Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The True Church Is Not Being Divided—It Is Being Distinguished

The recent ruling that the Supreme Court made on Friday, June 26th, regarding the affirmation of homosexual “marriage” is one that is sadly unsurprising. An honest look at the American landscape—even abroad—would reveal that it would only be a matter of time before these types of measures would come to pass. You can trace the line back through the allowable levels of premarital sexual activity that was hardly discouraged, but implicitly, if not explicitly, encouraged in young children and adults through various public school forums and media outlets. This is traced back ultimately to the rejection of the Bible in the public school system—and public discourse in general—as being the standard for all that is right and true. When God is rejected—all hopes of defining anything with any degree of certainty is utterly and completely abandoned.

This, however, is not news to the man or woman who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. We see things as God sees things and we know that when the Bible speaks—God speaks. This is not an actual moral dilemma for us as it pertains to our own convictions of such issues. This requires little digging into the text of Scripture to know what the clear answer is. That is, it is clear to those who are truly Christians.

The most painful thing about the last few days is all of the people who profess to be Christians that are coming out in support of the homosexual agenda. It is in this light that I offer some biblical perspective on the real issue at hand. I submit to you that the difference between professing Christians and confessing Christians are becoming more recognizable. The true Church is not actually becoming divided, but becoming more and more distinguishable.

The World’s Argument is not with the Christian, Per Se, It is With God

It may be helpful to remember that at the core of any issue that defies a biblical mandate is a disagreement with God. This is not a battle of the intellect; it is the manifestation of rebellion against God. This is not merely some personal battle that Christians must “win” in order to feel good about America’s spiritual veneer. No, this is an all too clear opportunity that at the individual level of society is a worsening spiritual malady that is keeping people separated from God. The evangelical duty of every Christian is to be ready to help any soul recognize their sin for what it is and the eternal consequences thereof and then offer them the only hope of salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ to wrest them from their sin’s bondage.

As the Apostle Paul said to the church that resided in the sexually perverse city of Corinth: the fornicators, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, drunkards, swindlers, etc. will not inherit the kingdom of God. He then says, “Such were some of you; but you were washed . . . sanctified . . . justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 6:9–11).

True Christians will grieve when God grieves and seek to reconcile their family members and friends to God when they see them enslaved to sin. This is real love. When you know that the wages of sin is death in eternal hell, then you are committed to doing everything you can to saving people from that end. The most unloving thing to do would be to encourage someone to embrace their sin and give into their evil desires, knowing all along what the final judgment of that lifestyle will be.

Anyone who affirms a sinful lifestyle as inherently good is proving their own disbelief in God; their own lack of commitment to His Word; their own disbelief in what it says about sin and its eternal consequences. I urge all people who are tempted to take this stance to consider what that implies about your own perceived faith. You cannot hold the hand of Christ while you embrace the spirit of the age.

Hostility to the Truth Was Promised by Christ—Religious Freedom Was Not

I believe one of the most debilitating vices in the so-called church today is its inability to accept an impasse with the world; its inability to accept belittling for the sake of Christ; its inability to be deemed and esteemed by the world’s standard as anti-intellectual; its inability to accept ridicule, persecution, false accusations, and insults because of Jesus Christ.

In order to avoid all such possible outcomes, the church has capitulated to the culture. Its commitment to Christ has become anything but and His Word has been deemed unknowable. In an effort to “evangelize” the culture, the church has engaged the culture by becoming just like it, thus destroying true evangelism and ultimately corrupting the visible church itself in the process. Evangelical “success” in the modern day has been redefined to mean being liked by every possible enemy of the Gospel as is humanly possible. There is now no need for confrontation of sin, thus no need for repentance. There is now no need for understanding the full counsel of God, thus no need for expositional preaching. This has created a wide-open platform for biblically anemic personalities, such as Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Joel Osteen, to name a few, to lead astray more biblically anemic and gullible populations into thinking that sin is a vice that Jesus can overlook without repentance and all religions have the same god to worship anyway.

We must remember that the true church will not ultimately be overcome (Matt 16:18), but it will not always be comfortable in this world either. The writers of the Scriptures were, more often than not, in a culture of extreme hostility to the Word of God. Not only were the surrounding pagan nations hostile to the people of God, but eventually the nation of Israel itself would start killing their own people—the prophets commissioned to warn them of their sin and impending judgment if there was no repentance. This has been recorded in both the OT and NT portions of the Scriptures: 1 Kgs 19:14; Neh 9:26; Matt 23:37; Lk 11:47.

Consider how Jesus leveled with his would-be followers: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matt 8:20).

In his classic and timeless book ‘Holiness’, J.C. Ryle comments, “[Christ] dwelt in a despised city [Nazareth] . . . He preached in a borrowed boat, rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed ass, and was buried in a borrowed tomb.” He had nothing! He goes on to say, “Are you misunderstood, misrepresented, slandered, and persecuted? So also was Jesus . . . False charges were laid against him. An unjust sentence was passed upon him, and, though innocent, he was condemned as a malefactor, and as such died on the cross.”

The entire pinnacle of Jesus’ life was summed up in the fact—yes, made possible by—the rejection of the culture of the day. Had everyone accepted Him and thought Him a kindly fellow who affirmed every sinful bent as acceptable and in need of extra comfort, then He would not have found himself hanging and suffocating on a Roman cross. No, in His own words: “[The world] hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil” (Jn 7:7).

Compare that with the attitude of many professing Christians who claim they are more like Christ by affirming homosexuality. Compare that to some of the articles floating around by people who claim to be evangelical Christians, yet feel “called by Christ” to affirm people who are dedicated to unrepentant sin. Their tongue and their pen have not flexed in a way as to articulate words like “evil” and “sin”—they can’t do it. This is no marvel—no profound paradox of two harmoniously-existent, though fundamentally opposing, paradigms. No, to affirm unrepentant sin is to mock the Lord Jesus Christ and thicken the separation between the sinner and the Savior as the Gospel is not being offered to them by those who feign love for them. It is a grave disservice to a soul in need of regeneration. This goes for every sinner.

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Again, to His disciples He said, “In the world you [will] have tribulation” (Jn 16:33).

Again, Jesus clearly warned His disciples, “They will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matt 24:9–12).

The Christians in the first century suffered severe persecution for the sake of the Name and the Way and the Truth and the Life. There will come a day when our generation, or our children’s, will feel the rising temperature of the heat of persecution that attempts to do away with the truth for good. The true Christians who will persevere will be the ones who stay consistent while the world gets worse—and they will suffer for it. The ones who continue to demand that there is room in their religion for accommodating sin under the pretense of love will continue capitulating more of their lives to the world—Satan’s domain.

J.C Ryle cautions us: “The world hated Christ, and the world will hate true Christians, as long as the earth stands . . . If you are never persecuted for religion’s sake, and all men speak well of you, you may well doubt whether you belong to ‘the church on the rock’ (Matt 5:11; Lk 6:26).”

Friends, may you not be counted in that broad way, but may you be ever so desirous to save people out of it. Remember, “He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (Js 5:20). Why? “Because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8). Love, friends, corrects.

The Bible Is Our Highest Authority—Not the Constitution

This is something that needs some consideration. The Constitution is a helpful and needed document, but it is a man-made document that has many amendments. Considering that the Bible has been in its final form—in its entirety—for about 2,000 years, it is a moot point what the Constitution says about anything moral. It is helpful when governing men essentially write out a doctrinal statement on how to govern insofar as it does not supersede or contradict God’s Word, but when it does, it becomes—at that point—a worthless document.

Many Christians feel inclined to argue that homosexuality is nowhere supported in the Constitution. While this argument can legitimately be made, is it really our end goal to convince people that they our unconstitutional? Should it not be that they are unreconciled to God because of unrepentant sin? We must look deeper than a document that will change with time as the country sees fit. Abusive slavery was once a fully acceptable practice until the Constitution received its 13th amendment. Not allowing women to vote was normative until the 19th amendment. The Constitution has been proven to be a fallible document and in need of being changed from time to time. Appealing to that type of document for some sort of moral and ethical substantiation of biblical standards is completely backwards. You start with the Bible—every time.

Everything must be viewed through a biblical lens, not a democratic one. It could well be that America falls just like Sodom and Gomorrah, Israel, and Rome, with a thousand years left before Christ returns. If you follow the Romans 1 checklist, you see that God’s wrath is being revealed against all unrighteousness since men are rebelling against God. It starts with rejecting His Word and revelation through nature and it ends up in rejecting Him as Creator and giving into lustful impurities (24–25). Then the impurities become unnatural and degrading, seen in homosexuality (26–27). Finally, God just gives them up completely to their own devices as they increasingly become “haters of God” and “inventors of evil” (30).

Our lives and our identity are not ultimately in the fact that we are Americans, or any other nationality, rather we are identified by the sanctifying blood of Jesus Christ and we must be faithful to Him and His authority. We must not waste our time pointing to the Constitution for our appeal, but to the inspired, inerrant, infallible, unchanging Word of God.

It’s High Time to Get Off Of the Fence

I have noticed over a number of years now a trend among professing Christians to take no clear public stance on controversial issues. They are on the fence. They are out to sea. They are ambiguous and desperately seeking to appear diplomatic and humble above all else. They fear being labeled by the world as hateful, or arrogant, or bigoted, more than they fear the judgment of God as to their faithfulness.

I have seen this when the debate of evolution versus creation comes up, or homosexuality, pre-marital cohabitation, smoking marijuana, drunkenness, etc.

It looks like this:

They will not out rightly denounce a false belief, or a sin—they will find some strand of notability in spite of it. They always look for the “good” no matter how heinous the matter in God’s eyes. They go further and actually criticize a brother in Christ who does take a firm, biblical stance. They don’t seek to distance themselves from false doctrine—they would rather distance themselves from having to answer directly and publicly about their own conviction. Their position on the fence allows them to feel good about themselves having the right “balance” and possessing “critical thinking” skills. While they recognize it or not, they are the spiritual politicians of their day who are in danger of keeping people out of the narrow way as this type of mentality is no different than any other unregenerate altruism.

Compare that with the words of Christ to the church of Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (Rev 3:15–16).

Or the Apostle Paul: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim 4:2). We don’t merely talk about the Word and then do nothing. We preach the Word and we must then reprove, rebuke, and exhort with great patience.

Friends, it was only 10–20 years ago that preaching the Word was still in season—acceptable. Before that—my grandparent’s era—it was even more so. Yes, sins prevail in every century, but the general acceptance of the existence of the Christian faith and its impact on the public square was still considered and even respected. We are fast heading into the “out of season” time in this country, but 2 Tim 4:2 will not disappear from the pages of our Bibles. Our call is the same.

Why must we do these things? Why not take a position that takes no public position?

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (3–4).

Again, the Rick Warren’s, Bill Hybel’s, and Joel Osteen’s, and outright sin affirmers of our day do not preach the Word and they do not refute, rebuke, or exhort. They find the good in every unrepentant sinner and affirm their standing with God. They find the good in every religion and refuse to denounce its heresy. The consequence and the type of following they get prove what the Apostle said.

He then shifts his thought from the faithless minister—the faithless, professing Christian—to the faithful one: “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (5).

Get off of the fence, friends. Determine to devote yourselves to the Word of God. If you cannot speak to the hottest topics of our day from a biblical perspective with conviction that God will be true and every man a liar, then it could be indicative of a heart not yet fully committed to Christ. We cannot be ruled by God and mammon—the world.

The world is going to create an atmosphere that helps to distinguish the true Church. It will look smaller and smaller more than likely. We have seen denominations embrace homosexuality altogether—sealing their fate and proving it to the rest.

We must be the ones who can offer the hope of redemption, sanctification, and justification! We can empathize with the world as to the blinding effect of sin, so let us not cast stones and walk away, but correct with patience and tell the world that they should sin no more and bow their knee to the Lord Jesus Christ.

I’ll close with the words from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church:

“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom 16:25–27).

In His Sovereign Grip,

Ben

Monday, May 11, 2015

What Is Really Being Glorified In Public Pastoral Beer Drinking?

For some reason, there is a devastating obsession amongst many church leaders to find a way to shine public light on their beer drinking while taking credit for glorifying God in so doing. I would like to prove to you from Scripture how this actually brings reproach upon God in most cases and can only be reckoned to the pastor as sin. The pretense of the beer-drinking pastor’s publicly displayed freedom masks the reality that their understanding of the glory of God and the acts of men that glorify God is really about as deep as the head of foam they so love to kiss.

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” -1 Corinthians 10:31

When the Apostle Paul wrote this, he was reaching a climax in an argument he was making for how to apply Christian ethics that glorify God to everyday life. This statement he made was carefully pre-qualified as to its precise meaning and was not meant to be a catch-all bumper sticker to protect the antinomian-minded.

The Stumbling Block Test


Paul’s argument was that, while in itself, matters of eating and drinking are not sinful, the time and place can quickly make it so. The hot topic in Paul’s day was the close association that meals had with idolatrous practices. People were concerned that they may be sinning by eating something from the meat market that had been given a pagan blessing, but Paul assures them that since those so-called gods and blessings are not even real, there is no real spiritual danger. He tells them to “eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (vs. 25).

Where this determination can suddenly change, however, is in how your meal is perceived by other people. He turns the focus of his argument off of the conscience of the eater and onto the conscience of the bystander by saying: “But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his” (vss. 28–29).

Why?

The Christians in Paul’s day were very aware of the demonic activities that took place in the pagan worship practices and they often involved meals. It was an integral part of the overall experience. It goes without saying that the Christians in Corinth who were saved out of pagan worship that involved sacrificial meat offerings would be very sensitive to any association with it. They had the attitude that Jude wrote about later in “hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (v.23), meaning to hate any effect of and relationship to sin—be it direct, or indirect.

In effect, if any activity could appear to be compromising to someone else, then it became a sinful thing to do. Significantly, 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says to “abstain from every eidos (appearance, or form) of evil.”

Paul balances his argument by saying that while you need not feel guilty for the willingness to eat the meat in the first place: “Why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks” (vss. 29–30). However, you ought to be willing to give it up for the sake of your weaker brother.

The Apostle wrote to the Romans on the same subject. In chapter 14, he makes it very clear that the food and drink in itself is not necessarily the issue, rather it is what you do with it. It is very similar in how Christians ought to handle sexuality. Only in a very specific context can it be expressed in a way that God allows. Outside of that context brings the weight of God’s judgment that condemns sin.

Paul says to the Romans: “Decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother . . . if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (13, 15).

The Apostle Paul is constantly looking out for other people’s consciences—not his own rights. In fact, he is fast to give up any right, or liberty, if it means having a greater chance of bringing about someone’s spiritual conversion.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes the argument:

“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle” (vs. 1)?

“Do we not have the right to eat and drink” (vs. 4)?

“Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ . . . though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (vss. 12, 19–23).

In the Jew’s case, Paul was willing to give up the eating of certain foods and drinks that were considered unlawful if it meant not putting a stumbling block in front of them to really know God. How vastly different is that from the mentality of our ongoing generation of immature church leaders who act as if God should cater to them and their rights regardless of the public around them?

This mentality flies in the face of God’s command to not put a stumbling block in front of anyone. As church leaders, we are in the public eye, held to a higher standard, and critiqued more closely. This is especially true when we multiply our audience through social media. If we ever purposely draw attention to our affinity of alcohol in a world that is saturated with the excessive use of it already, what are we really glorifying in such pretense? The Apostle Paul tells us it is not God.

The “Above Reproach” Test


Another aspect to this issue of being known for public drinking is in the very command to church leaders that we be men who are “above reproach”.

First Timothy 3 says that an “overseer must be above reproach . . . not a drunkard . . . not addicted to much wine” (vss. 2–3, 8).

Titus 1 says that elders must be “above reproach . . . and not open to the charge of debauchery,” which means to indulge excessively.

It is significant to see how many different ways the Apostle addresses drinking alcohol. While drunkenness is condemned altogether, alongside other gross sins such as sexual immorality, corruption, sensuality, orgies, drinking parties, and idolatry (Rom 13:13; Gal 5:21; 1 Pet 4:3), he goes so far to say that even the possible charge that you indulge in alcohol too often is a warning flag that you are not called to be a leader in God’s church because you would not effectively lead people, by example, to consider God’s call to holiness as you ought.

In the above mentioned verses where drunkenness is condemned, we see that people who do such things “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21). Is it any wonder that God would not have the alcohol lover in a position of spiritual influence over a body of people where there are sure to be those who struggle with the thought of it?

The call for pastors and church leaders is a much higher one than what is typically modeled today. There seems to be an obsession for pastors to talk about things like love and self-sacrifice in very general terms, but rarely is there a careful articulation of how this can be fleshed out in our own lives by giving up our own rights.

In the words of Isaiah: “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink” (5:22). To put it another way—be not known for your alcoholic consumption and the love thereof.

The Temptation Test


This really serves to strengthen the first point made in that we are not to be a stumbling block to anyone. Let’s look at it with a slightly higher-powered lens.

When the Lord Jesus was speaking about temptation in Matthew 18, He made some very revealing statements that ought to make every Christian take their responsibility as ambassadors of Christ more seriously.

Beckoning to a child, the Lord said, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (vs. 5–6).

If your presence here on earth is going to be one that causes others to even be tempted to sin, then you’re better off dead—for everyone’s sake.

He continued: “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes” (vs. 7), (emphasis mine)!

These are not words to be taken lightly. If God would think us better off dead and in need of a statement of woe on our actions, then that only means one thing—we are not glorifying God. The most frightening possibility would be that we are not really saved, which could be indicated by our carelessness to God and His children. The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of someone who is really saved. If we have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, then His fruit will start growing—the first one being love. If we love God we will obey God and give up our rights for others.

It is true that our own sin nature and the depravity that comes with it, is able to conjure up temptations on its own (Js 1:14), yet those sinful bents can be exacerbated by the acts of others. Each person is responsible for not acting on their sinful inclinations, but everyone else can also be culpable for our temptation at the same time.

I recall the Apostle Paul’s command for children to obey their parents in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 & 6, while simultaneously charging parents not to provoke their children either. It goes both ways.

A Few Final Remarks


While all Christians are to be mindful of any situation that could potentially cause someone to struggle in their hearts and minds about anything in particular, pastors must be even more careful—especially as it pertains to alcohol. We cannot drink whatever we want, whenever we want, and always think we are doing so unto the glory of God. That is an entirely ridiculous, even irreverent, presumption to think that whatever we do determines the glory of God. On the contrary, it is when we act within God’s predetermined will that brings glory to God. Scripture is clear on this. It is not as if—as some would have us believe— the act of drinking alcohol commends us to God (1 Cor 8:8)! It is often in our abstinence of that thing in particular that will bring honor to God, considering the vice that so often surrounds it.

It must further be said that we must not be so offensive to the godly men who have gone before us in the past who have been documented as having enjoyed, made, been paid in, and sold things like beer and wine as being the justification for our modern and loose standard today. For one thing, they are not apostles and, therefore, do not exist as the final example of anything, per se. Secondly, there were practical benefits that spurred the consumption of beer in the Reformation period, for instance, like curbing the spread of dysentery in the water—reminiscent of Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to have some wine with his water for his frequent stomach ailments (1 Tim 5:23). Alcohol has a purifying effect in water. There is virtually zero need for any alcoholic consumption today in civilized areas, which places us in an entirely different situation, thus limiting our reasons.

It cannot be forgotten that even men of old, while at times articulating the same truths of the amoral quality of alcohol, were still privy to its common association and connotation that came with its public use. Spurgeon, in a sermon on the topic of parents whose children were not walking in the truth, once said, “I pity the father whose children are not walking in the truth, who yet is himself an earnest Christian. Must it always be so, that the father shall go to the house of God and his son to the alehouse?” His dichotomy is not without purpose.
 
Even Martin Luther, who has wrongly been criticized as a drunkard, wrote vehemently against drunkenness. He knew the difference and did not even want an association with it. For the modern hipster “pastor” to purposely self-promote their consistent consumption of alcohol is nothing short of having a very low view of what a pastor is actually called to do, not to mention what holiness is. Ultimately this stems from lacking the appropriate fear of God. Being above reproach becomes nearly impossible if that is what you are known for because that is a standard that is to be generally understood by all men—not just close friends who may approve and commend the practice.

This is not to say that a pastor couldn’t rightly enjoy some in his own private time, but it is not a matter for public display since impressionable eyes could be watching. Even at restaurants, the pastor must be thinking of more than himself. The time and place makes a huge difference on the perception of the order.
 
I have a dear friend who I knew to enjoy the taste of beer and would often order just one if he were at a restaurant—nothing more. Once he started teaching Sunday school at his church to younger children, though, he came under the conviction that it could be a devastating thing for one of his Sunday school kids to see him in a restaurant with a beer in his hands. Though he would never get drunk, he knew that it could be a devastating stumbling block, not to mention implicitly advocating alcoholic consumption as their spiritual teacher! He wisely decided not to ever order beer out again.
 
I told him how much I personally appreciated that because I was one of those children once. I used to immediately associate alcohol with sin—always. I only knew of it in a bad context. If I knew of a pastor who liked to drink, then I was instantly taken back to my former association with it (not mine, but family member’s) and it bothered me greatly. We eliminate the stumbling blocks by eschewing the practice. My friend’s concern was in the heart of the people who were watching and he gave up his rights. This is what God expects of us, men.
 
Ultimately, the alcoholic culture we live in today demands our higher level of prudence in regards to alcohol. Let us not be immature children who demand our own rights and then parade them as some self-stylized badge of godliness. Let us be careful to not approve, or commend, someone else to sin by our own lackadaisical approach to the faith.

“It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves” (Rom 14:21–22).

In His Sovereign Grip,

Ben

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

On Measles, Mumps, and Data Bumps

I’m a numbers guy. I like to see numbers tell a story and reveal trends. This is probably why I thoroughly enjoy working out of Microsoft Excel for eight hours a day tracking numbers and creating graphs to tell stories about historical levels and current levels of financial execution. While I love numbers, I would be remiss to not look deeper and see that I ultimately care about details when it comes to data and text. This is probably why I enjoy getting into the weeds of word studies when I read the Bible and try to understand the true meaning behind the Greek and Hebrew words that are translated into our English language, but that is more of an aside. Today, I am mainly interested in helping all of us understand some of the nuances of statistics that are presented on, well . . . just about anything. I think this will be particularly helpful, though, for those of us who have been racking our brains over discerning true and false information on the internet related to vaccinations.

My intent is not to necessarily make a case for or against vaccinations (even though I do possess a general opinion), rather to equip us with some critical thinking skills that will come in handy when reading presented data.

I think parents are smart to know more about what they're doing, particularly what they’re allowing to be injected into their children. No matter the current side of the debate, as long as a parent’s intent is to keep their child alive and healthy, then everyone is at least pursuing the same agenda. There’s a grain of unity after all. If the assumption is that every parent is only seeking to provide their children with the best possible chance of a healthy life, then it is indeed helpful and necessary to understand whether or not Decision A provides the best chance for a healthy life, over and against Decision B.

From a biblical perspective, parents are tasked with raising godly children and doing the basic job of nurturing our children to be as healthy as possible. The Apostle Paul said that there is indeed value in bodily training—being healthy—though godliness should always be the first aim of the Christian who loves God (1 Tim 4:8). He even told Timothy to drink some wine with his water in order to avoid his frequent stomach ailments (1 Tim 5:23). Furthermore, we know that physicians were acknowledged in Jesus’ day as having a purpose to help people be healthy, rather than sick (Mk 2:17). Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke as well as the book of Acts, was a beloved physician himself (Col 4:14), so spoken of by the Apostle Paul.

What’s the point? I think it helps to see that seeing a doctor in and of itself does not nullify one’s faith in God unless someone—in their heart of hearts—really doesn’t trust God. We make decisions all of the time that will increase our safety and we take preventative measures to avoid medical problems in the future. The Bible teaches the general principle of planning for the future in regards to food (Prov 6:6) and finances (Prov 13:22), so health would certainly not be out of place if we are to be good stewards with everything we have been given by God.

With that said, no one can make a biblical case against all medical procedures and all medicines. One may have to draw the line somewhere for matters of personal conscience and others should respect that, but no hands-down argument exists for boycotting medicine and physicians altogether.

So then, how do we handle the vast amount of data going around about vaccinations? Well . . . as I said, I am a numbers guy and not a scientist (though I love science), nor a medical professional (though I used to be a Pharmacy Technician and appreciate the science behind the medicine), so I will just stick to what I know best—data!

Here’s what I want to do . . . I simply want to offer a note of caution in regards to how to interpret cold, hard facts. The more I have read financial charts and graphs on all kinds of official documents and having created plenty of my own, I have learned that you can take valid and legitimate information and still display it in a way that seems to prove a point that the data never intended.

I once read an incredibly fascinating and insightful book called "The Wastrels of Defense" by Winslow Wheeler, a staffer on Capitol Hill for about 30 years, who testified to this very thing. Congressmen will many times do legitimate data pulls from the Library of Congress or the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), for instance, and then tweak the x-axis and y-axis just right while highlighting a particular point of a historical trend—not revealing the larger story that the graph fits into—to make the point they wish to make, which looks seemingly obvious due to their visual presentation. Not only that, but when you’re dealing with financial information it gets even trickier since one graph may show inflation, while another does not, so are you really comparing apples to apples? I digress.

Let me give you an example. Below is a graph that depicts the amount of bad apples that Ben’s Bakery has received from his distributor over the years using real, verifiable evidence:




Thankfully, Ben has an insurance policy on such atrocities. In order to show his insurance provider just how bad it is, he created a graph of his own with the same real, verifiable evidence:

 


Upon further consideration, the insurance company asked a third party to review Ben’s Bakery’s bad apple distribution. The results were indicated in the graph below:




Unfortunately for Ben, the insurance company did not feel that his business had suffered unusual loss, so they denied his claim. In fact, if history repeated itself, Ben may be in for another healthy decrease in bad apples just like he experienced after his 2009 bump.

Now let’s look at some cold, hard facts that one website offered in their case against the Measles’ Vaccination. Again, I am simply coming at this from a numbers standpoint only because it is a great example of how verifiable data can be used on both sides of an argument, thus demanding critical thinking and the ability to ask the right questions.


If you just looked at the link you can see that the case is stated clearly: Zero people have died from the Measles in the last 10 years according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), while 108 people have died from the Measles’ Vaccine in the last 10 years, according to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). I did the same search and it is a legitimate search result, which can be found here.

Open and shut case?

A quick search about the Measles at the CDC website will tell you that 1–2 people out of 1,000 will die from the Measles and that most people who get Measles are unvaccinated.

Here’s a key question: How many people were vaccinated, say, 12 years ago when this article started tracking?

According to the CDC, the National Immunization Survey (NIS) reports about 93% of children aged 19–35 months had received at least one does of the MMR vaccination in 2003. This report can be found here in Table 1.

To understand rates and percentages, we need to understand the denominator, i.e. what was the total US population of 19–35 month old babies in 2003? This is a more difficult number to ascertain and this is where finding real statistics becomes tricky and even allows people some room to fudge the data.

Case in point, when you search the United States Census Bureau for the total US population by age in 2003, the youngest age bracket is 4 years old and younger—that is 48 months old and younger. This information can be found hereOur age bracket in question (19–35 months old) only makes up about 33% of the youngest population bracket. How do you determine that?

When you subtract 19 from 35 you get a range of 16 months. You then have to divide 16 months into 48 months (lowest US population bracket span) and you end up with 33%.

Assuming all things are equal (a perfect world, no doubt) then you can then use the 33% and apply it to the total population number in the lowest bracket to get a number of children who are between the ages of 19 and 35 months. The US census tells us on the same page that there are 19.8 million children who are 4 years (48 months) and younger. 33% of 19.8 million is 6.6 million.

This means that 6.6 million children in the United States were between the ages of 19 and 35 months in 2003.

So then, if about 93% of these children received their MMR immunization shot in 2003, then that would be 6.1 million children, thus leaving roughly 462,000 children who are not vaccinated with the MMR.

Now let’s see how many kids received their MMR in 2013 when this article first surfaced. This will help us understand the trend for those 10 years that the article wrote about.

The NIH reports that the percentage decreased slightly to 91.9% of a coverage rate, found hereNot much changed, but what was the US population of these children in 2013? According to the census bureau and applying our same math using 33%, there was a population of 6.6 million children between the ages of 19–35 months. Again, not much changed. That information can be found here.

So then, if about 91.9% of these children received their MMR immunization shot in 2013, then that would be 6 million children, thus leaving roughly 532,000 children who are not vaccinated with the MMR.

Important note: Trends over a decade like this are important to consider because as these children grow up they are still vaccinated against the MMR that they received as a baby. While we may be focusing on the younger age bracket as a fixed point in time, it is only because of the fact that the MMR is administered at that age. Overall, we can safely assume that as these generations get older and maintain a vaccination rate of 92-93%, then the entire population would have a coverage rate at that level—albeit given enough time.

Since we have done some leg work in seeing that the vaccination rate has stayed consistent, then let’s apply this rate to the entire United States population—from 2003 to 2013. The article implied that there is a problem with the Measles vaccine because it has killed 108 people over a ten year period.

The total United States population in 2003 was 285.9 million people. As of 2013 it was 316.1 million people. This averages to 301 million people.

92% of 301 million gives us 276.9 million—the estimated amount of all MMR vaccinated people in the US.

According to the article (citing VAERS), 108 people have died because of the MMR vaccine.

The percentage of MMR-vaccinated people then who have died from the vaccine is a simple mathematical equation that gives you a rate of:

0.000039%

I don’t know about you, but I’m comfortable with that.

Now then, consider the other side. First of all, were there really zero deaths due to Measles in that 10 year period?

The CDC reports 2 in 2009 and 2 more in 2010.

The interesting thing is that the article almost makes Measles sound like it has no real, inherent danger for anything like death at all, yet globally, 145,700 people died from Measles in 2013 alone according to the World Health Organization (WHO)Granted, that is also a very small percentage, but apparently the article is, in fact, very interested in small percentages.

Additionally, let’s not forget that death is not the only thing one can experience with Measles. According to a CDC Infographic:

- 1 in 4 people become hospitalized

- 1 in 1,000 people develop encephalitis (brain swelling), which could lead to permanent brain damage

Okay, so let’s consider again that 4 unvaccinated people have died from Measles out of our unvaccinated population of 24 million (difference between 301 and 277 million). This gives us a death rate of:

0.000017%

So, as far as deaths go, it appears that non-vaccinated people had a lower death rate right? One problem. On the VAERS website that recorded the vaccine-related deaths, it has a caveat that almost flushes all attempts of factual analysis down the toilet:

“When evaluating data from VAERS, it is important to note that for any reported event, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Reports of all possible associations between vaccines and adverse events (possible side effects) are filed in VAERS. Therefore, VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination, be it coincidental or truly caused by a vaccine. The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event.”

Even if VAERS could positively identify that all 108 deaths were directly tied to the MMR vaccine, then we are still left to wonder if all of the commotion regarding the pros and cons of taking or not taking the vaccine is worth arguing over when we are dealing with competitive mortality rates like 0.000039% and 0.000017%? This compares with, say, being killed by lightning—a 0.000011% chance, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The number one killer in the US—besides the devastating reality of abortion—is heart disease, coming in at just over 600,000 deaths per year—a death rate of 0.2% of our population average of 301 million.

But again, is death the only thing that the vaccine protects someone from? One must not forget all of the other potential side-effects that could have mingling effects in someone’s life. Considering that VAERS is not a cold-hard fact as it states itself, the weight of evidence seems to indicate that there is no reasonable evidence to reject a vaccine like the MMR based on negative outcomes alone. If anything, there is a better chance of adverse impact in an unvaccinated person.

Finally, if there are other personal reasons for avoiding vaccines, then let’s be careful to not place political and selfish principles over our children’s health. I say this only because I hear arguments made that there are people at the top who are manipulating the costs and schedules for vaccines to make a lot of money.

So what?

Personally, I am totally fine with an elite few making billions of dollars because they sell something that keeps my family alive. In fact, thanks. Arguing from this point of view reeks of the selfish entitlement mindset that permeated those who decided to #OccupyWallStreet because they were the 99% who didn’t make as much as the 1%. The sooner we can get over that and take the Apostle Paul’s stance to be content in all circumstances—whether in plenty or in want (Phil 4:11–12)—the better we will be and the more we will honor the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s not make this somehow-controversial issue bigger than it is. Let’s not be conspiracy theorists about everything that goes on at a corporate and governmental level. Let’s be diligent, discerning, and wise. If (some) vaccines are still against one’s comfort zone due to ingredients, or source of ingredients, etc. then those are things to address one at a time, but as far as the basic arguments for the safety one way or another . . . in this case, the vaccine has the upper hand as far as I can tell.

By the way, I’m willing to rethink my whole approach if my assumptions and/or data were not accurately presented. I don’t want to be right just to be right, but I do want to know the right information so I can make the right decisions that pertain to my family’s health. That’s what we all want, right?

Hopefully this shined some light on how information is presented on the internet and how many different aspects can quickly change the outcome of the data being presented.

Ultimately, as Christians, make sure you still respect the person who you are speaking with, even if you are trying to persuade them one way or another. Don’t hold one another in derision based on something like this. Remember that no matter what, God is sovereign over your time of death and he has also given people medical skill in order to care for our bodies while we’re here on the earth. Use your resources while simultaneously trusting God’s providence.

In His Sovereign Grip,

Ben