includes aliens living among us).

Both verses speak of the principle of loving others as we love ourselves. This is the higher virtue that Christians must live up to. We must act as the God we serve acts. If he cares for these aliens, so do we. If the Lord Jesus himself cares for the aliens (e.g., the Canaanite woman at Matthew15:26), then we who call ourselves his disciples must care for them, too.

So I told myself, "They are welcome to come... as long as they don't break any law of this land. If that happens, then they have to pay for the consequences."

Monday, May 02, 2005

Stop. Look. Listen.

This paper was presented on April 30, 2005 at International Baptist Church. This is in response to Dr. Draper's book Biblical Authority: A Critical Issue for the Body of Christ.

Biblical Authority Paper

It happened several years ago when I went to Cavite to visit my girlfriend at that time (she's my wife now). I felt that her father has set me up. Her father knew that I was a born-again Christian and in seminary for theological training. At that time, he himself was a lay leader in their parish and very much active serving in the local Catholic church. He called me and Leth up to the sala and introduced me to his friend who also a lay leader in their parish. I shook his hand and sat down in one of the couches. He introduced himself and then asked things about myself. I never thought that our conversation will go anything spiritual. All the time, I was thinking that this is another social conversation between my future father-in-law at that time and his friend. Then it came without warning.

He began to ask about my belief.. it's a battery of questions. I felt like I'm in an interrogation room. I even saw my father in law smirk at the barrage of questions thrown at me that threw me off-balance. He attacked my evangelical stance of salvation by faith alone. I didn't understand his line of reasoning until later (very very much later). He was arguing that we cannot be saved by mere faith alone but also by grace. Now that to me is confusing. I was about to tell him that we have no reason to argue since that is my position too as an evangelical. I was thinking of Ephesians 2:8,9 to support that belief. If he claims that he believe that, too, then there's no reason to argue. Why argue when we have the same position? Or so I thought.

Then I realized that he is thinking more of grace as the "special favor bestowed upon a Catholic through the sacraments." Now there is where we part ways. There is really a disagreement. He believes that as a Catholic receives the sacraments (which we evangelicals translate as "work"), he then is gaining salvation. After that initial barrage of mixed questions and accusations ( I haven't spoken a word yet.. for he won't even allow me to), he paused and waited. I saw my future father-in-law smiling. It's the kind of smile that you have when you are about to checkmate your opponent in two moves. Or so they thought.

I took a few seconds to compose myself; to recover from the shock and think of a reply. Then I thought of drawing himself out. I have to find out where he is coming from. So I decided to just ask questions and let him do all the talking. I planned to use whatever he will say against him when my turn comes. So I asked him where he got this idea. He claimed that it is in the Bible. He even quoted it for me. He got the verse memorized.

"And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace." John 1:16 KJV
I excused myself to get my bible. I opened it and turned to that verse and read it silently to myself.

"From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another." John 1:16 NIV

Now we have different wordings of that same verse. I asked him what he makes out of it. He emphasized the words and grace for grace which means that we gain salvation by grace [through the sacraments]. The grace that we need for salvation is transmitted via the grace of the sacraments. Thus, grace for grace. I nearly fell off my chair as I listened to him.

Then very politely, I asked him permission to read it from my Bible; which he reluctantly gave. I read the verse from the New International Version. I saw his brows rise.

"No! No! That's wrong!" he shouted (literally shouted).

I asked him what's wrong. He pointed out that the words are wrong. It doesn't say what it's suppose to say. I politely asked him what it should say. He again quoted the verse (now I know that he's quoting the KJV) with the emphasis on grace for grace.

I again politely explained to him that what I am holding is also the Bible (take note: not a bible). It is the New International Version, I told him.

"Well, then that version is wrong!"

Again, I was glad that I held on to the armrest of the couch -- I could have fallen off by that strong statement. I felt nauseated. Here is a man claiming that the Bible I am holding is all wrong just because it didn't say what he was expecting it to say. I saw my fiancee flushing red in anger but I winked at her and communicated that she let me handle it. And so I ask him, "If this Bible is wrong, then who is right?"
"Me, of course!"
"But this version is translated by scholars," I said.
"Well, they're all wrong."
"So you are right and this Bible I am holding is wrong?"
"How about the Hebrew and Greek bible?"
"Well, they are right, of course."
"Oh, Okay." I thought, I don't have the Torah nor the Greek New Testament with me. And even if I have them, I don't know how to read them.

I politely excused myself and my fiancee. I told him that it was a good time with him and I enjoyed talking with him. I thanked him for his time and if he would not mind, I have to go and do something urgent. I can see the shock in his face. I was smiling when I did this. I can just imagine what's going through his mind. I think he was expecting a bloodshed that day. I think he was expecting me to put up a strong opposition and shout back. He has lashed accusations and strong words against me (and what I believe in) from beginning until a few seconds ago. And here am I not putting up a stand nor give any reply to his accusations. He was not able to do anything but to let me go. My future father-in-law was altogether surprised by my move. They wasn't expecting me to do that.

Back in the kitchen, I told my fiancee that there is no point in arguing with that lay leader because the problem is a very fundamental one. It involves more than just interpreting what the Bible says. It is determining which is more authoritative between the versions. Or worse, it involves proving that he has no match against the scholars who translated other versions of the Bible. And I since he only believes himself as correct, it will take reading the verse in the original language for him to concede.

That encounter is my first one when it comes to questioning the Bible. From there, I realized that our problem is not whether THE BIBLE IS TRUE AND AUTHORITATIVE for a believer; rather WHICH BIBLE?

Another event took place in Bolinao Pangasinan. I have met a man who does not believe that the Bible is God's Word. He insists that it is man-made. He believed that there is a God but the Bible is only man's craftmanship. I told him that I respect his view. But regardless of that, I asked him permission to conduct a bible study with him. I thought that he would me throw out of his yard when I said that. To my surprise, he agreed. I think it's because I have spent several days befriending him. He accepted me as a friend, not because he's interested in a Bible study. I told him that we will study the Bible and let the Bible speak for itself. After a week's study, that man realized and experienced the power of the gospel and got saved. He then conceded that the Bible must be the Word of God. I am not sure if this is a mystic experience or not. But I believe that as we study the Bible and learn about Christ, that man experienced something. I am glad that he was open in the first place. The BIBLE I used back then was a Tagalog Popular Version. Now is that BIBLE inspired and authoritative, too?

The most recent event was when there was a Catholic applicant in the seminary. He wanted to register in one of the courses offered. However, it is clearly stated in the policy that PBTS would only accept "born-again" Christians. However, the registrar believed that he did not land in PBTS by accident. God must be working in this young man's life. So she requested me if I can share the gospel with him before he leaves. I willingly complied. In the course of our discussion; he questioned the authority of the bible. He said that he cannot accept what I am saying as authoritative because the Bible is not God's word. God did not write the bible but just mere fallible men. That's why he said that the bible cannot have authority in his life. I said a quick arrow prayer for wisdom. After a while, I challenged him that if I can show him God wrote the Bible that he concede his position. He willingly agreed. I turned to Exodus 20ff. He never saw it coming. He gave the last lame defense that it was Moses who wrote it. I let him read the verse stating that the finger of God wrote down the Ten Commandments in two tablets of stone. He was silent for a long time. I felt that this man is not ready yet to concede so I just politely asked him if I can finish what I wanted to share with him. He said yes, but I am not sure if he fully grasped what I told him that day. Finally, I decided to let him off the hook. I told him that if he is not ready, I won't be offended. I gave him my contact information if he wanted for us to have a talk again.

These three events are the only incidents that I have encountered where the authority of the Bible is questioned. We can find that these three men have something in common -- all of them are unbelievers by the time they questioned the Bible's authority. I have yet to meet an evangelical that would question the Bible's authority. And those three men are not the norm. They are the exceptions. In places I have been to, I find people respectful and submissive to the Bible as God's Word. They don't question it. Even the Roman Catholics revere the Bible and wouldn't question its authority over their lives. Why is it?

Could it be that we Filipinos are religious? We believe that there's a Supreme Being out there, someone who is more powerful than us. We might see this by how we conduct our lives. We still see people going to church on Sunday and yes, even on other days. We see people carrying "religious items" on their bodies, in their cars, bags, etc. Maybe not all do this, but generally if you randomly ask a Filipino about his belief on a Supreme Being, he will answer on the positive. We can often hear people say May awa din ang Diyos. When we had kababayans held hostage in the Middle East, we saw people saying the rosaries or holding mass in various places. We have a general consciousness of God. We run to him when we are in crisis. We understand his supremacy.

Times might be changing but the relative religiosity of the people has stuck in there. That is why in all of my evangelistic home Bible studies, I don't have to re-emphasize the authority of the Bible. I don't have to defend its integrity, its reliability, its inerrancy, its infallibility. These are all taken for granted. It is given. A great majority of Filipino homes would still respect and recognize the Bible's authority. These are unbelievers. How much more in the believers' homes? Would they dare raise the issue of the Bible's authority?

What am I driving at?

Dr. Draper has written an excellent book. Personally, I appreciate the way he dealt with the topic. He wrote very clearly and as I told my wife, a layman would not have a hard time understanding the book. I appreciate how he took time to explain the technical terms in a very clear way. You don't need a formal seminary training and background in order to understand the book. It is highly readable. I would like to personally extend my gratefulness to the authors.

When I first heard that there will be a conference about Biblical Authority, my first question was: Why? Why would we ever need that? In as far as I can remember or know of, we Filipino Southern Baptist Churches (nor the Convention) are not facing that issue. I have not met a single SB Pastor that would question the Bible's authority (if there is someone here in this group you may meet me afterward and I will be glad to talk to you). And so I just thought that this would be a good conference in order to prepare us if that issue ever comes over here.

Then I got the chance to read the book. Dr. Draper is ranting against the trends mainly in the academic circle of the Southern Baptists in the United States. I can't even believe what I am reading. He claims that there are seminary professors teaching in Southern Baptist Seminaries who doesn't hold on to the historic position of the Southern Baptist regarding the authority of the scriptures. Now, I can understand where he is coming from. In page 125 of the book he summarized the issue of what the Southern Baptist Churches in the United States are facing:

In other words, it is not a question of interpretation, but its is a question of what the Bible is rather than what the Bible says. It is not literal versus figurative. It not that which we have versus that which we do not have. That is not the point. The point is whether or not we can trust the Bible.

I trust that Dr. Draper is correct in his assessment. However, that same issue may not be true across the Pacific. In my 15 plus years in the ministry, I haven't heard a Southern Baptist Pastor throw doubts on what the Bible is. I haven't met a baptist who seriously question the authority of the scripture. In my 7 years in the seminary as a student, I have never met a professor who has serious doubts over the Bible; at least I haven't met a professor like the ones Dr. Draper is describing. So if the situation in the U.S. is focused on whether we can trust the Bible or not, I personally don't think that it is the same here in the Philippines.

If the trustworthiness is not the issue here, then what is it? It is what Dr.Draper eliminated as the main issue in the above quotation. We struggle here as to what the Bible says. In short -- interpretation. The question we ask is "what does this mean to us?" "how can we apply this in our church life?" The question of whether the Bible is true or not is never asked at all. We never doubt the authority of the Bible -- it is given. Rather, we are interested on how we interpret it and consequently use the truth. This is where pastors differ. I have met several pastors with their different interpretation on a single passage. They affirm that the Bible is authoritative. Now, they are struggling as to which interpretation is authoritative. This, I see, is the main issue here in our churches.

How come I arrived at this conclusion?

It could be that rationalism has not reached the Philippines yet or I have not immersed myself in our churches enough.

Why "Stop. Look. Listen" is the title of this blog entry?
Much of our theology today has come from the West.There are instances that we forget we are on a different hemisphere. We apply anything from the West without critically examining its value for us. This can lead to tragedy and misunderstanding.
I am one of the Biblical Scholars who advocate critical contextualization for our churches. We have to be careful to examine materials coming from the West before we ingest it. Sure there are useable materials, but I believe it's in the minority. We have to do several major rewrites to make it applicable, edible, and nutritious to our eclessiological diet.