Thursday, May 12, 2016

How I'm Voting

I've pointed out before that no, your vote actually doesn't count; and I've also discussed why that upsets you so much for me to say so.

But, Russell Moore actually makes a powerful argument in a recent article published on Christianity Today, one which I highly recommend that you read (click here, then come back).  Moore's conclusion is that as Christians we have a duty to participate in the process, but also we cannot in good conscience support candidates who have "first-level" major morality stances which oppose Jesus' teachings.

As a result, he concludes that one should in those cases vote for write-in or third-party candidates. The primary argument people seem to have is that this makes your vote meaningless, but as I shared in my first post, mathematically it already is meaningless; you are fooling yourself if you think otherwise. So in that regard, Moore is right on track and I fully agree with his conclusions.

But as I've thought about it more and more, I think that his conclusions don't go far enough.

He spoke of the issues on a candidate-by-candidate basis: that is, what happens when I am faced with a choice between Candidate A and Candidate B, both of whom have major moral issues?

I think the issue is actually much bigger:  what happens when we are faced with Party A and Party B, both of whom have major moral issues?

Because make no mistake:  the person you vote for--whether they be Congress or for the Presidency--is simply one part of a large machine. Being elected President does not give you carte blanche to do what you want, and every President has always found himself needing the backing of his party plus the "swingable" members of the other party in order to get legislation passed. Likewise, Congressmen find themselves requiring significant financial and connection backing in order to win an election or do anything meaningful in Congress.

The fact is, we are playing a rigged system today--no matter what candidate for which you vote, the reality is that you are choosing Party A vs. Party B.

And that's fine...when one Party is more or less right. But on major moral issues, neither is right.

Major Moral Issues

Now, Christianity does not have (and never has had) a list of key political positions. I wrote extensively about a true pro-life position in the past (read here for entire series), as well as having written extensively about the Adamic and Noahic Covenants which apply to us as Gentiles (see here and here and here).

Based on these links, I will argue that the following are "non-negotiable" or "first level" Biblical worldviews of politics--the things that we as Christians cannot compromise on in the name of pragmatism, when casting our votes:

  • Christians should only support candidates who wish to conserve and preserve nature and care for and restore Creation
  • Christians should only support candidates who oppose murder in all its forms, including (but not limited to):  traditional murder; abortion; active euthanasia; most warfare; any war strategies which have high civilian casualties; and the death penalty for non-murder cases.
  • Christians should only support candidates who encourage religious liberty (for the basis of Christianity is freely choosing to follow Christ, with no compulsion)
  • Christians should only support candidates who are passionate about social justice, ensuring that all God's creatures are treated fairly. This is a consistent Scriptural theme, including no cruel/unusual punishments; providing aid for the needy; abolishing slavery; opposing inequality against races or classes.

On these issues, I don't feel that a Christian can disagree with a person and still vote for them.

Our Two-Party Problem

Here is where we get into issues.

Both of the major American parties are, to be honest, opposite sides of the same coin. Both care for little other than the protection of their own power, and increase the government to do so. Spend merely a few minutes googling, and you will see that neither party has cared one whit about limiting size of the government or efficiency, etc. Both care only about getting and retaining power--which is why immediately after election, a re-election campaign begins.

Whereas other countries often have ten or more parties--and thus, the opportunity for multiple voices to be heard--our two parties actively and aggressively oppose this, for no value to the country but purely in a bald attempt to maintain their own power.

They secure this power by being willing to do whatever it takes to get the (a) financing, and (b) political support of major corporations or donors--which is why fewer than 200 families in the US account for over 50% of all election donations (see here for the shocking truth). Nor is this just a Republican problem, for the Teachers Unions are also the largest lobbying group, and if you will take two hours of your life to watch Waiting for Superman (here), you will be sickened to consider what that does to our educational system.

Now, what does this mean?

It means that neither party is primarily focused on hearing from the people, but rather upon protecting its current power and platforms. This is why those elected generally do the same things as their predecessors, regardless of what was said during the is why, for example, in 2008 we had one candidate defending Gitmo and one opposing it, and yet here we are after the opposer won two terms and Gitmo is unchanged.

If I start with Russell Moore's strong argument that we should vote, but cannot support a corrupt candidate; and combine this with the reality that voting for a candidate also means supporting their party's platform (for in all practical matters this is what is always the result), then this means we must analyze whether either party can pass the four "moral tests" for Christian candidates which I lay out above.

So...can they? Let's see.

Test 1:  Preserving and caring for nature.

Preserving and caring for nature is a requirement from Genesis 1 and part of the Adamic Covenant. It is our duty as Christians to help create a better environment, something which some politicians do not do.

Good examples of this are abundant in the Republican Party for example. (Largely, in my opinion, due to the fact that they are heavily financed by the Chamber of Commerce and Big Oil lobbies--both of which are top 5 lobby groups.)

This results in the GOP as a party being almost always opposed to any regulation of company emissions, auto emissions, and attempting to battle climate change.

Now, let me be clear: we, the consumers, are the true villains here. We want to consume everything, and conveniently; as such, corporations provide a supply for what we demand, and expect to make a profit. So anything which gets in the way of that profit--like, for example, alternative energy, ethical treatment of animals, or pollution reduction--is cast aside as "anti-jobs" or "anti-business."

The practical result is that many politicians support policies which actively and consistently harm the environment, and we as Christians are in fact charged to govern and protect said Creation in Genesis 1--and they make this a party platform, so anyone in their party who is elected, in effect, is often arm-twisted into voting in this way..

Test 2: Opposing Murder in All Forms.

Pro-choice is the worst offender here, as abortion accounts for about 10 Holocausts-worth of baby deaths so far according to the Guttmacher Institute statistics. Human life, depending on your interpretation of Scripture, either begins with conception or the heartbeat...thus in the conservative case (heartbeat), there have been at least 58 million murders in the US alone. This is generally speaking a Democratic position.

In addition, under Obama's presidency, we have seen drone strikes become a common and horrific method of warfare, which frequently results in accidental murder of non-combatants, such as the killing of 42 in a Doctors Without Borders hospital.

Nearly approaching abortion in terms of evil, it was a Democratic president who dropped two atomic bombs, killing approximately 250,000 people, of whom 92% were innocent civilians. If we are to be honest and objective, this ranks among the worst war crimes in history from a Christian viewpoint, based on the insanely high percentage of non-combatants killed.

The Republicans are not free of this category either, though. It is generally speaking Republicans who engage in preemptive wars--that is, "fight the war there before it comes here", which in most Christian scholarship throughout history is never justifiable. We saw this most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, under George W Bush's administration.

Likewise, the Republicans are generally speaking very pro-death penalty, which can only be Biblically defended for Gentiles in the case of murder ...but the GOP is willing to apply the principle in much wider cases.

We simply as Christians cannot ignore one basic fact:  both of our major political parties actively pursue policies which are, under Biblical definition, murder.

Test 3: Religious Liberty

Although some would disagree, I think both parties pass on this one.

Sure, the Republicans tend to be a bit too anti-Muslim for my tastes, and the Democrats too anti-Christian, but I have traveled the world and can tell you that even the extremes in America are still exceptionally tolerant compared to most of the world.

We don't have much to complain on here.

Test 4:  Social Justice

Neither party has clean hands in social justice, either.

It was the Democratic party who voted unanimously against emancipating slaves and against the Civil Rights Act. It is the Democrats who back abortion, which disproportionately affects minorities--and whose founder outspokenly saw abortion as a benefit for eugenics, "thinning out the herd" of "undesirables" who just so happen, coincidentally, to be not white. Also, it is generally the Democratic party who opposes faith-based programs, even if they are aimed at the same goals. Basically if your social justice also includes handing out Bibles, many Democratic politicians aren't interested.

Meanwhile, it is the Republican party who generally hampers attempts at expanding welfare or healthcare for the poor, is discriminatory against minorities today, wants a wall on the "brown" border (Mexico) but not on the "white" border (Canada), and fights harshly to defend tax breaks for the wealthy.

In addition, both parties have cooperated together to create a bloated and labyrinthine government with systems which--although great at perpetuating their own power--are nonetheless disproportionately unfair to minorities and the poor (regardless of race).

The Moral Dilemma

So the moral dilemma, then, is that any vote you cast continues the power of a Party which has a long and thorough history of opposing Biblical values.

I find, then, that just as Moore concluded with regard to candidates, I cannot in good conscience continue to support either party with my votes, unless the party platforms agree to change in these key areas.

In other words -

  • Until the GOP says publicly and demonstrates with actions that they will become more dovish on war, more compassionate on capital punishment, and take better care of the environment...then I cannot support their candidates.
  • Until the Democratic Party says publicly and demonstrates with actions that they will eliminate abortions, and will end horrific practices in their past (and current) like drone strikes and use of weapons of mass destruction...then I cannot support their candidates.
  • Until BOTH parties start taking social justice seriously (neither ignoring it as the GOP nor paying ineffective lip-service to it as the Democratic Party)...then I cannot support their candidates.

My Conclusion

So my subconclusions are:

  1. As a citizen, I owe it to my country to vote (as Moore argued, changing my mind).
  2. I cannot in general support the Republican or Democratic Parties.
  3. Going back several decades, there has not been a Republican or Democrat since Reagan for whom I should have voted, and even Reagan had some caveats.
  4. As long as the two-party system remains in place, the likelihood of having a party follow these four moral rules is negligible.
  5. The Libertarian Party is the most likely party (on the ballot in 49 states) to be able to break the two-party system.

Which leads me to my overall conclusion, and how I will vote in this election and going forward.

From now on, I will actively oppose both the Republican and Democratic parties and their mutual protection of the two-party system, which continues to limit our choices.

Thus, my final conclusions:

  1. I will vote in every election.
  2. I will always vote for a third-party candidate--never again for a Republican or Democrat until their parties change their anti-Christian platforms
  3. If an acceptable third-party candidate is unavailable I will write in a choice.
  4. In the short-term I will support the Libertarian Party, which has the best chance of "breaking" the two-party stranglehold. HOWEVER...the Libertarian Party also has major policy problems, so as soon as the two-party stranglehold is broken, I will be voting for the best available candidate. If at that time no moral candidate is available, I will vote write-in again.

I will not, going forward, vote either Republican or Democrat because I cannot support such morally repugnant parties staying in power. In the end, either party will lead us to ruin--they will simply do it in different paths. But the end result remains the same.

It is a folly to believe the lie of the current powers, which is that given two terrible choices, we should pick the less terrible. The better option is to cast your vote in a way that might make meaningful change in the long-term by creating more choices than only those two.

So if you wonder where I stand, for all intents and purposes going forward, I am an Independent voter who will support any third-party which is likely to break the two-party corruption of our current government; I will start with the Libertarians because they have the best chance to break up the system, but eventually I will switch to other candidates as they become available.

I recommend that you do the same.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Christian Disciplines, Part V: Service

This is Part 5 of a five-part series on the Christian Disciplines. It is a "how-to" manual, or "what mature Christianity looks like." It borrows heavily from Richard Foster's, "Celebration of Discipline" and I highly recommend it. A new post will be made each Wednesday. To view them all together, click on the "Series: Christian Disciplines" link on the right.


So far this series, we have discussed the brokenness of our world, and the need for us to serve the world and help take part in God’s mission to bring shalom. We have discussed the importance of having the right attitude for service (an attitude of submission to each other). We have discussed the necessity of simplifying our lives so that we can serve.

Well then--let us talk about how to serve.

As with fasting, the Bible is clear that it is the heart which makes the biggest impact in serving: why do you do it? Jesus says that you will be rewarded for serving…but if you are doing it self-righteously, for honor or gains here on Earth, then those will be your only reward: this is not Biblical service. Serving someone Biblically means doing the right thing for them no matter who they are, no matter what they need. True service is indiscriminate—Jesus was the servant of all (Mark 9:35).

This is something Christians often miss: often we are willing to serve but only if someone agrees with us; we are not willing to meet the needs of those who disagree with our faith or our values. We justify it as ‘taking a stand’ for our faith. Yet taking a stand for our faith would be evangelizing the person who is in need—not withholding service from them. The mark of Christians is that we willingly give up our rights and serve everyone, so that we may win as many as possible for Christ (1 Cor 9:19). We must challenge ourselves to serve those who are enemies (politically or otherwise)—but also share with them the Good News that they need not stay that way.

The calling to serve others reminds us that we are here to be God’s hands and feet to those whom He loves—and God loves all. We fail our task if we withhold our services for any reason, just as we fail our task if we serve but desire recognition or prestige or payment for it. No, Christian service is the outpouring of a life of simplicity and submission: we are untied to the things of this world and we do not care what others think of us…therefore can truly and radically aid those in need. 

Also, avoid the error of thinking that it must be “big” things. A church in Ohio made a name for themselves because one small group did random things for the community without cause or cost each Saturday—one week scrubbing all the gas station toilets in their area, one week using umbrellas to walk people through the rain from the local grocery store to their cars, etc. Many were shocked by the discipline of service and felt loved by them.

The world is broken in small ways (like dirty gas station toilets) and big ways (like major orphan problems in Romania and Ethiopia). We, as God’s people, are called to be the ones bringing healing and wholeness…we are called to fix the brokenness. Be active in bringing the much-needed shalom.

There are three primary things that God gives you to serve. If you have been following with us up to this point, then you are in communion with Him through meditation, prayer and fasting; you are aware of your responsibility to help the world through your study; you are not attached to the things of this world or burdened with an overwhelmed schedule due to the practice of simplicity; and you care more about others than yourself due to the art of submission. As a result, you are now ready to serve the world as a disciple of Jesus.

Time:  We all have time that we can give to help others, and there is always a need. The church grounds always need maintenance; children’s ministries and guest service need volunteers; you can go give out donuts or sodas to those stuck in traffic jams; you can help people load their grocery bags into cars; roadways need trash picked up; hand out Gatorade at biking trails; clean up at food courts in the mall. We all have 168 hours of every week. Assuming you are spending 8 hours a day sleeping, 8 hours a day working, and 3 hours a day in commutes and mealtime, that is 35 hours per week of available time. I’m not guilting you to say it should all be service, but it is really hard to look ourselves in the mirrors and honestly say we don’t have time to serve when we manage to have time to binge-watch Netflix or play a new video game or watch three movies. The mature Christian makes giving your time to others a priority.

Talent: The ideas above require no special talent, just a giving of your time. But each of us have special gifts that can help bring shalom into the world—indeed, it is why we were created. We are each instruments of an orchestra with a slightly different sound, and your talent is needed. Whatever your talent, there is a use to it. In the Didache, it seems that many first century Christians actually tithed their talents to the church body—bakers brought a tenth of their bread to feed the congregation on Sunday, tailors made 10% more clothing and gave it to the poor, doctors spent part of each week giving free medical care/advice to sick parishioners, scribes and scholars translated documents, artists painted for the church. Whatever your talent, there is a way to serve your church body and community with it—be creative, it’s why God made you!

Treasure:  We also each have been given finances and we are entrusted as its stewards. Its purpose is to bring others into the faith. As I have taught several times before, I do not hold that tithing a set value (10%) is required; instead, we are each to examine ourselves and give cheerfully and sacrificially. Interestingly, I have found that being freed from the idea of tithing, I actually give more than 10%, not less! Whatever you can give, do so: it is the heart and sacrifice that matter, as Jesus makes clear (Mark 12:42). Jesus fascinatingly says that where we spend our money, we will find our heart caring more about that thing…so where do you spend yours? (Luke 12:34; Matt 6:21)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Christian Disciplines, Part IV: Simplicity

This is Part 4 of a five-part series on the Christian Disciplines. It is a "how-to" manual, or "what mature Christianity looks like." It borrows heavily from Richard Foster's, "Celebration of Discipline" and I highly recommend it. A new post will be made each Wednesday. To view them all together, click on the "Series: Christian Disciplines" link on the right.


In 1961, Kurt Vonnegut wrote a short story about the future called Harrison Bergeron. In it, Vonnegut pictured a future where everyone was forced to be perfectly equal so that no one was below (or above) anyone else. In order to equalize those who were of high intelligence, they had to wear earpieces. Every ten seconds or so, distracting sounds were blasted into the ears, so that no one could actually have time to focus and think about topics deeply or meaningfully. In a lot of ways, Vonnegut described us, today.  We live in the most distracting, overwhelming society which has ever lived. Every minute of your life, you swim through a river of sensation—radio waves, Wifi, television, phone calls, texts, ads on buses that drive past, blogs and tweets and vines…every day you are bombarded with a million signals vying for your attention, forming a near-impenetrable and always-present noise around you.

Our society thrives on distraction through complexity. We are, in many ways, enslaved by it. Some people have clinical anxiety problems, but most of us deal with panic and worry and anxiety for other reasons. If you were to make a list of your anxieties, what would you find? I would bet that most of your anxieties have to do with one of three things:  (1) getting some new thing or experience that others have; (2) maintaining the things that you have already gotten; or (3) keeping what we have gotten for ourselves.

Seriously, think it through. If you make a list of your anxieties from the past week, it is usually one of these things. Maybe it was stress about how to get your family to all of the sports your kids are signed up for; maybe it is a hassle because the new pool you’ve always wanted to build is causing problems; maybe it is the need to work a second job to pay for a lifestyle you really can’t afford; maybe it is obsessing about how to make your vacation Instagram-worthy instead of just enjoying it. We are fish, swimming in a sea of complexity.

I’m not saying that we all go join monasteries; however, for most of Christian history, serious Christians were known for their extreme simplicity in life. That is no longer the case today—much to our detriment. We spend money we do not have, to buy things we do not need, to impress people we do not like. Instead, the idea of Christian simplicity (to paraphrase Kierkegaard) is this:  purity is to will one thing—and only one thing.

Simplicity is freedom, and we must fight for it. Because…without simplicity, serving others is impossible. How can you stop and help the person whose car broke down when your schedule is so packed that a ten minute delay throws off the whole day? How can you build a sense of community if every minute of every day is filled? Haven’t you had a number of times when someone asked you to hang out, or you saw someone who could use help…and you had to pass the opportunity by because your schedule was just so busy? We must seek simplicity in our lives, intentionally.

In the fantastic Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster suggests several principles to help reach Christian simplicity; I will include 7 that really apply in our time below:

1.       Buy things for usefulness, not status. Don’t buy things for their status or fanciness—why spend triple for a Bentley when a Camry will do? Why buy a Camry if a bicycle will do? Buy new clothing because your old ones wore out or do not fit, not to keep up with the latest fashion trends.  Living simple means less debt, less waste, and more freedom.

2.       Reject anything that addicts you. If you cannot do without something, then get rid of it: imagine how much simpler and freer life will be if you break that addiction from Facebook or caffeine or whatever dominates your day.

3.       Become a habitual giver. Give things away. CONSTANTLY. Every month, take boxes of still-working things out of your house to Goodwill or Salvation Army. Every paycheck, give a sizeable amount to charities—if that sounds like us asking for cash, then by all means give it all to a charity. But give it somewhere. De-accumulating leads to freedom of the soul.

4.       Keep your schedule clear. Don’t overpack your schedule (parents we are really bad about this with our kids!) It leaves no room. Embrace the principle—long taught in Christianity—called holy leisure. It is only through purposefully protecting your schedule from constant busy-ness that you are capable of hearing from God.

5.       Gain a deeper appreciation for nature. Garden. Take a short walk each day. Sit on your porch with a beverage every night. Purposefully take some time without distraction, without electronics, to simply hear the birds and marvel at the beauty of God’s creation.

6.       Be wary of debt. “Buy now, pay later” sounds great in theory, but here’s the thing—that massive soulless corporation isn’t offering you that because it’s a good deal for you, they are offering it because it is a good deal for them. If you can’t afford something you ought not be buying it.

Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain honest speech. “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no—all else is from the Devil.” (Matt 5:37) Our lives get a whole lot simpler when we just speak the truth, plainly and simply, instead of always having to figure out what each other really mean. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Christian Disciplines, Part III: Submission

This is Part 3 of a five-part series on the Christian Disciplines. It is a "how-to" manual, or "what mature Christianity looks like." It borrows heavily from Richard Foster's, "Celebration of Discipline" and I highly recommend it. A new post will be made each Wednesday. To view them all together, click on the "Series: Christian Disciplines" link on the right.



In the past two posts, we learned how to study Scripture and how to pray. Those are hopefully by now your daily rhythms of your life, and please do not abandon those. Today we will talk about the discipline of Submission, but before we do, let's stop for a moment and learn about a particularly important Biblical concept.

One of the key ideas in Scripture is the idea of shalom. Shalom is a Hebrew word which appears in the Old Testament over 200 times, and it is usually translated as “peace.” Shalom, however, has a much more deep meaning than this.

Shalom has the idea of wholeness or complete health. Medically, the term shalom implies that someone is of sound mind and body—there are no diseases or pains affecting him, he is “whole.” To be in shalom means to be in harmony with our design by God.

Ancient Jewish commentators on the Bible point out that the entire purpose of the Old Testament is to show the brokenness of peace and return us back to it: “All that is written in the Torah was written for the sake of shalom[1].” It is even part of the name Jerusalem (which literally means, “peace is found”). Proverbs 3:17 says that wisdom always leads to shalom.

The lack of shalom shows up in our marriages as divorce, in our families as abandoned children, in our politics as war, in our society as injustice toward the poor or other races, in our bodies as sickness and suffering, in our sexual relationships as adultery or homosexuality, in our relationships as hatred or mean-spirited talk, in nature as deadly disasters. All the suffering and sin we experience are the results of a world whose shalom is broken.

When God designed the world, all was in harmony with His will—until Genesis 3. At the Fall, we find that God’s shalom is broken. All our suffering, all our rebellion, only increases its brokenness. And we know that all of God’s creation is groaning, eagerly anticipating the day that Messiah will return and bring lasting shalom (Rom 8:19).

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.       (Matt 5:9)

Jesus called being a peace-maker a “beatitude” or supreme blessing, and said that these are the people who would be called the children of God. And Romans 8:19 tells us that “creation waits in eager anticipation for the children of God to be revealed.

So when Jesus blesses His followers who are peace-makers, or shalom-makers, He is speaking of us actively seeking to create shalom in the world: to actively seek to restore the earth to the position it was supposed to be.

You see then that peacemaking includes everything as widespread as healing broken marriages and restoring addicts and protecting the environment and preventing fighting and war. By using the word “peacemakers” in this passage, Jesus is directly stating that peace is something to be made—He is saying that those who have this worldview actively seek out opportunities to make peace, to bring reconciliation.

In fact, what is fascinating about Scripture is that if wronged someone, it is your responsibility to make things right…and if you were wronged, it is your responsibility to make it right. It is always your responsibility!  No matter what, a peacemaker always sees it is his or her responsibility to bring unit, no matter who “started it.” (Matt 5:23, Matt 18:22).

So if we are to learn to serve others and be Shalom-makers in our communities, how are we to accomplish this? All true service begins with a particular attitude—an attitude taught to us by Jesus Himself. It is called submission.

Submission is among the most powerful, and most abused, spiritual disciplines. The discipline of submission is the willing release of your power, your rights, and your interests and instead to focus on the power, rights, and interests of others.

It is perhaps most easily understood by those who have recently had a baby. From the moment that the baby is born, the parents make willing choices to change their entire lives—they put their own desires, schedules, needs, and rights on hold and instead serve willingly and passionately this small child who can do nothing to return the love. This is a great picture of submission, and it is this which we are supposed to exhibit to the rest of the world.

Christian submission is to hold others above ourselves, and to give away our interests. Jesus implies that this is the most noticeable outward trait of a Christian, saying that the very life of a believer is to give his own life away (Mark 8:35).

Do not underestimate the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching on submission; it is almost beyond question the most amazing and shocking thing He said, and He said it often. Jesus completely flips the power structure of the world upside down. He says that a believer understands that true power comes by giving away your power; true status is reserved for those who give away their status and privilege; Scripture says that you are at your best when you consider everyone else better than yourself (Phil 2:3)! And He applies this posture equally to all Christians: men and women, Jew and Gentile, slave and free.

Jesus lived a life of submission and therein defeated even death; if we wish truly to exhibit God’s power, we must submit and give away all the power and privilege that we have.  Unlike other religions, with their powerful priesthood, the elders and pastors were, according to Christianity, mere shepherds—servants doing the ‘dirty work’ to make the sheep’s lives better.

Submission is not popular in our society—it is the opposite of our society, in fact. Submission requires true humility: thinking of others before yourself, being willing to allow others to prosper even if it costs you everything. Submission means caring more about shalom than about your own personal rights and privileges.

Here are seven areas to focus on submission in your lives. Read and discuss each as a group.

1.       Submission to God. The first and key area of submission comes in submission to God. The very act of salvation, at its heart, is this step—the willingness to say that I am no longer going to seek to be my own god, but instead will follow the one True God. “Thy will be done,” is the basic foundation that is at the base of every believer’s heart.

2.       Submission to Scripture. The ordinary way that God speaks to us is through His written word. By submitting to Scripture we are willing to not only hear the word of God but also to do what He tells us to do. As we discussed in weeks 5-6, it is important that we are properly interpreting Scripture so that we are actually submitting to what it says and not what we wish it said.

3.       Submission to Family. Ephesians 5:21-33 and Colossians 3:18-22 both discuss how to submit to each other in the household—and yes, it is submit to each other (Eph 5:21). To the readers of these texts, women, children, and slaves were required to submit by force of law; however, the Gospel freed them from these positions (Gal 3:28). The Gospel frees them from their earthly chains. Now, however, the Scriptures say—freely submit to one another, not because the law demands it, but because you love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Freely and graciously the family is to make allowance for each other and give each other love, respect, and everything that you have.

4.       Submission to Neighbors.  Human nature wants to stereotype and look down on those who are not part of our ‘in-group’; a Jesus-shaped spirituality sees everyone we meet as a neighbor and, like the Good Samaritan, we are willing to give everything and share everything to love them.

5.       Submission to the Church. We all are also part of a new family, a universal church, and we are to submit to each other. This might come in large ways such as serving as a missionary or giving sacrificially to support missionaries; or it may come in small trivial spontaneous acts of service like cutting the lawn at the church or emptying a trash can or giving a youth kid a ride home each week.

6.       Submission to the Despised. One of the best ways to judge your submissiveness is to ask yourself this question honestly—“What am I doing to help those who are invisible to society?” Our society makes the elderly, the orphan, the immigrant, the poor, and the prisoner (among others) invisible to “polite society.” People want to be able to ignore them by giving a bit more in taxes and letting the government handle them quietly, out of the way. This was not Jesus’ way. We are to seek them, submit our lives to them, and better them.

Submission to the World. We are not only to concern ourselves with those in our sphere of influence. All of humanity bears the image Deo, and is worthy of being a recipient of our love and submission. We are submit ourselves to all, even those who would kill us or harm us. This was Jesus’ way, and the foundation of all service and, therefore, the foundation of rebuilding shalom.

[1] Tanhuma Shofetim 18

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Transgenderism from a Theological Perspective

Transgenderism is widely spread among news stories today and--being a relatively salacious topic--is one of those things which is widely discussed.

But what I find most valuable to discuss, and what I find rarely to be discussed, is this: how should Christians think about transgenderism from a theological/philosophical perspective?

The Christians I have spoken with on the topic give extremely predictable responses:  those who voted for a Democrat in the last election would talk about protecting the rights of the transgender as a social justice role; those who voted for a Republican in the last election would talk about it as unnatural and a further slide down an increasingly-slippery slope.

In other words--at least in my experience, Christians are viewing this issue primarily through their political prisms, rather than through a theological one.

Due to confirmation bias, this is exceptionally easy to fall into--but this doesn't make it right.

So I want to spend today talking about transgenderism from a theological basis.

Starting Place:  The Redemptive Hermeneutic

To begin with, I highly suggest reading my post on "De-Confusing the Bible," as it provides a great aid in viewing the issue.

As discussed in that article, it is valuable to view the following picture to describe the history of humanity from a Christian perspective.

God created the world pure and good, so whenever we want to know the "Paradise" state we look at Gen 1-2.

Due to sin, we had "Paradise Lost" and live in a fallen world (Gen 3).

In the end, Jesus will return and give us "Paradise Regained" (Rev 20-21).

Right now, we live in the period of Redemption--a period that sees the "seed" of redemption in the Old Testament law, redemption which bloomed in the first-fruits of Jesus, and which we as the Church are now spreading throughout the world.

So, this is our starting place.

Where Transgenderism Fits

Gender at the time of Creation

Our starting place always must be -- what is the original state of creation? In that, we see God's plan for our lives.

The original state of creation from a gender standpoint is that gender is a part of Creation:  "So God created mankind in His own image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them."

So this gives us our first data point:  genders are a "good thing"--that is, they are not a result of the Fall. Those who report feeling genderfluid--that their gender changes and then changes back later--cannot be defended on a Scriptural basis.

So we start with one clear statement--God creates us with a particular gender, and that particular gender is a good thing, it is not a part of the Fall, but a part of Creation.

Gender at the time of Restoration

We know therefore that at the Restoration, when Jesus comes back and the Kingdom of God is established, all issues with gender confusion will be defeated.

Hearing this should be a tremendous relief to  those who have lived in a state of paralyzing identity crisis over their gender; there is a gender that God created for each of us, and the identity crisis will not be the case for eternity. When we receive our resurrected bodies, we will all find that we are comfortable in our own skin!

Gender during the Fall

The question becomes--what impact does the Fall have on us? The Fall, by matter of breaking the very nature of reality, can affect gender in three ways that I can think of (no particular order):

  1. Spiritual:  as a result of the Fall, sin and spiritual deadness can make us seek identity in things other than God, which could result in a conscious or subconscious rebellion against the gender roles assigned to us by God;
  2. Physical:  as a result of the Fall, birth defects happen and it is certainly feasible that one might be born with the wrong set of genitalia (or both sets, as in the case of hermaphrodites); and
  3. Psychological:  as a result of the Fall, we are all psychologically broken and the environments (nurture) in which we are raised are also psychologically and spiritually broken, so it is entirely feasible that the manner in which one is raised, and their experiences in life, could cause confusion in gender identity.

Thus, from the Fall we have three potential causes of gender confusion.

Gender during the Redemption Period

All of this leads us to today--what can we, as the Church, do to assist in redeeming the situations to the greatest of our ability?

If we look at the three potential causes, we see that the actions required to bring redemption or healing are radically different.

  1. If the cause of the gender identity confusion is predominantly spiritual in nature, then the only way to "fix" the identity crisis will be a firmer rooting of the individual's identity in Christ. Gender reassignment surgery and/or hormonal efforts will do nothing to ease the identity problem. In this case, they have the appropriate body parts and the appropriate psychological consistency to live a fulfilled and happy life, they simply need spiritual healing in order to move from a state of "fallen" toward a state of "restoration."
  2. If the cause of the gender identity confusion is due to a birth defect, such as being born with the wrong genitalia, then gender sex change operations and/or hormonal therapy will be the only way to heal the issue. This is the only option in that case for moving one from fallen to restoration in this area.
  3. If the cause of the issue is primarily psychological, then sex change operations or spiritual focusing will have little impact unless the underlying psychological issues are dealt with. It has been suggested in the past that this is why post-op transgenders have such a radically high rate of depression and suicide.

The Crux of the Issue

What makes this particular issue so difficult is two-fold:  first, there is (with very rare exceptions) no scientific method of determining the root cause of the gender confusion from among the three options; and second, to perform the wrong action is devastating.

This cannot be overlooked. If the primary cause of gender dysphoria for an individual is spiritual or psychological in nature, then a sex change operation is the last thing they need--it will not solve the problem, and yet will cause massive impact to their lives financially, physically, socially, and emotionally. Post-operation, suicide attempts spike to an astonishing 41%, compared to only 10% pre-operation and only 2% in the general population. That is, roughly half of all people after undergoing sex change operations decide the only next step is to end their lives.

However, if the issue is physical due to a birth defect, then no amount of praying or psychological evaluation is going to fix the concern. They will be forced to live in that scenario for their lives--and you can just imagine what it would be like to live with both sets of genitalia, or to lose yours in an accident; it would be a major impact on your mental health.

Managing Risk

What often happens is that you end up having to manage risk.

Since there is no way to be certain of the root cause, you must choose to manage each of these as "false alarm" (alpha) risks or "false positive" (beta) risks.

Assuming it is Spiritual:
  • Alpha risk:  if we assume it is spiritual and it isn't, then the person lives in a state of identity crisis. Furthermore they may become turned off of Christianity after "praying it away" fails to work.
  • Beta risk:  if we assume it is NOT spiritual and it is, then you will never address the root cause so you still end up living in the state of identity crisis--plus you have spent time and money in either psychological or physical cures which may not be reversible.

Assuming it is Physical:
  • Alpha risk:  if we assume it is physical/biological birth defect and it isn't, then you undergo a massive elective surgery which is physically brutal, and financially and emotionally expensive, and your risk of suicidal-level depression rises 400%.
  • Beta risk:  if we assume it is NOT physical and it is, then you will continue to live in a state of identity crisis/discomfort.
Assuming it is Psychological:
  • Alpha risk:  if we assume it is psychological and it isn't, then you end up wasting time and money in psychological treatments which will likely be ineffective, as well as staying in the same state of identity crisis.
  • Beta risk:  if we assume it is NOT psychological and it is, then you will fail to address the root cause of the issue, maintain the identity crisis, and possibly undergo massive sex change operations as well.

Viewed through this prism, we can provide wise advice to those in our lives who feel this way.

Conclusions to Draw

  1. Surgery is the last possible option. 

    The worst-case risk above is the alpha error of assuming it is physical/biological, if it turns out to be spiritual or psychological. As such, discussion of a sex change operation should be either (a) not even considered or (b) an absolutely desperate last-case scenario only after all other attempts have failed. In no other situation would we allow such a risky surgery for something that cannot be proved; this would be akin to addressing ADD with a partial lobotomy: it is an extremely high-risk surgery for something that we cannot be certain fixes the issue. Permanent solutions to uncertain problems are never a wise approach, so before we start encouraging people on such a path we must be absolutely certain that there is no other option.
  2. We must all begin by admitting that there is no blanket answer.It is not okay for the conservative Christian to simply assume that all transgender people simply "need Jesus or a shrink", nor for all liberal Christians to simply assume that they need sex change operations. Both are SERIOUS errors.

    We are called, above all else to LOVE one another. That means giving wise advice. Which means understanding their individual scenario. Which means--in a case like this, where there is no scientific way to know precisely what the root cause is--that we should not jump to conclusions.

    However, it also means that we cannot simply "trust their feelings," for if the problem is either spiritual or psychological, then their feelings are in fact broken as well!

  3. The goal is to lovingly restore each individual person.

    Love must be our overriding issue. And love wants what is best for a person--no matter if that is uncomfortable for me, or uncomfortable for them.

    There is nothing loving about enabling someone with psychological problems to lop off body parts. There is ALSO nothing loving about going up to someone with a physical birth defect and denying them surgery because you don't believe that it really is an issue.

    Loving is hard, because it requires us to ask questions we wouldn't normally ask, and see things from their perspectives.
  4. We all must break out of our politics and see them as people.

    We all have too much tendency to think of this issue politically. What is written above is--I believe--simply clear logic and falls out naturally from what we know about the issue and the Bible.

    However, many of you will disagree with portions above. The reason isn't Biblical, or scientific. The reason is emotional--because you want to defend your particular position, because it via confirmation bias, confirms your existing beliefs about your party and the other party.

    We don't like to see ourselves this way, but it's true. Democrats are using the transgender community to further one agenda; conservatives, to further a different agenda. Christians who view the issue through those prisms will simply be puppets to the same.

    Loving a person means wanting to see them moved from broken to restoration. Gender dysphoria must be devastating to a person, and they deserve every bit of compassion and love we have. But also, that doesn't mean teaching them that gender reassignment is the right approach--necessarily. It depends on the individual situation.
  5. Which leaves me with my final, and most key point:  Do not make statements about generalities, only speak about individuals whom YOU KNOW.

    If you go around saying, "Sex change operations help so many people," or saying, "Trans people are just spiritually lost," I am going to ask a simple question.

    "Tell me of one of your close friends who has been through this. Tell me their story. How long have you known them? When did you first begin discussing it? What was trialed before you reached your conclusion?"

    If the answer is--as it usually is--that you actually don't know anyone in this scenario, then may I respectfully ask that you (and I!) keep our mouths shut here?

    As we've shown above, the situation of moving fallen people from gender confusion to gender restoration differs greatly by situation, and therefore we cannot make blanket statements.

    We are neither loving people nor helping them in their times of crisis, by making generic statements or assumptions which can then be repeated to everyone else who might be in different situations.

    Rather, in discussing the issue, we should all admit that there are three potential causes; that it is impossible to prove which is the case; it is impossible to even make an educated guess unless we are extremely close friends with the person; that some actions are extremely dangerous if wrong; and that we need to treat each one on a case-by-case basis with the primary goal being to restore them to the way God made them.

Christian Disciplines, Part II: Prayer

This is Part 2 of a five-part series on the Christian Disciplines. It is a "how-to" manual, or "what mature Christianity looks like." It borrows heavily from Richard Foster's, "Celebration of Discipline" and I highly recommend it. A new post will be made each Wednesday. To view them all together, click on the "Series: Christian Disciplines" link on the right.


Prayer is the life-blood of successful Christian living, and something with which we all (myself included!) struggle.

As we consider prayer, let's start by discussing how to prepare, and then the actual activity of prayer itself.

Mentally Preparing to Pray:  The Two H's--Humility and Hope

Jesus’ longest sermon on prayer focused greatly on the concept of humility (Matt 5:5-15), and in Luke 18:9-14, Jesus told a parable in which humility seems to be the primary decider on whether a prayer is heard or not. So it is important that we understand exactly what this foundation is, so that our work on prayer might be successful.

What does it mean to be humble? We must avoid the way that our society has twisted this perfectly good word; now for some reason, “humility” means having low self-esteem, as though confidence and humility are opposites. That is not at all true—humility is not that you think badly about yourself, it is that you do not think much about yourself at all. The opposite of humility is pride, not confidence. According to every great theologian in history—from Augustine to Aquinas to Calvin to Luther—pride is the central sin from which all other sins flow.

In perhaps no other way are Christians more different than the world than this: that we value humility rather than pride. Humility is honestly knowing who the center of the universe REALLY is, who the Creator really is, and what our task here really is. Humility is not valuing yourself based on how the world views you, but how God views you. I believe CS Lewis has the perfect description of a humble life:

“[Learning who God is makes you] delightfully humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots that we are.”

So the first foundation of prayer is an attitude of humility. The second, shown in such passages as Mark 11:24, James 1:6-7, and Matthew 21:22, is that you must believe God will come through—hopefulness.

So what does this mean? Is this, as some televangelists would twist it, meaning that your positive attitude determines whether God gives you what you want? Does God determine the future based on our positive thinking? If our prayers are not answered, is this because we are not really believers?

No, the Bible says hope (elpis in Greek) is a joyful and confident expectation that God will follow through on His promises. We see this well demonstrated by Paul, who often found himself on trial for his faith and exhibited the virtue of hope in those situations. In Acts 23, Paul is on trial and tells the Sanhedrin of his hope in the resurrection of the dead; in Acts 24 before the governor Felix, he refers to his hope of the afterlife; in Acts 26 before King Agrippa he refers to his hope that God will deliver on His promises; and in Acts 28 in Rome he says that he has hope for Israel’s salvation. In each case, “hope” refers to an expectation that God fulfills promises. 

Hope is the unwavering belief that God will Restore creation, and that if it is His will and good for us, He will answer our prayers now and let a bit of that future Restoration seep in to our daily life and our prayer request.

So as we enter into prayer, we are to be humble (not focused on ourselves, but on God), and hopeful (believing that God will restore things the right way, and if it is good to do so, will answer our prayer).

Physically Preparing to Pray:  Meditation and Fasting

Prior to the actual praying, many Christians throughout history have found physical actions also helpful to preparing for prayer. I personally use meditation on a daily basis for my prayer life.


Christian meditation, very simply, is purposefully creating a space of quietness to listen to God’s voice. It is not about hidden mysteries or secret chants or strange visions; it is about quieting everything around us so that, like Elijah, we can hear from God’s “still, small voice.”

It is such an important part of Christian practice that when martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer was asked why he took meditation seriously he replied, “Because I am a Christian.”

As believers, we all have the Holy Spirit inside us to guide us and shape us. Meditation is the process by which we create emotional and spiritual space to listen to His words.

What Christian meditation is not, however, is the same as the trances and practices of Eastern mystics, such as you might see in Buddhism or Hinduism. In those religions the meditation is focused on detaching from reality, clearing your thoughts of anything. But it is clear from Scripture that this is the opposite of Christian meditation. Christian meditation is not about detaching but attaching one’s thoughts—you shut out everything else except for one particular passage of Scripture or your relationship with God. 

You focus entirely upon that until the distractions of the world fade away. So to us, meditation is not about “zoning out” and relaxing; it is about “tuning in” to God’s channel and ignoring all of the other static. The idea is not to empty your mind, but to fill it—with God. Some people call this “quiet time” to distinguish from Eastern mysticism, but Scripturally the proper word is “meditation.”

The goal of meditation, then, is to create a space of calm and quiet, so that we have the opportunity to hear God’s voice. You are very unlikely to have a healthy prayer life without a regular time of blocking out what the world has to say. This is what Jesus has in mind when He suggests going to an inner room and closing the door in Matthew 6:6—to purposefully and intentionally block out the distractions of the world.

You cannot learn to meditate from words, you must learn it by meditating. There is no proper time nor even one proper method. If your focus is on Christ, you cannot “get it wrong.” It is simply to create a physical environment which makes it easier to focus on God. One Elder at  our church has a cup of coffee and a lazy boy first thing in the morning, before looking at his schedule; the smell of coffee and routine of fixing it all creates a physical process of getting ready for prayer.  Another Elder wakes up and devotionally studies his Scripture and then is quiet and meditates on that. I usually do meditation at night, with my children, before bedtime prayer. Some use candles, some use imaginations, some use just a dark room, some use music. Whatever fills your mind only with God and allows you to remove yourself from this world, is valuable as meditation.


For much of Jewish and Christian history, fasting was considered one of the key, cornerstone and regular disciplines of a spiritual life. The Bible is filled with examples of people fasting, and in Matthew 6 when Jesus is giving the Sermon on the Mount, He speaks of prayer, fasting, and giving as all natural outpourings of a spiritual life:  He does not say if you fast, but when you fast: fasting was just assumed to be part of a healthy spiritual life. In Matthew 9:15, Jesus again assumes that fasting will be a regular part of our daily lives to keep us focused on Him.

Fasting is the denial of food and drink in order to focus one’s attention on God and matters of spiritual importance.  If meditation creates the space for God, and prayer is our way of communicating with God, then the hunger we feel during fasting is like a lens of a telescope, focusing our thoughts toward Him and reminding us dozens of times throughout the day to seek His presence.

In most cases, fasting is a private matter between a person and God; however on occasion group fasts have been held for serious, corporate issues and can be very powerful. For example, the Didache (an ancient Christian ‘how-to’ manual) encouraged the entire church to fast together for several days prior to a new convert’s baptism.

When it comes to fasting, there are many different methods. This week we are going to present a few common methods of fasting.

Types:  First you must decide which type of fast you are going to perform. An absolute fast is where you eat no food and drink no water; however, this is dangerous if done for more than a short period of time and extremely rare. A partial fast is where you give up a certain type of food, or certain meals each day; for example, Daniel abstained from certain types of food but not a typical fast.

Neither of these was the typical Biblical fast, however. A typical fast is where you eat nothing after the sun raises, and drink only water. Typically only a very small amount of food was eaten before dawn (“breaking your fast” is where the term ‘breakfast’ originates). Therefore one goes 24 hours (dawn to dawn) with no food and only water to drink.

Frequency and Duration:  Next, one must decide for how long he or she will fast. While Moses, Jesus, and others at times did typical fasts for 40 days or more, this was the exception. It seems from some early texts common that the first Christians fasted two days a week. However it is strongly recommended that, like all disciplines, Christians build up to this practice. If fasting is not a normal part of your spiritual practice, it should be undertaken wisely…don’t go from five meals a day to a 40 day fast all in one jump! And depending on your medical situation, a typical fast might not be appropriate for you at all; in such a case perhaps fasting from something you crave (like coffee) is a better option. As long as it will frequently remind you that you are missing it during the day, it will work.

Motivation: When Jesus teaches about fasting in Matt 6:16-18, the most important consideration is the motive. Fasting is not a diet plan. Fasting is not a hunger strike to point out injustice. Jesus says that if you fast for those reasons, those are your only reward…there is no spiritual payoff. A fast is only a Biblical fast if its intention is purely spiritual in nature, to focus your eyes on God. If you find yourself saying (as I have myself, frequently), “Hey I’ll fast during Lent and hopefully lose some weight too!”, and then every day I’m weighing in and looking at the scales…then be honest: this is a diet, not a fast. Dieting is fine; but fasting is a spiritual discipline. Dieting is not. Be sure your motives are pure—this is actually the point about fasting that Jesus made most firmly. 


This post has been leading us up to this point:  prayer is where we are ushered into communion with God. Scripture study told us God’s story and helped us see our place in it; humility and hope made us ready to accept what God would say; meditation created a space to listen; fasting focused our minds. It all led to this: through prayer we hear from, and speak with, the Father who created us.

As we begin to practice prayer, you may be surprised, as it may not be what you had in mind. For most Americans, we think “prayer” and what we really mean is “asking”—but that is not the Biblical sense of prayer. Prayer is about communing with your Father. If you have children, think of all the ways that you communicate. Yes it is true that sometimes they ask things of you; but more often, when my kids come up to me it is to hug me or tell me they missed me or to cuddle or tell me stories or ask my advice (and of course, sometimes I seek them out to correct or discipline them for things which are harmful to them). So asking for things is only one tiny part of prayer.

No, the Bible has many words it can use for “ask” or “beseech” or “beg.” The phrase “to pray” (lehitpallel) means “to judge yourself.” In other words, it is when we speak to God in prayer that we reflect on our burdens and share them with Him. Sometimes it is to seek forgiveness, sometimes to thank Him for caring for us, sometimes (yes) to ask for His provision or advice, and sometimes simply to spend time with Him. Prayer then is the central avenue God uses to transform us and give us the ultimate joy which only He can offer.

James 4:3 says that “you ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly”—which some misunderstand, thinking that it means you must adhere to a particular formula to get God’s response. That is not the case at all; notice the second half of the verse:  “you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James says that when your prayers go unanswered it is because you were viewing prayer as a chance to simply get things from Daddy that you can spend on your passions, instead of to commune with Him and bask in His relationship.

One thing is certain:  just as our children benefit from engaged parents, so too does our future maturity as believers require that we spend a lot of time with our heavenly Father. David did it (Ps 63:1); Jesus did it (Mk 1:35); the apostles did it (Acts 6:4). Martin Luther once said that he was so busy in his life that he found no possible way to get all his work done unless he spent at least three hours a day praying. 

Let us be frank. If your prayer life is anemic or non-existent today, nothing we discuss this week will magically fix it. Prayer is a skill and a discipline and a relationship. It takes time to develop, and we are all still growing in this area.

We’ve all felt the awkwardness of meeting someone for the first time and trying to carry on a conversation. We also all realize that just because you have jogged a couple times in your life doesn’t mean you should go run the marathon. Whether you are building a relationship or a skillset, it takes time and patience. Prayer is no different. Real prayer is something we learn—in fact, the disciples who had watched Jesus and walked with Jesus for years still had to ask Him to teach them how to pray (Lk 11:1).

I hope that is a liberating fact to read. It is okay to try, to experiment, and to fail at prayer…because you each time are learning how best to communicate to the Father. My kids learned long ago that running up to me and screaming was not a good method of communicating with me; in the same way, we must learn the ways that help us commune with the Father in the most effective manner. If you turn on the TV and get a bad signal, you don’t assume that TV doesn’t exist; you assume that it needs to be tuned better—such it is with prayer.

It is easy to make prayer too complicated, and we don’t want to do that here. Furthermore, what works best in prayer will always be slightly different for all of us.  But below are five methods of praying that have been useful for many Christians, for you to try and consider.

  • Read a Psalm or Proverb each day, as a devotional study. Pray about whatever you find in it.
  • Pray by using the acrostic ACTS:  ACTS: A-adore God for who He is; C-confess today's sins; T-thank God for the great things He has done today; and S-supplicate/ask God for your needs today. (This is what I do with my kids each night.)
  • From Martin Luther:  Say the Lord's Prayer but after each line, pray it in your words and apply it to today's routine. For example:  "thy kingdom come, thy will be done...Lord, today I have five meetings, may I help your kingdom be present in my actions and decisions, and may I represent you well in them." (I find this personally quite powerful.)
  • Do prayer walks or flash prayers, saying a quick prayer in your mind any time you see a person.
  • Use the Book of Common Prayer or a similar prayer-book, sharing in stating the same prayer as millions of other believers.