Remembering Edson Taft ‘Bill’ Lewis Jr.

I have lost a dear, dear friend, colleague and brother.

A thousand, thousand thanks!

‘He was known at home and in the community as a man who loved mercy, sought justice and walked humbly with God. He was with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the “I Have A Dream” speech and the Selma-Montgomery March. He had a passion for bringing people together from all walks of life to make the world a better place.’

I remember him as one who helped me know myself simply by saying, ‘when you are cut, you bleed justice…’

I remember him as one who offered acceptance in Christ however radical my thinking turned.

I remember him as one with whom I confided things I have said to no other living person.

I remember him as one who could hear and bear graciously the accumulated frustration of a lifetime of living among Christians.

I remember him as one who answered complex dilemmas with clear, solid and gracious council.

I remember his ability to bring grace and perspective to salvage seemingly irredeemable situations.

I remember him swaying church bodies with sheer force of mind, knowledge of history and good order, and powers of vision and oration.

I remember the instant flash of his eyes and smile whenever I walked into a peer group meeting, and his arms outstretched to embrace me.

I remember him asking ‘what have you been reading lately,’ and being amazed to learn that he’d been there and suggesting further reading.

I remember his work with Pastors for Peace and his willingness to defy offical policies because they are unjust.

I remember his persistent insistence on justice, and his ability to retain hope for a world of peace and justice even as injustice seemed to prevail.

I remember his willingness to share heartbreak from his own family, and seeing how the loss of a brother shaped and deepened his love of justice.

Although I will miss Bill’s presence and titanic intellect, I find that his perspective and love of justice so informs my own spirit, it is as though he is still here and always will be. Knowing Bill as I have, and sharing our love of justice, I feel that his departure enriches and makes more real to me something that we call, ‘communion of the saints.’

Exorcisms for Modern Times

Exorcism, healing of the Gadarene demoniac
Matt 8:28-34, Healing of the Gadarene Demoniac

Matt 8:28-34 is weird all by itself. It features a naked guy, stronger that chains, howling in a graveyard and terrifying townspeople. Need we say more? Add the special effects and twisted imaginations of ‘Hellywood’ and the images ‘exorcism’ conjures in our minds become outright bizarre.

Independent Fundamental Baptists, the broader evangelical version of fundamentalism and mainline believers share this in common: they see exorcisms as the special preserve of eccentrics, Charismatics, occasional mystic, and perhaps Roman Catholic exorcism specialists.

The gospels make exorcisms seem fairly routine in Jesus’ ministry. One explanation is that as spiritual oppression deepened as his ministry began. Another sees exorcisms as a demonstration of God’s power, with the cross itself as an ultimate exorcism. Jo 12:31 says:

‘Now judgment is upon this world;
now the ruler of this world will be cast out.’

Speaking to ongoing US political crisis, Morton Guyton recently wrote:

‘God raised up Pharaoh so that God’s power might be made known through the wrath he pours out on Egypt’ [Ex 9:16].

He also makes this extraordinary observation:

‘I think the evangelical church today is like the Gerasene demoniac. We’ve been shrieking in the tombs of culture war with a louder and shriller pitch every year.’

And he asks this stunner:

‘What if God did in fact raise up Donald Trump as a means of pouring out his wrath on the religious right who have been blaspheming his name for the past three decades?’

As I see it, any attempt to recruit God for our partisan interests is unwise. But this does not invalidate Guyton’s point. Morton also asks:

‘What if the next four years will be the political Chernobyl that completely destroys the political power of the religious right forever?’

Justice requires that punishment fit the crime. He rightly notes that this sometimes means living with the consequences of getting what we want.

President Trump faced much criticism on the campaign trail and on his first 100 hours in office. And it is well deserved. But is the import of what is transpiring around us truly understood? President Trump:

  • Packed senior cabinet positions with generals, including those that supervise the military.
  • His inaugural address invoked ‘absolute loyalty to America;’ partisanship didn’t matter so long as citizens [embodied by Trump] hold the power.
  • In that speech he said twice that ‘America first’ must now be the rule.
  • He emphasizes military power as key.
  • He is introducing legislation to further expand the already gigantic U.S. military machine.

The question begging to be asked, but which our subservient media will never ask, is this: What do you do differently if you’re planning a coup?

I don’t intend to offer a place to speculate about answers. It I do believe that we are in a precarious situation. A Reichtag fire incident [by terrorism or a false flag operation] could lead to many changes very quickly.

It isn’t my intention to be alarmist. But acknowledging the unhealthy environment in which we live does lead us to ask, ‘how we get here.’ Here, Morton Guyton perhaps speaks most pointedly:

‘I think the evangelical church today is like the Gerasene demoniac. We’ve been shrieking in the tombs of culture war with a louder and shriller pitch every year.’

In the past, I’ve connected spiritual power and culture. I’ve noted that:

‘Moses’ confrontation of Pharaoh has the character of an exorcism. The struggle of Moses and Pharaoh manifests itself in the competing claims of Yahweh, God of Israel, and Egypt’s gods.’

And I said that:

‘The claims, magicians, miracles and plagues that follow are a wrestling of spiritual power, evil and good, each to subdue the other.’

However far some think our society has departed from the Biblical mind, events currently unfolding attest that the same forces which have always dominated history are the ones which continue to impel us into the future.

This leads to the point that Morton Guyton is correct to say that the operative power of hatemongering, warmongering, uber-nationalist, racist, anti-everything which so often finds refuge and strength in confessing Christian circles means one thing:

Evangelical Christianity stands in need of an exorcism.

Patriot Pastors and Strange Alliances

Meet the Patriot Pastors

Days before the November 2006 election, Christianity Today published a piece on ‘Patriot Pastors.’ Authored by Nate Anderson, this CT focuses in good measure on the Ohio Restoration Project [ORP]. And the ‘Holy Ghost invasion’ rhetoric plus the ‘man your battle stations’ with the ‘lock and load’ stuff is no SFL invention. People actually say things like that.

Anderson continues:

Their top policy concerns are (1) the right to life (i.e., an end to abortion), (2) maintaining a godly definition of marriage, (3) preserving a parent’s right to discipline and educate, and (4) defending the rights of Christians and their churches to “teach biblical values in the public square.”

Anderson mentions mailing lists and online accessible prayer warriors [only 100,000 of them in ’06] described as a ‘”mighty army” ready to do battle.’ The rightness or wrongness of these or other issues is not the concern. At issue is the propriety of the attaching purported Christian witness work to modern partisan campaigns.

Paul who referenced soldiery by way of spiritual analogy [1Co 9:7; Phi 2:25; 2Ti 2:3-4; Phm 1:2] also stated the weapons of our warfare are not physical but spiritual [2Co 10:3-5]. Despite Biblical analogies to military matters, militarized language doesn’t express the heart of the Gospel.

Anderson’s dated article shows that the terminology of secular jihadism has been in fundamentalist culture for some time. And we saw the result of such thinking as many aligned with the powers of this age during the most recent US federal election.

And final page of this five page piece acknowledges that the IRS has contacted ORP. Interesting language describes the relationship between ORP and Russell Johnson’s Fairfield Christian Church.

‘While legally separate, the ORP and Fairfield Christian overlap significantly.’

Fundamentalists would never tolerate such unbiblical blurring of lines IF they existed between churches. But where politics is concerned, fundyland throws the rules out the window. Anything becomes acceptable, and we have the President-elect to prove it.

It’s amazing that people supposedly so spiritually attuned to God can at the same time be so dead to things of God. But since this is ‘politics,’ they can get away with anything.

Revelation as a Circular Letter

An Epistle

RB’s discussion of Revelation as a circular epistle has some important and potentially mind-blowing implications. The writing is dense; much of what RB says here can’t be condensed. So I quote him extensively in this post. It is a lengthy post, but I am passionate about this and don’t know how to do otherwise. Interested parties are encouraged to get this book!


Revelation as an Epistle

Many misreadings of Revelation occur because it is overlooked that this whole work is an epistle, a letter written to then existing churches, and not to some far-off end-time/last-day generation.

While most directly concerning the seven churches, Revelation has interest to a broader audience. 1 Corinthians is very targeted to one church; but we all benefit from that epistle [cf. Col 4:16].

Meet the Seven Churches

John uses a unique strategy in Revelation. The body of his message is for all the churches. But he has very different, very specific introductions for each church. These are the famed ‘seven letters’ to the churches.

Seven Churches OrderThe churches are named in the order a messenger delivering this letter to them from Patmos would most naturally follow.

The churches faced very different problems, and they faced some common problems very differently. Each ‘letter’ is an ‘introduction’ to the whole book, in which Jesus addresses that specific church.

God Sanctions Other ‘Interpretations?’

The Revelation as a whole is a circular letter written to seven churches. But John intended for it to be read from seven different perspectives. [This seems to be to be HUGELY liberating to fundamentalists who are bound so very slavishly to the ‘one’ reading allowed every passage!].

Churches in turn are promised future salvation ‘to him who overcomes!’ This is the call to eschatological [future] battle. But what is victory? What does it mean conquer? The letters don’t explain that; but that is explained in the central chapters of this epistle. Likewise, our eschatological destiny is described at the end of the epistle.

John’s World, Ours, or Both…

John lived under Rome’s worldwide tyranny. He wanted the churches to see how that tyranny related to the issues they faced. He wanted them to see how their struggle on the issues fit in God’s great battle against tyranny, and how it served God’s purpose to establish his kingdom.

RB observes that not all Christians were poor and oppressed by Rome’s tyrannical system. Many were affluent and compromised with it. For them, the judgments described in Revelation came not for consolation but as stern warnings of the danger they incurred. It was not only pagans, but many of John’s hearers/readers were tempted to or actually did worship the beast [as those who listened to Jezebel at Thyatira].

Comfort or warning, the application of Revelation turned on the group to which hearers belonged, and their relationship with Rome’s tyranny. Asia Minor had more churches than seven. But the wealth of perspectives John provided allows all the churches to find analogies in his representative sampling of churches.

POLITICAL CYCLONITE

Thus read, Revelation becomes a devastating critique of much Christian profession. They are not alone, but even some very ‘fundamentalist’ sects uncritically endorse US militarism, war, foreign interventionism, plus domestic repression [law-and-order] and poverty [austerity, wage cuts, medical/benefits cuts, interest rates favoring the wealthy, etc.].

The Revelation identifies that as spiritual alignment with and worship of the powers of Death. We have the means to address the enormous social, economic and political crises besetting nation and world. But we surrender this by pushing the theology of the Revelation into the future. And it is done PRECISELY to allow us to profess Christ AND sell out to the world.

“Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues’ [Re 18:3-4].