Christians Doing the Harlem Shake

The Harlem Shake, a thirty-second dancing video, has become an internet sensation. In the past four weeks, at least 40,000 groups have posted their own version of the video. This internet meme has been covered heavily by the media, has resulted in 15 miners losing their jobs for safety violations, and has even launched an FAA investigation for a video shot on a commercial airliner. I wondered how many churches and christian organizations have done Harlem Shake videos, so I did a quick YouTube search.

As you might expect, you can find hundreds of Christian groups doing the Harlem Shake. By my rough estimation, there are somewhere between 600 and a thousand “Christian” versions of the Harlem Shake on YouTube. Even conservative Christian colleges such as Cedarville and Liberty have student groups posting Harlem Shake videos. The vast majority of “Christian” Harlem Shake videos appear to be coming from church youth groups. Here’s Saddleback’s video:

Before I say some not-so-nice things, I will admit that the line between being in the world and being of the world is not always clear and often leaves some room for debate. Furthermore, churches that isolate themselves from their surrounding cultures risk losing opportunities to evangelize and developing pride problems.

That said. Every Christian who has posted a Harlem Shake video should repent, ask God for forgiveness, and delete their post. Every youth pastor who has led their youth group to produce one of these videos should receive a public reprimand at the very least. Any pastor or church member who finds another church member posting one of these videos should initiate the process of church discipline beginning with a private confrontation.

What is wrong with American Christianity that we can’t bring ourselves to call a vulgar dance sinful? Sure, it’s popular and fun. Since when has sin been boring and unappealing?


180-Degree Reactions

no u turnChristians tend to over-correct for the sin of their cultures. When confronted with error, Christians often counter with a 180-degree response. Entire entertainment media are labeled sinful. Liberal social agendas are condemned in whole. Fields such as science, psychology, and even sometimes medicine are rejected as having no value for the Christian. Truth becomes defined as the opposite of error.

Unfortunately, sin rarely appears in it purest form. The most dangerous errors are those which contain large amounts of truth. Christians who take stands in reaction to error often embrace error in the process. Ron Horton put it this way,

“Responses to error can go awry because of counterrelational thinking. The earnest Christian, intent on taking a stand against a dangerous belief or practice, stakes out his position directly opposite the error, forgetting that error is not always 180 degrees from the truth. Error may lie 90 degrees off the truth or even be sitting on truth’s borders. If truth, let us say, is north by the compass, error is not always due south. Error may be east or west, even northwest, and even in not so rare instances northnorthwest. Instead of forming his position directly from Scripture, the zealous contender takes his bearings from the error, distorting the position he means to defend” (“A Balanced Response to Error,” Voice of the Alumni 77.5 [2004]:6).

Horton concludes, “To be aligned with truth, our positions…must be formed naturally from Scripture, not counterrelationally to the error we mean to combat” (7). Christians must take positive stands for the Bible’s teaching, not reactionary stands against the world.

Only Enough Grace for Today

Sunrise over rocksGod promises, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” ( 2 Cor 12:9). God will give you all the grace you need for today. However, Jesus also told his disciples, “Do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt 6:34).

God will give you all the grace you need to do what must be done today. The weaker you become, the more God will increase your grace. We can have Paul’s confidence that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

When we are weak, however, we still feel weak. Our problems stretch on throughout the foreseeable future with no end in sight. We must remember that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:22-23), but we only have enough for today. Don’t worry about tomorrow; you have enough to do today. Trust God even when you’re falling apart, and your spirit will be renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16).

MACP Audio Now Online

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary has now made the audio of this year’s Mid-America Conference on Preaching available for free download.

The conference theme for this year was “The Mystery of Christ: God’s Glory among the Gentiles.” The online resources include MP3 audio files of all general sessions and workshops, along with PDF files of all workshop notes. Presentations cover two primary areas: (1) Dispensational-Theological Issues; and (2) Preaching-Church Ministry Issues. Digital resources from previous conferences are also available online.

Free Jerry Bridges E-Book

Amazon is giving away free downloads of Jerry Bridges’ new book, True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia (NavPress 2012). The free download is a kindle edition, but you can read it on your PC or tablet with amazon’s free software. Here’s what the back cover has to say:

Fellowship among believers is more than just talking over coffee after church service. Biblical fellowship in New Testament times—or koinonia—had rich and varied meanings, including covenant relationship, partnership in the gospel, communion with God and others, and the sharing of earthly possessions.

In True Community, best-selling author Jerry Bridges (The Pursuit of Holiness, Respectable Sins, Trusting God) explores koinonia and the practical implications it has for today’s church. With discussion questions at the end of each chapter, this book will help you dig deeper into what Christian community in the twenty-first century should look like. You will come away with a new appreciation for fellowship, the church, and what God intended the body of Christ to be.

I haven’t read my copy yet, but I expect it to be an interesting and edifying read. Get yours while it’s free.


Free Martin Luther Audiobook

In honor of Reformation Day, Christian Audio is giving away free downloads of Martin Luther: In His Own Words. This free offer will be available until October 31st.

The audio book is a short (2.75 hrs) collection of Martin Luther’s writings. Included are some of his most significant works such as the Small Catechism, 95 Theses, On Faith and Coming to Christ, On Confession and the Lord’s Supper, Of the Office of Preaching, Excerpt from Luther’s Tower Experience, and the Last Written Words of Luther.

If you have never read these works, it would be well worth your time to pick up this free download and listen to it in your car this week. Perhaps it will give you an occasion to start an evangelistic conversation on this year’s Reformation Day, October 31st.

The Forgery of Jesus’s Wife?

It’s looking more and more like the so-called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is a forgery. Andrew Bernhard has discovered what appears to be evidence of a forger accidentally perpetuating a typo that first originated in an online edition of the Gospel of Thomas. His preliminary report is available at his website. More details are available here.

Even if the document isn’t a forgery, it is still wrought with problems. However, with so many key words like Mary, wife, and disciple all in an area smaller than a business card, the find does seem a little too good to be true for those trying to find evidence that Jesus was married. It seems that the scholarly community will soon reject it as a fraud.

Should Churches Pay Taxes?

The Inspiring Body of Christ Church in Dallas, TX, operates the world’s largest privately-owned aquarium. The tank, which cost $4.7 million to build, is stocked with over $100,000 worth of exotic fish. Also in Dallas (perhaps everything just really is bigger in Texas), First Baptist Church announced a $130 million renovation plan in 2009 for their downtown campus. Of course, they’re not alone. American churches generally spend a huge percentage of their budgets on buildings.

I’m not against church buildings. Churches can often minister more effectively with a nice campus. However, lavish building programs can also be counterproductive sometimes. I’ve been told by several pastors that their churches were cutting back on missions because they bit off more than they could chew in a building program.

Whenever a church spends a lot of money on its building, inevitably somebody starts complaining about churches not paying taxes. The argument goes, “Since churches have enough money to build something like that, they ought to have enough money to pay taxes.” One group of researchers recently estimated that the U.S. could raise $71 billion a year by taxing churches.

This argument is generally a thin cover for an anti-Christian rant. Those arguing that churches should pay taxes aren’t willing to see all non-profit organizations pay taxes. You want to build a $4.7 million aquarium for the community? Great, here’s your 501c3. You want to spend a $130 million on an educational center? Wonderful, don’t worry about taxes. You want to put them in a church? Better pay Uncle Sam your fair share.

If we are going to have freedom of religion in this country, we have to be willing to let churches spend money on whatever they want–even if we think their choices to be wasteful. Should we start making churches pay taxes? I’m actually fine with that…just as long as every other nonprofit organization is taxed on an equal basis.

Mid-America Conference on Preaching

This year’s Mid-America Conference on Preaching (MACP) will be held on October 18-19, 2012, at InterCity Baptist Church in Allen Park, MI. The theme will be “The Mystery of Christ: God’s Glory among the Gentiles.”

Can’t make it up to Detroit this year? The audio will be posted for free shortly after the conference ends. If you want to check out the audio from previous years, the past nine years are available for free at the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary website.

Should Christians Profit from Sin

Here are three ethical scenarios. Each assumes that the person making the decision is a Christian and understands pornography to be sinful.

Scenario 1

You buy a foreclosed storage unit at auction, the rules of which prevented you from opening any boxes prior to purchasing the unit. While cleaning out the locker you bought, you discover a box full of pornography. You set the box aside along with several other items you plan to haul to the dump. Before you have the opportunity to throw anything away, a middle-aged man walks up to you and offers you $100 for the box of pornography. Do you sell it to him?

Scenario 2

You invest heavily in the stock market. The pornographic industry is having a very good year, and you could profit greatly by buying stock in Playboy Magazine. Ethical considerations aside, Playboy would unquestionably be your best investment option. Do you buy the stock?

Scenario 3

Your retirement savings are invested in mutual funds. This means a very tiny percentage of your holdings include stock in companies like Phillip Morris, Budweiser, and Playboy Magazine. You could opt for a specialty mutual fund that avoids morally objectionable companies, but your rate of return would be considerably less. Do you leave your investment where it is?

My Answers

The Christian in the first scenario should throw away the porn. Selling it would promote sin, and would make you a party to that sin. While it would be nice to have $100, it would be much worse to dishonor God.

The Christian in the second scenario should not buy the stock in Playboy Magazine. As with the first scenario, buying part of such a company would promote sin and make the buyer a party to that sin. While the stock would otherwise be a good investment, pleasing God should be a higher priority.

The Christian in the third scenario should leave his or her investment where it is even though that mutual fund invests a small percentage of its holdings in objectionable companies. The key difference in this case is that there is no direct promotion or involvement in sin. Christians will never be completely able to avoid interaction with the sinful elements of their societies. However, they should avoid directly and deliberately profiting from sin.

Let’s go back to the first example. Say you bought the storage unit and found the porn. However, when the man walked up to you—rather than offering to buy the porn—the man offered to buy the entire unit from you for considerably more than you paid for it. Could you profit from the entire unit even though you knew one of the boxes contained porn? I would assume the man was not buying the unit for the porn and would sell it without overburdening my conscience (1 Cor 10:27)

Of course, the situations would be totally different if most of the boxes were filled with porn or the mutual fund in question specialized in objectionable stocks. However, while Christians must not be of the world, they are to live in the world. Sometimes this means they will indirectly profit from the sinfulness of their societies, but if Christians are to be not of the world, they should neither directly nor deliberately profit from sin.